After an international break and a weekend long hangover that has surely sapped its share of my brain cells, the European soccer picks have returned. It isn't a moment too soon as we have quite the slate of games for this weekend. We'll hit our traditional five pack of games today and hopefully do the same tomorrow with a couple derbies and matches with top of the table implications to be played. We'll get to the earliest start of the day first which means we are heading to Germany for some Bundesliga.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs VFB Stuttgart (9:30 AM ET/Fox Soccer Plus)
Leverkusen has found themselves struggling early on through a tremendously tough schedule. They had to qualify for the Champions League group stage over two legs against Lazio. Once they reached the round of 32, they were drawn in the same group as defending champions Barcelona. They just completed a UCL record tying 4-4 draw with Roma in the midweek. Domestically, they have already had to face both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. With all this, Bayer is just outside the European places thanks to a staunch defense, timely scoring from the likes of Chicharito Hernandez, and the midfield guile of Hakan Calhanoglu. Today they get Stuttgart, once a Bundesliga power (champions in 91-92, 06-07) but now embroiled in a yearly battle for survival on the cusp of the relegation zone. It will be interesting to see if Bayer can break out of their scoring slump (just 8 goals in 9 games) against the league's worst defense. I think they'll win, but their woes in front of goal will continue even against a depleted Stuttgart squad.
PREDICTION: Bayer Leverkusen 1 Stuttgart 0
FRENCH LIGUE 1
Angers SCO vs En Avant de Guingamp (2:00 PM ET/beIn Sports 5)
I tried to tell everybody two weeks ago about Angers but it seems nobody wanted to listen. I really hate having to emphasize good things in French football, but what this club has been able to do with their shoestring budget against some of the big spenders in Ligue 1 is nothing short of remarkable. They sit second in the table behind giants Paris Saint-Germain. They've lost just once in 2015 and haven't lost at home. That is where they will be today as host Guingamp at the Stade Jean Bouin. The team that put Didier Drogba on the world's radar over a decade ago has finally worked its way back up to relevancy with its participation in the Europa League last season. Angers is hoping to end with at least that result this year and I think they will do enough in this game, especially if midfielder Cheikh Ndoye can score for a second straight game, to stay second.
PREDICTION: Angers 2 Guingamp 0
RUSSIAN PREMIER LEAGUE
Zenit St. Petersburg vs FC Anzhi Makhachkala (10:00 AM ET)
Harken back to a time not too long ago that Anzhi found themselves infused with cash ready to take on the giants of Russia and the rest of the European football community. They splashed out tremendous sums of money on players such as Roberto Carlos, Yuri Zhirkov, Samuel Eto'o, and Christopher Samba and coaches the likes of Guus Hiddink. They were supposed to become the Manchester City of the East, an otherwise middle of the road team that spends its way into the elite. While City has sustained their excellence, Anzhi's experiment blew up royally. They were relegated following the 2013-14 season. They are now back up in the top flight and are again having a tough go of it. Things don't get easier today as they take on Zenit St. Petersburg. They are still outside of the Champions League places in the league table as of now, but they are atop Group H in this year's UCL after a 3-1 mauling of Lyon on Tuesday. While Anzhi is hard pressed to find someone other than their leading scorer last year, Yannick Boli, to put the ball in the back of the net, Zenit is having no such issues. Hulk still leads the league in that category with six, but hot on his heels are teammates Oleg Shatov and Artem Dzyuba with five apiece. Zenit may rest a few players after European competition, but they should still steamroll Anzhi with little resistance.
PREDICTION: Zenit St. Petersburg 3 Anzhi Makhachkala 1
SPANISH LA LIGA
Celta Vigo vs Real Madrid CF (10:00 AM ET/beIN Sports)
When you look at the top of the Spanish Primera Division table you see the familiar names of Barcelona and Real Madrid sitting at 18 points. Wedged between the two El Clasico participants though is Celta Vigo. Like Madrid, Celta have yet to lose in 2015 and play a very entertaining style of football under coach Eduardo Berizzo. They are relentless in attack but also track back exceptionally well on all three levels of the pitch. As a Liverpool supporter, I get sicker each week seeing the things that Iago Aspas is able to do in front of goal and in link up play with front man Nolito. Normally Real Madrid coming to town is a terrifying affair, but Los Blancos coming to the Balaidos won't be as frightening for Celta as they have already hosed down Barcelona this campaign. Madrid will also be without Gareth Bale who wasn't even fit enough for the bench on this road trip. I love seeing the underdog come good and Celta have been very fun to watch the two times I've been able to see them this year. But, Madrid are in fine form right now and are at the top of the table for a reason. The game stays close as many expect, but Real takes it in the end with Ronaldo more than likely doing the deed.
PREDICTION: Real Madrid 3 Celta Vigo 2
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
West Ham United FC vs Chelsea FC (10:00 AM ET/NBC Sports)
We end in the Barclays Premier League with two London teams having very uncharacteristic seasons. Chelsea were the league champions last year, but currently find themselves 12th in the table with four losses. That total is one more than they suffered in the ENTIRE 2014-15 season. West Ham on the other hand has had a better change of fates. Primarily a mid-table side since their re-introduction into the top tier, the Hammers have kept themselves in the Champions League places of the table for the majority of this year. They've defeated Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City thus far and would love to add fuel to the fire under Jose Mourinho's men. The tricky thing with West Ham though is that they've done much better work away from Upton Park than they have within its confines. Chelsea are hoping that trend continues as they give Diego Costa and Eden Hazard free reign. Like I said before, I am a Liverpool fan. That being said I want Chelsea to lose so bad. I also think that Dimitri Payet has been the best player in the Premier League to date. With all that being said, I am taking my only draw of the day here.
PREDICTION: West Ham United 1 Chelsea 1
What games or teams would you like to see featured tomorrow and in the future? Have you found a new team or new league you enjoy because of these previews/picks? Let me know at my own personal Twitter @TREVORutley or the site's @B3WHYC3. Until tomorrow, enjoy the day's games everybody!!