This Week: 'El Clasico' takes center stage
El Clasico takes center stage in Round 14 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season with FC Barcelona hosting Real Madrid for a game which is also a battle for first place. Here’s your quick guide to the best of this week’s action.
'Clasico' clash for first place
The first Clasico of the season has the added significance of being a battle for first place as co-leader FC Barcelona (11-2) welcomes archrival Real Madrid (11-2) on Friday night. The two Spanish giants are in fine form with Barca grabbing an overtime win at Anadolu Efes Istanbul last week in a rematch of the 2021 championship game, while Real held its nerve to claim a last-second 72-70 victory over Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv and make it six wins in a row.
An added twist to this occasion comes in the backcourt, where Nicolas Laprovittola and Thomas Heurtel will be going up against each other for the first time since switching clubs in the summer. Heurtel will be very eager to give a strong performance after leaving Barca in acrimonious circumstances and the French point guard delivered arguably his best performance yet for Real to inspire the win against Maccabi with 15 points and 5 assists. For Barca, injuries to Nick Calathes and Cory Higgins mean that Laprovittola is now the senior figure in the backcourt and the two guards will be central characters in this Clasico.
Can all-action Vezenkov inspire another road win?
Olympiacos Piraeus maintained its excellent form with an overtime road win at UNICS Kazan which saw Sasha Vezenkov deliver a performance that can only be described as all-action. The versatile forward took the MVP of the Round award as he became only the second player in EuroLeague history to register at least 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals and 1 blocked shot in a single game following Gustavo Ayon for Real Madrid in the 2015-16 season.
Vezenkov’s performance allowed Olympiacos to take sole control of third place with back-to-back away victories and the Reds (9-4) are now heading back on the road to face a Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade team (5-8) which has been hard to work out this season. Zvezda has occasionally looked genuinely excellent with double-digit victories over strong opposition Maccabi and Zenit St Petersburg, but at other times desperately struggled in heavy defeats: 15 points against ALBA Berlin, 17 points in Milan, 19 points in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Which Zvezda will show up this week is anyone’s guess, but the host’s priority is clear: slow down Sasha Vezenkov.
Clash of styles in Munich
FC Bayern Munich (6-7) has battled its way through injury problems to climb close to the playoff positions with a run of three wins in four games and this week faces a visit from reigning champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul (6-7) which possesses an identical record after last week’s overtime loss to Barcelona.
These two teams are built very differently. Whereas Efes looks to dominate through the dazzling talents of its backcourt stars Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin, Bayern adopts a team-first approach that relies more on collective discipline on both offense and defense. Hence, although Bayern has been heavily outscored by Efes (74.4 points per game against 83.1) and has dished far fewer assists (13.0 per game against 16.9), the German club has been much more effective on defense by allowing its opponents to record fewer points (75.2 to 79.5), rebounds (32.1 to 35.1) and assists (15.2 to 18.4). Will coordinated teamwork or individual brilliance come out on top this week in Munich?
Zenit aiming for revival against reignited Fenerbahce
The opening tip-off of Round 14 pits together two teams who endured contrasting fortunes last week, with Zenit St Petersburg (8-5) suffering its first home loss in five games with a defeat to Zvezda while Fenerbahce (4-9) snapped a four-game losing streak by overcoming AS Monaco at home. The key to that victory for the Turkish team was a dominant performance from Jan Vesely, whose long-proven ability to dominate the paint will this week be tested by one of the most athletic big men in the competition, Zenit’s Jordan Mickey.
Zenit will attempt to win the game through defense, which will require disrupting the connection between Vesely and star guard Nando De Colo, who made history last week by becoming the all-time leader in PIR. Equally important for Zenit is limiting the creativity of Pierria Henry, who made a slow start to his first season with Fenerbahce but provided his best performance so far in last week’s win over Monaco, contributing 13 points and 6 assists. If the Turkish team can again run its offense through De Colo, Henry and Vesely, Zenit will be in a tough spot.
Monaco or Milan to bounce back?
Two of this season’s early high-fliers who have since headed into unwanted slumps will meet on the shores of the Mediterranean when AS Monaco (5-8) welcomes AX Armani Exchange Milan (8-5) on Friday night. Milan was the sole leader in the standings, but that feels a long time ago now with four defeats in a row sending Ettore Messina’s men down into a three-way tie for fourth place. Monaco, meanwhile, has suffered the same loss of form with four straight defeats – three of which came on the road, meaning Zvezdan Mitrovic’s men will be pleased to get back to the Principality this week.
Mike James will inevitably take center stage as he goes up against the Milan team where he became the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner in the 2018-19 season and James will undoubtedly relish the responsibility of leading his team back to winning ways. For Milan, rediscovering its offense is the priority after failing to score more than 76 points in any of the last four games.