European Football Preview: Madrid derby to the benefit of Barcelona
The Madrid derby pits second against third in La Liga, but the real winner could be Barcelona, writes James Horncastle...
"Atleti lost to Betis last weekend and while it goes down as only their second league defeat of the campaign they have been far from convincing of late."
The Madrid derby
Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
Barcelona will see this weekend as a great opportunity to move a step closer to retaining the La Liga title. While Athletic have improved since a change of manager and have not lost at San Mames in the league since October, Barca know that a win in Bilbao could make preparing for Lyon on February 19 that little bit easier.
Already six points clear at the top of the table, the gap could be stretched to eight if Atleti are held or lose the Madrid derby at the Wanda Metropolitan.
Atleti lost to Betis last weekend and while it goes down as only their second league defeat of the campaign they have been far from convincing of late. The inability to defeat Madrid when at their most vulnerable at the end of September also figures as a regret. Particularly after Diego Simeone's side beat them in the European Super Cup.
Madrid are beginning to find some rhythm under Santi Solari. They were on a five-game winning streak and took the lead in Wednesday's Clasico which ended 1-1 at the Camp Nou. The rivalry obliges Madrid to go all-in despite Wednesday's trip to Ajax for the first leg of their Champions League tie. It's an intense period for Los Merengues. Take the draw @ [3.4].
PSG v Bordeaux
If you were Thomas Tuchel how would you play this one? The Champions League resumes on Tuesday and Manchester United look a completely different proposition since the draw was made back in December. You're 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with two games in hand and know that the season will not be judged a success by retaining the title alone.
Progress in Europe is critical to a team that has exited at the Round of 16 in the last two years and is still to reach a semi-final since the Qataris started pumping money in. Do you rest and rotate where you can? Marco Verratti suffered a setback in his return from injury this week and Neymar is on crutches.
The temptation to field a weakened team against Bordeaux is obvious. But after suffering their first league defeat of the season last weekend and needing extra-time to knock third tier Villefranche out the cup in midweek PSG need to inspire confidence ahead of United's visit next Tuesday. That's the sense on the outside at least.
Tuchel is entitled to take the opposite view but needs to deliver against United in order to justify what otherwise looks like a concerning run of form. The German has taken a few swipes at PSG's recruitment and remains shorthanded in midfield. The lack of depth is stretching a top heavy side.
Might Bordeaux profit from an out of sorts and distracted PSG? The Girondins held the French champions to a 2-2 draw in December but have problems of their own. Eric Bedouet's side have lost three in a row in all competitions and have suspended winger Yann Karamoh for "inappropriate behaviour" after an alleged altercation with the team's assistant coach. But a shuffled pack and turned heads perhaps make it worthwhile punting on Bordeaux to come away with something from the Parc des Princes.
Bordeaux come in @ [4.5] on Double Chance.
Spalletti feels the heat
Parma v Inter
Live on Eleven Sports 2 / Premier 1
Inter are in crisis. As a statement it can come across overblown. A team that needed to win on the final day of last year to qualify for the Champions League is third with a four-point cushion.
But here's the thing. Inter are out of the cup and are yet to win and score in the league in 2019. Teams that were queuing up for fourth spot now believe a place on the podium is up for grabs too. Mauro Icardi has not found the net since his contract talks blew up. Ivan Perisic put in a transfer request over the January window. Roberto Gagliardini and Miranda also wanted out. And big summer signing Radja Nainggolan has flopped.
It's a hot mess compounding the structural problems of a badly assembled team. Last weekend's defeat to Bologna, who hadn't won in four months, was greeted with whistles from the crowd at San Siro and the pressure is mounting. A trip to Parma comes at the worse possible time for Inter.
The Gialloblu twice came back from two-goal deficits away to Juventus to get a famous point in Turin and the contrast in morale is stark. Parma upset Inter at San Siro earlier in the campaign and have the perfect set-up when it comes to playing the big clubs. They can lump it up to Roberto Inglese, the team's target man, or hit opponents on the fast break with Gervinho. Take Parma to win @ [5.5].
Back the draw @ [3.4] in Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
Back Brdeaux Double Chance @ [4.5] v PSG
Back Parma @ [5.5] to beat Inter