Just as pulse rates throughout the European footballing world were beginning to normalise after a dramatic and spectacular UEFA EURO 2008, hearts are set to beat faster once again as the continent’s star names return to domestic matters. The French league roared back into action a week ago, with England and Germany now set to follow as the hunt for silverware kicks off in opening matches in London and Munich. The summer break continues further south where the Spanish and Italian leagues only restart in late August.
FIFA.com previews the big games in the continent’s top leagues this weekend.
England: Magpies aim to thieve points from champions
Two of the last three Premier League champions warmed up for the march to glory by winning the annual Community Shield. There must be a reasonable chance of the good omen continuing to work its magic this season as reigning champions Manchester United duly collected the traditional curtain-raising trophy last weekend.
The Red Devils open the new campaign at home to Newcastle United, while London pair Chelsea and Arsenal meet Portsmouth and promoted West Bromwich Albion respectively. The capital's title contenders will be expected to start with home wins, but Liverpool face an altogether tougher proposition on paper in the trip to ambitious big spenders Sunderland.
The question: After a hefty spending spree over the summer, are Portsmouth good enough to hand Chelsea an unwelcome shock in the first fixture?
The big game: Chelsea-Portsmouth, Sunday, 14.30 CET, Stamford Bridge
The numbers game: 8 – The first goal of the Premier League season has been netted by an English player on eight of the last ten occasions. The exceptions are Djibril Cisse of France in 2004 and Dutch sharp-shooter Ruud van Nistelrooij the following year.
The quote: "I’m not buying into the theory of us just going out and enjoying the day at Arsenal. We have to try to be competitive and try to win the match," Tony Mowbray, West Brom coach.
Germany: Pressure on Klinsmann
After a series of less than convincing displays in pre-season friendlies and a fortunate 4-3 victory over third division Rot-Weiss Erfurt in the German Cup first round, Bayern Munich find themselves under intense pressure before the season has even shifted into gear. Jurgen Klinsmann’s star ensemble are popularly expected to sparkle at all times while winning their matches into the bargain. The next opportunity to do just that presents itself on Friday in the Bundesliga’s official opening match when Bayern entertain Hamburg, whose new boss Martin Jol must compensate as swiftly as possible for the loss of star playmaker Rafael van der Vaart to Real Madrid.
Schalke are tipped as Bayern’s closest pursuers this term, but the Royal Blues open the domestic campaign with mixed feelings. A 1-0 UEFA Champions League qualifying win at home to Atletico Madrid was a confidence-booster, but star striker Jefferson Farfan sustained a serious injury and will be sidelined for several weeks. Newly-installed boss Fred Rutten will be looking for a home win against Hannover 96, with Werder Bremen also in the hunt for three points away to Arminia Bielefeld.
The question: Can Bayern hand new coach Klinsmann a convincing victory over ambitious Hamburg in his first league game in charge?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Hamburg, Friday, 20.30 CET, Allianz Arena
The numbers game: 3 – Bayern have failed to win any of their last three home meetings with Hamburg. Munich’s last home win against the northerners came on 21 January 2005.
The quote: "It’ll be tough against Hamburg. But we’ll do whatever it takes to hand them a first defeat at the Allianz Arena," Jurgen Klinsmann, Bayern Munich coach.
France: OM and PSG desperate to shift up a gear
The two biggest guns in Ligue 1 certainly hit the goal trail when hostilities recommenced last week. Lyon collected maximum points in a 3-0 victory over Toulouse, but Marseille’s weekend ended in frustration in a 4-4 thriller away to Stade Rennes. Even at this early stage, the Mediterranean club now face a must-win home meeting with Auxerre, whereas the champions could ensure they retain top spot in the embryonic table with a win away to Lorient.
Two other big names go head-to-head in a match likely to have far-reaching ramifications for both as the campaign unfolds over the coming months. Paris St. Germain entertain Bordeaux determined to erase the memory of an opening-day defeat to Monaco, while last term’s runners-up seek to underline their title credentials with a second three-pointer.
The question: Can Lyon ace Karim Benzema follow up his brace on opening day with another sparkling and productive run-out in Lorient?
The big game: Paris St. Germain-Bordeaux, Saturday, 21.00 CET, Parc des Princes
The numbers game: 4 - Lyon last visited Lorient on Matchday 4 last term, continuing a miserable start to the season with a 2-1 defeat.
The quote: "After all the fantastic moments we had at home last season, we can hardly wait to run out in front of our fans again,"
Beniot Cheyrou, Marseille midfielder.
Matchday 18 in Russia sees the eagerly-awaited clash of two chasing clubs, Amkar Perm and Spartak Moscow, with leaders Rubin Kazan away to Tom Tomsk and second-placed Dynamo Moscow at home to Spartak Nalchik. Champions Zenit St. Petersburg will be determined to beat bottom club Shinnik Jaroslavl at home and move on from a disappointing seventh place.
The big game in Switzerland pits third-placed FC Zurich against champions and cup winners Basel in second. Leaders Aarau were held 1-1 by promoted Bellinzona last Wednesday.