Stories

8 big stories to look out for in football this weekend

A Brit doing bits abroad, Thierry Henry’s new man and a frustrated Real Madrid star all feature in Michael Yokhin’s review this week

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ALF breaking records

On the other side of the globe, Adam Le Fondre has started his career at Sydney FC with 11 goals in 12 matches. The 32-year-old Englishman, let go by Bolton in August, has finally found a club where he is a certain starter – and is thoroughly enjoying life in Australia. In the meantime, the Trotters have only netted 17 times in 26 Championship fixtures this season.

The self-confessed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fan was on target again on Wednesday, but Sydney lost at Perth Glory in a crucial clash at the top and must get back on track against Adelaide United on Sunday.

Le Fondre is already the fastest player to reach 10 goals in the A-League, and now he wants to break his predecessor Bobo’s record of 27 goals last season.

Naldo to save Monaco?

It takes some courage to start a risky new adventure at the age of 36. After more than 13 years in Germany, one of the best foreign defenders in Bundesliga history has joined Monaco.

The man who enjoyed legendary status at Werder Bremen, and reached the Champions League quarter-finals with Wolfsburg, had become frustrated with his lack of playing time at Schalke this season and was lured to help Thierry Henry in his desperate relegation battle.

Naldo, the towering centre-back with a phenomenal scoring record, is expected to become the leader in a team of youngsters. On Sunday he is expected to make his Ligue 1 debut at Marseille, and the test will be fascinating.

Ceballos to face former team at last?

One of Real Madrid’s biggest problems is that they failed to use their recent acquisitions properly. Dani Ceballos is a great example – he joined from Betis for €18 million in summer 2017, but was barely used by Zinedine Zidane and is having trouble proving himself this season as well.

The 22-year-old midfielder – who is seen as an important part of the national team for years to come – might eventually have to leave the Bernabeu to get decent playing time.

Ceballos is probably missing Betis, who are having a good season in seventh place, just four points behind Madrid. Last term he watched both fixtures against his former club from the bench, and enjoyed this season’s 5-3 thriller in Seville as a spectator. Ceballos will be hoping it’s fourth time lucky as Los Blancos seek their first La Liga win of 2019.

Porto's phenomenal run to continue?

A lot of top Portuguese managers never played football professionally themselves, but Sergio Conceicao is definitely not one of them. The former national team star was a stylish midfielder who enjoyed spells at Lazio, Parma and Inter in Serie A, and won three championship titles with Porto.

Now the 44-year-old is making a name for himself on the touchline. Having led Porto to their first title in five years last season, he is likely to repeat the feat this term – the Dragons are on a remarkable run of 18 straight wins in all competitions ahead of their big game at Sporting on Sunday.

Conceicao's men last dropped points when losing 1-0 at Benfica on October 7. Could they be stopped in the capital once again?

"Lads, it's Tottenham"... ?

As time went by, this turned out to be one of the best remembered Alex Ferguson quotes – probably because it more or less summed up his era. Once upon a time, Manchester United were feared; Tottenham were not. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can still feel those days. In fact, Spurs were probably his favourite opponents.

The Norwegian striker scored seven goals against them, including his first Premier League brace in 1996. Solskjaer also played an important part in the two sides’ most famous meeting, when the Red Devils came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win 5-3 at White Hart Lane in 2001. Naturally, he was sent on by Fergie as a substitute, changed everything and provided two assists to Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham.

But now the situation is different. Now, Manchester United are winless at Tottenham since 2012. Spurs have won the last three in north London, and thrashed their rivals 3-0 at Old Trafford in August without playing especially well. Manager Mauricio Pochettino is thought to be on the shortlist of candidates to take over in the summer, but Solskjaer would love to have something to say about it – and this is the best opportunity to prove his worth.

The legendary ex-forward has won his first five matches since replacing Jose Mourinho, but they were against fairly modest opposition. Tottenham are his first big test – and if he passes it with flying colours, then who knows what’s next?

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Saponara to punish Milan?

Riccardo Saponara was supposed to be one of Italy's rising stars when Milan signed him in 2013. An industrious midfielder with a magical touch, he enjoyed a magnificent sensational season for Empoli in Serie B under Maurizio Sarri, who said in retrospect: "Saponara is one of the best players I have ever seen", before adding that he is "a bit fragile mentally".

That was probably the reason why the schemer failed to make an impression at San Siro. He barely played for the Rossoneri and eventually returned to Empoli just 18 months later, never to find that special form again. He is still a decent performer, but is yet to be called up for the national team at the age of 27, and his huge promise will most likely remain unfulfilled.

This term, however, Saponara has shown glimpses of genius once again at Sampdoria, on loan from Fiorentina. He scored a glorious equaliser nine minutes into injury time in a 2-2 draw at Lazio. He scored an even better injury-time leveller two weeks ago at Juventus, only to be denied by an outrageous VAR decision.

Arguably his best game was against Milan at San Siro, when he scored and provided an assist for Fabio Quagliarella, but the hosts came back to win 3-2. And now he returns for a Coppa Italia fixture. Could he hurt them again?

Baggies and Canaries promise excitement

If you like drama, Norwich and West Brom are very likely to provide it – the Baggies have the best offensive record in the Championship with 54 goals in 26 matches.

The Canaries aren’t far behind with 48 goals, but also have a speciality of both scoring and conceding very late. Their star striker Teemu Pukki, for example, has scored 13 of his 15 goals in second halves.

Fittingly, the first meeting between these two promotion candidates ended in a thrilling 4-3 win for West Brom at Carrow Road. On Saturday they face each other again at The Hawthorns, and it could be the pick of the matches at 3pm – even taking the Premier League schedule into account.

PAOK on the way to history?

No team outside of Athens has won the Greek title since 1988. In the three decades since, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and AEK are the only sides to have lifted the trophy.

It could all change now, however, as PAOK Thessaloniki – coached by Mircea Lucescu's son, Razvan – have started the season with 13 win and a draw, opening up an eight-point gap at the top.

They are hardly playing spectacular football, and their performances in the Europa League were rather dismal, but PAOK have been very effective domestically so far. It remains to be seen whether they’re capable of continuing the run in 2019. Their first challenge at Asteras Tripolis on Sunday is tough, and the Athens giants are waiting impatiently for the leaders' first defeat.

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