We’re not even into September and here comes the first midweek action of the season, the first of many to come in this cramped calendar. It’s just the Premier League, Serie A and Ligue 1 with a full round this midweek. Here are six games that I am interested in.
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
When Villa completed the double over Arsenal in the 20-21 season it looked like Dean Smith’s side were on the cusp of becoming a consistent top half team, while the Gunners were stuck in stasis. Fast forward 18 months and Arsenal are purring at the beginning of the new season, while Villa ambitiously made Steven Gerrard their manager only to see very little consistency. For the first time this season, Mikel Arteta faces some selection headaches due to injuries, which will most likely result in Emile Smith-Rowe or Fabio Vieira making their first starts of the season. That should present an opportunity for Villa to somewhat unsettle their hosts, but Gerrard has to make some tough selection calls, if anything to at least ensure his side play with discipline. This should be a relatively comfortable win for the home side even with some key players missing, but Villa do have the players to trouble Arsenal’s defence if Gerrard can organize his side the right way.
West Ham vs. Spurs
Visiting the London Stadium has been a source of trauma in recent times for Spurs, defeats over there pretty much ending the reigns of Nuno Espirito Santo and Jose Mourinho in the last two seasons. I can’t foresee Antonio Conte having the same sort of challenges, but it still presents a test of Spurs’ mettle as West Ham always seem to raise themselves for this game in particular. Buoyed by their first win of the season and some of his centre-backs returning to action, David Moyes’ Hammers should at the very least make life uncomfortable for their visitors. If Spurs come away with the three points from East London, it would only further fuel the belief in Conte’s squad.
Lille vs. Nice
Two sides that have European ambitions this season face off when Paulo Fonseca’s attacking Lille side welcome Lucien Favre’s bedraggled Nice. Christophe Galtier casts a shadow over both clubs, but at least under Fonseca Lille seemed to be moving upwards thanks to some progressive play and a revitalized Jonathan David leading the attack. Favre’s return to Nice, where he so nearly took them to the Champions League, coupled with another ambitious summer in the transfer market was meant to be a signal of intent, however the football has been dire, culminating in an embarrassing 3-0 loss at home to rivals Marseille. Lille will be looking for another win to solidify themselves as contenders to be in the top three, while for Nice, any result will do just to get their campaign going.
Liverpool vs. Newcastle
Surely Newcastle can’t defend as badly as Bournemouth did on Saturday at Anfield? That being said, much to the chagrin of many neutrals looking forward to this match, Eddie Howe might be missing half a team of talent for the trip to Liverpool, with Allan Saint-Maximin, Alexander Isak and Kieran Trippier all huge doubts, adding to the already injured duo of Callum Wilson and Bruno Guimaraes. When you consider that Liverpool themselves are likely to welcome back Joel Matip and Curtis Jones to the squad, the omens are good for the Reds to retain the buoyancy gained from the 9-0 thrashing of the Cherries. That being said, the Magpies have already shown themselves to be resilient on their road trips, and if they can keep the hosts at bay, Anfield can very quickly become a tense ground. Either way, this should be a decent watch.
Atalanta vs. Torino
Two unbeaten sides face off when fourth welcomes fifth in Serie A. Going into the season, I would have been very surprised if someone told me that Atalanta and Torino would get seven points from their opening three games considering the upheaval that both sides have had to deal with in the summer. It just goes to show that whatever may happen off the pitch, good managers can always make the best of any situation. Atalanta remain a confident outfit with a dangerous front two of Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel, while Torino pose a threat themselves with Nemanja Radonjic and Nikola Vlasic making positive starts in attacking roles behind the striker. This should be a decent battle, bound to feature some tactical flexibility from Gian Piero Gasperini and Ivan Juric.
Leicester vs. Manchester United
Can Leicester ignite their season in a similar manner to United did a week ago? This is the classic contest between a team down in the dumps taking on a team that is regaining its confidence. Erik ten Hag’s Red Devils are yet to dominate a match from start to finish, and I don’t expect any different against Leicester, who for all their frailties still play some excellent attacking football and create many chances. Brendan Rodgers will look to history to inspire his beleaguered Foxes, as his side have beaten United by a cumulative score of 7-3 on their last two visits to the King Power. At the very least that suggests this should be an entertaining affair with plenty of goalmouth action.