A weekly insight into local, national, and international soccer, “Anything but Quakes” previews the best matches of the week ahead.
Games of the Week:
Liverpool FC vs. Fulham FC, Sat. Dec. 22, 9:30 a.m. PST, Anfield
With the holiday season approaching, many set aside the time to reflect on the year past. The Barclay’s Premier League will reach its near midway point before the holiday break and finds that the usual suspects are at both the summit and the basement of the league standings.
If the 2011/2012 Premier League season would be any indication of team’s performances in the 2012/2013 season, the upcoming Liverpool FC vs. Fulham match at Anfield may take on more significance for European qualification than the current sides sitting in the 12th and 13th spots respectively.
Liverpool has undergone significant front office changes in recent years. John Henry and Tom Werner’s Fenway Sports Group purchased the famed club in October, 2010 and have set their sights on returning the club to the prominence it found in the 1970’s.
Former Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers now holds the reigns for the Merseysiders. Yet, he is still waiting to align the club’s on-field success with that of their ownership’s vision.
Saturday’s match against Fulham may be the inflection point for a team striving to break into the top four. Despite suffering a 3-1 loss at the hands of Aston Villa last Saturday, Liverpool must now re-group and prepare for the final months of the season.
Expect an open match between the two sides. Fulham’s refined Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov has a knack for taking advantage of opportunistic chances.
AS Roma vs. AC Milan, Sat. Dec. 22, 11:45 a.m. PST, Stadio Olimpico
Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will host the traditionally heralded matchup between two sides admittedly underperforming. AS Roma sits in sixth place and AC Milan are right behind them; two teams perennially fighting for not only a Champions League berth but the Serie A crown.
AC Milan’s performances to date have fluctuated as they try to find their offensive prowess. The loss of journeyman Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have left an indelible mark on their goal-scoring abilities. With rumors that Robinho may leave in January, Milan’s attack may be on a precipitous decline. Young Stephan El-Shaaarawy, though, has taken advantage of the opportunity left by Ibrahimovic’s exit. The Italian has tallied 14 goals in 17 Serie A games this season and is hungry for more.
Roma’s attack is once again spearheaded by an Italian presence. Pablo Daniel Osvaldo has recorded eight league strikes while forever young 36-year-old Francesco Totti has added six more.
Points will be crucial for these two sides as they fight for a place in Europe.
Manchester United vs. Swansea City, Sun. Dec. 23, 5:30 a.m. PST, Liberty Stadium
The “Swans” will host the matchup between first place Manchester United and the 10th place Welsh side. Michael Laudrup has helped Swansea pick up where Brendan Rodgers left them last year; embracing a dynamic brand of passing soccer commonly not found in the British Isles. Swansea may be playing some of the best soccer in the Premier League. Relatively unknown Spanish striker, Michu, has taken the league by storm. The former Rayo Vallecano has provided 12 league goals for Swansea and seems to do nothing wrong in the process. United will be led by Dutchman Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. Although United are expected to walk away with three points, the Liberty Stadium has proven difficult for many away teams.
Real Madrid vs. Malaga, Sat. Dec. 22, 11 a.m. PST, Estadio La Rosaleda
Real Madrid are desperate to resurrect their winning ways. After a loss and a tie in their past two matches, Real Madrid sit in third place in the La Liga table; four points behind cross-town rivals Atletico and 13 points behind archrivals Barcelona. Add internal strife to the equation, a foreseeable managerial change in the coming weeks, and Real Madrid may be all but out as repeat league title contenders. Fourth place Malaga will be no easy team or place to play. The Champions League side has found a recipe of success through a motley crew of individuals. Madrid may be in for another surprise and, should Madrid not get a win, it may be the last match for Jose Mourinho.