This Football Weekend

After another intense week of continental football, we turn our attentions back to a jam packed weekend of domestic action. In a break from tradition on the Through Ball, 12 matches in stead of the usual 10, are highlighted on this football weekend.

Saturday October 22

Hertha Berlin vs Cologne

That this is a match between second and fourth in the Bundesliga feels surreal even at this early stage of the season. The reality is that both teams occupy their high places in the table on merit. In Pal Dardai and Peter Stöger, both teams have inspiring intelligent managers at the helm. Both teams also possess prolific goal scorers. Vedad Ibišević has scored five goals for the capital side, while Anthony Modeste has gone two better for the visitors. Who comes out on top in the battle of in-form strikers could well be the decisive factor in what should be a tight battle amongst two well-organized high-flying sides.

Valencia vs Barcelona

Always one of the most anticipated fixtures in the Spanish calendar, Barcelona with an injured back four, visit Cesare Prandelli’s Valencia. The Italian won his first game in charge last weekend away at Sporting Gijon and will be looking to win over the faithful at the Mestalla on his debut in the home dugout. While the league table would suggest an easy win for the champions, Prandelli will certainly pose a test for Luis Enrique with his tactical flexibility. Expect a cauldron-like atmosphere at this game.

Bayern Munich vs Borussia Mönchengladbach

An intriguing match between two of Germany’s Champions League representatives awaits us at the Allianz Arena. While the champions are six points clear of their visitors, this fixture hasn’t been kind to them in recent years. Bayern’s displays in the Bundesliga have been well below par in the last few rounds and as we saw in the Champions League this week, Gladbach are not a team to be trifled with.  Carlo Ancelotti will want his team to impose their game on one of the Bundesliga’s poor travellers, and with the Foals suffering from injuries in defence, Bayern can expect to see a lot of opportunities. However, André Schubert has his own attacking weapons in Andre Hahn and the underrated Lars Stindl, who will certainly relish the spaces that Bayern’s defence are wont to give, even when dominating a game. Will Bayern finally make a statement and pull clear?

AC Milan vs Juventus

There is a lot of excitement and anticipation ahead of, what until recently was one of Serie A’s marquee matches. Milan’s fall from grace in recent seasons had reduced the aura of this fixture, but with the Rossoneri unbeaten in five games with four wins, a rise up to third in the table gives this clash the stature it deserves. In totality, Juve are clearly the superior team, but Massimiliano Allegri has seen his team stutter on both fronts this past week despite ultimately prevailing with wins. Allegri was the last manager to win the league for Milan, and while Vincenzo Montella is unlikely to repeat the feat, he has certainly brought renewed optimism to the San Siro. Nothing can further cement that goodwill like a win over Juve, but to do so he’ll need Carlos Bacca and M’baye Niang at their very best. However, the home side’s porous defence face a stiff challenge themselves in the form of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. The stakes are high in this game. If the hosts win, they’ll find themselves just two points behind the champions, surely putting Montella way ahead of schedule. The Old Lady however, will want to put the pretenders in their place and pull away from the chasing pack. An intriguing battle awaits.

Sunday October 23

Manchester City vs Southampton

Unless there are a whole slew of upsets on Saturday, Manchester City will enter their home game against Southampton having relinquished their lead at the top of the Premier League. While fans are still on board, there is no doubt that the critics are sharpening their knives after a tough month for Pep Guardiola. A few weeks ago, a home game against Southampton would have been the ideal opportunity to get three points and regain momentum. However, Saints are playing some terrific football at the moment, as Claude Puel has retained the solidity of Ronald Koeman but garnished it with flair and fluency in midfield. With three wins in their last four, Southampton are no mugs. Pertinently, Puel has exactly the kind of in form vibrant attackers that won’t hesitate to take the game to City’s increasingly vulnerable defence. Guardiola will hope that his forwards are more ruthless at finishing opportunities after they wasted so many chances in their last home match against Everton. City are favourites, but by no means is this match a foregone conclusion.

