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Alamy Stock Photo Solskjaer needs a result against Nuno Espirito Santo and Spurs on Saturday.
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Stay of execution for Ole, Juve stuttering and Van Bommel sacked: John Brewin's standout games
In the latest European Eye, our columnist previews five matches worth checking out this weekend.

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 weekend, there are strong themes of managers losing their jobs and fallen giants struggling to claw their way back to the upper echelons of Europe’s top divisions. 

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Tottenham v Manchester United, Premier League – 5.30pm Saturday 

The stay of execution for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer puts him back into the headlights, though perhaps he has landed something of a touch in facing the fundamentally supine Spurs. Perhaps the days have gone when Ole’s lord and master Alex Ferguson could say “lads, it’s Spurs” and watch his team sail to a win, but United should have far too much class for Nuno’s team.

That word: should. This will be an examination of how far United’s players are prepared to go for their manager. Or have they already thrown it in? The evidence of the first half against Liverpool last week certainly suggested so. And the week’s newspapers have been full of gossip – flatly denied by official sources – that there is infighting behind the scenes.

Perhaps the players’ greatest motivation might be the fear of Antonio Conte’s wild eyes following them round the dressing room, and the extra running the Italian will have them doing in training.

Spurs were abject last week in losing at West Ham, in an admittedly abject game, a reminder that Harry Kane and his colleagues do not get to face Newcastle every week. Vitesse Arnhem showed that in the Europa League, as did a narrow Carabao Cup win at Burnley in which chances aplenty were missed.

manchester-uniteds-edinson-cavani-during-the-uefa-champions-league-group-f-match-at-old-trafford-manchester-picture-date-wednesday-october-20-2021 Alamy Stock Photo Should United restore the hardworking Edinson Cavani to their forward line? Alamy Stock Photo

Solskjaer has a decent enough record against Spurs, his only United defeat coming to them in that crazy 6-1 defeat last October, deep in the midst of pandemic football. In April, Edinson Cavani – remember him? – was the key man in a riotous 3-1 win in north London, a match that showed off United as a cohesive attacking force. That all feels a significant distance away with Cristiano Ronaldo’s return sidelining Cavani and Jadon Sancho struggling so badly. United have lost five matches of ten since Ronaldo’s return.

Cavani came on as a sub last week, by which time the die was cast. Will Solskjaer restore a player whose work from the front can be a first line of defence? Or will he stick with the tried and untrustworthy who threaten his employment status? One of the striking facets of his near-three years in charge of United has been the recovery of his footing just when all seems lost. Pulling this one round would be a supreme act of escapology.

John’s bet: Man United and Tottenham to draw @ 5/2

Barcelona v Alaves, La Liga – 8pm Saturday 

madrid-spain-27th-oct-2021-falcao-during-the-liga-match-between-rayo-vallecano-and-barcelona-f-c-at-futbol-de-vallecas-stadium-on-october-27-2021-in-madrid-spain-photo-by-moch-farabi-wardanap Alamy Stock Photo Ronald Koeman was sacked on Wednesday after 35-year-old Radamel Falcao scored the winner for Rayo Vallecano. Alamy Stock Photo

Farewell then, Ronald Koeman, loved as a Barcelona player, far less so as a Barca manager. The wheels are already in motion for Xavi’s return to the fold, as the midfield metronome is reportedly in talks to take the reins.

B team coach Sergi Barjuan has been put in temporary charge and until Xavi can turn them around, Barcelona remain a sitting duck for anyone, just as they were in the defeat to an excellent Rayo Vallecano that did for Koeman.

Can Alaves pull off a famous win against a wounded Goliath? They did so at Camp Nou as recently as 2016, when even Lionel Messi coming on as a sub could not turn things around. With three wins from five, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Barca’s problems run far deeper than Koeman.

John’s bet: Alaves to win at Barcelona @ 10/1

Verona v Juventus, Serie A – 5pm Saturday

turin-italy-27-october-2021-paulo-dybala-of-juventus-fc-is-challenged-by-gregoire-defrel-gian-marco-ferrari-and-hamed-traore-of-us-sassuolo-during-the-serie-a-football-match-between-juventus-fc-an Alamy Stock Photo Juventus' stand-in captain Paulo Dybala is tracked down during their defeat to Sassuolo. Alamy Stock Photo

Juve must try to reheat a revival halted by last week’s Derby d’Italia draw with Inter, and Wednesday’s defeat to Sassuolo. They needed a Paulo Dybala in the last minute to draw level at Inter, and only via a rather questionable piece of VAR officiating, while Maxime Lopez’s goal in the 95th minute denied them on Wednesday just when Weston McKennie seemed to have secured an undeserved point.

Verona, having scored their own late equaliser at Udinese on Wednesday, might fancy their chances.

John’s bet: Verona and Juventus to draw @ 13/5

Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga – 2.30pm Saturday

wolfsburg-germany-28th-oct-2021-football-bundesliga-vfl-wolfsburg-training-coach-florian-kohfeldt-comes-to-the-pitch-wolfsburgs-new-coach-kohfeldt-leads-his-first-training-session-with-the-v Alamy Stock Photo Florian Kohfeldt is in for Mark van Bommel. Alamy Stock Photo

Mark van Bommel is no longer Wolfsburg manager. Four straight wins at the start of the season are long forgotten; they have not won since. Four straight losses led to his Sunday sacking.

Not that Bayer Leverkusen are in good form. A 5-1 defeat by Bayern was followed by a 2-2 draw at Koln and a midweek German Cup defeat to Karlsruher. Another early pace-setter has started to fall by the wayside.

And the news that Newcastle are looking to sign wunderkind Florian Wirz in January has further darkened moods.

Former Werder Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt, the new man in at Wolfsburg, might though fancy a new manager bounce. His main selling point so far is not being Van Bommel.

John’s bet: Wolfsburg to win at Leverkusen @ 29/10

Lyon v Lens, Ligue 1 – 8pm Saturday

seko-fofana-8-lens-during-the-french-championship-ligue-1-football-match-between-rc-lens-and-olympique-lyonnais-on-april-3-2021-at-bollaert-delelis-stadium-in-lens-france-photo-laurent-sanson-ls Alamy Stock Photo Lens midfielder Seko Fofana in action against Lyon last season. Alamy Stock Photo

For the other clubs in Ligue 1, barring implosions amid the galaxy of stars at PSG, the race is on to be best of the rest, and Lens are in that position at the moment, their 4-1 defeat of Metz last week raising them to second.

They spread the goals around the team, with Przemyslaw Frankowski and captain Seko Fofana, both midfielders, current top scorers with three each. Flying wing-back Jonathan Clauss is their leading assister with four goals.

Lyon, have conceded five goals in their last two matches, and may be vulnerable to Lens’ attacking play. This certainly looks a match that should be blessed with goals.

John’s bet: Lens to win at Lyon and two or more goals to be scored @ 24/5

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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