Can Man City and Real Madrid be caught? John Brewin picks his standout matches

Our columnist focuses on the Premier League and La Liga to preview the first round of fixtures in 2022.

Brewin banner

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. 

The first weekend of 2022 sees the top divisions in England and Spain scheduled to play, despite the ongoing threat of postponements due to Covid-19 outbreaks at clubs. 

Arsenal v Manchester City, Premier League – 12.30pm Saturday

manchester-england-28th-august-2021-ilkay-gundogan-of-manchester-city-runs-at-the-arsenal-defence-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-etihad-stadium-manchester-picture-credit-should-read-dar Man City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan is tracked by Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard of Arsenal. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

By the time Chelsea and Liverpool kick off on Sunday, Manchester City may well be over the horizon. Wednesday’s win at Brentford was tough going but made it ten in a row, a pace their chasers cannot live with.

Pep Guardiola was able to get away with making no substitutions at Brentford and for Arsenal, there was the sight of a rested Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling given the night off, almost certainly ready to run out at the Emirates.

That’s Mahrez who had scored in his last three matches and Sterling who has rediscovered his goalscoring with a strike against Newcastle and two against Leicester.

With Jack Grealish quiet at Brentford, he seems likely to drop to the bench. Phil Foden, Grealish’s partner in a pre-Christmas drinking session that enraged Guardiola, was the match-winner as a false nine for a team so good it has no requirement for a striker. 

So what of Arsenal? Mikel Arteta will have to watch from home, having succumbed again to Covid, and miss out on the chance to be reunited with his one-time boss and mentor.

Guardiola always reserves special praise for Arteta, and well he might. Arteta has faced him six times so far and won just once, though that was the 2020 FA Cup final.

manchester-city-manager-pep-guardiola-left-and-arsenal-manager-mikel-arteta-after-the-final-whistle-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-emirates-stadium-london-picture-date-sunday-february-21 Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta will not be reunited on Saturday as the latter has Covid. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

That and a 4-1 League Cup loss in December 2020 are the only occasions Arsenal have managed to score against City. Last season in the Premier League, City won 1-0 at the Emirates and earlier this term, they won 5-0 at the Etihad.

Arsenal have definitely improved since, kicking off on Saturday lunchtime in fourth, and coming off a run of four Premier League wins in succession.

That late-arriving and embarrassing 2-1 loss to Everton on 6 December is all but forgotten as the likes of Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have surged to the fore.

Arsenal now seem to have the measure of the lesser lights of the Premier League, though have lost to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. And City are a cut above any of them.

John’s bet: Manchester City to win and both teams to score @ 9/5

Chelsea v Liverpool, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday 

leicester-city-goalkeeper-kasper-schmeichel-saves-a-penalty-from-liverpools-mohamed-salah-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-king-power-stadium-leicester-picture-date-tuesday-december-28-2021 Mo Salah see his penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This has the feel of an eliminator of who might come closest to Manchester City, though Thomas Tuchel – during a lengthy post-match whinge about scheduling, Covid, life, the universe and everything – already seems to have given up the ghost.

His Chelsea team could not put Brighton away and have become shaky at the back too.

Liverpool’s loss at Leicester was something of a shock but the signs of decline were apparent in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham. Whisper it, but Mohamed Salah has hit a cold streak – he last scored in open play on 1 December.

It’s a game neither can afford to lose and that suggests a draw is the most likely result.

John’s bet: Chelsea and Liverpool to draw @ 12/5

Getafe v Real Madrid, La Liga – 1pm Sunday 

carlo-ancelotti-coach-of-real-madrid-during-the-spanish-championship-la-liga-football-match-between-real-madrid-and-cadiz-cf-on-december-19-2021-at-santiago-bernabeu-stadium-in-madrid-spain-photo Real Madrid bos Carlo Ancelotti. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

La Liga’s winter break is rather shorter than those enjoyed in France and Germany, while Serie A waits to return on 6 January and La Befana’s day of matches. In Spain, Real Madrid were cruising before their Christmas holidays, eight points clear of second-placed Sevilla.

They have lost just once all season, to Espanyol on 3 October, and aside from 19 December’s surprise draw with Cadiz have been on a winning run since the end of October.

Might a mini outbreak of Covid-19 in the camp halt them? Thibaut Courtois and Vini Jr will both be missing, while Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga have also contracted the virus.

Getafe, deep in the relegation battle and despite signing off 2021 with a defeat of Osasuna, should not present too much trouble.

John’s bet: Real Madrid to score in both halves @ 2/1

Watford v Tottenham, Premier League – 3pm Saturday 

tottenham-hotspurs-harry-kane-scores-their-sides-second-goal-of-the-game-before-before-being-ruled-offside-during-the-premier-league-match-at-st-marys-stadium-southampton-picture-date-tuesday-de Spurs striker Harry Kane has rediscovered his goalscoring form. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Perhaps the toughest selections to be made from the New Year Premier League list are those games that will go ahead, and Leicester v Norwich was the first to go.

Just about every team has a lengthy list of injuries and Covid-19 infections so let’s plump for this one, where both were able to complete their midweek fixture.

Watford were on the end of a 4-1 defeat to West Ham, who had too much speed in attack for them, while Tottenham failed to beat Southampton despite being up against ten men for the entire second half.

Doubts over how long Hornets boss Claudio Ranieri might be around are beginning to grow and his compatriot Antonio Conte, unbeaten in the Premier League since his return, must fancy a win at Vicarage Road.

John’s bet: Harry Kane to score first @ 10/3

Mallorca v Barcelona, La Liga – 8pm Sunday

milan-italy-10th-october-2021-ferran-torres-of-spain-during-the-warm-up-prior-to-the-uefa-nations-league-final-match-at-stadio-giuseppe-meazza-milan-picture-credit-should-read-jonathan-moscrop Spanish forward Ferran Torres has made the switch to Barca. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Barcelona are back, and with a new forward in Ferran Torres, signed for a headline fee of €55m that was supposed to be beyond their bank balance. Perhaps Torres, underused at Manchester City, can spearhead a revival that already seems to have stalled under Xavi.

However, news that Philippe Coutinho, Sergino Dest and Abde Ezzalzouli have tested positive for Covid-19 brings the number of Barca players infected with the virus up to ten.

Last time out, a draw at a very decent Sevilla was creditable enough but there is significant work to do to catch up with the top four.

Mallorca, for whom veteran midfielder Dani Rodriguez is top scorer on just three goals, lost 4-1 to Granada just before Christmas and should not present any problem if Barcelona are to kick on in 2022.

John’s bet: Barcelona to win at Mallorca @ 11/10

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  

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel