With no international football until March, the domestic season now enters its most crucial stage. The resumption of club football sees plenty of great fixtures. Here are ten enticing games in Europe this weekend.
Friday, November 18
Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig
The underachieving hosts welcome the surprise joint leaders of the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen must look at RB Leipzig and wonder why they can’t be at the summit with all the talent in their squad. Roger Schmidt’s men seem to be getting some momentum however, with two wins and a Champions League victory against Spurs before the international break. Despite Leipzig being unbeaten, Leverkusen will always look to dictate the tempo when playing at home. The problem is that Leverkusen have already conceded 15 goals and their attacking system will always give the visitors a chance on the counter. Ralph Hasenhüttl has shown that there aren’t many better exponents of the counter than his team. Expect goals in this one!
Saturday, November 19
Manchester United vs Arsenal
For so long the defining clash of the Premier League era, Manchester United vs Arsenal brings it with new antagonism this time around as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger lock horns in the Premier League’s early kick off. There is a lot of pressure on Mourinho as United are yet to win against another big team in the league this season. Arsenal have started better, just two points off the top, but have dropped points in their last two home fixtures. Mourinho has never lost to Wenger in the league and despite United’s lack of fluency in the league, Arsenal’s mental demons at Old Trafford present a tough obstacle to overcome. Will the hosts finally kickstart their league campaign or will the visitors lay a marker in the title race? We wait with bated breath for the action to start at Old Trafford.
Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich
The top dogs of the Bundesliga face off in what has become German football’s biggest clash this decade. Thomas Tuchel would ideally have liked to be closer to Bayern in the standings, but a six-point margin is not insurmountable at this point of the campaign. In fact, the hosts have actually scored more goals than the champions so far, but defence has once again been the achilles heel for Dortmund. Injuries have denied Tuchel consistency of selection, but their home record means they always start as favourites. In the other dugout, Carlo Ancelotti has faced difficult questions despite being unbeaten at the top of the league. Bayern have dropped points uncharacteristically and have yet to display the intensity of the Pep Guardiola era. Despite their problems, both Dortmund and Bayern have enough high quality players to make this a memorable match. Both teams need to answer questions. Will Dortmund join the title race or will Bayern pull further away? Tune in to the Signal Iduna Park to find out.
Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid
Another top of the table clash this weekend in which both teams come in to the game facing questions. A month ago the Madrid derby would have featured two teams in full flow playing great football. However, Atleti have lost their last two away fixtures and come in to this game six points behind their rivals. Meanwhile Real have had to deal with a raft of injury problems. First Casemiro, then Luka Modric. Just as Modric returned, Toni Kroos got injured. That’s just the midfield. At the back, both Sergio Ramos and Pepe are currently out. That Real are still leading the league is down to the talismanic form of Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. Can Real’s attacking talent breach Atleti’s stingy defence away from home? It’s a tough ask. At the other end of the pitch, will Diego Simeone encourage his players to take more risks against a Real defence missing key players? History would suggest the answer is no. The team that manages to play above itself will likely find the right answers in what is bound to be a cracking atmosphere for the last Madrid derby at the Vicente Calderon.
Sunday, November 20
Zulte Waregem vs Anderlecht
The top two face off in Belgium as surprise leaders Zulte Waregem host Anderlecht. Both teams have scored an equal amount of goals but it is the upstarts tighter defence that has led to a five-point gap at the top. Essevee have played excellent football in this campaign so far, but Anderlecht are Belgium’s most storied club and will come in to town wanting to make a statement and cut the deficit to the top. The hosts will remain in first place even if they lose, but a win against Anderlecht would lay down a marker and put Zulte Waregem in a great position to win their first ever league title. The stakes are high in this crucial table-topping clash.
Atalanta vs Roma
Fifth welcomes second in this match between two teams who have both won five of their last six matches, drawing the other. Seeing AS Roma in such a scenario is no surprise, but Atalanta’s name so high in the table has caught many in the punditocracy off guard. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are in their lofty place on merit as their good run has included excellent wins over Napoli and Inter. They face their toughest test against Luciano Spalletti’s in-form Roma team. The Giallorossi have been irrepressible going forward, with Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko in scintillating form. The league’s highest scorers will need to take their chances if they are to maintain the pressure on Juve. Any complacency on Roma’s part will surely be punished by an Atalanta team looking to add another big scalp to their list of impressive wins this season. Plenty of intrigue in this one.
Guingamp vs Bordeaux
A match of significance for Jocelyn Gourvennec. The astute manager played a vital role in taking Guingamp from provincial anonymity to winning the Coupe de France and a great campaign in the Europa League. He got his just rewards by becoming manager of a historic club like Bordeaux. Bordeaux have shown greater steel than last season, but have still not played particularly fluent football. Meanwhile, Gourvennec’s old club seem to have got better under the intelligent stewardship of Antoine Kombouaré. The former PSG manager has instilled a winning mentality at Guingamp, toughening up the defence while retaining the flair that Gourvennec cultivated. As a result the hosts sit in fourth, four places above their more storied visitors. Will Guingamp pull further clear and put some pressure on their former manager, or will Gourvennec mastermind a win that will put Bordeaux back in the hunt for European football? It should be a fascinating tactical battle between Kombouaré and Gourvennec.
Fenerbahce vs Galatasaray
The biggest Istanbul derby of them all, as Fenerbahce welcome Galatasary for the first Intercontinental Derby of the season. It feels surreal that this match is not at the top of the table, as the two giants of Turkish football are struggling in comparison to the capital’s other sides, Istanbul Basaksehir and Besiktas. After a shaky start to the season, Fener have picked up their form, winning their last three matches in the league and getting a Europa League triumph over Manchester United. Galatasary though, are going in the opposite direction, losing their last two home matches to fall six points off the summit. If Fener win, they’ll have the added bonus of going above their hated rivals and putting Galatasary under greater pressure. This is always one of the most heated fixtures in European football and though neither team is currently in the title race, the stakes remain high in what is bound to be a charged-up atmosphere.
Athletic Bilbao vs Villarreal
Seventh hosts third in this battle between two La Liga teams that always perform above their means. The Basques haven’t won in three games, but are just four points off a Champions League place. They have been banging in the goals at home, but welcome the best defence in the league this weekend. The visitors are flying high in their usual understated fashion. Villarreal will harbour hopes of qualifying for the Champions League again. Coming away unscathed from San Mamés will be crucial in that respect. For Athletic, they’ll be looking to get back to winning ways in front of a crowd that always gets louder when a leading team visits. Should be a gripping game featuring plenty of good players on both sides.
AC Milan vs Inter
The first Derby della Madonnina of the season as both Milan sides go through cultural and playing transitions. As things have turned out so far, the red side of Milan have done better this season thanks to the freshness of youth and the attacking philosophy of manager Vincenzo Montella. The Rossoneri sit pretty in third, in large part down to the contribution of youngsters Gianluigi Donnaruma, Manuel Locatelli, Suso and M’Baye Niang. The defence however remains vulnerable. It is that defensive weakness that Inter’s new manager Stefano Pioli will look to exploit. Inter have had a terrible start to the season, leading to the sacking of Frank de Boer as manager. Even amongst the craziness however, the Nerazzurri have enough quality in their squad to suggest an upturn in fortunes if they are led well. Whether that happens will be down to Pioli and while the pressure of the derby is not ideal, it also presents Inter with an opportunity to kickstart their season. Inter have the better players, but Milan have the form. Who will prevail between two of Italy’s unpredictable teams is anybody’s guess. Expect a lot of drama at the San Siro!