While yesterday didn't exactly produce the results I predicted, it sure did produce some drama. Celtic left it real late for Leigh Griffiths, a man who was more than 50% doubtful to play, to take all three points versus Partick Thistle. Manchester City needed two late wondrous efforts from Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero to steal victory from the jaws of defeat against Watford, ruining my upset special. Atletico went top after Barcelona drew. It wasn't one of the usual suspects scoring their lone goal though. Instead it was Ghanaian defensive midfielder Thomas Partey, coming on as a substitute to save the draw, that put home a late winner. The stunner of the day however was Sporting's complete dominance over Porto, 2-0. Islam Slimani's brace ended a 30 match unbeaten streak for Porto in the league that fell three weeks shy of a full calendar year. For today, we have an abbreviated version of the European football picks to supplement your American football. A couple of cancellations and weak schedules across Europe have left just three games to lay out over the course of the day. We'll start off in England in what should be a cracking start to the day on Merseyside.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Everton FC vs Tottenham Hotspur FC (11:00 AM ET/NBC Sports)
Spurs are having their best season in the post-Gareth Bale era at White Hart Lane. The roster moves in the summer as well as some shuffling of responsibilities by Mauricio Pochettino has made this no longer a one man team. Harry Kane is in fine form for the current fourth placed club in England, but his club has made it so he isn't the lone source of goals. The cliched "playing as a team" sentiment is 100% what Spurs are exuding this year. From the goalkeeper and defense (league best 15 goals conceded) all the way to their goal getters (33 goals, fifth best), they have a legitimate shot at the Premier League crown. Everton on the other hand have had a more tumultuous go of it as of late. Romelu Lukaku is joint top of the scoring charts with Jamie Vardy and Ross Barkley is finally living up to the hype. But the defense in front of aging keeper Tim Howard has been a hot mess forcing the Toffees into all-out attack mode more often than not. That has made for some very entertaining games (4-3 vs Stoke, 3-2 vs Leicester, 3-3 vs Bournemouth) but not the best of results. Lukaku may nose his way ahead of Vardy for the Golden Boot. He may even get two. But in the end, even at home, Everton's defense will not be able to stop Spurs at any point in the match. They keep the pressure on the top three with a big road win.
PREDICTION: Spurs 3 Everton 2
GREEK SUPER LEAGUE
Olympiacos FC vs Panionios FC (12:30 PM ET)
Aberdeen and St. Johnstone were cancelled in Scotland and Rio Ave was facing maybe the worst team in Europe currently in Tondela. That left me no choice but to take a maiden voyage to Greece as 42-time Greek champion Olympiacos take on Panionios. Olympiacos is a mainstay in European football and their rivalry with Panathinaikos is easily one of the deadliest in all of Europe. It is called the Derby of the Eternal Enemies for a reason. But it is not Panathinaikos across the pitch from The Reds today. It isn't even Panetolikos or Panthrakikos. What I am trying to say is there is a lot of similar sounding team names in Greece's first division. Instead it is Panionios, the last team in the playoffs at the moment in the Greek Super League. As has been the case with other leagues like Belgium, the Greek Super League has playoffs. The champion is granted immediate entry to the group stage of the Champions League. Teams 2-5 play in a playoff for the second entrant. The runner-up of those playoffs go into the Europa League along with the Greek Cup winner. Panionios has a very tiny resume in Europe with their best finish being the quarterfinals of the 1998-99 UEFA Cup Winner's Cup, a competition that was abolished directly thereafter. After all that wonderful information, let's get back to the game at hand. Olympiacos hasn't lost all year in the league. They are 15-0-0 with a 41-8 goal difference. This match will be a rough one for home team. It is probably best that it isn't available for viewership in America as it would have to be rated accordingly for gratuitous violence.
PREDICTION: Olympiacos 4 Panionios 0
SPANISH LA LIGA
Valencia CF vs Real Madrid CF (2:30 PM ET/beIN Sports)
The main event of both the La Liga schedule and the footballing weekend comes at 2:30 this afternoon in a huge match for both teams. My Spanish supported side Valencia, now with Gary Neville fully at the helm, take on Rafa Benitez's Real Madrid. Real Madrid can leapfrog Barcelona in the standings with a victory today, a notion that seemed impossible with the way the two teams were playing just a month ago. They have a struggle to deal with though as a desperate Valencia will be looking to get all three points at home to inject life into a sputtering side with a new manager in a new year. For Benitez, a win against the club he took to their last two La Liga titles, will have an extra special feeling to it. It will also ease a tiny bit of the mounds of stress he is under at the moment. Each mistake he makes it magnified and a loss to Valencia with a rookie manager could potentially be the last straw. Valencia is under duress themselves. Having been knocked out of the Champions League unceremoniously and sitting in the middle of the La Liga table, Valencia have needed that one signature win to propel them back in the right direction. They had their chances against Villarreal on New Year's Eve, but were ultimately second best on the day. Gary Neville has the fan's support at the moment, but supporters of Los Che can be just as fickle as Madridistas and if the former England youth coach can't pull them out of their rut he may be in just as big of a hole as his managerial compatriot in the other coach's box. I've been a bit a jinx lately on my favorite clubs, and my upset specials have been just as big of flops, but I'm going with Valencia to win this one. Real Madrid have way too many distractions at the moment, the latest being James Rodriguez's high speed pursuit onto the Bernabeu property. May the jinx stay dormant this afternoon.
PREDICTION: Valencia 2 Real Madrid 1
I hope you enjoy this European supplement to your Week 17 American Football. I know the playoffs are just around the corner so expect the next few editions of the picks similar to this with you in mind. I want to expose as many people to as many leagues and experiences as I possibly can, but I know going against the NFL Playoffs is a losing battle. But don't you fret, the picks will not be going away. So let's raise that early morning beer up high and get ready for a jam packed day of football!