Sunday cooks up the best of the footballing action from across Europe this weekend, and it is two games from that day that we focus our attentions on here, with City hosting United in the Manchester derby, and Inter facing Napoli in a key game in the title race in Italy.
Manchester City vs Manchester United - Match preview
The first Manchester derby of the season rolls around this weekend, almost as late as it could be, with Christmas nearly upon us and 15 games of the Premier League season already gone. United and City sit atop the Premier League table 10 and 7 points clear, respectively, of the chasing pack, with expected contenders for Champions League qualification, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal all faltering early on.
To call Manchester City versus Manchester United a 6-pointer in the title race may be slightly premature (we saw exactly how much things can change and leads can be overturned in the final games last season), but that is not to underestimate just how important this game will be for both clubs, and how much their fans will want to get one over their rivals.
As with all Manchester derbies, this will be another highly charged affair, with the relationship between managers Mancini and Ferguson ever-deteriorating, and their words before this game are likely to exacerbate matters. The players will be fired up and come charging out of the blocks, and there is every chance that there will be an early card shown at the Etihad, as there have been in 5 of the last 6 meetings between the sides in all competitions. In one of those matches, there were 3 yellows shown before the 25:00 minute mark and in another a red card was brandished early on. Odds of 1.83 on an early card to be shown represent decent odds.
While the most memorable of the recent derbies have been United's comeback victory in the 2011 Community Shield and City's 6-1 trouncing at Old Trafford last season, the lower scoring games often are forgotten. It might surprise some to find, though, that a fair few of these sides' recent meetings have been low on goals. In fact, there have only been 5 goals scored in the last 6 Manchester derbies at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League, with no more than 1 goal scored in any of those matches.
Games can be tense and cautious affairs between these two, and though United have been both scoring and conceding for fun this season, City have had a few games without many goals recently. Their last 5 games read; 1-1 vs Real Madrid, 0-0 vs Chelsea, 2-0 vs Wigan, 1-1 vs Everton, 0-1 vs Dortmund. A bet on under 2.5 might have at first glance seemed ridiculous, but as we can see, it might well be worth a shout, and odds of 2.20 give all the more reason to go for it.
Fairly unsurprising is the statistic that since the start of the 2010/11 Premier League season, the Manchester clubs have won the joint most penalties, with 21 each. What does come as a surprise is the fact that 20 of City's penalties have come at the Etihad. It seems the crowd at the City of Manchester Stadium have an effect on referees, and one only needs to look at the soft penalty they were awarded in the dying moments at home to Dortmund in the Champions League this season for confirmation.
What is more, the referee for this game is Martin Atkinson, who has awarded 4 penalties in 12 the Premier League games he has officiated this season, a tally only Phil Dowd (5) tops. City have only missed 1 of their 21 penalties since August 2010, and that was back in January 2011 (Tevez vs Blackpool). Odds of 7.00 on City to score a penalty here are very tempting given the pressure on the referee that comes with a Manchester derby.
Inter vs Napoli - Match preview
Despite many expecting Juventus to run away with the Serie A title this season, the league leaders have slipped up a few times in recent weeks, allowing others to gain ground at the top of the table. 3rd-place Inter host 2nd-place Napoli in an incredibly important and must-win game for both sides.
Inter have tended to start games brightly this season, netting 8 goals in the opening 30 minutes of their Serie A matches. Napoli tend to get better as the games go on, but their tally of 6 early goals is still fairly impressive. Furthermore, in the 5 league meetings between these sides in San Siro since Napoli made it back into the top flight in 2007, there have been 7 goals scored before the 29:00 minute mark. At 1.83 for a goal before the clock reaches that time, the odds are certainly half-decent.
The Partenopei score throughout their games, but they do tend to do better later on in their matches, having netted 12 (compared to the 5 they have conceded) in the last half hour of their Serie A games. They have scored the last goal in 9 of their 15 league games this season, as well as doing so on 5 of their last 6 occasions they have played away to Inter. They are unfavoured by the bookies to net the last goal in this game - at odds of are 2.25 - but history, as well as form this season, suggests that might be a good punt.
Both sides have gone through bad patches at times this season, as well as impressive runs of form. Napoli will be keen to ensure that their midweek loss to PSV Eindhoven is not the start of another poor run, while Inter need to get back to winning ways after only one victory in their last 6. The Nerazzurri are, however, unbeaten in 5 Serie A home games and 7 in all competitions, while Napoli have won their last 3 games away from home.
Something has to give, but both teams look good to retain their unbeaten runs, particularly as the two sides are so well-matched in terms of players, so a draw could be a good bet. Inter have only drawn 4 games all season, but all four of them came at home and all four were 2-2 stalemates. Napoli, meanwhile, have only drawn 3 games this season, but their most recent draw was only a few weeks ago - a 2-2 draw against Inter's rivals, AC Milan.
While it is something of a long shot, both teams are likely to score, and neither team is likely to lose, so a bet on the score being 2-2 between Inter and Napoli, at odds of 13.00, are certainly worth taking notice of.