Football Forensic: Previewing the top five games to watch across Europe this weekend

Ciro Immobile, Marcus Rashford, Dominic Solanke

GIVEMESPORT has partnered with FotMob to launch a brand new feature. Each week, we’ll be bringing you statistical previews of the top five matches taking place over the coming weekend.

Congratulations - you've nearly made it through one twelfth of 2021 which, although not exactly a walk in the park, has proved to be a lot less challenging than some of the twelfths of 2020. 

Not least because football has been pretty much non-stop so far this calendar year. Winter schedules are often chock-a-block anyway but the congested nature of this incredibly unique season in European football has only served to ensure a constant conveyor belt of pig-skinnery. 

This weekend is no different and as is now the custom, GIVEMESPORT have picked out the five fixtures most worthy of your attention over the next few days and used FotMob to look at some of the statistics behind them...

Lyon vs Bordeaux

Lyon forward Memphis Depay

Competition: Ligue 1
Kickoff: Friday, 8pm GMT

Things are incredibly tight at the top of the Ligue 1 table with just two points separating the top three. But while first-placed PSG and second-placed Lille are luxury to seemingly straight-forward encounters against relegation-threatened duo Lorient and Dijon respectively this weekend, third-placed Lyon face a much tougher encounter with Bordeaux. 

Bordeaux's strongest XI features Newcastle's one-time enigmatic talisman Hatem Ben Arfa, whose performances can range from a convincing impersonation of Lionel Messi to being completely anonymous, as well as ex-Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny. 

Nonetheless, Lyon are clearly the favourites, even more so with home advantage on their side, and their front three is one of the most entertaining to watch in Europe right now with 29 goals scored between Memphis Depay, Karl Toko Ekambi and Tinotenda Kadewere. In fact, only PSG have scored more Ligue 1 goals than Lyon in total.

That being said, Lyon have only managed to beat Bordeaux twice from their last six games and the most recent meeting back in September resulted in a scoreless draw. The visitors have decent form coming into this one with three consecutive wins under their belts, although Lyon have only lost once in the league since September. 

Reading vs Bournemouth

Reading forward Lucas Joao

Competition: Championship
Kickoff: Friday, 8pm GMT

Should the French top flight not quite take your fancy, then consider bringing in the weekend by watching an encounter between two of the best teams in English football's second tier.

Reading and Bournemouth are amongst the four top-scoring sides throughout the division and in Lucas Joao and Dominic Solanke boast two of the Championship's top five individual goalscorers, so you can expect to see plenty of goals in this game.

With both teams situated just inside the playoff positions but also within touching distance of the second automatic promotion spot, defeat could be just as damaging as a win would be rewarding with Middlesbrough and Stoke City breathing down their necks. 

Bournemouth have endured a slight wobble of late, winning only one and losing three of their last six, whereas Reading are without defeat in their last five and have kept three clean sheets along the way. 

That should all add up to an intriguing encounter between two teams that could well by plying their trade in the Premier League next season.

RB Leipzig vs Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen striker Lucas Alario

Competition: Bundesliga
Kickoff: Saturday, 5.30pm GMT

It feels like we're discussing the relentless battle in the top half of the Bundesliga every week at the moment but there's a pretty good reason for that. With Dortmund struggling and the likes of Union Berlin, Frankfurt and Wolfsburg all performing slightly above expectations, a mere five points separates third from ninth in Germany's 18-club top flight. 

This week sees second-place RB Leipzig take on third-place Bayer Leverkusen and with Bayern already a staggering seven points ahead of the rest of the pack, both teams will know a draw or defeat could put the title out of sight already. In fact, Bayer would need three points just to draw level with Leipzig. 

The likelihood of them doing that isn't particularly strong. They haven't beaten Leipzig since 2018, they're away from home and despite somehow still being third, they've lost four of their last six, including a defeat last time out against the aforementioned Wolfsburg.

Interestingly, neither team boasts a player that has scored more than eight league goals this season, that honour belonging to Lucas Alario, but defensively they're the two strongest sides in the division with Leipzig conceding 17 and Leverkusen conceding 18 thus far. 

Arsenal vs Manchester United

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

Competition: Premier League
Kickoff: Saturday, 5.30pm GMT

Arsenal vs Manchester United is not only a coming-together of two of the biggest clubs in English football but also offers a whimsical trip down nostalgia lane, back to a simpler time when the Premier League's greatest spectacle was watching Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane kick lumps out of each other for ninety minutes. 

The Gunners and the Red Devils have both slid off their perch since being the Premier League's dominant rivalry in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the fallen giants narrative always gives their encounters some added gravitas and this season it rings particularly true - albeit for slightly differing reasons. 

For Manchester United, this is probably the best chance they've had since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement to win the Premier League title, currently sitting just one point off top spot in second. The only problem is that, much like all of the title contenders this season, they completely bottled it last time out to lose 2-1 to rock-bottom Sheffield United. 

Arsenal, meanwhile, looked destined for a relegation scrap at one point this season but they're now back up to ninth having won five of their last six in the Premier League - the other game being a draw with Crystal Palace. 

United boast the superior firepower as the Premier League's second-top scorers, but Arsenal's aforementioned run saw them concede just twice.

Unlike most games, however, the first goal won't be the most important - United have developed a curious habit this season of going behind before launching sensational comebacks, so make sure you watch this one until the very end.

Lazio vs Atalanta

Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini

Competition: Serie A
Kickoff: Sunday, 2pm GMT

Atalanta make our list for the second week in a row but you can hardly blame us after their previous entry resulted in a huge 3-0 win over Serie A leaders AC Milan. Scoring goals is what Gian Piero Gasperini's side do best and that philosophy has seen them go undefeated in all competitions since the end of November, including a Serie A run of four draws and six wins. 

In comparison to their last outing, getting one over seventh-placed Lazio should be a more than conquerable challenge. But there are some mitigating circumstances here, chief amongst those being the fact both sides just played each other in the Coppa Italia and duked out a thrilling 3-2.

It was Atalanta who grabbed the winner but when clubs play each other multiple times in such close proximity, it usually transgresses into both teams identifying the other's weaknesses and tensions eventually boiling over. Wednesday's encounter involved a red card, so who knows what'll happen this time out. 

Lazio also have the advantage of hosting Sunday's rematch and possessing Serie A's second-top scorer in Ciro Immobile, although Atalanta's midweek victory makes it four out of six for them against the team from Rome. 

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