Ten to Watch in November

mcbarcaLife at the day job is busy right now, so this will have to be quick (except for yesterday’s game, which demands an account):

1st Manchester City 3 – Barcelona 1 (Champions League). If you didn’t see this game yesterday, catch it on replay. Ludogorets 2 – Arsenal 3 (1st) was breath-taking in its own way, but Pep Guardiola’s response to Barcelona’s 1st half dominance was absolutely stunning. After being overrun with Fernandinho as the sole holder in a 4-3-3 for 40 minutes (Pablo Zabaleta would sometimes tuck in from right back to offer additional support), Guardiola brought İlkay Gündoğan back alongside Fernandinho in a 4-2-3-1. This seemed to happen after the equalizing goal that was gifted them by Sergio Roberto, but that they nonetheless made magical through the brilliant interplay of Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, and Gündoğan. The combination of dropping Gündoğan deeper and bringing Kevin De Bruyne into the middle (essentially swapping him with David Silva) helped to stifle Barcelona’s counter-attacking threat, and Luis Enrique never quite figured out how to respond.

Barcelona unexpectedly started in something like a 4-4-2, with Messi up top to the left of Luis Suárez and Neymar driving the counter-attack down the left flank. Fernandinho was drawn to that flank, leaving space in front of the center backs open to attack. Gündoğan’s more reserved role freed Fernandinho to close out the flank without leaving a hole, while De Bruyne’s creative talents in the middle of the pitch ensured that City’s attack remained fluid. After 60 minutes, Enrique brought Arda Turan in for Ivan Rakitić as Guardiola replaced Fernandinho with the deeper-lying Fernando. After about five minutes with Turan on the right and Messi playing beneath Suárez in something like a 4-2-3-1, Barcelona reverted to their more traditional 4-3-3, Turan moving to the left of midfield and André Gomes to the right (though Messi remained centrally positioned even if now nominally at right wing). With 15 minutes left, Rafinha Alcántara came in for Gomes, but with little effect.

That such a small change by Guardiola could have such global impact was thrilling, but so were the goals; and each side, in its half of dominance had more than their fair share of near misses as well. A tactical masterclass and a thrilling football game to boot, this one lived up to the billing.

6th Arsenal – Tottenham Hotspur. For a second year in a row, the North London derby is a critical fixture for the top of the table. This should be a good one, with Harry Kane likely to be back in action.

Sevilla – Barcelona. While Samir Nasri’s hamstring injury in Sevilla’s 1-1 tie at Sporting de Gijón this weekend puts a definite damper on their chances of upsetting Barcelona, don’t count Jorge Sampaoli’s men out.  With the Madrid derby set for the weekend following the international break, this game is a critical opportunity to take advantage of the dropped points to come. If you’re still looking for more football later in the day and on into the evening, the 2nd leg of MLS Conference Semifinals will be on. Colorado Rapids – Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls – Montreal Impact are the better bets, as those home teams have only one-goal deficits to overcome. The Conference Finals (which is to say, the Semifinals) will be spread across the final eleven days of the month.

10th Brazil – Argentina (World Cup Qualifier). Thanks goodness for the Americas, as they will provide some relief from a profoundly boring set of European fixtures over the international break. This tie against South America’s traditional powerhouses sees Brazil at the top of the qualifying table, while Argentina are effectively tied with Chile for the 5th place play-off spot. Though it probably won’t ultimately determine much in terms of qualification, there is always skin in this match, and teammates Neymar and Messi will each be eager for bragging rights. (European hipsters can always tune in for Croatia – Iceland on the 12th).

11th United States – Mexico (World Cup Qualifier). On Friday evening, the two top dogs of CONCACAF kick off the opening round of the “hex.” This one could even be fun for those outside North America. If you haven’t had an opportunity yet to jump on the Pulisic train (that Poo-LISS-sick–like they say it in Pittsburgh–not Poo-lih-SICH), now’s your chance.

19th Borussia Dortmund – Bayern Munich. Der Klassiker doesn’t have quite the same ring as El Clásico, but this showdown between Thomas Tuchel’s and Carlo Ancelotti’s men should be a good game notwithstanding the 8 point gap between the two sides. This is the first of the weekend’s three classic derbies.

Atlético Madrid – Real Madrid. Atlético’s emergence as a serious challenger to the Spanish duopoly has transformed a fixture once of interest primarily for La Liga fans into one of the most important games in European club soccer. While Real has reclaimed top spot in the league thanks to Atlético’s loss at Sevilla two weeks ago, Diego Simeone will be looking to turn the tables.

20th AC Milan – Internazionale Milan. The Milan derby is probably a shadow of its former self, but Internazionale have shown most brightly in this troubled season in their Derby d’Italia win over Juventus. If you lack faith in their doing the same here, you can always switch over to Athletic Bilbao – Villarreal, playing in the same late Sunday time slot.

23rd Arsenal – Paris Saint-Germain (Champions League). This 5th round match between the group’s two advancing sides will determine their ranking, and both teams are fragile enough that their fans will want a win here.

26th Chelsea – Tottenham Hotspur. If you’re insistent on catching a Ligue 1 game in November, you could try Monaco – Olympique de Marsielle (26th) or Olympique Lyonnais – Paris Saint-Germian (27th). But the best games to round out the month are probably in the Premier League or the EFL Cup (once the Carling and then the Capital One Cup). This London derby is the third of the month (Tottenham Hotspur-West Ham United on the 19th is the middle one), and should be tasty. Alternately, the EFL Cup quarterfinals offer Arsenal – Southampton (30th), or if you prefer the smell of desperation, you can catch Manchester United – West Ham United at Old Trafford twice in a week, first in the league (27th) and then the Cup (30th).

The header image for this post was created by combining photos taken by Duncan Hill and Umberto Nicoletti used under a Creative Commons license.

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