Looking Ahead Vol. 5

What a weekend of football we have in store! Usually, I stick to 10 matches to keep an eye on, but such are the fixtures this time, that even after increasing the number of games to 15, I still had to hesitantly omit a few. Let’s get right into it then.

Everton vs. Liverpool

The Merseyside derby comes at an interesting point of the season. While no one would claim Everton are anywhere near the standard of Liverpool considering the fact that the Toffees are yet to win this season, it is actually the Reds who come into this game under greater pressure. The Toffees have shown an impressive defensive shape in recent games which should prove to be a challenge for a Liverpool attack that has looked a little low on imagination so far this season. In essence this remains a matchup between a relegation battler and a team gunning for the title, but at a passionate Goodison, Liverpool will need to be at a level much higher than seen from them so far this season. For what is only the sixth game of the season, one feels the result over here could set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Fiorentina vs. Juventus

Not many teams outside the North of Italy have the kind of animosity towards Juve that Fiorentina do, which of course was only made worse when star striker Dusan Vlahovic made the move to Turin in January. The Serb wasn’t able to shine in his first half season, but signs are he is getting closer to his best with four goals to start the campaign. The hosts themselves have the Serbian striker considered the hottest before Vlahovic, with Luka Jovic now hoping to regain his spark in Florence. Goals are a problem for Vincenzo Italiano’s side who haven’t scored any in the league since netting three on the opening day. Nevertheless, they did show impressive discipline in shutting out Napoli last weekend, suggesting an equally tough outing in a heated atmosphere for Max Allegri’s Juve.

Leverkusen vs. Freiburg

This was the fixture on the final day of last season that ended denying a Freiburg a romantic spot in the Champions League. One would have expected Christian Streich’s unheralded squad to start the season slowly after such heartbreak, but it is Leverkusen who look like they have a hangover. They finally got their first win of the season last weekend, but will have to be at their impeccable best to beat a Freiburg side currently sitting confidently in third. It already feels like this game has significant European implications.

Union Berlin vs. Bayern Munich

For the second weekend in a row Bayern take on a team right below them in the Bundesliga table. Not many would have expected Union to be the team in second, but Urs Fischer’s side have made mugs of us all consistently over the last two seasons. Their 6–1 thrashing at Schalke last weekend was a sight to behold as the dynamic duo of Sheraldo Becker and Jordan Siebatcheu tortured the Royal Blue’s defence with their speed and movement. Bayern themselves could have scored six last weekend, but they came up against one of the all-time great goalkeeping performances from Yans Sommer. I think both teams will be really motivated for this clash and with a great atmosphere expected at the Alten Forsterei, this game shouldn’t disappoint.

Chelsea vs. West Ham

Of all the famous London derbies, this one probably doesn’t rank as the most fierce, but nevertheless both sets of fans would love to gain bragging rights over the other. Despite the gap in quality between the sides, Chelsea haven’t always had it easy against West Ham in recent seasons. With both teams still waiting for their first breakout performance of the season, I expect this to be a tense affair, though it will be interesting to see if Lucas Paqueta and Wesley Fofana can make an immediate impact at their new clubs. The Blues need the win, but the Hammers may benefit from playing with a nothing-to-lose spirit.

Tottenham vs. Fulham

Another London derby that doesn’t necessarily feel like a rivalry, but nevertheless a game between two sides that have started the season well. Spurs and Fulham have historically thrilled neutrals with their clashes, and while this should be three points for the hosts, Marco Silva’s organized side do present a challenge for Antonio Conte’s men, who for all the excellence displayed so far, still struggle when the onus is on them to seize the initiative. Two determined sides with two excellent strikers should make for a nice battle on Saturday.

Real Madrid vs. Real Betis

The only two teams in the big five leagues with a 100% record other than Arsenal face off in the first league game at the Santiago Bernabeau this season. Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis side have started the season in wonderful form, playing some exciting football thanks to Nebil Fekir and Sergio Canales, with Borga Iglesias in the midst of a golden patch in front of goal. Of course a visit to Real presents their toughest test yet, but one can still expect them to go toe-to-toe with the champions. That Real are on maximum points even as they work out some kinks with their new midfield is an ominous sign for the rest of the league. I’d watch this game for Benzema, Vinicius, Modric and Fekir alone, but I think it’s going to be a decent battle between two good teams anyway.