Feyenoord vs Ajax

It’s not often that you see two teams taking on each other on six-game winning streaks, but that is the case in the clash of the Eredivisie’s top two. It speaks volumes about Feyenoord’s start to the season, that they are already five points ahead of Ajax despite the aforementioned streak. That’s because Feyenoord’s streak includes no losses or draws since the beginning of the season. De Kuip is bouncing like the good old days as Giovanni van Bronckhorst has inspired his men to play some scintillating football on the way to collecting maximum points. Ajax themselves have picked up their form in the past month after a horrible start to the season, with Davy Klaassen and Hakim Ziyech in excellent form. Whether the Amsterdam side will have enough in defence to cope with the threat of an inspired Nicolai Jørgensen at the other end is another matter. Who will come out on top in the battle of irresistible force and immovable wall?

Torino vs Lazio

Two teams with identical match records and points, separately by a goal difference of just two. Fourth-placed Torino, having one of their finest starts in recent history welcome sixth-placed Lazio, who have started the season well themselves. Siniša Mihajlović and Simone Inzaghi played with and against each other in their footballing prime, but now pit their wits against each other as managers. Both teams strengths lie in attack. Torino may have garnered all the headlines due to Joe Hart’s arrival, but it is up front where the real excitement lies. New Italy international Andrea Belotti has been firing in the goals, ably supported by the trickery and pace of wingers, Iago Falque and Adem Ljajić. Just behind the front three, captain Marco Benassi has also contributed alongside the imaginative Daniele Baselli. For Lazio, the goals have been boosted by a reinvigorated Ciro Immobile, who has been thriving on the service provided by Felipe Anderson. Anderson himself looks like he has regained the form that made him such a star two seasons ago. The battle of these multi-dimensional attacks should make for an entertaining spectacle at the Grande Torino.

Sevilla vs Atletico Madrid

Third welcomes first in what should be a fantastic game at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Atletico lead La Liga, with Sevilla only a point behind. Whether this game will feature a lot of goals is debatable, as both Diego Simeone and Jorge Sampaoli have already shown this season that they can shut up shop when they face big teams. Atletico’s defence are notoriously difficult to break down, so Sampaoli’s creative magicians, Franco Vazquez and Samir Nasri will have to be at their absolute best to get the points. Too close to call in this top of the table clash in La Liga.

Chelsea vs Manchester United

As if a meeting between Chelsea and Manchester United needed further context. This match always has plenty of talking points but the hype around Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge as manager of Manchester United is unprecedented. Add in the fact that it will be the first managerial tussle between Antonio Conte and Mourinho, and you get an extra layer of intrigue to this match. In truth, clashes between the two don’t always turn out to be fun, with very few meetings remaining etched in the memory of neutrals. It would be no surprise to many if Mourinho repeated the same template he used in getting the draw at Anfield on Monday. Conte himself will not necessarily go in all guns blazing, even though there are genuine signs of fluency with his favoured formation featuring wing backs. Ultimately though, the narrative in this one will be about the managers. Will Mourinho prove Chelsea made a big mistake in firing him? Or will Conte prove that Chelsea made the right choice in choosing him to deliver success? We’ll find out at least part of the answer on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

Villarreal vs Las Palmas

The Yellow Submarines saw off one dangerous mid table team at El Madrigal in Celta Vigo last weekend and they welcome another one in Las Palmas this weekend. Always defensively solid, Fran Escribá’s men are now finding the net regularly as witnessed in the 5-0 demolition against the Galicians. With Nicola Sansone, Alexandre Pato and the just returning Cedric Bakambu all in good form, Villarreal will be confident of another win. The visitors from the Canary Island are not to be underestimated however, having already drawn against Real Madrid and beaten Valencia this season. With the likes of Roque Mesa, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jonathan Viera in good form, Las Palmas could easily cause an upset if Villarreal are below top form.

Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao

A match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao is always intense and with both teams starting the season well, plenty of fireworks can be expected. Though Athletic are sixth in the table, they are only three points behind Real in second, after winning five of their last six games. Both teams have goals in them, while they are equally vulnerable in defence. Real will always attack at the Bernabéu and the odds are that the trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will help their team find the back of the net. However, there are issues of balance in midfield and defence in light of recent injuries, something Athletic will look to expose with the goalscoring threat of Aritz Aduriz and Iñaki Williams. Goals are the order of the day in this one.

