We’re being served up another sensational sporting weekend – more Six Nations Rugby, the Premier League’s top 4 teams going head-to-head, and a familiar football face fighting for his job in Spain…
Just like last week, France get the ball rolling with a home match in Saturday’s early kick-off. Les Bleus will be looking to build on their nail-biting 23-21 win against Italy, a triumph that gave little signs to suggest anything of a renaissance. The Irish head to Paris, where they have a notoriously poor record, following a hard-fought 16-16 draw against the Welsh in Dublin, an anti-climatic result for both sides, but probably a fair one following such an even contest.
The late game on Saturday sees Wales host Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff eager to bounce back from their Dublin draw disappointment and justify their place as pre-tournament favourites.
After an early exit against the Irish, it appears key man Dan Biggar has made something of a miraculous return from an ankle injury to marshal the Welsh backline. He’ll be facing a Scottish side keen to end a run of eight consecutive defeats in the tournament; however they’ll have to show more flair than they did in last week’s disappointing 15-9 reverse to England in the Calcutta Cup.
Sunday’s encounter, fittingly for Valentine’s Day in the romantic city of Rome, sees the Italians host Eddie Jones’ England, as they’ve seemingly been renamed over the past few weeks! After coming up agonisingly short against the French, despite the efforts of their talisman Sergio Parisse, it’s hard to see anything apart from another Italian defeat in this one.
While there wasn’t anything hugely eye-catching about England’s display at Murrayfield, there was a certain efficiency to their victory and the six-point margin probably flattered the Scots. Rather than the actual outcome, there’ll probably be more interest in which of the Red Rose’s new-wave of young stars, including Maro Itoje and Josh Beaumont, the son of former captain and Question of Sport guru Bill, get to make their mark.
There’ll be no love lost this Sunday on Valentine’s Day as the Premier League fixture computer has thrown up three great games of football!
While Aston Villa are desperate for three points at home to Liverpool in their uphill fight against relegation, it’s at the other end of the table where most eyes will be focused on as the current top four square off.
Leicester take their five point advantage at the summit to third placed Arsenal at lunch-time, and with just 13 more games to go, the question is can anyone stop their unlikely surge towards the title? Arsenal go into the clash in spluttering form and short of goals, while the visiting Foxes are flying high after emerging from seemingly tough games against Liverpool and Manchester City with maximum points (and confidence).
But we only need to look back to the game earlier in the season, when an Alexis Sanchez hat-trick inspired the Gunners to a 5-2 win at the King Power Stadium, to see that Leicester are unlikely to get everything their own way until the end of the campaign.
Sunday’s late game sees Manchester City host Tottenham, a fixture where the second-placed visitors have all the momentum. While fourth-placed City are looking to recover from last Saturday’s 3-1 home reverse against Leicester, Spurs come into the game on the back of four successive league victories and solid, workmanlike performances that even the most one-eyed supporters would admit are rather un-Tottenham like!
September’s game between the sides at White Hart Lane actually gave us early signs of the defensive struggles that have plagued City so often in recent weeks, and while the 4-1 Spurs win on that day may have seemed a blip at the time, the two teams’ fortunes since then suggest the Londoners will travel north with a spring in their steps…
We finish this week’s preview with a trip to Spain, where the big question is whether Gary Neville can finally claim a league victory at the tenth attempt – or will this Saturday’s relegation six-pointer with Espanyol prove the final nail in his managerial coffin?
It always seemed the former Manchester United and England full-back was taking on something of a poisoned chalice with his first test as the big boss – the language barrier; an unfamiliar league; the notoriously impatient (and expectant) faithful at the Mestalla Stadium.
And a tough task it has certainly proved to be. No La Liga victories in nine attempts has seen what were Champions League qualification-chasing Valencia slump to 14th place, just four points above the dreaded drop zone. And even a seemingly morale-boosting run in the Copa del Rey ended in disaster with an 8-1 aggregate hiding by Barcelona, including a chastening 7-0 first-leg thumping at the hands of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
On Saturday evening Neville’s side will host Espanyol, themselves just a point above the relegation places and on the back of a demoralising 5-0 home humbling to Real Sociedad on Monday.
If Neville and his men don’t hit the back of the net a few times and claim a precious three points in this match, surely it won’t be long before he’s back in the TV studio analysing the action rather than sitting in the dugout?
Who do you think will win this Sunday’s big Premier League clashes? Who looks set to claim this year’s Six Nations crown? And did Gary Neville make a mistake taking the Valencia job? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…