Is El Loco's time at Leeds coming to an end? John Brewin's unmissable matches this weekend

Our European expert makes five picks from the continent’s top leagues, with predictions and the latest odds from William Hill.

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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, he discusses the fortunes of Leeds United under their world-renowned coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Leeds United v Arsenal, Premier League – 5.30pm Saturday 

file-photo-dated-07-11-2021-leeds-head-coach-marcelo-bielsa-has-vowed-to-continue-fighting-until-the-end-of-the-season-but-accepts-he-is-not-immune-from-being-sacked-issue-date-thursday-december Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A 7-0 loss to the champions Manchester City was a humiliating night for Leeds on Tuesday, and raised deep questions about how long the Marcelo Bielsa romance can continue.

There are mitigating circumstance, since the Argentinian maestro has been robbed of around 40% of his players by injuries and suspension, though it might help if Bielsa didn’t prefer to see out seasons with tiny squads.

As it is, Leeds’ absentee list extends to eight first-team players: Rodrigo, Patrick Bamford, Liam Cooper, Kalvin Phillips, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, Junior Firpo and Jamie Shackleton.

The word is out about Leeds — they will play open football that allows the opponent to get at their defence. That can work when the team is brimming with energy and Bielsa is able to field his first XI, but that is just not possible at the moment. If repeating the same mistakes time and again is a definition of madness then Bielsa is indeed El Loco, though nobody was doubting that.

Leeds are five points above the relegation zone and though Norwich look doomed, they cannot rely on Newcastle and Burnley continuing to be so bad.

And they are coming up against one of the Premier League’s most improved teams, with Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Everton already looking like one of the freak results of the season.

Dropping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and taking the captaincy off him looks like a significant lancing of the boil by Mikel Arteta, showing a similar steeliness to that shown when he binned Mesut Ozil. That said, Arteta’s team have often lacked the steel of their manager, particularly in losing to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United — the latter of whom were there for the taking.

arsenals-pierre-emerick-aubameyang-applauds-the-fans-after-the-premier-league-match-at-goodison-park-liverpool-picture-date-monday-december-6-2021 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Arteta is forced to rely on the young guns at his disposal with Emile Smith Rowe continuing to mature, Martin Odegaard growing in influence, Bukayo Saka maybe not at his free-wheeling best but always dangerous and Gabriel Martinelli scoring a Thierry Henry-style strike against West Ham on Wednesday.

It is difficult to see a repeat of last season’s 0-0 draw between the clubs at Elland Road.

John’s bet: Arsenal to win to nil @ 12/5

Tottenham v Liverpool, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday 

wolverhampton-uk-04th-dec-2021-thiago-alcantara-of-liverpool-at-full-time-during-the-premier-league-match-between-wolverhampton-wanderers-and-liverpool-at-molineux-wolverhampton-england-on-4-dec Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

If the season continuing as normal is under threat from the Omicron variant, then any delay might threaten the run of form that Liverpool and Man City have been in. Tottenham, meanwhile, have been stricken by the outbreak that caused the postponements of their Rennes, Brighton and Leicester fixtures. 

Liverpool rather ground it out last week when being given a hard game by Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa and, ahead of Thursday’s Newcastle game, had lost one match all season. Might Tottenham repeat West Ham’s success in mugging Liverpool on a Sunday afternoon in London? It seems unlikely.

John’s bet: Liverpool to win and both teams to score @ 2/1

Atalanta v Roma, Serie A – 2pm Saturday

verona-italy-12th-dec-2021-atalantas-davide-zappacosta-portrait-during-hellas-verona-fc-vs-atalanta-bc-italian-soccer-serie-a-match-in-verona-italy-december-12-2021-credit-independent-photo-a Atalanta's Davide Zappacosta. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The vultures were beginning to circle Jose Mourinho at Roma, with much talk of his usual boom-and-bust cycle having sped up even faster than what happened at Tottenham. However, a Europa League win at CSKA Sofia and a 2-0 defeat of Spezia on Monday had slowed down the frenzy.

Perhaps temporarily. Atalanta are third in Serie A, and despite the disappointment of going out in the Champions League group stage, have been in great domestic form, their recent run of victories including defeats of Juventus and Napoli.

Their speed of attacking and all-action style looks very capable of causing problems for Mourinho, who in classic style this week had fallen out with Bryan Cristante, one of his key players.

John’s bet: Atalanta to win @ 4/6

Sevilla v Atletico Madrid, La Liga – 8pm Saturday

bilbao-basque-country-spain-12th-dec-2021-sevilla-players-celebrating-their-goal-during-the-la-liga-santander-match-between-athletic-club-and-sevilla-fc-at-san-mames-stadium-credit-image The Sevilla players celebrating a goal. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Fresh from a Champions League redraw meaning they pulled Man United rather than Bayern Munich, Atletico continue their rather shaky title defence. They were beaten 2-0 in last week’s Madrid derby to nobody’s particular surprise, and are now clinging to a top-four place.

Sevilla, meanwhile, are the closest challengers to Real Madrid, having ground out 1-0 wins over Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao. With just 11 goals conceded all season they have the best defensive record in La Liga. Last season, Sevilla won this fixture 1-0 with the goal coming from defender Marcos Acuna. A similar result, if not scorer, cannot be ruled out.

John’s bet: Sevilla to win 1-0 @ 6/1

Eintracht Frankfurt v Mainz, Bundesliga – 2.30pm Saturday

munich-deutschland-11th-dec-2021-coach-bo-svensson-1-fsv-fsv-fsv-mainz-05-after-the-end-of-the-game-disappointment-frustrated-disappointed-frustratedriert-dejected-soccer-1-bundesliga-sea Mainz boss Bo Svensson. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Saturday sees one of Europe’s perhaps lesser known but still fierce rivalries do battle in the Bundesliga. Mainz are the smaller team of the two Frankfurt Rhine-Main clubs, though have gained renown in recent years for having Jurgen Klopp and then Thomas Tuchel as their coach.

This season, Mainz — under manager Bo Svensson — are having the better of things, but only just. In sixth, they are only above Frankfurt on goal difference and in significantly lesser form.

Frankfurt beat Borussia Monchengladbach 3-2 in midweek, having crushed Leverkusen 5-2 last weekend. Mainz defeated Hertha Berlin 4-0 on Tuesday, after giving Bayern a scare in losing 2-1 last week. This looks set to be a derby featuring plenty of goals.

John’s bet: Over 3.5 goals scored @ 7/4

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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