Paris Saint-Germain vs Marseille

While this rivalry has increasingly gone only one way since PSG became the richest club in France, Le Classique remains must watch football for fans of the beautiful game. Both teams have had inconsistent starts to the season in relation to their aims. Being second at this stage of the season is no disgrace, but PSG are judged by different standards in light of their recent dominance in France. Unai Emery hasn’t got his team playing consistently and even worse there have been reports of disharmony in the dressing room. Disharmony is a common theme at Marseille, but there is a rare sense of optimism for the L’OM faithful after American Frank McCourt bought the club last week. Subsequently McCourt appointed Rudi Garcia as manager, boosting the morale of the fans that extra bit more. PSG have been winning their last few matches despite not convincing, but could easily be ambushed by the new manager bounce if they are below their best in Ligue 1’s biggest game.

Football Today

Another international break is over and it’s time to get back into the groove of domestic football. On Friday, we see the clash between second and third in the Bundesliga, while four of the top five face off in France.

Toulouse vs Monaco

Fourth hosts second in Ligue 1 as Toulouse welcome Monaco to the Stadium Municipal. While Monaco’s place in the upper reaches in the league is no surprise, this is rarified air for Toulouse. After saving them from relegation last season, Pascal Dupraz has gone from strength to strength, cementing the self-belief in the squad and encouraging his players to express themselves on the pitch. The visitors meanwhile are playing with greater fluency than last season. Rightly renowned for his defensive organization, Leonardo Jardim has found a way to get more goals from his men without compromising the shape of the side. The historic 7-0 win at Metz last time out means Monaco are well clear of anyone else in the goals scored chart. A repeat of that score is highly unlikely on this trip however, as Dupraz will want his men to replicate the form shown in Toulouse’s last home game when they beat champions PSG 3-1. This game has all the ingredients to be a very good match.

Borussia Dortmund vs Hertha Berlin

The match between second and third in Germany, with Dortmund surprisingly a place below the capital side. After losing their last game against Bayer Leverkusen, Thomas Tuchel’s men need to make a statement as the room for error is minimal if they are to seriously challenge Bayern Munich for the title. The challenge facing Tuchel is a mounting injury list. BVB’s squad depth is going to be challenged against Pal Dardai’s well-organized unit. Dortmund will expect to play on the front foot, but they always give their opponents some chances on the break. With the likes of Mitchell Weiser and Genki Haraguchi creating chances for an in form Vedad Ibisevic, an upset can’t be discounted. Expect goals and an intense tactical battle between Tuchel and Dardai.

Nice vs Lyon

There is a different vibe at the Allianz Riviera nowadays. After being in the shadows of rivals Monaco and Marseille for so long, Nice are currently leading the pack not only in Southern France, but ahead of every other club in Ligue 1. Last season saw the rebirth of Hatem Ben Arfa at Les Aiglons, but this season has seen an even more remarkable renaissance in the form of Mario Balotelli. The temperamental Italian’s goals have fired Nice to the top, but credit is also due for new manager Lucien Favre. The Swiss tactician has tightened things at the back and this discipline will be needed against Lyon’s crop of young attackers.

Bruno Genesio will be having a rueful look at the table. Lyon really should be the team to take advantage of PSG’s inconsistent start. In stead Les Gones find themselves seven points adrift of their hosts after some shambolic losses. Injuries have dogged the squad, but there is good news with Alexandre Lacazette’s return to training. Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso have been the shining lights for Lyon, and it is upon this duo that Genesio will pin hopes of getting a point or three in the south of France.

Balotelli, Fekir, Ghezzal, Tolisso, Belhanda, Seri and other mercurial talents will be on display in this top of the table clash. Should be a barnburner!

This Football Weekend

There’s some great action as another football weekend dawns upon us. Here are 10 matches in Europe that should be really exciting.

Saturday October 1

1. Bayern Munich vs FC Cologne

A match between first and third in the Bundesliga. Not many would have written that sentence with FC Cologne in mind. Like Bayern, Cologne are undefeated in the Bundesliga this season. While not many domestic rivals can dream of points at the Allianz Arena, Peter Stöger’s Billy Goats will go in to this match with nothing to lose against a Bayern side that have been below their best in recent weeks. An interesting tactical battle awaits.

2. Paris Saint-Germain vs Bordeaux

The pressure is on Unai Emery as PSG continue to bumble through the opening phase of the season, both domestically and on the continent. While they still remain clear favourites for the title, the champions are clearly struggling to find the fluidity they had under Laurent Blanc. In the opposite dugout, Jocelyn Gourvennec has had a positive impact at Bordeaux, though they are prone to concede just like the entertaining Guingamp side he managed before moving in the summer. Only goal difference separates the two sides. This used to be a marquee fixture and the sense is Bordeaux are moving in a direction to make it so again. A game at the Parc des Princes that should challenge the champions.

3. Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund

The clash between two of Germany’s Champions League regulars is always a must-see game. This season’s first meeting between Leverkusen and Dortmund should be a marker for the club’s seasons. While Dortmund are the superior team at the moment, Leverkusen will want to make a statement as their campaign hasn’t really kicked off. Dortmund have so many options in attack, but their defence will always give the opposition a chance. Funnily enough, the same can be said about Leverkusen. This game really should have a lot of goals.

Sunday October 2

4. Valencia vs Atletico Madrid

While Valencia may be struggling at the bottom end of the table, hosting Atleti is always a big deal at the Mestalla. There is some optimism building up for the hosts after two consecutive wins and the news of Cesare Prandelli taking over. The Italian won’t be in the dugout for this one, but the players will be keen to make a good impression. Atletico come into the game having found form, with the victory over Bayern displaying all the hallmarks of a great Diego Simeone performance. Expect this one to be tight, cagey and feisty.

5. Tottenham vs Manchester City

Second vs First. Mauricio Pochettino vs Pep Guardiola. Tottenham vs Manchester City. The best defence vs the best attack. This fixture has provided lots of entertainment and drama in the last five years and with two excellent managers at the helm, there is even more reason to be excited this time around. Will Tottenham be the first team to take something off City in the Premier League? Can City break through the league’s best defence without Kevin De Bruyne? Will Pochettino’s pressing tactics ruffle Guardiola’s high line? So many questions to be answered and so much excellent talent on the field. I can’t wait for this one to kick off at White Hart Lane.

6. Real Madrid vs Eibar

After three consecutive draws, Real Madrid will be looking for a win this weekend to get their momentum back. The problem that Zinedine Zidane faces is that Eibar are going to be no walkover. The Basque side continue to confound expectations as they sit in eighth place. Despite losing leading scorer Borja Baston in the off-season, Jose Luis Mendilibar has found goals in his team, including from other team’s cast-offs like Bebe and Pedro Leon. The best thing about Eibar is that even on the road, they won’t hesitate to attack, which should result in a cracker at the Bernabéu.

7. Schalke 04 vs Borussia Mönchengladbach

This is usually a match that has ramifications for the race to the Champions League, but this time around Schalke welcome Gladbach to Gelsenkirchen with the hopes of getting their first point or win of the domestic season. Paradoxically, Schalke have won both their games in Europe, while the visitors have lost both of theirs. André Schubert’s men are not the best of travellers, so this is a great opportunity for the hosts to get off the mark and release some of the pressure on Markus Weinzierl. Expect goals in another game featuring creaky defences.

8. Standard Liege vs Anderlecht

This is currently Belgium’s biggest and most intense rivalry. The stakes are higher this time as the teams sit on second and third at the moment, separated only by goal difference. Both will want a win to catch surprise leaders Zulte-Waregem. Les Rouches will depend on their stingy defence to thwart the visitors prolific attack. Tension abounds in what is likely to be an acrimonious atmosphere.

9. Roma vs Inter

Two of Serie A’s titans go in to this game still seeking consistency. As is typical with Roma, there have been flashes of play where they have been irresistible going forward but at the same time almost comedic in defence. Meanwhile, Frank de Boer has shown green shoots of recovery with some promising results, but two horrible performances in the Europa League have undermined the progress. There have been plenty of classics between these two and with Francesco Totti still setting up chances and scoring at the age of 40, we should get to see some moments of genuine quality in this battle of big-hitters in Rome.

10. Lyon vs Saint-Étienne

The Derby Rhonealpin is one of the must-watch games of the French football calendar. Usually this match is about local bragging rights, but currently Les Verts are ahead of Lyon in the table. Bruno Genesio’s men have tailed off after an impressive start, with recent outings reminiscent of last season’s disjointed performances. Scoring against Christophe Galtier’s defence is a tough ask, and given Lyon’s problems up front, it is not inconceivable for Saint-Étienne to cause an upset. This match should be played out in a cracking atmosphere.

