LONDON: With the second round of the Champions League just around the corner, now is the time for leading teams to rest key men or put in a five-star performance, or, in an ideal world, both. Here are four things to look out for this weekend.
IS VINICIUS JUNIOR THE NEW RONALDO?
When Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid last summer, Gareth Bale was supposed to be the one to step into the Portuguese’s big boots and drive the Bernabeu boys to more glory. But while the Welshman has failed to excite this season, Real fans have not been left without a hero to worship. Step forward an 18-year-old Brazilian. Vinicius Junior arrived in the Spanish capital in July 2018 and has been one of the few positives for Real in a season that has seen Julen Lopetegui sacked and Real trail bitter rivals Barcelona by eight points in La Liga. Vinicius has started in Real’s past five matches and looked every inch the main man. This season he has scored four goals and drawn comparisons with another young talent, Kylian Mbappe. He will surely start ahead of Bale for today’s clash against City rivals Atletico, and if he can put in another good 90 minutes and help Real leapfrog their neighbors into second place, the hype surrounding him will only increase.
WHICH CITY AND CHELSEA WILL TURN UP ON SUNDAY?
Much depends on this mouth-watering clash for both sides. City, having returned back to the top of the table midweek, will be keen to maintain their title challenge, knowing Liverpool could go three points clear against Bournemouth today. Chelsea are a hugely erratic side under Maurizio Sarri. They have been spectacularly bad in their past two away matches — at Arsenal and Bournemouth — but with Eden Hazard still pulling the strings and Gonzalo Higuain looking like he could be the man to solve the side’s striker problem, they can never be ruled out. The Blues beat City 2-0 in December. That may be only two months ago, but eight weeks is an age in football.
BAYERN NEED A BOOST
Usually a home match for Bayern in the Bundesliga is nothing more strenuous than a stroll in Munich’s famous Englische Garten park, such is the predictability with which they win the title. This season, thankfully for all those who do not support FC Hollywood, is a different matter. They face Schalke today on the back of a 3-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. The only thing worse than the result was the performance — Bayern were torn apart on the break and looked anything but the dominant force of old. A result against Schalke is essential not only to keep pace with Borussia Dortmund, who are seven points clear of Bayern at the top of the table, but also as a morale boost ahead of a daunting away leg at Liverpool in the Champions League in a week’s time.
CAN JUVENTUS FIND TOP GEAR?
The Old Lady may be nine points clear at top of the Serie A table, but there is a sense that the Turin club are far from their best at just the point when they face the Champions League knockout stages. Juventus may have dropped only six points in 22 games, but they have conceded six goals in the past two matches. The first was a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia and the second a 3-3 draw against Parma in the league — a match that saw them lose a two-goal lead. It is the first time during Massimiliano Allegri’s reign that Juventus have conceded six goals in the space of two matches. The club’s president, Andrea Agnelli, wants his side to win all titles they are contesting. On the evidence of 2019 so far, he is going to end up very disappointed.