Milan vs. Inter

Last season’s top two face off in the first Milan derby of the season. Inter are probably still bitter about missing out on a double last season when Milan pipped them to the title by a single point, with the Nerazzuri fans mood not helped by Romelu Lukaku’s injury-enforced absence for the derby. Despite Inter losing at Lazio last weekend, they come into the fixture a point ahead of their rivals, who looked surprisingly flat at Sassuolo in midweek. One gets the sense that Simone Inzaghi and Stefano Pioli are still figuring out things for their sides this season, but that shouldn’t detract from this being engrossing.

Frankfurt vs. Leipzig

The game that could easily have been an all-German Europa League final but for Leipzig wilting at Ibrox in the second leg of their semifinal. While this isn’t a traditional rivalry, both teams represent the Bundesliga in the Champions League, and the outcome over here could have an impact on how they approach Europe. Both sides finally got their first wins of the season last weekend and with the likes of Mario Gotze and Timo Werner playing with a point to prove alongside a host of interesting attacking players, this should be fun.

Real Sociedad vs. Atletico Madrid

While there has been a lot of talk about fourth being an open battle in La Liga this season, the question that is being whispered is whether Atletico’s grip on third is also weakening. One of the contenders to break into the top four is Real Sociedad, who host Diego Simeone’s side this weekend. Both sides have six points out of nine this season. La Real play with tempo and control as any side featuring David Silva would. Tempo isn’t a word you’d associate with Atletico, who come into this game looking very rusty and workmanlike. This fixture presents a chance for both sides to make a statement. Can La Real be genuine contenders for the top four or will Atletico put the pretenders in their place?

Aston Villa vs. Manchester City

The ramifications of the meeting between these two sides in May still resonate for many, when Villa were so close to denying City the title. Whether this meeting will have similar drama is debatable when you consider the direction of travel for both clubs. Erling Haaland looks good to score at least two goals every game at the moment, while Villa’s defence are an absolute shambles. Nevertheless it is also an opportunity for Steven Gerrard and his men to make a statement, and the home side do possess the pacy players who can trouble City’s defence. Either way, even if it’s a romp for the champions, I feel like this will be a good spectacle.

Lazio vs. Napoli

Maurizio Sarri welcomes his former side to the Olimpico for a clash between two sides who have made unbeaten starts to the season. In a cramped top half of the table, both sides will have designs on getting a Champions League spot, thus marking this contest as an opportunity to gain an edge over a rival. It will be interesting to see how Sarri and Luciano Spalletti engage tactically, while the likes of Immobile, Milinkovic-Savic, Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia should provide us with moments of quality in attack.

Sevilla vs. Barcelona

A trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan is usually filled with dread for Barca, but it is the home side embodying anxiety after a terrible start to the new season. Julen Lopategui’s side have only a point after two terrible losses in their away games, games in which their fatal flaw of not being able to score cost them dearly. To rub salt into their wounds, their former defensive lynchpin Jules Kounde will be appearing for the visitors. In contrast to the doom and gloom in Seville, Barca are radiating joy in large part down to Robert Lewandowski’s immediate impact. Xavi’s men are playing some confident football, but for all of Sevilla’s limitations, they still know how to engage in midfield, which should make for the toughest test yet for this new look Barca.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal

In truth, hyping up this game in recent seasons has felt more like an ode to their faded glory, but at least at this nascent point of the campaign, there actually is some genuine anticipation for this game. United come into the game on the back of three wins while Arsenal are yet to lose a point. With maximum points so far the Gunners do have margin, but with so much momentum behind them, a win at Old Trafford really would be an impressive statement. For the Red Devils, their slowly building confidence will be tested against Arsenal, but their resilience should stand them in good stead, when that quality alone has been enough on many occasions in the history of this fixture. While I think the away side do have the clearer idea of what they want to do, the hosts simply can’t be written off with the quality that they possess. It just feels good to actually look forward to this clash between two of England’s historic giants.

Nice vs. Monaco

This derby is usually the most important game of the season for these two sides, but instead of it being a jostle for Europe, the sides face off in 15th and 16th. Both teams spent a lot this summer, but have thoroughly underwhelmed so far. Monaco showed signs of revival in a combative draw away at PSG last weekend, but then fell to a disastrous home defeat to Troyes in midweek when they conceded four goals. Nice finally won their first league game in midweek, when two penalties helped them overcome Lille. Despite all the problems, both sides have too much quality to languish in the bottom half for much longer. However, with Marseille and Lyon making unbeaten starts, Europe could fade into the distance if either of these two don’t get a win on Sunday.

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