Yesterday's games didn't go exactly as I expected, except for Bordeaux/Montpellier. Real Madrid, a team that looked like a side divided in recent weeks, showed incredible solidarity in their obliteration of Deportivo 5-0. Gareth Bale had a hat trick and Los Blancos actually looked happy on the pitch under Zinedine Zidane. Over in Serie A, the saddest of games occurred between Roma and Milan. After Antonio Rudiger scored on an early free kick for the home side, they were completely dominated by Milan. Yet in a match completely indicative of their recent form over the past few years, the game ended in a draw and a chorus of boos. Today's games are hopefully better, since they are once again mostly in the afternoon going up head to head with Seahawks/Vikings as well as the FA Cup. So basically when those games get out of hand, give this fine five pack of games the old look-see. We'll start off in Greece as the league's leading scorer attempts to keep his side in the Greek playoff picture.
GREEK SUPER LEAGUE
Asteras Tripolis FC vs Panetolikos FC (10:15 AM ET)
As will probably be the case with most games emanating from Greece, you'll have to find a stream to see this one. It will only be aired in both Greece and Cyprus, so expect an undecipherable screen experience if you are lucky enough to find one. I bring this game to your attention because as I've been harping on pretty much every site that I work for, the January transfer window is upon us. And with that it means that top talent from around the continent is in danger of being poached by bigger clubs. Asteras Tripolis is the current holder of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Greek Super League. If you read my picks column from 1/3 featuring the Super League, you'll get the breakdown of what the playoffs are about in Greece. Asteras also features the league's leading scorer in Aspostolos Giannou. His tremendous form in the league earned him his first cap for Greece in November, a milestone after wrestling between representing Australia or Greece internationally. The 25 year old's goal scoring prowess has caught the eye of Greek top dogs Olympiacos and Panathinaikos as well as Hertha Berlin in Germany. For now, he has to focus on his team not dropping points at relegation contender Panetolikos. Owners of the worst defense in Greece (29 goals allowed), Panetolikos has a reputation of getting up for games against upper table competition. A win would pull them out of the bottom three. In a battle of two teams that desperately need the points, I am giving this one to the team with the in-form striker.
PREDICTION: Asteras Tripolis 3 Panetolikos 1
PORTUGUESE PRIMEIRA LIGA
Sporting Club de Portugal vs Sporting Club de Braga (11:00 AM ET/fubo TV)
The drama has reached critical mass in Portugal. In their first game following their winter break, Sporting Lisbon took on Porto with first place in the Primeira hanging in the balance. I saw the game as a draw between the sides, but instead Sporting won commandingly behind a brace from Islam Slimani. While it was just Porto's first loss of the season, it was enough for their manager to get the sack yesterday. Now the Lions sit atop their two main foes (oh hey Benfica) by four points as we ramp up the schedule for the new year. Their opponent today is the proverbial Shemp of the Portuguese Three Stooges, Braga. They are currently in the 4th position in the Primeira Liga table at the moment, a place that they are used to having finished there three of the last five seasons. They will provide the leaders a challenge today because like the top of the table Lisboetas, Braga are a superb defensive side. Their eight goals allowed is second only to, you guessed it, Sporting Lisbon in the Primeira. This game will be low scoring, but with enough impetus to score from both teams that it won't a be drab scoreless affair. In fact I don't think it will be scoreless at all as I say that Islam Slimani continues his fine run of form and gives his team a bigger cushion at the top.
PREDICTION: Sporting Lisbon 1 SC Braga 0
FRENCH LIGUE 1
LOSC Lille vs OGC Nice (11:00 AM ET/beIN Sports)
While teams continue to pillage France's ranks for their next star, it is an old face that pops up today in the game between Lille and Nice. Hatem Ben Arfa was supposed to be a part of the next great generation of French footballers. He represented his country at every youth level and scored twice for the senior side. He was part of the Lyon dominance in France before a £10m move to Marseille. Injuries would derail his career though and the star dimmed over the dreary skies of Newcastle for Ben Arfa. Constant bickering and a fruitless loan move to Hull City saw Ben Arfa leave England on horrible terms. His return to France though has been anything short of amazing. He's scored seven goals, the same amount he scored in four years at Lyon, and with a win today Nice would be one point shy of Champions League qualification. Nice isn't known for European conquests, a loss in the Europa League playoff round to Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in 2013-14 being their only European football in the past 15 years. They face a team today in Lille that I have a bit of familiarity with since they have been the home of Liverpool striker Divock Origi for the past three years (last year on loan). Lille would be the perfect team for Tony Pulis to manage if he ever leaves the Premier League. They are superior bus parkers, yet are more prone to doing that on the road (7 road draws- Ligue 1 best) than at home. So you may get a goal today at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, but I wouldn't bet on it. Unless Hatem Ben Arfa's renaissance sparks a bit of footballing artistry, this one ends scoreless.
PREDICTION: Lille 0 Nice 0
SPANISH LA LIGA
RC Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid (2:30 PM ET/beIN Sports ñ)
With Barcelona and Real Madrid both winning yesterday, the pressure is on Atletico Madrid today to keep pace. Atleti easily have the hardest game of the weekend of the three teams though as they head to fifth place Celta Vigo this afternoon. Defender Augusto Fernandez could make his league debut for Atletico against his former club, a move that may be needed as they had to fight for a draw with Rayo Vallecano in the Copa Del Rey midweek. Diego Simeone's men have won two in a row in the league otherwise, and hope to make it three to go back top of La Liga. Striker Nolito is still a wanted man in Spain, but he still plies his trade for Celta Vigo. That is bad news for Atletico as he scored in both games against them last year, a draw and a Celta win which all but dashed Atletico's repeat chances. But it is the Rojiblancos offense I want to focus on still. I feel like I am beating a dead horse with this one, but if Simeone is going to propel his team to the next level in Spain, he needs to find a combination of strikers that works consistently. He has five international caliber men up front yet they are still the least potent among the European placed teams in La Liga. Today against a suspect Celta backline, with a backup goalie in net, would be the best time to tinker a bit. If not, this could be a sluggish one at a water logged Balaidos. Either way I have Atletico winning, but I hope they prove my conservative scoreline wrong.
PREDICTION: Atletico Madrid 2 Celta Vigo 1
ITALIAN SERIE A
Juventus FC vs UC Sampdoria (2:45 PM ET/beIN Sports)
We once again end the day in Italy with a huge game in the chase for the Scudetto. Inter Milan's low scoring ways bit them in the behind in the 6:30 game this morning in Serie A, falling on a 95th minute penalty to Sassuolo. The leaders most likely won't be as much once Juventus kicks off with Sampdoria at 2:45. Napoli will certainly go top unless they blow their game against Frosinone in which they currently lead 2-0 and have had 76% of the ball. But with Inter's loss today coupled with Fiorentina's defeat to Lazio yesterday, Juventus could go SECOND in the table with a win at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Juventus' phoenix-esque rise from the ashes of their early season woes has been remarkable. Max Allegri may end up being lumped into the discussion of best managers in Europe before the season is over. But while Sampdoria hasn't won any of their last three games against the Old Lady, the chance for an upset still looms. No more than one goal was scored by either side in any of those games and they all came down to the wire with late chances. Expect a similar type of game today. Juventus scrap out a late winner, probably from a penalty or a set piece.
PREDICTION: Juventus 1 Sampdoria 0
Enjoy today's crop of supplemental European football for your American football playoffs. Follow along with me on Twitter @TREVORutley or the site @B3WHYC3 as I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about both bits of football action. Crack open your beer (I started even earlier today with it being so crummy outside) and let's have at it!