This weekend's biggest games in world football

Sports Mole rounds up the biggest, best and most important matches from across the world this weekend, including one of the most violent fixtures on the planet.

The New Year is upon us and, while in many places around the world clubs are enjoying either a winter or off-season break, plenty are still in action during the opening weeks of 2018.

English football of course soldiers on through the winter months with a gruelling schedule, which continues in the FA Cup this week as the big boys enter the third round of the competition.

However, there are also big games in Spain, Egypt, Australia and Cyprus to look forward to as 2018's footballing calendar starts with a bang.

Here, Sports Mole has rounded up the biggest, best and most important matches from around the world over the coming days.



Zamalek vs. Al Ahly (Monday, 5pm)

One may not expect it, but Egypt is home to one of the fiercest rivalries in world football when Zamalek and Al Ahly do battle in what has been dubbed one of the most violent fixtures in the game.

Injuries are even more common off the field than they are on it, and the fixture has even seen riots, military interventions, player walkouts and deaths due to the deep-rooted hatred between the two sets of fans.

There have been instances of fans attacking rival players in their own homes, and at one stage in the 1970s things escalated to such a level that the entire Egyptian league was cancelled as a result of the violence.

The Egyptian government banned derby games at each club's home ground and even to this day the fixture takes place at the neutral venue of the Cairo International Stadium, sometimes attracting crowds of more than 100,000 whereas the two team's regular home stadiums can hold just 46,000 combined.

Al-Ahly are seen to represent the everyday working Egyptian whereas Zamalek were born from Cairo's wealthy elite during the British occupation of the country, so the rivalry transcends football - indeed even a basketball clash between the two saw a Zamalek man set on fire by Ahly fans after they lost 68-67 as recently as 2007.

On the field, though, the two are the most successful clubs in Egyptian and African football, sharing 51 of the 58 national league titles between them (39 for Al Ahly, 12 for Zamalek). Ahly have also won a record eight African Champions League titles, while Zamalek are second in that list with five.

Zamalek are already playing catch-up this season, though, with nine points separating them from leaders Ismaily and eight from Al Ahly, who sit one point adrift of the summit with a game in hand.

Ahly have won the title in 11 of the past 12 seasons so are still very much the dominant force in Egyptian football, but the only team to have upset their monopoly in that time was, predictably, Zamalek in 2014-15.



Liverpool vs. Everton (Friday, 7.55pm)

Dominic Calvert-Lewin grapples with Ragnar Klavan during the Premier League game between Liverpool and Everton on December 10, 2017© SilverHub

Merseyside derbies are always special contests, and there is an even greater sense of occasion when Liverpool and Everton are drawn together in cup competitions, as is the case in the FA Cup third round on Friday evening.

Five places and 17 points separate the two sides in the Premier League table, but that is likely to have little bearing on this match with form often going out of the window when these two teams clash.

Everton will certainly be hoping that is the case, having lost their last two matches and failed to win any of their last four - scoring just one goal in that time to arrest Sam Allardyce's bright start to life at Goodison Park.

In contrast, Liverpool are on their longest ever unbeaten run under Jurgen Klopp, having gone 16 games without defeat including four wins from their last five league outings to lift them up to fourth place.

These two sides met less than a month ago when Everton pulled off a smash-and-grab draw at Anfield in December, but they have not won any of their last 15 meetings with their nearest rivals and are yet to win away to Liverpool in any competition this century.

The Toffees have only lost one of the last six Merseyside derbies in the FA Cup, although that came the last time the two sides faced off in this competition in the 2012 semi-finals.



Sevilla vs. Real Betis (Saturday, 7.45pm)

La Liga Sevilla

La Liga Betis

Saturday evening sees the Seville derby take place when Sevilla host Real Betis at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in their first league game back since the winter break.

The two sides have endured contrasting fortunes so far this season, with Sevilla still in the race for a Champions League place but currently sitting two points off fourth-placed Real Madrid having played a game more than the underperforming champions.

