8 intriguing things to look out for in football this weekend

Niko Kovac

A storyline nobody wants to see in Brazil is just one of several to keep tabs on this weekend, brought to you by Michael Yokhin 

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Will Chapecoense be relegated?

Two years ago, the world was stunned with grief and shock as almost the entire Chapecoense team was wiped out in a terrible aircraft accident en route to the Copa Sudamericana final.

Life on the pitch will always feel secondary to reality, but this year the team could be relegated. Ahead of the last matchday in Serie A, Chapecoense are ranked 16th, just a single point from the drop zone. On Sunday they host the giants of Sao Paulo, a day after 17th-placed America Mineiro travel to fellow strugglers Fluminense. Sport Recife, a further point behind, are at home to 10th-placed Santos.

If Chape fail to win and one of their rivals picks up points – or just one in America Mineiro’s case – they will go down.

A happy retirement for Rafa?

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St. Totteringham's Day celebrations might feel like ancient history, but Arsenal are still very proud to have only lost one north London derby at home in the last 25 years.

That happened in November 2010, when the Gunners led 2-0 at half-time but were defeated 3-2. Rafael van der Vaart inspired the historic comeback for Spurs in his first derby, scoring a penalty to level things up either side of providing assists for Gareth Bale and Younes Kaboul.

The Dutchman most definitely enjoyed facing Arsenal. He scored twice against them in a 3-3 draw at White Hart Lane in April 2011, and added another as Tottenham won 2-1 in October that year. Even as a Hamburg player he made his mark, netting in a 2006 Champions League defeat at the Emirates.

His record against the Gunners stood at goals in five games, meaning he only scored more times against two teams: Ajax's Eredivisie rivals Twente and Groningen.

The love story between him and the Tottenham fans had never ended, and Van der Vaart is certain to follow things closely on Sunday. Having retired at the beginning of November, he has a lot of free time. His former club could give him a nice present with victory, even though none of his team-mates from 2010 remain. At Arsenal, the only survivor is Laurent Koscielny, and he’s unlikely to take part having only just recovered from knee injury.

Who’ll miss Nainggolan more?

The game between Roma and Inter was supposed to be especially spicy thanks to Radja Nainggolan’s return. The Belgian midfield warrior – a huge fan favourite at the Stadio Olimpico during his four-and-a-half-year spell with the Giallorossi – was controversially sold to Inter for €40 million in the summer, and many feel that the team are yet to recover, especially defensively.

But Roma fans won’t get the chance to ‘welcome’ him back this weekend: having only just recovered from injury, Nainggolan limped out again on Wednesday during Inter’s Champions League tussle at Tottenham.

The Nerazzurri lost without him, and overall Luciano Spalletti’s team seem to play worse when the 30-year-old is out. The coach admitted that Nainggolan’s chances of facing his former club are very low, and the question is simple: who is going to miss him more?

Red-hot Stuani to gun down Atletico again?

Girona fans would never forget August 19, 2017. Having won the promotion to La Liga for the first time in club history, they faced the mighty Atletico Madrid on their debut in the top division.

Expectations were minimal, but striker Cristhian Stuani scored twice in the first half. The Uruguayan, signed from Middlesbrough for just €2.5million, has proved to be one of the bargains of recent memory. He scored 21 goals last term, and is leading the charts this season with 10 in 11 matches – ahead of even his Barcelona compatriot Luis Suarez.

Eventually, Atletico salvaged a 2-2 draw at Girona last season, but the Catalans drew 1-1 against them in Madrid, and that means they are still unbeaten against the Rojiblancos. They are doing extremely well now in seventh place, just four points behind Diego Simeone’s infamously tough bunch. Another upset could be on the cards, largely thanks to the ex-Boro man.

Kovac's last game at Bayern?

Bayern Munich thrashed Benfica in the Champions League this week, but that might not make Niko Kovac's job much easier.

The champions have only won twice in their last eight Bundesliga fixtures, falling nine points behind Borussia Dortmund, and the disastrous 3-3 home draw against lowly Fortuna Dusseldorf could easily have been Kovac’s last act.

It wasn't, but on Saturday the giants in crisis are visiting Bremen. Bayern have enjoyed 14 wins in a row against Werder, and are unbeaten at the Weserstadion since 2006. If those runs are to end, Kovac will likely be given the boot.

Former Holland captains collide

Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a very popular national team captain as Holland reached the 2010 World Cup Final. The dramatic extra-time defeat to Spain in Johannesburg was his last game before retirement, however, and Mark van Bommel controversially took the armband from him.

Bert van Marwijk's decision to appoint his son-in-law wasn't supported by many fans, and the result at Euro 2012 was disastrous – three defeats that ended Van Bommel's international career.

Van Bronckhorst continues to be a Feyenoord hero as their coach nowadays, while Van Bommel is lapping up legendary status among PSV fans in his first season on the bench. The duo face each other in Rotterdam on Sunday, when hosts Feyenoord will be out to ruin Van Bommel's perfect record of 13 wins from 13 Eredivisie matches.

Basel desperately seek revenge

Basel used to be the ultimate force in Switzerland, winning eight titles in a row between 2010 and 2017 – but their hegemony came to a bitter end last term as Young Boys won the league by 15 points.

Things are much worse for Basel this term – the title race is basically over after 15 games, with the champions already having opened up a huge 16-point gap at the top. Basel might be second in the table, but they’re closer to bottom side Neuchâtel Xamax than the top. To make the situation desperate, Young Boys thrashed Basel 7-1 in September.

Marcel Koller, the coach who enjoyed a successful spell with the Austrian national team, is struggling mightily at his new club. On Sunday, he’ll get a chance to exact some sweet revenge as Basel host the leaders, who should arrive exhausted after their injury-time defeat at Old Trafford in the Champions League. Perhaps, though, it won’t be that simple.

Rudes awakening

Meet one of the worst teams in Europe. Rudes have two draws and 13 defeats in Croatia’s top flight – incredibly, after they were just seconds away from a majestic win at champions Dinamo Zagreb on the first matchday in July.

Their hapless squad includes players from Germany, Brazil, Nigeria and Australia, and is led by the 30-year-old Split-born coach Marko Lozo. The young manager was appointed in October, but hasn't managed to win a single point in his first six matches.

In fact, Rudes have lost all of their home fixtures so far. On Saturday they hope to change that when they host Hajduk Split, where Lozo recently worked as an assistant, youth team coach and reserve team coach. Could he possibly celebrate against his beloved club? Hmm.

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