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League leaders Chelsea welcome the interim-to-the-interim: John Brewin's unmissable matches

Elsewhere in this week’s European Eye, Bayern Munich are having Covid-19 problems and Julen Lopetegui faces his former employers.

Michael Carrick and (right) Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel watching on.
Michael Carrick and (right) Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel watching on.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

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. 

Here, he discusses post-Ole Manchester United ahead of their visit to Stamford Bridge, before turning his attention to Italy, Germany and Spain. 

Chelsea v Manchester United, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday

Were Man United as good at sacking managers as Chelsea, then a run on the Champions League could be within their grasp. The trigger was pulled on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer two months ahead of the schedule that saw Frank Lampard tinned and Thomas Tuchel coming in last season.

Perhaps there were signs in midweek with Tuesday’s despatching of Villarreal, though few football people seem to think Michael Carrick has the chops to be anything other than interim-to-the-interim, including Paul Scholes, calling himself “a friend” to his former midfield partner. By the time of kick-off at Stamford Bridge, there may be a longer-term United plan in place with German coach Ralf Rangnick reportedly close to agreeing a deal. 

Carrick will take his team to the Premier League leaders, who have only been beaten once all season, and that was by a Man City team that strangled them with pressing and passing, both of which have been beyond the capabilities of United this season.

Chelsea were seriously impressive in beating Juventus 4-0 on Tuesday, with Thiago Silva utterly dominant in the centre of defence. Only Burnley have scored against Chelsea in their five matches of the last calendar month, though the defensive unit may have been significantly weakened by the loss of Ben Chilwell to a knee injury.

chelseas-ben-chilwell-is-helped-off-the-pitch-with-an-injury-during-the-uefa-champions-league-group-h-match-at-stamford-bridge-london-picture-date-tuesday-november-23-2021 Ben Chilwell is helped off the pitch during Chelsea's win over Juventus. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Marcos Alonso provides experienced cover, but perhaps a lack of speed that Carrick might try to take advantage of. Jadon Sancho, a scorer at Villarreal, may at last have some confidence in himself as a United player.

An interim manager bounce appears unlikely, even taking into account some stories in the local press that Ole had stopped listening to his coaches’ idea of refreshing the team. Chelsea should be too good for United, even allowing for a sudden improvement.

Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of an opportunist goal against Villarreal, has a notably poor record against Chelsea, having scored just once against them in 15 matches, though that was his header in the 2008 Champions League final. He is probably due another one, even if he hasn’t faced them since January 2009.

John’s bet: Chelsea win and Ronaldo to score anytime @ 11/2

Napoli v Lazio, Serie A – 7.45pm Sunday 

warsaw-poland-04th-nov-2021-dries-mertens-of-ssc-napoli-seen-during-the-uefa-europa-league-group-stage-match-between-legia-warszawa-and-ssc-napoli-at-marshal-jozef-pilsudski-legia-warsaw-municipal Napoli will have to rely on Dries Mertens as their main goal threat. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Last week saw Napoli suffer a first defeat of the season when beaten 3-2 by Inter Milan, who swarmed all over Luciano Spalletti’s team. That blew Napoli’s chance to go 10 points clear of the defending champions.

The gap to Milan and Inter is now four points. Perhaps even more costly was the loss of Victor Osimhen to a broken cheekbone, placing pressure on Dries Mertens, the veteran, to replace the young Nigerian’s goals.

Lazio’s strong start to the season is a distant memory, and last week, they succumbed to Juventus. They’ve only beaten bottom club Salernitana in their last four matches but may fancy getting at the Napoli defence.

John’s bet: Napoli win and both teams to score @ 9/4

Bayern Munich v Arminia Bielefeld, Bundesliga – 5.30pm Saturday 

in-addition-to-joshua-kimmich-four-other-players-have-to-go-into-quarantine-jamal-musiala-serge-gnabry-eric-maxim-choupo-moting-michael-cuisance-fc-bayern-munich-archive-photo-serge-gnabry-f Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Last week’s defeat to Augsburg was a genuine shock for Bayern but perhaps it might not have been such a surprise, considering the turmoil at the club. Joshua Kimmich and Eric Choupo-Moting, having refused to take a Covid vaccine, have now been confirmed as testing positive. They will miss the weekend and the crucial clash with Dortmund next week.

Kimmich and four others, including Serge Gnabry, were already being docked wages while they isolate as non-vaxxed players.

Bayern may have beaten Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday but this has been a tough first season for Julian Nagelsmann. The Bundesliga, meanwhile, may be under the threat of postponement because of rising Covid levels. This match will be played in front an empty stadium. Does that grant second-bottom Arminia a chance? Probably not.

John’s bet: Both teams to score @ 11/10

Villarreal v Barcelona, La Liga – 8pm Saturday 

barcelona-spain-23rd-november-2021-nou-camp-barcelona-spain-champions-league-football-fc-barcelona-versus-benfica-9-memphis-depay-fc-barcelona-during-uefa-champions-league-match-against-benfic Barcelona forward Memphis Depay. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Thus far, Xavi has not been able to restore the golden days to Barcelona. Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Benfica was 90 minutes of tedium and had Haris Seferovic scored a sitter, Barca might have been absentees from the Champions League knockouts for the first time since 2001.

Last week, a Memphis Depay penalty won the derby with Espanyol, so the signs are the defending has got a little better even if the attacking still leaves much to be desired. Not that Villarreal, on the evidence of a defeat to Manchester United in which they showed little interest in attacking until they were a goal down, will be too adventurous. This does not promise to be a classic.

John’s bet: Villarreal and Barcelona to draw @ 12/5

Real Madrid v Sevilla, La Liga – 8pm Sunday 

julen-lopetegui-head-coach-of-sevilla-during-the-spanish-championship-la-liga-football-match-between-sevilla-fc-and-levante-ud-on-october-24-2021-at-ramon-sanchez-pizjuan-stadium-in-sevilla-spain Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Wasn’t this supposed to be the worst Real Madrid team in 40 years or so? And yet they enter the weekend top of the Liga table, and with a game in hand on Real Sociedad, who have stalled of late. They’re also the only Spanish team of five booked into the last 16 of the Champions League.

This was also supposed to be Sevilla’s best chance of adding to their sole 1945-6 league title. They remain in touch, just two points behind Madrid in third.

Julen Lopetegui has something to prove to the club who unceremoniously sacked him after two months in charge, while the contribution of Karim Benzema, found guilty of being involved in extortion, but escaping on a suspended sentence, will be an intriguing angle on the game.

The two teams drew 2-2 in May, and a similar spate of goals seems more than plausible.

John’s bet: Real Madrid to win and three or more goals @ 6/4

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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