Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, they say (although Pep Guardiola appears to have misread that one…it is a tad ambiguous, to be fair). Or they may badly misquote Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or Al Pacino’s Tony D’Amato. Unusually for a Friday, there is a lot at stake in all of today’s chosen games, which should please that mysterious ‘they’. If you prefer your football desperate, intense and gut-wrenching, now’s the time to put your feet up with a six-pack, and act in exactly the opposite way as those preceding adjectives.
1) Ligue 1: Toulouse vs. Montpellier, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST
There are five matchdays left in France. Montpellier, surprise leaders, are on a quest for their first-ever French league title, but their fans are feeling the heat as moneybags PSG mercilessly hunt them down. Toulouse are having a great season, are on cracking form (as demonstrated by their thwacking of Lyon last week) and can still qualify for the Europa League. A couple of days after Chelsea somehow knocked out Barcelona, and Bayern and Real showed the world how not to take penalties, could this game prove to be the outstanding fixture of the week?
2) Belgian Pro League, play-offs: Racing Genk vs. Anderlecht, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
It’s officially squeaky bum time in Belgium. Anderlecht hold a four-point lead over Club Brugge as the much-maligned play-off system draws to a close, but a loss to a rejunenated Genk side would give their closest challengers the chance to cut it to one on Saturday, and invite today’s opponents back into the race. The supposedly all-important psychological advantage goes to Thomas Buffel and Co., who have already spanked their Brussels-based adversaries 3-1 away from home. A repeat of that result would see cats leaping unannounced into gatherings of unsuspecting pigeons all over Belgium.
3) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Sporting Braga vs. Olhanense, 21.15 CET/15.15 EST
Braga have never won the league. And let’s face it, it’s not an easy task, what with Benfica, Sporting and Porto peskily snapping up 97.4% of the available titles since the formation of the Portuguese championship (sadly, that’s a real stat). In the last few years, they have attempted to gatecrash this private three-team party, finishing 2nd in the table and notably reaching the Europa League final last year. Recent slip-ups have probably ruined their chances of lifting the trophy this year, so they must concentrate on the next best thing, second place and the Champions League spot that comes with it. Defeating a useful Olhanense outfit is about as must-win as they come for Braga this season, especially if they want to be known for something other than having quite simply the coolest stadium on the planet.
Today is ‘Good’ Friday, the day that intelligent, grown adults across the Western world commemorate the fact that their god sacrificed himself to himself to allow himself to forgive humanity for a sin made up by himself.
If you’d rather pray at the church of football, here are three must-see games today:
1) English Premier League: Swansea City vs Newcastle Utd., 17.30 CET/11.30 EST
Swansea, transforming the traditional cliché uttered about promoted clubs into a ‘breath of Welsh air’, look to be pretty safe from the drop now, while Newcastle are playing well, possess one of the most in-form strikers in Papiss Cissé, and aren’t quite yet out of the hunt for Champions League football, such has been the level of
crapness inconsistency shown by Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. It should be an Easter Egg of a match – tempting, enjoyable and horribly addictive.
2) Belgian Pro League, play-offs: Standard Liege vs Anderlecht, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST
Anderlecht’s draw with Kortrijk in the first week of the much-maligned play-off format was a big shock, and it cut their lead over Club Brugge to just one point. The Brussels-based club really need a win in Liege, as otherwise they may be looking at Brugge’s swaggering behinds by the time the final whistle of their rivals’ own match with Kortrijk sounds on Sunday.
3) French League 2: Monaco vs Nantes, 20.20 CET/14.20 EST
Ten years ago, this match would have paired the reigning French champions with the champions of the preceding year. As recently as 2004, Monaco were playing in the flippin’ Champions League final, for goodness sake. It’s not been the best time to be a fan of Les Canaris or Les Rouge et Blanc, but things are looking up – the once-rich-but-now-not-so-much-Monegasques have moved up the table to put to bed nightmares of a second successive relegation, and Nantes have finally put themselves in with a shout of escaping the Ligue 2 quicksand. For that reason alone, we’re taking the away side to sneak it in front of a bumper crowd of, um, 4,000 hardy souls at Stade Louis II.