This Week: All roads lead to El Clásico

Oct 19, 2020 by Print
This Week: All roads lead to El Clásico

One of the biggest occasions in world sport wraps up the headline action this week in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, but before that there will be lots more mouth-watering action to savor. Find out everything you need to know ahead of Round 5.

Can Zalgiris stay perfect?

The EuroLeague's endlessly competitive nature is evident from the fact that only one team is unbeaten through four rounds over three weeks. And that identity of that team is a surprise, with Zalgiris Kaunas sitting top of the pile to give new coach Martin Schiller a dream start in his first EuroLeague season. Zalgiris (4-0) will aim to make it five wins out of five on Thursday at home against a Valencia Basket (3-1) side that has also started the season strong and will have every hope of claiming a road win in Lithuania.

One big difference between these teams so far has been three-point shooting accuracy. Valencia has converted just 31.9% of its shots from beyond the arc, whereas Zalgiris has made a league-best 41.7%. Leading the way is ace sharpshooter Arturas Milaknis, who has set off at record-breaking pace by making 8 of his 12 three-point attempts so far (66.7%). If Zalgiris, which averages 18.8 assists per game, can keep on creating good looks for Milaknis, expect another fun night in Kaunas.

Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce battle to bounce back

Two teams coming off close losses will head into their Round 5 matchup with very different sensations as Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (1-2) welcomes Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (2-2) to Greece on Thursday.

Despite going down in overtime to FC Barcelona, Panathinaikos came away proud of having pushed one of the league's powerhouses to the brink of defeat on the road. Excellent contributions from Marcus Foster and Konstantinos Mitoglou were clear signs that the Greens and head coach Georgios Vovoras can be optimistic about improving their current position, but protecting their home court will be paramount to that task.

Fenerbahce, meanwhile, was left with a bitter taste in its mouths after throwing away a 21-point lead to lose at home against Bayern. Head coach Igor Kokoskov will be looking for greater mental strength from his players – especially after they had failed to close out another game from a winning position against CSKA Moscow a few days earlier. For both teams, this game could be a barometer to set the temperature for many weeks ahead.

Top scorers meet in Belgrade

Thursday's meeting between Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (1-3) and visiting CSKA Moscow (2-2) will showcase the league's three leading individual scorers so far, with Zvezda's Jordan Loyd (21.3 points per game) going up against the CSKA duo of Mike James (19.8 ppg) and Will Clyburn (19.5 ppg). Despite their individual heroics, however, both teams are coming off losses, with Zvezda falling at Zalgiris in Round 3 before its scheduled meeting with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in Round 4 was not played.

CSKA's players, meanwhile, received a real tongue-lashing from coach Dimitris Itoudis after their Round 4 home loss to ALBA Berlin, and will be determined to show that they have learned their lesson well as they seek to get back onto the winning trail. CSKA has won five games in a row against Zvezda and boasts an overall 8-1 record in the match-up this century, but last week's loss to ALBA was a stern reminder that history counts for nothing in this competition.

Red-on-red showdown in Munich

The most impressive team in the season's first double-round week was FC Bayern Munich, which claimed consecutive high-profile road wins by overcoming Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv and Fenerbahce, including a club-record comeback against the latter. It's clear that new coach Andrea Trinchieri has already made a massive difference to his players' confidence. In fact, Bayern could easily be unbeaten, with it sole defeat coming in overtime of its season opener at home to Milan.

After that memorable road week, Bayern now heads home for a Friday meeting with another 3-1 team, Olympiacos Piraeus. The Greek side are also full of confidence after claiming three consecutive victories, culminating in a dramatic Round 4 win over Maccabi thanks to a buzzer-beating deep three from Aaron Harrison. To take the win in Munich, Olympiacos will have to find a way to stop last week's hottest player, Vladimir Lucic, who averaged 22 points during the double-round victories and has not missed a two-point shot since the opening game of the season.

Barca hosts struggling Real in El Clásico

Every clásico is guaranteed to be a special occasion and this season's first edition of the rivalry is no different as FC Barcelona (3-1) looks to maintain a strong start by handing out further punishment to struggling Real Madrid (1-3) at Palau Blaugrana on Friday.

Barca bounced back from a road loss at Zenit St Petersburg in Round 2 to win both games in the double-round week, culminating in a hard-fought overtime triumph over battling Panathinaikos. That victory showed that Sarunas Jasikevicius's men are more than capable of grinding their way to tough wins.

Real, on the other hand, crumbled in the latter stages in Milan last week and is now 0-2 on the road after struggling for offensive fluidity. One advantage for the visiting team is a lengthy injury list for Barca, with Alex Abrines out and both Victor Claver and former Real forward Nikola Mirotic doubtful. If they are unable to play it could give the visiting team a size advantage that towering big man Walter Tavares would look to exploit. Real will certainly not be lacking in motivation to claim its first road victory of the season.