Can Bosz take revenge at Dortmund?
Peter Bosz couldn't have wished for a better time to return to the Westfalenstadion. The Dutchman's reputation suffered a blow during his short spell at Borussia Dortmund marred by defensive difficulties at the beginning of last season, and was fired in December 2017.
He is now at Bayer Leverkusen, and appears undeterred by his managerial blip. "German fans haven't seen the real Bosz yet," he claimed upon replacing Heiko Herrlich during the winter break.
His start has been promising. While Bosz’s Leverkusen lost to Borussia Monchengladbach on his debut and were humiliated by second division Heidenheim in the DFB-Pokal, they have managed to achieve four Bundesliga wins in a row now, including an impressive 3-1 triumph over Bayern Munich. He has reinvented Julian Brandt in a midfield role, made Leon Bailey shine again, and is visiting Dortmund on Sunday in a fine mood.
Dortmund's momentum is much less encouraging at the moment – they were dumped out of the cup, got thrashed 3-0 at Tottenham in the Champions League, have failed to win their last three Bundesliga fixtures (including a sorry goalless draw at rock-bottom Nurnberg), and their injury woes are still significant. Are they there for the taking? Or is Bosz exactly the right rival to get the yellow-and-black bandwagon back on track?
Solskjaer couldn't care less
"Couldn't care less." Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made a lot of statements to please Manchester United fans since replacing Jose Mourinho in December, but will struggle to top that riposte as Cardiff manager in 2014. Having lost 6-3 to Liverpool in March 2014, the Norwegian was asked about the Reds' chances of winning an elusive title, said his three words with a naughty smile and left.
But the legendary former striker actually has Liverpool to thank for coming back to Old Trafford. The Reds took Manchester United apart 3-1 at Anfield in what happened to be Mourinho's last game on the bench, and one can only wonder what could have been if the Norwegian had arrived earlier.
Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford won't finish top this season, but they definitely hope to affect the title race by hurting Liverpool on Sunday. This is Solskjaer's most important task. Win, and his job next season is all but assured. Lose, and he will have to face yet another question about Liverpool’s chances. Would he care this time?
Icardi absence in the spotlight
The Mauro Icardi drama is far from over, and the Argentine is expected to miss Sunday's trip to Florence despite being fit. Inter's former captain is angry that the armband had been taken from him by the club, and wants it back immediately.
Inter should have known better in the first place. A club which has had such long-serving captains as Giuseppe Bergomi and Javier Zanetti should probably have thought twice before handing the armband to such a divisive and volatile character. Icardi is a magnificent striker and an influential character, but he is not a natural leader and his current behaviour has proved that beyond doubt.
Team-mates could flourish in his absence, but the headlines are only about him and Fiorentina could take advantage of the mess. Viola coach Stefano Pioli, a die-hard Interista, is still upset at being sacked by the Nerazzurri in 2017. This should be his best chance to take very sweet revenge.
Rodri faces former club
Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan centre-backs Diego Godin and Jose Maria Jimenez stole headlines in the Rojiblancos' superb 2-0 win over Juventus on Wednesday, while attackers Antoine Griezmann, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata are always in the spotlight. We shouldn’t, though, miss the huge influence of Rodri.
The 22-year-old midfielder turned out to be Diego Simeone's most important signing in the summer, having arrived from Villarreal for €20m. Quietly brilliant in his distribution and very disciplined tactically, he has been touted as a possible heir to Sergio Busquets in the Spanish national team. It's no surprise that Simeone trusts him wholeheartedly.
Atletico face the Yellow Submarine on Sunday, and Rodri will get some deserved attention against his former club.
PSV fear Feyenoord's unpredictability
Feyenoord are a peculiar team these days. They celebrated their biggest ever win over Ajax a month ago, thrashing the Amsterdamers 6-2 and playing some sensational football – but then lost three away fixtures in a row to lowly opposition.
On Sunday they visit leaders PSV, who are enjoying a perfect home record this season with 11 victories so far at the Philips Stadion. But they will remember only too well that the Rotterdamers’ 2-1 victory in December was the first – and so far, only – time they have suffered defeat in the league since Mark van Bommel took over.
PSV have drawn three of their last five games, and Van Bommel has started to feel the pressure. That four-point lead over Ajax could be in danger.
Can Galatasaray's bogey team strike again?
Akhisar are in a desperate situation at the foot of the table in Turkey, but national giants Galatasaray may still fear them.
The minnows enjoyed amazing success against the Lions in 2018. For starters, Akhisar knocked them out of the cup semi-finals with a brilliant 2-0 win in the second leg, thanks to two goals by burly Ukrainian striker Yevhen Seleznyov.
They eventually lifted the trophy and went on the beat Galatasaray in the Super Cup on penalties, with Seleznyov on target again in a 1-1 draw. Then they thrashed Galatasaray 3-0 in the league in September – their first win of the season. On Sunday they meet again, with Akhisar hoping to achieve their first league victory of 2019.
"Experienced" striker turns 52
The J.League opens its new season this weekend, but arguably the most intriguing event could happen in the second division.
Veteran striker Kazu Miura celebrates his 52nd birthday on Tuesday, and his club – Yokohama FC – could gift him an appearance when they face Nagasaki on Sunday. The man who started his unique career in Brazil in 1986 refuses to hang up his boots, and recently extended his Yokohoma contract after making nine substitute appearances in 2018.
Miura's last start was in April 2017, and he is unlikely to be given a chance from the first minute against major opponents, but history will be made even if he enters the field for a few seconds. And you thought Claudio Pizarro was old.
Grasshopper in danger of historic relegation
Swiss football's saddest story in recent years has been the gradual demise of Grasshopper. The country's most successful team have won the title 27 times in their history, but last tasted success back in 2003.
They have been fighting at the wrong end of the table in recent years, and this season the situation is especially grim. They are bottom of the league with six defeats in a row dating back to early December, putting German coach Thorsten Fink under serious pressure.
Could they go down for the first time since 1951? Their game at Thun on Sunday is extremely important.
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