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Conte loses his cool ahead of face-off with Guardiola: John Brewin's unmissable matches
Elsewhere, AC Milan have a great opportunity to extend their lead at the top of Serie A and there’s also the Basque derby.

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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 focuses on the meeting of two superstar managers in the Premier League, before turning his attention to the Serie A league leaders and the Basque derby. 

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League – 5.30pm Saturday

london-england-9th-february-2022-antonio-conte-manager-of-tottenham-hotspur-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-tottenham-hotspur-stadium-london-picture-credit-should-read-paul-terry-spor Alamy Stock Photo Tottenham boss Antonio Conte. Alamy Stock Photo

Pep Guardiola may have attempted to blow smoke up Sporting Lisbon in the wake of Tuesday’s 5-0 Champions League demolition but he was fooling absolutely nobody. His City team are purring right now, they have won 19 from their last 21 matches, only a draw with Southampton has blemished their league record since October turned to November.

The opposite is true of Tottenham, long suggested as a dark horse for a top-four place but whose only win since the turn of the year came in that late, late, late show at Leicester. Antonio Conte has a reputation of being a good manager of mediocre players, the alchemist who made Victor Moses into a title-winning wing-back at Chelsea. The problem for Conte is that he has probably not worked with such a mediocre group of players since he was at Siena over a decade ago.

“What happened in January was not easy,” he said, having been on the end of some Daniel Levy transfer window economics. “We lost four players. Four important players for Tottenham and we brought in only two.”

Already, his patience wears thin.

This situation is totally different because the level of this league is very high,” he said this week, suggesting he feels a “one percent” ambition of finishing fourth.

Conte being such a motivated character that’s usually enough for him and he will be pushing his players on but that has to be married with a clear disdain for the talent he has at his disposal. Spurs’ performance on Sunday against Wolves was poor and had Tottenham fans fearing that Conte, unable to arrest the slide, may not be around for long.

tottenham-hotspur-stadium-london-uk-15th-aug-2021-kevin-de-bruyne-tackled-by-davinson-sanchez-during-the-premier-league-match-at-tottenham-hotspur-stadium-london-photo-mark-pain-alamy-live Alamy Stock Photo Man City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne tackled by Spurs' Davinson Sanchez. Alamy Stock Photo

For the moment, it is the club’s ownership, Levy and ENIC, who take the heat but a visit to probably the most in-form team in Europe is daunting. It also sees Harry Kane come against the club he would have liked to have joined last summer.

Was it really as recent as August that a Kane-less Tottenham beat City through a Heung-min Son goal? Tottenham have a fair record against Guardiola’s City, who did not relish meeting them in the era of Mauricio Pochettino in particular.

However, Spurs completing the double over the champions is difficult to envisage, as would a repeat of the 3-1 win in Manchester for Chelsea in December 2016 that announced Conte as a force in English football.

John’s bet: Man City to win and Harry Kane to score anytime @ 5/1

Salernitana v AC Milan, Serie A – 7.45pm Saturday 

milan-italy-13th-feb-2022-italy-milan-february-13-2022-sandro-tonali-milan-midfielder-waiting-for-a-goalkeeper-throw-in-the-second-half-during-football-match-ac-milan-vs-sampdoria-serie-a-20 Alamy Stock Photo Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali. Alamy Stock Photo

Last weekend fell into place for the Rossoneri as Napoli and Inter drew and they were able to squeak a 1-0 win win over Sampdoria. With Inter playing Sassuolo on Saturday and Napoli travelling to Cagliari on Monday, here is chance to open up daylight on the other contenders.

Salernitana, rock-bottom and only narrowly escaping extinction over Christmas, would look ideal opposition to buy some breathing space. They have conceded 53 goals so far, by far the most in Serie A and despite drawing their last two matches look ripe for Milan to continue their fine form in February.

John’s bet: AC Milan to score both halves @ 11/10

Real Madrid v Alaves, La Liga – 8pm Saturday 

karim-benzema-mbappe-champions-league-psg-vs-real-de-madrid-in-parc-des-princes-paris-france-on-february-15-2022-15022022-paris-france-photo-by-lionel-urmansipa-usa Alamy Stock Photo Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and (left) PSG's Kylian Mbappe. Alamy Stock Photo

The level of Madrid’s performance on Tuesday, defensive and clinging on for dear life until Kylian Mbappe finally scored late on, had tongues wagging back in Spain. Josep Pedrerol, the grim-faced host of El Chiringuito TV was even more grim-faced than normal as he said: “We saw a small team on the pitch.”

Carlo Ancelotti may soon be feeling the pressure and Madrid’s lead at the top of the Liga table is not unassailable at four points over Sevilla, at Espanyol on Sunday. Alaves, in 18th, are coming off last week’s 2-1 win over Valencia, who need the points as desperately. That said, Madrid won 4-1 at Alaves on the opening weekend of the season, and Thibaut Courtois will probably not be as busy as he was in Paris.

John’s bet: Real Madrid over 3.5 goals @ 12/5

Borussia Dortmund v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga – 4.30pm Sunday 

berlin-deutschland-13th-feb-2022-firo-1-bundesliga-20212022-football-fuvuball-02132022-union-berlin-bvb-borussia-dortmund-0-3-bvb-marco-reus-bvb-manuel-akanji-bvb-mahmoud-dahoud-jubila Alamy Stock Photo Dortmund captain Marco Reus (centre) with team-mates Manuel Akanji (left) and Mahmoud Dahoud (right). Alamy Stock Photo

Last week saw a glimmer of light open up in the Bundesliga title race, with Bayern losing 4-2 to Bochum. There is a growing vulnerability to Julian Nagelsmann’s team, one made apparent when Gladbach beat them on the Bundesliga’s return in January.

For once last week, Dortmund took advantage of a Bayern slip, and beat Union Berlin 3-0. With Bayern playing whipping boys Greuther Furth and heavy odds-on to win, Dortmund, six points behind, cannot afford to slip up against Gladbach who won their first game since that famous Bayern win by beating Augsburg 3-2 last week.

John’s bet: Dortmund and Gladbach to draw @ 16/5

Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad, La Liga – 8pm Sunday

soccer-football-copa-del-rey-round-of-16-athletic-bilbao-v-fc-barcelona-san-mames-bilbao-spain-january-20-2022-athletic-bilbaos-iker-muniain-celebrates-after-the-match-reutersvincent-we Alamy Stock Photo Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao. Alamy Stock Photo

The Basque derby, where eighth plays sixth, is the showpiece Sunday night game in Spain. La Real’s hopes of putting in a proper title challenge went west during an indifferent spell in November and December. Athletic seem to be saving their best for the Copa Del Rey, having beaten Real Madrid on 3 February in that competition where Sociedad lost heavily to Betis at the same stage.

La Real are coming off their Thursday Europa League assignment with RB Leipzig and hope they will can retain the energy to repeat last season’s success at San Mames. Portu scored a rare goal for the winner. When the teams met in October, it took a late goal from Iker Muniain to rescue a point for Athletic.

John’s bet: Sociedad to win and both teams to score @ 13/2

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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