Looking Ahead Vol. 2

Despite coming up to only the third weekend in August, it almost feels like we are into the full flow of a long football season. The action is relentless, which means its time for me to present the ten games I am interested in this weekend.

Spurs vs. Wolves

Looking at the direction of travel for both clubs, one would consider this game a home banker. However, this is a fixture that Tottenham haven’t done well in since Wolves returned to the Premier League. The visitors have won in three of their last four visits to Spurs, with a 2-0 defeat in February driving Antonio Conte particularly mad. Wolves’ unconventional formation has caused problems for Spurs in midfield, but with Bruno Lage reverting to a standard back four this season, Conte’s men should have a better grip of going ons in the centre of the park. Lage’s squad has been bolstered by the arrival of Matheus Nunes and Goncalo Guedes, though that alone is unlikely to tip the balance of this game against a stronger opponent. Spurs are the favourites, nonetheless the game serves an important benchmark to gauge Tottenham’s growth under Conte.

Fulham vs. Brentford

This game is probably the West London derby, considering neither Fulham nor Brentford are true rivals to Chelsea. They play each other for the first time in the Premier League after their last meeting was a tense promotion playoff final in 2020 that the Cottagers edged in extra time. The Bees got promoted the following season, moving upwards as their rivals got relegated again, cementing their status as a yo-yo team. The Fulham faithful must have looked on with envy last season as Thomas Frank’s men approached their maiden top flight campaign with ambition, nous and bravery, all while having a lower budget than their neighbours. All of a sudden, being perennial movers between the Premier League and the Championship is not enough at Craven Cottage. Both sides are unbeaten so far, but that doesn’t make the stakes any lower in this rivalry, that also doubles up as a battle of two important strikers in Mitrovic and Toney.

Monaco vs. Lens

Leaving aside the fact that this a game between two unbeaten sides who have started relatively well, the impact of their meeting on the last day of the 2021-22 season still lingers on in this nascent stage of the new campaign. Monaco were sitting on direct qualification to the Champions League group stages before Lens broke Monegasque hearts with a stoppage game equalizer. That heartbreak was further extended with an unlucky defeat against PSV Eindhoven in the qualifiers last week. With that in mind, Monaco will look to put their Champions League failure behind them once and for all by beating the team that started all the pain. It won’t be easy as Franck Haise’s team continue to play good football despite losing excellent players like Cheick Docoure to Crystal Palace and Jonathan Clauss to Marseille. Two attractive sides playing on the front foot should make for some fun on France’s south coast.

Union vs. Leipzig

For starters, this one of only three East German clashes in the Bundesliga. Then there is the fact that this a true David vs. Goliath story considering the resources of the respective clubs. Above all though, it is a clash of ideologies. Fans of Union literally sold their blood to keep the club alive, which makes it only natural that they hate the corporate construct that is RB Leipzig. Keeping that to one side, this is a match between two sides playing European football and on the brief evidence we’ve seen so far it would be tempting to wonder if it is actually Union in the Champions League and Leipzig in the Europa League. Despite selling come crucial players, Union continue to play with an identity and purpose, while Leipzig have underwhelmed despite strengthening in the summer. Expect a feisty atmosphere in Kopenick, which will only add to some of the early season pressure Leipzig already face.

Newcastle vs. City

The easy temptation is to simply bill this as clash between the two richest teams in the country, and while that narrative may have greater significance in the years to come as Newcastle evolve, for now this is a bit of a tricky test for the Champions. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth were amongst Pep Guardiola’s favourite opponents thanks to their open style, but the Magpies at a rejuvenated St James’ Park present a more disciplined and intense test. Of course, City remain favourites with Kevin De Bruyne in imperious form and a settling Erling Haaland already looking dangerous. Nevertheless, this also presents Newcastle an opportunity to get the first true era-defining result under their new ownership, which should make for, at the very least, a full-blooded match.

Atletico vs. Villarreal

The Yellow Submarines present one of the true bogey teams for Diego Simeone, as Atletico have won only three of their past 12 league outings against Villarreal. Last season saw a pair of memorable 2-2 draws between the two sides, with Unai Emery denied his first win against Simeone when Aissa Mandi and Geronimo Rulli combined to concede a calamitous injury time equalizer at the Wanda. If we get half the drama in this game, we should have a good time. Both sides started the season with confident 3-0 wins on the road, resulting in this clash being a bit of an early benchmark as Atletico and Villarreal look to improve on last season’s inconsistencies.

Atalanta vs. Milan

After four years of continuous growth on the back of some sumptuous attacking football, last season saw Atalanta return to the middle of the pack as they finished the season in eighth, missing out on European football altogether. For a team that only has the 12th highest wage bill in Italy, that is no shame and simply serves to highlight the level of overachievement that Gian Piero Gasperini coaxed out of his men. In fact Atalanta’s success based on scouting skillful players and getting them at reasonable prices put AC Milan to shame as they struggled with inconsistency. The Rossoneri’s resurgence coincided with a more streamlined transfer approach, and after pipping Atalanta to second place on the last day of the 2020-21 season, Stefano Pioli’s men followed it up by winning the league last year. Both teams possess fierce attacks that looked fine-tuned during wins on the opening weekend. Add in two excellent tacticians in the dugout, and it all makes for an exciting watch in Bergamo.

Lille vs. PSG

Christophe Galtier returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, where he led Lille to a surprise title in 2021 at the expense of PSG. Galtier’s imprint on his new teams is already clear to see, with the champions looking a more coherent unit compared to last season’s rabble. But no manager can truly rise above the culture in Paris. Even as Lionel Messi and Neymar have shown signs of rekindling their Barcelona chemistry in the first two games, Kylian Mbappe has thrown a strop, engulfing the team in unnecessary drama. Galtier will need his men to cut the shenanigans out as the Pierre Mauroy presents a significant challenge with a Lille side rejuvenated by Paulo Fonseca’s astute management and Jonathan David looking ready for a stellar campaign.

La Real vs. Barca

The Barcelona sideshow rumbles along, with a visit to one of their least favourite venues next on the menu. Barca gave debuts to four of their new signings at home to Rayo last weekend, but despite all the fanfare, Xavi’s team looked less coherent than last season, which probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. Meanwhile their opponents have continued their youth-centric transfer approach, with Takefusa Kubo delivering instant dividends with a match-winning goal at Cadiz. The Japanese youngster and the newly arrived Mohamed-Ali Cho will be expecting to add goals to a side that continues to play intricate football with the ageless David Silva conducting midfield matters alongside the elegant Mikel Merino. Another tough evening for Barca awaits.

United vs. Liverpool

I am going to try and keep this brief as this is already the most hyped game of the weekend. Add in the fact that it is on a Monday, there is potential in England at least, for this fixture to overshadow the whole weekend’s action. It’s not often that both these sides have combined for no wins between them coming into the third game of the season. The dominant narrative ahead of this game is how low can United go, with last season’s 9-0 aggregate losing margin against Liverpool still fresh in the minds of many. Liverpool themselves haven’t started the league campaign as confidently as they would have liked, and Jurgen Klopp will have to come up with some creative solutions considering the absences in his squad. A depleted Liverpool still have Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz, and those two alone should prove too much for the Red Devil’s shamble of a defence. But with the pressure for a first win on both sides, we might just see a return to an attritional battle which has characterized most of the games between the two rivals, though it remains to be seen if Erik ten Hag actually understands the concept of stifling the opposition. It should be gripping, one way or the other. Tune in on Monday.

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