Football Today

Wednesday is another big day in the European football calendar. While Barcelona hosting Atletico is the big match, we also have table-topping clashes in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, Real chasing a record and other football treats. Here is a look at six of the best fixtures today.

Nice vs Monaco

While Lyon and Marseille continue to stutter and stumble their way to a second successive season of underperformance, the French Riviera clubs have taken on the mantle of providing PSG with some semblance of a challenge for the league title.

The Derby de la Côte d’Azur is often intense, but the stakes have rarely been higher. Win, and in addition to local bragging rights, fans also get to see their team top of the table. Factor in two excellent tacticians in Lucien Favre and Leonardo Jardim at the helm of both sides, and we really should be getting a high quality encounter.

Monaco have already played some delightful football this season. Over the course of the last two seasons we have learnt that Jardim is an excellent organizer of defences. This year we are starting to see signs of evolution in attack as the Monégasques have consistently found the back of the net. Their results so far include a 3-1 win over PSG and away wins in the Champions League against Tottenham and Villarreal. Even Radamel Falcao has got in amongst the goals.

Nice have transitioned nicely from Claude Puel to Favre. The Swiss manager is known for organizing his teams in a compact manner and so far we have seen no different on the south coast. Interestingly, Favre signed two mavericks on transfer deadline day in Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda, and the pair have already delivered. Balotelli scored a brace on debut against close rivals Marseille, while Belhanda popped up with a late equalizer in the weekend clash away to Montpellier.

Many neutrals thought Nice played the better football last season, but ultimately Monaco’s experience and nous saw them qualify for the Champions League playoffs ahead of their rivals, pipping them to the post by just two points. While a run at the championship is surely unsustainable for both clubs, this game should serve as a barometer for their ambitions to finish in the top three. Roll on Falcao, Balotelli, Belhanda and Bernardo Silva. It should be a derby to savour!

Real Madrid vs Villarreal

It’s not often that records are broken this early in the football season, but such has been the consistency of Real Madrid since Zinedine Zidane has taken over, that the Merengues are one win away from topping the streak of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

After finishing last season with a remarkable run of 12 straight victories, Real have started this campaign in fine form, claiming maximum points from their first four fixtures. Another win against Villarreal will give them the Spanish record for most consecutive victories. Zidane’s success has been based on two fundamentals – a) camouflage the deficiencies of the team with astute tactics and b) use the bench and maximize the talents of the youngsters. This has been prevalent especially in this nascent season as the famed BBC struggle with fitness issues. The likes of Asensio, Vazquez and Morata have stepped in and not missed a beat. A lot of the credit has to go to the man-management skills of Zidane.

A win at home would be an early season crowning moment at the Bernabéu, but this can’t be taken for granted against a Villarreal side that are also unbeaten in La Liga. Fran Escribá had a rocky start at the helm of the Yellow Submarines, with defeat in the Champions League playoffs a particularly tough pill to swallow. However, slowly, the confidence is coming back, coinciding with the return from injury of a few key players. Nicola Sansone has started winning hearts, especially after his terrific goal on the weekend from the halfway line, while the back four of Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz and Costa is together again for the first time this season.

I always enjoy watching Villarreal’s matches against the top three as their intricate passing style combined with solidity at the back makes them a tough opponent. This match should be no different, and with the anticipation of a new record, it should only make it more exciting.

Bayern Munich vs Hertha Berlin

As far as table-toppers go, you won’t get to see as disparate a pair as Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin. While Bayern would rightly be expected to have maximum points from their opening three Bundesliga games, the side from the capital would be perfectly content with a spot in mid table. In stead Pal Dardai’s men have started the season in the same committed and determined mood as last season.

This writer thought Hertha would have a psychological hangover from last season when qualification for the Champions League seemed well within their grasp, only to collapse in the last three months of the campaign. That they have in stead, started so well out of the blocks this season, speaks well of Dardai’s powers of persuasion and the sense of loyalty instilled in the players. The defence gets most of the plaudits, but the attacking trident of Mitchell Weiser, Vladimir Darida and Genki Haraguchi are under-estimated at their opponents peril.

