The last football weekend of the first phase of the season is upon us, before we are rather annoyingly interrupted by an international break. Despite some further fixture cancellations in England, there is still plenty to look forward to on Saturday and Sunday.
Wolves vs. Manchester City
This has almost always been a fun matchup since Wolves got promoted back to the Premier League. City have suffered some losses in this fixture, mostly thanks to Wolves’ excellence on the break. However, the hosts play a more considered style under Bruno Lage with play centred around the abilities of the midfield three. While nobody can really compete with City’s midfield, a trio of Moutinho, Neves and Nunes should compete at home. And how can we forget, this is likely to be Diego Costa’s return to the league. That alone should whet the appetite.
Bologna vs. Empoli
Thiago Motta makes his debut as Bologna manager after the emotional sacking of the much-loved but ultimately underperforming Sinisa Mihajlovic. Motta’s managerial career has been a bit of a mixed bag so far. He struggled badly at Genoa before doing a decent job keeping Spezia in the division last season, though they were reports of players falling out with him. Bologna however, do possess more quality in the squad than his previous two clubs, giving Motta a genuine shot at establishing himself as a long-term manager.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke 04
The first Revierderby of the season will be an occasion to look forward to as it will be taking place after two years. Both teams have had mixed starts to the season. Dortmund remain a puzzle to figure out, relying more on resilience this season than their famed attacking play. Despite not playing well, they are actually tied on points with Bayern, all adding up to an intriguing start to this Bundesliga season. Despite the injuries in the squad, the hosts starts as favourites, but as the cliche goes, the form book goes out of the window in derbies. Schalke will be buoyed by getting their first win since promotion last weekend, and would like nothing more than spoiling BVB’s party.
Tottenham vs. Leicester
It was Tottenham who delivered the killer blow to Leicester’s Champions League hopes on the final day of the 20-21 season, which in retrospect seems like a result the Foxes have never truly recovered from. Considering the international break around the corner, could Spurs land a different kind of blow to Brendan Rodgers this time around? Not that Antonio Conte comes into this game a happy man, after a limp showing in Lisbon resulted in a dismal European defeat. Taking their league form into account, Spurs should be confident, but this fixture has always been unpredictable.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. RB Leipzig
As the fixture gods would have it, after starting his managerial career with Leipzig against his previous team Dortmund, Marco Rose’s next league match is against another former club in Gladbach. Rose’s men looked impressive in beating Dortmund last week, and were it not for some missed chances, could also have left the Bernabeu with a result in midweek. An away game at Borussia Park provides another opportunity for Rose to make an early statement, but the hosts will be looking to get back to winning ways after an impressive start under Daniel Farke has petered out in recent weeks.
Udinese vs. Inter
After Torino last week, Inter take on another team who are surprisingly ahead of them in the table. Andrea Sottil’s enterprising Udinese side sit fourth after four consecutive victories. Udinese’s form has been based around some thrilling counter-attacking play, with Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra and Beto providing goals and assists. Inter have not quite sparkled this season, and this trip is another difficult assignment in what has been a very busy period for the Nerazzurri. Both teams have scored 12 league goals each this season, which leads me to believe there will be lots of goalmouth action in this one.
Brentford vs. Arsenal
After a tough defeat on the road at Old Trafford, Mikel Arteta’s league leaders have another difficult away assignment at Brentford. This was the opening fixture last season where Brentford’s incredible 2-0 win was a portent of what was to come from Thomas Frank’s men. The Bees have raised their game every time a big team have visited and it should be no different this time around. Ivan Toney’s confidence is flowing especially after a national team call-up, and his battle with William Saliba and Gabriel will probably set the tone for this contest. The Gunners will look to make a statement of their own, not wanting to go into the international break on the back of two successive defeats.
Marseille vs. Rennes
The hosts come into this game having made their best ever league start, but spirits are a bit low after starting their Champions League campaign with two defeats. Igor Tudor will want his men to snap out of it quickly as they welcome a Rennes side who are finally beginning to pick up momentum after a slow start to the season. Both these teams have ambitions to be in the top three and despite the current eight-point margin, this match is too close to call considering the quality of the sides.
Everton vs. West Ham
Both sides have actually improved in the last few weeks, but putting performances to one side, the brutal reality is that they have only four points. Everton are yet to win this season, but Frank Lampard will have liked having some more time on the training ground with his late transfer signings. West Ham have been busy with the Europa Conference League, where they got two confidence boosting wins. Despite this being a match between 16th and 18th, there is more than enough quality to make this an intense battle at Goodison Park.
Union Berlin vs. Wolfsburg
While the Europa League has seemed like a step too far for the brilliant Union Berlin, the league leaders have dealt with everything thrown at them domestically. Urs Fischer’s men have the opportunity to stay at the top when they welcome a Wolfsburg side who finally got their first win of the season under Niko Kovac last weekend. While Union are on top, every game they play remains an event.
Villarreal vs. Sevilla
Unai Emery welcomes his old club wanting to take their spot in La Liga’s top four. Villarreal have been playing some of the best football in Spain, but how they didn’t defeat Sevilla’s neighbours Betis last weekend with the chances they created remains a mystery. The vultures are still very much circling for Julen Lopetegui despite Sevilla finally getting their first win of the season last weekend. The Yellow Submarines are the form team, but when two technical teams who don’t necessarily finish their chances take on each other, anything is possible.
Roma vs. Atalanta
Only one point separates these two sides as fifth welcomes second in Serie A. Jose Mourinho’s Roma did the double over Atalanta last season and come into this game on the back of two wins. Paulo Dybala is currently firing on all cylinders, dovetailing promisingly with Tammy Abraham. Andrea Belotti also got his first goal for Roma in the Europa League, adding to the encouragement in the capital. Atalanta are playing their usual brand of attractive football, though they were infuriatingly held to a draw when they welcomed newly promoted Cremonse last weekend. This game presents a chance for both sides to make a statement going into the international break.
Milan vs. Napoli
Two sides who have started the season brilliantly take on each other with only goal difference separating them. Milan and Napoli were title contenders for most of last season until the Rossoneri’s win in Naples halted the Partenopei’s title charge in the home stretch. Both sides are unbeaten, however Stefano Pioli doesn’t have the influential Rafael Leao to call on here thanks to his red card last weekend, giving a confident Napoli the opportunity to pull clear at the top of Serie A.
Lyon vs. PSG
Considering they have no European football, it really shouldn’t be beyond Lyon’s capabilities to mount a decent title challenge this season. However, with Peter Bosz in charge, there will always be a defensive achilles heel, revealing itself in two consecutive away defeats. The visit of the champions presents an opportunity for Bosz to correct course. While PSG have looked more balanced this campaign, the last week has seen some average performances that have delivered wins mainly thanks to the brilliance of their famed front three. Lyon have the weapons to hurt PSG and make life difficult for them, but whether or not they can keep out Mbappe, Messi and Neymar is another matter altogether.
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid
That these two sides were battling till the last minute to decide the La Liga title in May 2021 almost seems like an illusion now. Atletico Madrid have fallen since that triumph, and fallen hard at that. This season has seen Diego Simeone’s men mix the half-decent with average and downright poor. As Atleti struggle to find their rhythm, the champions have been coasting with a 100% record. Carlo Ancelotti’s serene style of management is delivering the results again, even as they integrate new players and cope with the injury-enforced absence of Karim Benzema. The recent history of this fixture heavily favours Real, but if Atletico want to show the gumption and fight of old, this would be the ideal time to do so.