European leagues preview
The season is three games old in France, two in England and one in Germany, and this weekend sees the opening round of matches in Italy and Spain too. The spotlight falls on last season’s treble winners Inter Milan and double winners Barcelona, as their big-spending rivals from Madrid and Milan seek a flying start in the race to reclaim domestic honours.
Elsewhere, an array of top clubs are already under pressure after stuttering starts to the new campaign. FIFA.com looks ahead to the weekend action in Europe’s five biggest leagues.
Premier League: Free-scoring Chelsea set blistering pace
The 20 Premier League fixtures so far have produced four remarkable 6-0 scorelines, two of them chalked up by Chelsea. The champions not only boast a goal difference of +12, but are also the only team to win both games. Lowly Stoke City visit west London in search of their first point of the season, although the odds are heavily stacked against them, to say the least.
Of the teams on four points, Manchester United face West Ham, Arsenal travel to Blackburn, and Manchester City visit Sunderland. In the light of Chelsea’s stellar early-season form, none of these title hopefuls can afford a slip-up. Liverpool, on a single point so far, will hope to kick-start their campaign at home to promoted West Brom.
The question: Will Chelsea maintain their prolific scoring form?
The big game: Chelsea–Stoke City, Saturday, 16.00, Stamford Bridge
The quote: "It's impossible for us to keep scoring six goals a game. That wouldn’t be football, that would be Playstation," Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti.
La Liga: The chase begins
Promoted Alicante open the new Spanish season at home to Athletic Bilbao on Friday. Valencia and Sevilla, third and fourth last term, are away to Malaga and Levante on Saturday.
With the appetisers out of the way, the main course arrives on Sunday with opening fixtures for Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Catalan giants visit Santander, with Real Madrid away to Mallorca. Boasting the customary clutch of new stars, including David Villa for Barca and Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira at Real Madrid, the big two will both be keen to kick off proceedings with a win.
The question: Who will top the embryonic table in Spain?
The big game: Mallorca–Real Madrid, Sunday, 21.00, ONO Estadi
The quote: "I’m obsessed by attractive attacking football. I don’t want to see a Real Madrid team with five players defending," Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.
Serie A: Treble winners return to the fray
Inter Milan were the top performers in Europe last season, sealing a clean sweep of the domestic double and the UEFA Champions League. Following Jose Mourinho’s departure for Madrid, Rafael Benitez has been tasked with sustaining the Milan club’s hunger for silverware. He made a good start too, as the Nerrazzurri won the Italian Supercup a few days ago. The champions round off Matchday 1 on Monday with the trip to Bologna, where only a win will do.
Inter’s chief rivals can steal a march on the champions by winning their weekend fixtures. Roma and Milan will certainly expect maximum points at home to promoted Cesena and Lecce, although Juventus face a trickier task away to Bari. An intriguing first-day programme also sees Sampdoria take on Lazio, and Fiorentina play Napoli.
The question: Which of the favourites from Milan, Turin and Rome will make the best start?
The big game: Bologna–Inter, Monday, 20.45, Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
The quote: "We want to play a brand of football which the players are familiar with. Then we’ll see where we can improve an already successful formula," Inter Milan coach Rafael Benitez.
Bundesliga: Pressure on European hopefuls
The nascent German table has an odd look to it, with promoted clubs in second and third, and four European contenders languishing near the bottom. Second play first as St. Pauli look to make it two wins in two at home to Hoffenheim, and the Red Devils of Kaiserslautern host double winners Bayern.
Of the early stragglers, Werder Bremen play Koeln, Stuttgart meet Dortmund, and Schalke face Hannover. First wins would help settle nerves at the bigger clubs. Hamburg, 2-1 winners over big-spending Schalke last weekend, will look to build on that good start away to Frankfurt.
The question: Can the promoted clubs add to their points total this weekend?
The big game: Kaiserslautern-Bayern, Friday, 20.30, Fritz-Walter-Stadion
The quote: "It’ll be an immensely hostile reception. We’ll be playing against twelve men, in the truest sense of the phrase. Even for us, it’ll be a new experience. I’ve been trying to prepare the other players for it," Bayern’s ex-Kaiserslautern striker Miroslav Klose.
Ligue 1: Crisis looms for stuttering big guns
Three games into the campaign, the alarm bells are already ringing at Bordeaux (17th) and Marseille (13th). Just one win apiece rates as unsatisfactory for the title candidates – and this weekend, they go face-to-face. Former serial champions Olympique Lyon are doing slightly better in tenth on four points, but even they are already five off leaders Toulouse, who will look to maintain their perfect start away to Nancy.
Promoted Caen have added to the air of unreality by going second on seven points. They now meet fellow newcomers Brest, who are down in 19th. With the exception of sixth-placed Montpellier, who travel to fourth-placed Valenciennes, all last season’s front-runners are currently in the bottom half of the table.
The question: Which of the big clubs will be first to recapture their form?
The big game: Girondins Bordeaux–Olympique Marseille, Sunday, 21.00, Stade Jacques-Chaban-Delmas
The quote: "It’s a new experience and a new challenge. I’m motivated and I’ll give it my best shot. I’ve come to an ambitious club, and hope to be successful here," Olympique Lyon midfielder Yoann Gourcuff after switching from Bordeaux to OL this week.
In the Swiss Super League, leaders Lucerne (13 points) meet promoted Thun. Double winners Basel, level with Thun on ten points, hope to make up ground against Neuchatel Xamax.
In Greece, champions Panathinaikos kick off the new campaign at home to Xanthi. Last year’s runners-up Piraeus travel to face Iraklis Saloniki, with PAOK, who were third last term, at home to promoted Panserraikos.