Bayern have moved smoothy from Pep Guardiola to Carlo Ancelotti and the champions should have too much in their arsenal for the visitors. That being said, there were signs of laziness in the last home game against Ingolstadt that could easily be punished by Hertha if that complacency is repeated.

It’s probably not going to be a table-topping clash when the reverse fixtures come around in the second half of the season, but for now Bayern vs Hertha should turn out to be a good match between the two form teams of the Bundesliga.

RB Leipzig vs Borussia Mönchengladbach

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Bundesliga’s newest and most hated team were expected to struggle at the highest echelon of German football. In stead RB Leipzig have adapted seamlessly to life in the top flight, with an impressive seven points out of nine. A late equalizer against Hoffenheim was followed up by an excellent 1-0 win over Dortmund, before a masterclass in counter-attacking saw them thrash Hamburg 4-0 away from home.

Leipzig will be looking to win their second home against another Borussia, this time in the form of André Schubert’s entertaining Gladbach side. Home or away, Schubert only knows how to play on the front foot. It is no surprise that the Foals have won both their home matches while losing their away games. Their enterprising play has led to seven goals, but on the flip side, the gaps at the back have led to five goals already being conceded.

Ralph Hasenhüttl will surely look to exploit Gladbach’s defensive fallibility with the speed of his players on the break and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the newcomers pull off another win against one of Germany’s storied clubs in front of what will surely be a raucous home crowd. Expect goals and chances galore in this one.

Schalke vs Cologne

The arrival of Markus Weinzierl and Christian Heidel as manager and director of football respectively was meant to herald the arrival of a new era at Schalke 04. Three games into the domestic season and Schalke have yet to open their account, neither in points on the table nor goals scored. For my money, I think Weinzierl is an excellent choice as manager and will get things right, provided he gets the time. However, time is not a commodity afforded to many in the world of football, even less so in the world of Schalke 04. This is already a must win game for Weinzierl.

On the other side of the dugout is Peter Stöger, who in his own unfancied way has led Cologne to seven points with the side yet to concede a goal. Ironically, they boast a goal difference that is the exact opposite of their hosts – five scored and none conceded. A compact shape and a consistent poacher in the form of Anthony Modeste is the basis of Stöger’s success. Sometimes it really is that simple.

While a loss would not do much damage to Cologne, the itchy trigger will definitely be closer for Weinzierl if the home side lose. Will the likes of Embolo, Konoplyanka, Meyer and Huntelaar finally fire for Schalke or will Modeste dig Weinzierl into a deeper hole? The pressure is on in this one!

Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid

The title alone whets the appetite! Then there’s the history. Barcelona have won the last four meetings in the league, but Atletico have knocked out Barcelona the last two times they came to head-to-head in the Champions League. Then there’s the animosity between the players and the sheer intensity of last season’s continental meeting that is still so fresh in the minds of players and fans alike. Whisper it, whisper it very quietly, but the intensity and quality of this matchup in the last three years has even superseded that of El Clasico.

Atleti started the season with two frustrating draws. Frustrating not only because the two opponents were newly promoted teams, but also frustrating because Diego Simeone deferred a little too easily to pragmatism when a little adventure was needed. In their last two matches however, Simeone has released the shackles. Koke and Saul have played as central midfielders, with Nicolás Gáitan and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco providing and supporting the French pair of Antoine Griezmann and Kévin Gameiro. The result was nine goals without answer in two games. That being said, only the wilfully optimistic would expect Simeone to throw caution to the wind at the Camp Nou.

With Neymar at the Olympics and Messi not at full fitness, it took a while for the famed MSN trio to be together this season. In their absence, Barcelona even contrived to lose at home to Alaves, in turn making Atletico’s draw against the Basque team look like a point gained after all. Nevertheless, since the return of Messi, Suarez and Neymar as Barca’s attacking trident, the Blaugrana have been irresistible, scoring 12 goals in two games.

