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Who likes winter breaks in football anyway? Anybody? The chances are, the only people who actually look forward to an extended break over the Christmas and New Year period are the players themselves, and even then there are a myriad of exceptions, for example if a player or club were in flying form prior to the break and the impact a rest could have on their momentum, and whether or not a break in the middle of a competitive season leads to an increase in the likelihood of an injury? We’ll leave that do the doctors, but one thing is for certain, now the break is over, there are many happy TV executives, supporters and football tipsters around. This weekend sees a busy schedule of matches across Europe with the return of Ligue 1 and the continuation of Serie A and La Liga. The Premier League may be taking a weekend off, with attention moving to the FA Cup, while the Bundesligais not back for another fortnight, but here are some of the biggest matches taking place around Europe this weekend.
Barcelona V Granada, Saturday 9th January 2016 at 15.00 GMT
Barcelona enter Saturday’s game looking for their first league victory of 2016 following last weekend’s rather disappointing 0-0 draw at city rivals Español – a team they subsequently beat 4-1 in Wednesday’s ill-tempered Copa del Rey game. Atletico’s win at home to Levante meant the team from the capital rose to the top of the table following Barcelona’s draw, albeit having played a game more, and with great rivals Real only a further two points back, a win is a must for Luis Enrique’s side. Granada were thrashed by Valencia in their cup match midweek, but will have been buoyed by last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Sevilla, a win which moved the team from the south out of the relegation places. Other than long term absentee Rafinha, the Catalans have a fully fit squad to select from – Luis Suarez’s ban only applying to Copa del Rey matches.
Real Madrid V Deportivo La Coruna, Saturday 9th January 2016 at 19.30 GMT
In case you have been living in a cave or were visiting the moon, Zinedine Zidane is the new head coach of Los Blancos after Rafael Benitez’s rather predictable departure. This sees a marriage between one of the greats of the game with one of the world’s most iconic clubs, and a club the Frenchman once graced so famously. The eyes of the world will be on the Bernabeu on Saturday night when Depor are the visitors, but not, of course, because of the appeal of the visitors. However, those expecting a procession to mark Zizou’s first game in charge should think again. Despite a run of rather disappointing results, the Galicians have had a good season up until now, and sit a point off the Europa League places having lost only one of their nine away games so far. Real have no injury concerns other than the match sharpness of Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos, while Mateo Kovacic is suspended.
Real Madrid 1.11, Draw 9.00, Deportivo La Coruna 21.00
Roma V Milan, Saturday 9th January 2016 at 19.45 GMT
Make no mistakes, this is a huge game at the Stadio Olimpico. Rudi Garcia’s men have only won one of their last nine, while Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Milan began 2016 with a 0-1 home defeat at the hands of Bologna. With all the teams at the top of the table recording wins during the week, the home side need a victory here to keep in touch, while a defeat for the visiting Rossonericould see them an eye-watering eight points off the Europa League places – hardly where you expect a team of Milan’s calibre to be. The Giallorossi will welcome back both RadjaNainggolan and Miralem Pjanic after suspension, but will lose EdinDzeko to the same fate. The visitors, meanwhile, are still without the injured Jeremy Menez, Diego Lopez and Mario Balotelli.
Sampdoria V Juventus, Sunday 10th January 2016 at 19.45 GMT
It will not have escaped the attentions of those teams battling at the top of the table that, after a catastrophic start to the new season in which they won only two of their first seven matches, the Old Lady have rather ominously won their last eight Serie A matches in succession to be within three points of leaders Inter. The gap to Napoli and Fiorentina is now only two. Three points at this stage of the season is as good as nothing, so all eyes will be on Genoa on Sunday night to see how Juvefare on their travels for the first time in 2016. Sampdoria, meanwhile, are not the force they once were, but sandwiched the festive break with back-to-back wins, the last of which was a thrilling2-3 victory over city rivals Genoa. Top scorer Eder was again on target in that match, bringing his season total to 11. For the visitors, Claudio Marchisio is suspended whilst Mario Mandzukic is a doubt. The home side have concerns over Lorenzo De Silvestri and Carlos Carbonero.
Sampdoria 7.50, Draw 4.00, Juventus 1.50
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 21.00 GMT on 08/01/16
By: Steven Paget