Looking Ahead Vol. 3

Time flies and another weekend of European football is upon us. The pace of the season feels dizzying and some teams are already under significant pressure, with quite a few of them featuring in my games to look out for this weekend.

Lazio vs. Inter

For two sides who don’t have a natural rivalry, the battle between the blue sides of Rome and Milan has a lot of historical resonance. Of course 2002 is always etched on to the narrative of this game, but recent years have seen some feisty high stakes meetings as well. Last season’s clash saw the hosts end Inter’s unbeaten start to the campaign with a crazy 3-1 win, as Simone Inzaghi and Maurizio Sarri almost came to blows on the touchline. Both teams have started the season unbeaten and though Inter are slight favourites, they haven’t won in Rome since 2018. The key over here is likely to be whether the Nerazzurri can neutralize the ultimate home game cheat code in Serie A — the combination of Immobile and Milinkovic-Savic.

Mainz vs. Bayer Leverkusen

One team sits in the Champions League places while the other is in the relegation zone after four defeats to start the season. 10 points if you thought it was going to be Mainz in the former and Leverkusen in the latter! Bo Svensson’s side have stormed out of the gates winning both their away games to take them to fourth in the table. Fourth was the minimum expectation for Leverkusen coming into the campaign, but after impressing last season, Gerardo Seoane’s side have started in an alarmingly flat manner. With the Champions League soon to be added to their burden, Leverkusen can’t afford anything other than winning this game, or a season that promised so much will turn into a nervous slog. 

Chelsea vs. Leicester

May 2021 feels a long time ago, when these two clubs won the FA Cup and the Champions League within a few weeks of each other. While Leicester were not quite equals, the sense was their trajectory was upwards, while Chelsea’s European triumph was expected to be parlayed with domestic dominance. Just goes to show, you never truly know what’s next in the beautiful game. Both Thomas Tuchel and Brendan Rodgers have questions to answer, and with both defences starting the season in suspect fashion, we should see goalmouth action regardless of the tension.

Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace

One of City’s few bogey teams in the league make the visit to the Etihad. Pep’s men have a tendency to falter in the face of chaos, especially when said chaos is mixed with pace. Last week it was Allan Saint-Maximin’s turn. Could it be Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze’s turn on Saturday? After going winless against Palace last season, City will hope Erling Haaland can make a difference against Patrick Vieira’s well organized defence. Either way, this should be a fascinating watch.

Juventus vs. Roma

Meet the new Juventus, same as the old Juventus. All it took was an injury to Angel Di Maria for Max Allegri’s men to return to the staid unimaginative outfit that appeared last season. If Monday’s bore draw at Sampdoria offered up any evidence, it was that without their new midfield signings, the Bianconeri simply don’t understand how to play to Dusan Vlahovic’s strengths. Roma meanwhile have maximum points from two games, though both wins were edgier than they needed to be. Injuries have prevented Jose Mourinho from giving his side a different dynamic for the new season, but he will certainly be motivated to get a result at a side that he despises more than any other in Italy. 

Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Monchengladbach

First takes on second in the Bundesliga this weekend, though it feels like second is more of an abstract notion in Germany these days. Bayern have a scarcely believable goal difference of +14 after just three games, with their 4-2-2-2 hyper-attacking formation decimating defences in the Bundesliga. That being said, if any team is a bogey side for Bayern, it is Gladbach. The Foals won this fixture last season in addition to beating Bayern 5-0 in the DFB Pokal. Daniel Farke has made an impressive start to his tenure, getting Gladbach to play in a more organized manner this season, while also ensuring buy in from Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram, which wasn’t the case last year under Adi Hutter. One doesn’t want to hype up a Bayern game at home too much, but I am optimistic Gladbach will trouble Bayern more than most.

Nice vs. Marseille

First and foremost, I hope we don’t get to see a repeat of last season’s ugly scenes in one of France’s most passionate derbies, when crowd trouble forced a closed-doors postponement of the game. Coming to matters on the pitch, both sides have bolstered their squads this summer and with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Nicolas Pepe and Aaron Ramsey likely to feature, there should be quality to enjoy. The pressure is on Lucien Favre however, as Nice are yet to win any of their league games. In comparison, Igor Tudor has made a sanguine start getting seven points from nine despite skepticism from the Marseille faithful heading into the new season.

Fiorentina vs. Napoli

Luciano Spalletti’s league leaders visit a ground that is the cause for a lot of recent heartbreak, with Fiorentina ending two of Napoli’s closest title challenges in recent times. It presents the first tough test of the campaign, in which Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s stellar performances have been the talk of the town in Serie A. Fiorentina themselves are in buoyant mood after qualifying for the Europa Conference League on Thursday. With both managers committed to playing good football and some outstanding talent on the pitch, this should be a fun watch.

PSG vs. Monaco

Remember when for a brief period around 2014-16 it seemed like Monaco would become big-spending rivals to PSG? Well, it didn’t last long. That doesn’t mean the games between these two have lost edge, with Monaco winning three of the last six league meetings, including two wins at the Parc des Princes. Whether they can do it this season is another matter altogether. PSG look focused with Christophe Galtier in charge, who has somehow got all three of Neymar, Messi and Mbappe playing well, while keeping a balanced shape in the starting eleven. Monaco have the tools to hurt PSG, but the psychological impact of missing out in the Champions League playoffs simply can’t be underestimated at this early stage of the season. Philippe Clement at the very least needs a performance from his men, or like Niko Kovac last season, heads could roll quickly in the royal province.

Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid

In what is a relatively low-key weekend in La Liga, the battle of two hard-men managers sees Gennaro Gattuso come up against Diego Simeone. Both Valencia and Atletico played terribly last weekend in deserved losses. While Valencia’s fanbase are consistently restless, one gets the sense that the Atletico faithful are slowly turning a corner against Simeone’s methods. It is isn’t going to be pretty, but the Mestalla is usually rocking when the big three visit, which only adds to the pressure both men face in the dugout.

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