It’s fair to say that it is highly unlikely that either team will keep pace with their scoring average in this fixture. That only makes the game even more meaningful. While we all marvel at the scoring feats of Messi, Suarez and Neymar and appreciate the relentless pressing and defensive discipline of Diego Godin, José Giminez and Gabi on a weekly basis, it is when attack and defence go against each other at their supreme best, that the true joy of watching football is appreciated. Simeone and Luis Enrique will have their say and it’s likely that someone amongst the 22 players on the pitch will be most decisive, but ultimately this match, with its battles all over the pitch, should be a festival for all football fans.

This Football Weekend

Such is the relentless pace of the European football calendar that we’ve barely had enough time to savour the return of continental competition and another round of tantalizing domestic league competition is upon us. There are some great matches to look forward to across the continent and these are my picks for the games to watch this football weekend.

Friday September 16

Sampdoria vs AC Milan

Vincenzo Montella returns to the Luigi Ferraris as manager of AC Milan in what is surely going to be a contentious game in a feisty atmosphere. Montella’s reign as manager of Sampdoria was tumultuous at best and the early indications are that his reign at the helm of the Rossoneri won’t be smooth either.

Meanwhile Sampdoria have gotten off to a great start under the canny management of Marco Giampaolo. With Luis Muriel firing on all cylinders, Sampdoria won their first two fixtures and look set to get maximum points against Roma last weekend before mother nature intervened and changed the momentum of the match.

Samp will be keen to get one over their former manager, while Montella will want to get a positive result or the pressure will increase a few notches with an already disillusioned fanbase in Milan.

Chelsea vs Liverpool

Mourinho vs Guardiola last weekend, Conte vs Klopp this weekend. This is the season that just gives when it comes to managerial battles in the Premier League. Both teams come into the game with a mixture of positives and questions from their performances in the league so far.

Chelsea have looked focused, though not always inspired. Ironically, when they played some of their best football at Swansea last weekend, they contrived to lose two points thanks to some shaky defending and refereeing incompetence.

Shaky defending is something Liverpool are familiar with, having conceded 7 goals already. The Reds are purring in attack however, and look set to thrill fans regardless of consistency.

Under Klopp Liverpool have saved their best for big games such as these. On the other hand, Conte loves to prepare tactics and ideas for big opponents as well. How this one turns out is anyone’s guess.

Saturday September 17

Hoffenheim vs Wolfsburg

Hoffenheim have started the Bundesliga season as the great entertainers, scoring six and conceding the same amount. As if having 29-year old manager Julian Nagelsmann wasn’t a story in itself, Hoffenheim were the first opponents for the Bundesliga’s newest and most hated team, RB Leipzig. They conceded a late equalizer to draw that match 2-2 and followed it up with an absolutely mental game at Mainz. Nagelsmann’s men were torn to shreds trailing 4-1 at the half, only to come back and tie the game with three goals after the 70th minute.

Wolfsburg were tipped by many to struggle this year after last season’s very disappointing campaign. However, Dieter Hecking’s men have been steady so far with four points from the first two games. It’s highly unlikely that the Wolves will reach the heights of their memorable 2014-15 season, but with Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez, Luiz Gustavo, Ricardo Rodriguez and Jakub Blaszczykowski in the side, there is enough in this squad to keep a football fan excited.

It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in this battle between the youngest manager and an elder statesman of the Bundesliga.

Sunday September 18

Feyenoord vs PSV Eindhoven

It’s a game that is pencilled into the calendars as soon as the Eredivisie fixtures are released. The fact that is also a clash of table-toppers adds an extra layer of intrigue to the occasion. Feyenoord have fallen away in the last decade in comparison to PSV and Ajax, but there is finally a sense of upward momentum since the team from Rotterdam won the KNVB Beker last season.

Feyenoord have started the season in blazing fashion with five wins out of five and carried that momentum into the Europa League, where their campaign kicked off with a fantastic win over Manchester United. PSV had a less celebratory week in Europe as once again penalty woes against Atletico Madrid cost them. Nevertheless, nothing can soothe those wounds better than a home win over Feyenoord and jumping over their rivals into top spot. I just can’t wait for kickoff in this one!

Athletic Bilbao vs Valencia

Memories of last season’s tempestuous Europa League round of 16 match are still fresh in the minds of both sets of fans. Neither team have started the season well. Valencia have lost all three La Liga games so far, including two losses at home. Athletic at least got off the mark last weekend thanks to a stunning goal from Raul Garcia at the Riazor, but they then followed it up with a humiliating 3-0 defeat to European debutants Sassuolo in the Europa League.

