Derby day gives Man United a bit part to play in title race: John Brewin's unmissable matches

Our European football expert has five more games worth casting your eyes over ahead of the weekend.

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EVERY FRIDAY, FOOTBALL writer John Brewin – who has clocked up countless air miles covering the European game over the past decade – looks ahead to five key fixtures from the Premier League and around the continent.

As well as explaining why you need to know about these matches, he’ll also pick out a tip for each one along with the latest William Hill prices.

This week, Manchester United can have a say in the Premier League title race, having had to watch on as rivals Man City and Liverpool battle it out at the top of the table. 

Manchester City v Manchester United, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday 

manchester-united-v-manchester-city-premier-league-old-trafford PA Bernardo Silva was on the scoresheet in November's derby at Old Trafford. PA

An amazing week in English football, where the attention has been turned to Chelsea and Everton’s ownership, concludes with the Manchester derby. Amid the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics and their effect on football, a title race is still taking place in the Premier League.

Not that Manchester United are taking part in it, but they can make their mark on it by upending City, though an unfortunate byproduct for those of a red persuasion would be to hand the initiative to Liverpool.

City, in losing to Tottenham a fortnight ago, and in being rather fortunate to beat Everton last week with Rodri’s phantom handball and all, have looked vulnerable of late.

Over Christmas they had appeared set on cakewalking to a fourth title in five years, but there has been a wobble. 

Do United represent a threat to City? Pep Guardiola has never found it as easy as he might in the Manchester derby considering his team have finished above United in each of the five seasons he has completed in English football.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s brand of counter-attacking football often caught City cold, and he had a record of four wins and a draw from nine matches against the Catalan genius, as good a record as anyone.

dfb-cup-final-2019-rb-leipzig-fc-bayern-munich-0-3 DPA / PA Images Rangnick never crossed paths with Guardiola as managers in Germany. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Ralf Rangnick and Guardiola have not yet met as managers, they were ships passing in the night in Germany with Rangnick managing RB Leipzig in the 2.Bundesliga in Guardiola’s final season at Bayern.

Rangnick’s prescribed style of play could cause City problems if they leave the back door open for the likes of Anthony Elanga to run into, but then again, United’s midfield looks set to be dominated by City’s and their defence is easily turned too.

Losing 2-0 to City in November was one of the last acts of Solskjaer’s tenure at United, and a repeat cannot be ruled out.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo play against the club he snubbed to rejoin United? His recent performances, with one goal in ten matches, have not done much to guarantee him a starting place. Then again, who else would play centre forward for United?

John’s bet: Manchester City to beat Manchester United @ 4/11

Napoli v AC Milan, Serie A – 7.45pm Sunday

fabian-ruiz-ssc-napoli-during-the-italian-football-championship-league-a-20212022-match-between-ss-lazio-vs-ssc-napoli-at-the-olimpic-stadium-in-ro Alamy Stock Photo Fabian Ruiz of Napoli. Alamy Stock Photo

A crucial game in the Serie A title race, with leaders Napoli above Milan only on goal difference. With Inter playing on Friday night against Salernitana, both teams will know what they need to do to top the league at the end of the weekend.

Last week’s late winner from Fabian Ruiz at Lazio took Napoli top, while Milan have stalled with draws against Salernitana and Udinese. They also drew 0-0 in midweek with Inter in the Coppa Italia. That Lazio win ended a run of draws for Napoli; things are getting nervous as the business end approaches.

John’s bet: Napoli and Milan to draw @ 9/4

Real Betis v Atletico Madrid, La Liga – 8pm Sunday

renan-lodi-of-atletico-de-madrid-celebrates-a-goal-during-the-spanish-championship-la-liga-football-match-between-atletico-de-madrid-and-celta-de-vigo-on-february-26-2022-at-wanda-metropolitano-stad Alamy Stock Photo Atleti's Renan Lodi celebrates one of his two goals against Celta Vigo. Alamy Stock Photo

Betis are this season’s surprise package in La Liga, and kick off the weekend in third place but last week’s derby loss to Sevilla left them eight points behind their second-placed, cross-city rivals.

It left them looking over their shoulders at fifth-placed Atleti, continuing to have a tough season as defending champions but having won their last two matches to put themselves within a point of Betis.

It took two goals from full-back Renan Lodi to see off Celta last week, and the momentum for Diego Simeone’s side can be maintained by a victory over opposition they beat 3-0 in October.

John’s bet: Atletico to win at Betis and both teams to score @ 19/5

Marseille v Monaco, Ligue 1 – 7.45pm Sunday 

lens-france-january-30-head-coach-philippe-clement-of-as-monaco-during-the-coupe-de-france-match-between-rc-lens-and-as-monaco-at-stade-bollaert-delelis-on-january-30-2022-in-lens-france-photo Alamy Stock Photo Monaco boss Philippe Clement. Alamy Stock Photo

Two traditional powers of French football are the Sunday night showpiece in a concertinaed Ligue 1.

It will be a tale of faded grandeur. With PSG way over the horizon, Marseille are in second, 15 points behind the leaders, and being chased down by Nice and Rennes.

Monaco, despite an indifferent season, are still only five points off European football next season though lost at home to Reims last week.

They are under the new management of Philippe Clement, who Coventry City fans may recall from the late 1990s, and a promising start under the Belgian has faded somewhat in recent weeks.

John’s bet: Marseille to beat Monaco and both teams to score @ 15/4

RB Leipzig v Freiburg, Bundesliga – 2.30pm Sunday

cologne-germany-05th-feb-2022-bundesliga-matchday-21-1-fc-koeln-sc-freiburg-roland-sallai-freiburg-celebrates-credit-juergen-schwarzalamy-live-news Alamy Stock Photo Freiburg's Roland Sallai. Alamy Stock Photo

Leipzig’s fine form continues, with last week seeing them snatch a late win at Bochum through another goal from Christopher Nkunku. The Frenchman then scored twice in a 4-0 German Cup win at Hannover. That took his tally to 10 goals in the last seven matches.

Freiburg snatched an exceedingly late win at Bochum in the German Cup in midweek, Roland Sallai scoring in the 120th minute. That followed wins over Hertha Berlin and Augsburg.

Only goal difference keeps Leipzig in fourth place over Freiburg in the final Champions League qualifying place. This is a vital match for both clubs.

John’s bet: Leipzig to win and Nkunku to score anytime @ 11/8

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org  

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