The UK football fixtures have thrown up an intriguing weekend of action.
This weekend, we have the delight of a number of tasty derby games being broadcasted on to our screens. The nicely scheduled ‘Rivals Weekend’ sees a number of the UK’s fiercest derby games take place both North and South of the border, we will run through the low-down from each game and what we can expect.
Hibs vs Hearts
Friday, 7:45pm – Sky Sports Football.
The Edinburgh derby is one of the oldest rivalries in British football. The first game played between the two Scottish clubs was on Christmas Day, 1875 where Hearts claimed a 1-0 victory at the Meadows.
Tonight is a slightly different story…
Newly promoted Hibernian sit comfortably in 4th place, 9 points ahead of their fierce rivals. After languishing for three long years in the second tier, a historic cup win in 2016 has revitalised the club with a new found sense of confidence. With one of the country’s top midfields, Hibs are becoming a main talking point in Scottish football – which isn’t too difficult when Neil Lennon is your manager! The Leith side go in to tonight’s game strong favourites despite losing the last fixture between the two. Hibs’ midfield three of John McGinn, Dylan McGeough and Scott Allan have not been short of plaudits since the turn of the year, and their creativity may prove vital in securing three points at Easter Road.
Hearts go in to this one with their backs against the wall. A number of injuries and a quarter final cup exit see the Gorgie side being treated as the underdogs, something they are far from familiar with. A transitional season has seen Director of Football Craig Levein step downstairs back in to the dug-out after a calamitous cup run from former coach Ian Cathro ended in tatters. The former Scotland boss has found success in going back to basics, captain Christophe Berra and prodigy John Souttar have created the league’s second meanest defence (behind Celtic) with the help of standout goalkeeper John McLaughlin – all three will find themselves rewarded with a Scotland call up this coming Monday. Injuries to the two defenders mentioned has casted doubt over the strength of Hearts’ squad travelling to Easter Road, with late fitness tests required. Talismanic winger David Milinkovic, Manchester Utd loanee Demetri Mitchell and Cameroonian international Arnaud Djoum find themselves definitely ruled out.
The game does not arrive without post-match drama, with Hearts boss Levein leaving Hibs manager Lennon and their fans reeling after comments following the last derby. Hearts 1-0 win in the Scottish Cup knocked out their rivals and saw a nine game winless run end at Tynecastle, Levein cheerfully commented that the game has restored ‘natural order’ much to the anger of Irishman Neil Lennon. The Edinburgh derby record lies significantly in Hearts favour with 281 wins in contrast to Hibs 203 – despite his attempt to bait the green side of Edinburgh, Levein has a point, with Hearts boasting one of the best derby records in the UK. Will Levein eat his words tonight?
Manchester United vs Liverpool
Saturday 12.15pm – Sky Sports Premier League
The most anticipated game on the calendar for anyone in the North West.
English football’s two giants meet at Old Trafford tomorrow, and it is set up to be one of the most evenly contested ties between the two in recent years. Both sides have experienced a bit of a rollercoaster season, with form dipping up and down – even out the window in some cases.
However, is form always a factor in these games? You could argue so. You can expect high intensity, fierce tackles and plenty of quality in the final third.
Liverpool have the opportunity to leapfrog United in to second place, or probably more aptly coined ‘the best of the rest’, and there is no better place to do that than Old Trafford. The last meeting between the two seen a bore 0-0 draw with Jose’s tactics heavily criticised in the wider public, however a less mundane performance against reigning champions Chelsea as well as a stunning comeback away to Palace, sees more United in a better place to bring the game to their arch rivals.
Klopp’s side have been on fire as of late, and it’s easy to see why. Their frightening front three are contributing to more goals than any other strike force in the Premier League and star man Mohammed Salah picked up his second Player of the Month award just this morning. We expect a much better game than the previous meeting at Anfield, but with a Champions League crunch tie vs Sevilla just 4 days away, who knows how Jose will approach the game. Dejan Lovren certainly couldn’t help throwing a cheeky dig at the possibility of it, "Liverpool are not Manchester United...we never play just for a point"
Aston Villa vs Wolves
Saturday 17:15pm – Sky Sports Football
In recent years, a second-tier meeting doesn’t get any bigger than this. High flying Wolves travel to Midlands rivals Aston Villa looking to extend their nine point cushion at the top, but Steve Bruce’s side won’t go down without a fight.
Two teams who have certainly dipped their toes in the transfer market, meet for the second time this season, but the stakes couldn’t be bigger. Wolves, who up until recently looked virtually unbeatable, have had a bit of a wobble – but were back to winning ways at Elland Road on Wednesday and will look to do the double over Villa after their 2-0 home win in October.
Villa have seen a great turnaround since the New Year. After a handful of marquee signings across the summer, they failed to build on a poor 16/17 season and Bruce’s position was under threat on a number of occasions. Since then, the Villains have seen a stable side surge up the table in to the promotion places. The left foot of Robert Snodgrass has become a bit of a hero in itself around the Claret and Blue side of Birmingham, and the Scotsman could be key to gunning down Wolves.
Wolves’ own Portuguese contingent has been heavily influential to their rise to the top of the table, with manager Nuno Esprito Santo at the forefront. The shock signing of Porto midfielder Ruben Neves has been the catalyst to one of the most form teams in England, and Wolves will aim to fend off any potential title challenge from their Midlands rivals this Saturday evening.
Rangers vs Celtic
Sunday 12:30pm - Sky Sports Football.
This game needs no introduction. The Old Firm is simply one of the fiercest rivalries in world football.
This weekend’s meeting at Ibrox is definitely one of the most interesting encounters between the two in comparison to recent fixtures. After an invincible season in 16/17 Brendan Rodgers side got off to a flying start to the season, with Rangers falling way off the pace under the stewardship of Pedro Caixhina. Since then, the tables have turned. Despite holding a nine point lead, things are slowly turning a bit sour in the East End of Glasgow, with complacent performances frustrating fans and players alike. A gutless effort in St Petersburg saw the Hoops dumped out of Europe by Zenit, despite a 1-0 home advantage, and their options in defence remain an issue.
Nonetheless, Rodgers’ side are still sitting comfy at the top with only two losses this season, and do so with a mammoth injury list. After the shambles of the charismatic Caixinha coming to an end, Rangers have seen a change in fortunes. They go in to this Old Firm with more belief than any of the years previous, and January enforcements have beefed up and already talented squad. Jason Cummings, Greg Docherty and Jamie Murphy have all been stand out since joining the Ibrox side, with the latter facing a late fitness test ahead of Sunday’s game. Manager Graeme Murty has got the best out of his squad since taking over in October, and a draw at Celtic Park helped him earn an extra six months in the hot-seat. A win over their Glasgow rivals could seal the deal on his permanent stay.
Despite the change of atmosphere, Celtic still hold all the cards in ensuring Old Firm dominance. The league’s most expensively assembled squad see a plethora of attacking options have the potential to carve open a Rangers defence, who have previously been called in to question. However, the question remains whether they will show up, where they have failed to a number of times already this season. If not, it may give Morelos, Windass, Murphy & co the opportunity to exploit a questionable Celtic defence.
This is one not to be missed.