Nothing I have seen from these two in the season so far would suggest a free-flowing classic, but the animosity and pressure make this a high-stakes game.

Hertha Berlin vs Schalke 04

One team comes into this game with maximum points, behind Bayern Munich only on goal difference, while the other has yet to open its account. Many would assume that Schalke would be the former and Hertha the latter. In stead, the Berlin side have continued their fine form from last season, thanks in large part to the creativity and energy of Genki Haraguchi allied with the defensive shape and discipline of manager Pal Dardai.

Schalke would like to believe that they have a talismanic manager in their own right in Markus Weinzerl. Though the new era hasn’t got off to the greatest of starts, it should be pointed out that one of the losses was against Bayern Munich in what was actually the Royal Blues’ best performance in a big match after a long time.

Results however, are the only currency that matter. An away trip to the capital is no easy feat, but it will be intriguing to see how the attacking talents of Yevhen Konoplyanka, Max Meyer, Breel Embolo and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar match up against Dardai’s organized and intelligent defensive unit.

Inter vs Juventus

The stature of this fixture may be diminished for some in light of Inter’s recent struggles. However, the Derby d’Italia is still a marquee match for many football fans and this occasion won’t be any different.

Juve continue to operate like clockwork in Serie A. The loss of Paul Pogba has been offset by the goals of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic is just getting warmed up. The Old Lady did however hit a road block against Jorge Sampaoli’s organized Sevilla team in the Champions League.

While that was considered a disappointment by many in Italy, it pales in comparison to Inter’s shambolic loss at the San Siro to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the opening game of their Europa League campaign. The knives are already out for new manager Frank de Boer, despite the fact that he was hired only a week before the new season started. A positive result at home to Juve would certainly buy him some time.

While Juve are clearly the favourites, the Nerazzuri will have a point to prove. Make sure to watch the battle between the two orchestrators – Pjanic and Ever Banega, while also keeping an eye out on the intelligent runners – Sami Khedira and Joao Mario. Then of course, there are the Argentinean forwards going against each other, Dybala and Higuain for Juve, Icardi for the home side. Need I say more?!

Fiorentina vs Roma

Another Serie A game between two teams that underwhelmed in Europe. Clashes between these two rarely disappoint thanks to their commitment to playing attacking technical football. Outside of the calamity that was the Champions League playoff, Luciano Spalletti’s men have actually started quite well in Serie A with seven points so far.

La Viola had their matched rained off last weekend, and hence, should be fitter in this contest. However, Paulo Sousa is another manager who is starting to feel the pressure as Fiorentina have failed to push on in 2016. The Portuguese will hope for the crowd at the Artemi Franchi to give his players full backing in what is bound to be a tough assignment.

Watch this match for the quality of passing and attacking, but more importantly, watch it for Francesco Totti, who continues to defy time by delivering peerless performances from the bench.

Marseille vs Lyon

In an ideal world this would be a top of the table clash between two of PSG’s most viable challengers. In stead, the clash of the Olympiques sees two inconsistent teams who are still trying to sort themselves. The 2014-15 season when they ran PSG so close now seems like an eternity ago.

Nevertheless, before QSI set up shop in Paris, this was the big match in Ligue 1 and for fans of both teams they aren’t many games that are bigger. Both sides conceded three goals last weekend and everything suggests there will be defensive jitters in this game as well. Combine that with the attacking prowess of Cornet, Ghezzal, Tolisso, Gomis, Thauvin and Cabella, and we should get to see an entertainer.

Monday, September 19

Braga vs Benfica

If there is one team in Portugal that manages to make a dent amongst the big three of Benfica, Sporting and Porto, it is Braga. The 2011 Europa League finalists are playing some good football, following on from their cup win to end last season.

Despite being unbeaten so far, Benfica are still to hit the high notes from last season. However, Rui Vitoria’s men live for the big games, and an early season test welcoming a Braga side that are ahead of the Eagles only on goal difference should get the juices flowing at the Stadium of Light. Throw in to the mix Benfica’s purchase of Rafa Silva from Braga and there’s bound to be plenty of intensity and animosity in this top of the table clash. The Estádio da Luz will be the place to be on Monday night!