While the Premier League’s decision to postpone this weekend’s fixtures have deprived us of some very tasty encounters, there is plenty to look forward to in the other four of Europe’s big five leagues. These are the games that are on my radar.
RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund
In recent years this has been a contest to decide who would finish bridesmaids to Bayern. Then there is also the genuine rivalry bordering on hatred between the two sets of fans. All of that cedes centre stage to the main story in this game. After being let go by Dortmund at the end of last season, Marco Rose returns to the league, making his managerial debut for Leipzig against his former employers. Rose will be looking to make a point, but more importantly kickstart his new team into life. Adding to the narrative is the sheer quality of names that are going to be on the pitch, all of which makes for a compelling watch.
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Wolfsburg
It was under Niko Kovac’s management that Eintracht started their recent modern period of success. It was under Oli Glasner that Wolfsburg returned to the Champions League. Now, both Kovac and Glasner take on their former clubs. Frankfurt’s Champions League bow was chastening, but domestically they have scored eight goals in their last two matches. Wolfsburg were hoping Kovac would start a new era of progress, but they are yet to win their first game and lie 17th in the table. Kovac needs a result at his former home to reduce the pressure.
Espanyol vs. Sevilla
Another manager who needs his first win of the season pronto is Julen Lopetegui. Sevilla’s football has been uninspiring to say the least, the seven goals conceded in their last two home games only adding to the angst amongst their faithful. In the other dugout is Diego Martinez, who was considered one of Monchi’s protégés. Espanyol themselves didn’t start the season brilliantly but got their first win of the season thanks to the shrewd signing of Martin Braithwaite who promptly scored a winner on his debut. If only Sevilla could have that kind of goal threat.
Inter vs. Torino
Not many would have predicted Torino to be ahead of Inter even at this early stage of the season but that is how things have transpired in Serie A so far. Simone Inzaghi is under pressure after three very poor performances in big games. Ivan Juric came into the season disgruntled, but he has marshalled his troops superbly, aided by the quick impact of new signings Nikola Vlasic and Nemanja Radonjic.
Sampdoria vs. Milan
It was after impressing at Sampdoria that Marco Giampaolo got the manager’s job at Milan. Unfortunately for Giampaolo, he was out of his depth at the San Siro and got replaced by Stefano Pioli. The rest, as they say, is history. Giampaolo is now back in charge at Sampdoria but is struggling to recreate the magic as they are yet to win a game this season. The pressure is on against his former employers, who come into the game in buoyant mood after a superb win in the Milan derby.
Marseille vs. Lille
This is always a grudge match between two of France’s historic clubs. In addition to the rivalry, both Marseille and Lille have looked impressive as two new managers slowly implement their style. Igor Tudor’s Marseille tasted their first defeat of the season in the Champions League midweek, but have looked comfortable and clear-headed in Ligue 1 so far. Paulo Fonseca has got Lille playing some vibrant football spearheaded by an in-form Jonathan David. All of which makes for a good contest.
Koln vs. Union Berlin
The Bundesliga’s unbeaten sides not named Bayern take on each other in a battle of impressive overachievers. That both these sides are in Europe this season is a testament to how brilliantly run these two sides are. Steffen Baumgart and Urs Fischer don’t only get their teams to play intelligently, but also with focus and determination, which leads me to believe this will be a battle from the first minute to the last.
Freiburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Germany’s other admired overachievers are top of the table going into the weekend. Christian Streich’s excellent Freiburg side are the envy of many, including historically bigger clubs like Gladbach. Daniel Farke’s side followed up their heroic draw against Bayern with a limp home defeat to Mainz last weekend and will have to play significantly better against the league leaders. It will be interesting to see if Freiburg can maintain their excellent start against the Foals.
Monaco vs. Lyon
It was just May of last year that these two faced off in a title clash but both Monaco and Lyon have regressed since. The hosts should be confident after two excellent away performances in getting a point at PSG and then winning at local rivals Nice. However their home form has been shocking, featuring four-goal thrashings from Lens and Troyes. Lyon were starting to convince me until Wednesday, when they suffered their first defeat of the season at Lorient, losing the chance to go joint top with Marseille and PSG. These are two unpredictable teams blessed with match-winning talent and their encounters are almost always fun.
Real Betis vs. Villarreal
Fourth welcomes third in La Liga with both teams primed for excellent campaigns, building on the progress of the last few seasons. Manuel Pellegrini and Unai Emery are managers comfortable in their current surroundings, not burdened by the pressure of money, but still possessing squads with technical excellence. Both are strong contenders to get a Champions League spot in the wake of Sevilla’s troubles, and with Atletico Madrid hardly playing well, maybe both can aspire to third as well. This clash presents an opportunity for Betis and Villarreal to stake their claims.