The 2010/11 French season may be just two games old, but champions Marseille and rival duo Lyon and Bordeaux can already feel the pressure mounting. Their troubles contrast dramatically with Chelsea and Manchester United, who ushered in the new Premier League campaign last weekend with impressive opening-day wins. The action will also be getting under way in Germany, where the Bundesliga programme features a contest between the last two clubs to win the title plus the much-anticipated performances of Raul and Michael Ballack.
FIFA.com previews the best of the action from Europe’s top leagues this weekend.
Premier League: Chelsea and United up and running
Avoiding the fate of their French counterparts, English title holders Chelsea made an explosive start to the new season by sweeping aside promoted outfit West Bromwich Albion 6-0 – and they will be keen on more of the same away against a Wigan Athletic team beaten 4-0 by Blackpool on the opening day. Manchester United were similarly impressive in their 3-0 defeat of Newcastle United, and their mission will be to repeat that success against Fulham in London, where the hosts’ new coach Mark Hughes will be determined to topple his old side.
The fixture calendar has been less kind on Manchester City and Liverpool, on the other hand, with the ambitious duo scheduled to cross paths at Eastlands after contesting respective draws with Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in their previous outings. For their part, Spurs travel to face Stoke City and the Gunners are gearing up to host Blackpool.
The question: Wigan have conceded 19 goals in their last five Premier League matches, including eight against Chelsea on the final day of the 2009/10 campaign. Will their defence prove just as porous against the Blues this time around?
The big game: Manchester City-Liverpool, Monday 21.00 CET, City of Manchester Stadium
The quote: "When you play against Manchester United, you always expect it to be a difficult match. But that’s why we play football: to come up against the best teams and play top-level games,” Bjorn Helge Riise, Fulham’s Norwegian midfielder.
Ligue 1: Favourites out to reverse fortunes
Two games into their title defence and champions Marseille find themselves as low down as 18th in the standings. Successive defeats have left the Mediterranean outfit reeling, yet they are not the only big side suffering with 2009/10 runners-up Lyon sitting a mere two spots higher. OM’s woes owe much to a troubled summer on the transfer front and Lyon have lost key players to injury, but both are hopeful excuses will not be needed when they host fellow strugglers Lorient and Brest.
One spot off the bottom, Bordeaux’s situation is even more precarious, not least since their next assignment is a trip to the capital to face a Paris St Germain team in fourth and enjoying a fine start to the season. Elsewhere, Toulouse will be looking to stay top when they welcome Arles-Avignon – who lie joint-bottom with Bordeaux – and new boys Caen face a stern test at Montpellier as they aim to maintain Ligue 1’s only other 100 per cent record.
The question: Will French champions Marseille claim their first points of the season against Lorient?
The big game: Paris St Germain-Bordeaux, Sunday 21.00 CET, Parc des Princes
The quote: "Last season Bordeaux started very well and things finished badly. This time, we’ve started badly and I hope that we’ll finish well,” Jean Tigana, Bordeaux coach.
Bundesliga: Champions kick-start season
Germany’s top flight is enjoying a renewed reputation for quality and spectacular football, and those virtues could well be confirmed in the inaugural encounter of the new season, with champions Bayern handed a tough first assignment at 2008/09 title winners Wolfsburg. The following day, the spotlight will fall on Schalke’s journey to Hamburg, where the Gelsenkirchen outfit’s coach Felix Magath won various honours as a player while Spanish striker Raul is due to make his debut on German soil. Meanwhile, Werder Bremen will begin life without Real Madrid signing Mesut Ozil away against Hoffenheim.
The first round of action will then draw to a close with another intriguing game as Bayer Leverkusen welcome back national icon Michael Ballack for their trip to face a determined Borussia Dortmund team and their Paraguayan forward Lucas Barrios. Prior to that, Kaiserslautern and St Pauli will mark their returns to the elite with respective fixtures at Koln and Freiburg, who finished 13th and 14th last term.
The question: Who will prevail in the tussle between Germany’s two most recent title winners?
The big game: Hamburg-Schalke, Saturday 18.30 CET, Imtech Arena
The quote: "This match will attract huge amounts of attention. Starting off against Bayern isn’t such a bad thing as no one has really found their feet yet at this point in the season,” Arne Friedrich, Wolfsburg defender.
Still basking in the summer exploits of their national team, Spanish football fans must wait a little longer before the new Liga campaign bursts into life. In the meantime, they can content themselves with finding out who will claim the first silverware of the season as the Spanish Super Cup reaches its conclusion. Sevilla hold a 3-1 lead after beating a Barcelona line-up shorn of the club’s Spanish internationals in the opening leg, but the Catalan giants will look to turn things around at the Camp Nou.
In Turkey, finally, the Istanbul powerhouses have designs on the league crown secured by Bursaspor last term and Galatasaray have been granted an early chance to trouble the champions. They host Bursaspor on Sunday eager to avoid a second straight reverse, while early leaders Fenerbahce will travel to face Trabzonspor fresh from a 4-0 triumph first time out.