Real Betis, meanwhile, go into the weekend sitting 14th in the Liga table and, although they still have a six-point cushion to the relegation zone, they will be looking nervously over their shoulders.

The home side do not go into the match in particularly good form, though, having picked up just one point from their three games immediately before the break, conceding eight goals and scoring just once in the process.

It was a spell deemed damaging enough to sack Eduardo Berizzo despite the manager's ongoing cancer struggles, and new boss Vincenzo Montella got off to a winning start with a midweek victory over Cadiz in the Copa del Rey.

Betis, meanwhile, have won just one of their last nine games across all competitions - including four defeats in their last five - and have also lost seven and won none of their last eight meetings with their local rivals.



Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland (Saturday, 1pm)

This year's FA Cup third-round draw was one of the best in recent memory, and in addition to a Merseyside derby we also have a North-East showdown as Middlesbrough host Sunderland at the Riverside.

This was a Premier League fixture just last season, but those days will feel like a lifetime away for these two clubs, who have both already sacked their managers this term.

Middlesbrough's Garry Monk was replaced by Tony Pulis off the back of a win, while Sunderland brought in another Welshman in the shape of Chris Coleman following a short-lived and ill-fated Simon Grayson reign.

Boro's change has shown early signs of working, and they now sit only two points off the playoff places in the Championship, but Sunderland are rooted to the bottom of the table and staring down the barrel of a second successive relegation.

FA Cup duties will provide a welcome reprieve for the Black Cats in particular, then, especially considering that they won the last time the two sides met in this competition, running out 2-1 winners after extra time at the Riverside in a 2012 fourth-round replay.

However, Sunderland have since lost four matches in a row against their near-neighbours across all competitions, including a 1-0 defeat in November's Championship visit to the Riverside.



Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Crystal Palace (Monday, 7.45pm)

Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek in action during his side's Premier League clash with Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on November 28, 2017© SilverHub

Having not faced off for four and a half years before this season, Brighton and Crystal Palace will renew their peculiar rivalry for the second time in a little over a month when they meet in the FA Cup on Monday night.

Nicknamed the M23 derby, this rivalry is not borne out of geographical proximity nor a battle for trophies, but rather a similar trajectory up the divisions in the 1970s.

Both clubs rose from the old Third Division to the top flight under Alan Mullery and Terry Venables respectively, resulting in a number of memorable meetings between the two sides along the way.

Now both are in the Premier League once again, with only two places and one point separating the sides and neither exactly safe from the spectre of relegation.

Brighton have won just one of their last 11 games, though, whereas Palace have enjoyed a resurgence under Roy Hodgson and have only been beaten once in their last 11 outings.

The Seagulls have also only won one of their last eight meetings with Palace and have not beaten the Eagles in the FA Cup since 1932, drawing two and losing one of their three meetings in the competition since then.



Other matches to look out for:

Newcastle Jets vs. Central Coast Mariners: The longest-standing A-League derby enters its latest chapter on Tuesday when second-placed title hopefuls Newcastle Jets host struggling Central Coast.

Olympiakos vs. Omonia: Saturday sees a Nicosia derby take place in Cyprus when out-of-form Olympiacos host Omonia in the capital.

Vincenzo Montella watches on
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City23202167175062
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd23155348163250
3Liverpool23138254282647
4Chelsea23145441162547
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs23135546212544
6Arsenal23116641301139
7Burnley239771920-134
8Leicester CityLeicester238783432231
9Everton2376102538-1327
10Watford2375113342-926
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham2367102941-1225
12Crystal Palace2367102133-1225
13Bournemouth2366112435-1124
14Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2366111939-2024
15Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2365122131-1023
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2358101729-1223
17Southampton2349102334-1121
18Stoke CityStoke2355132350-2720
19West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom23310101830-1219
20Swansea CitySwansea2345141435-2117
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