European Leagues preview
Out of the spotlight during a two-week international break, clubs across Europe are all set to return to centre stage this weekend. And ten days after the transfer window slammed firmly shut, this latest round of fixtures provides an ideal opportunity to see how a host of new signings have adapted to their new surroundings, including Rafael van der Vaart at Tottenham, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at Schalke 04, Javier Mascherano at Barcelona, and Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at AC Milan.
As ever, FIFA.com offers a preview of all the upcoming action from Europe’s top leagues.
Premier League: Liverpool look for lift-off
2009/10 was a disappointing season for Liverpool, and things have proved equally difficult for the Reds thus far this campaign. With just three points from three matches, Roy Hodgson’s men are in need of a reassuring performance, and will be hoping to find it against Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City (sixth) on Monday night. Manchester City (ninth) find themselves in the same boat ahead of their home game with Blackburn (15th), as do Tottenham (11th), preparing to head north-west to take on lowly West Bromwich Albion.
On paper, the leading trio should not encounter too many problems this weekend. Leaders Chelsea make the short trip to West Ham, currently last in the standings. Third-placed Manchester United head west to take on Everton (18th), while Arsenal (second) welcome a Bolton side flying high in fifth.
The question: Will Chelsea’s impregnable defence finally be breached?
The big game: Arsenal-Bolton, Saturday, 16.00 CET, Emirates Stadium
The quote: “If I’m performing well enough, I should play 25 to 30 matches this season. I’d love to be out on the pitch all the time, but it’s pretty much impossible at the age of 35,” Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes.
La Liga: Real seek reassurance
With the arrival of Jose Mourinho and some noteworthy pre-season signings, Real Madrid’s fans would certainly be forgiven for having already pencilled in their title-winning parties for sometime next May. However, Los Merengues’ first outing last Sunday in Majorca did not exactly live up to expectations. Their supporters will be hoping that simple teething troubles were at the root of the scoreless draw, and that their heroes will move up a gear by comfortably beating Osasuna at home on Saturday.
Arch-rivals Barcelona, meanwhile, plan to follow up their opening-day win over Santander with another resounding victory against newly-promoted Hercules Alicante. Elsewhere, the team that emerges triumphant from Atletico Madrid's visit to Athletic Bilbao could find themselves sharing top spot come Sunday night.
The question: How convincing a display will Real put in at the Santiago Bernabeu in Jose Mourinho’s first official match in charge?
The big game: Athletic Bilbao-Atletico Madrid, Saturday, 22.00 CET, Estadio San Mames
The quote: “I’m a coach, I’m not Harry Potter. He's magical, but in reality there is no magic. Magic is fiction and football is real,” Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho.
Serie A: Milan making waves
It has been a few years since AC Milan fans have had as much to look forward to at the dawn of a new season. The hiring of coach Massimiliano Allegri may have been a low-profile affair, but that contrasted greatly to their remarkable summer spending spree, described by the Italian press as both extraordinary (Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and astute (Marco Amelia, Mario Yepes and Kevin-Prince Boateng). There is no doubt that Il Rossoneri have set themselves up as the team to beat, a challenge that now faces the players of promoted side Cesena, who on Saturday will look to avoid the same fate as the Lecce team defeated 4-0 at the San Siro last week.
After opening up their campaign with a disappointing scoreless draw at Bologna, reigning champions Inter Milan will hope to dispel any doubts about the forthcoming campaign at home to Udinese. Juventus, beaten 1-0 by Bari, will have the same goal in mind when they take on Sampdoria, impressive 2-0 victors over Lazio last week.
The question: Will an AC Milan team boasting the talents of Ronaldinho, Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic take the Italian league by storm?
The big game: Juventus-Sampdoria, Sunday, 15.00 CET, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: “I don’t go out to night clubs, I don’t drink and I haven’t got any tattoos either. I pursue happiness through other means. Would you like me to talk about how wonderful it is to have God within you?” Inter Milan midfielder Coutinho.
Bundesliga: Surprises and setbacks
Before the beginning of the 2010/11 season in Germany, long odds would have been offered on Kaiserslautern sitting on top of the Bundesliga after two games, or on Hoffenheim, Mainz, Hamburg and Hanover making up the top five. Given their respective league positions, Hoffenheim’s clash with a highly-fancied but stuttering Schalke side (15th) could offer a fascinating insight into both clubs’ prospects for this year.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich, with a win and a loss so far, will be looking to bounce back from last week’s disappointing result in Kaiserslautern. It is unlikely to be plain sailing for the Bavarians at the Allianz Arena this weekend, however, as opponents Werder Bremen traditionally pose a tough challenge.
The question: Of the five teams – Kaiserslautern, Hoffenheim, Mainz, Hamburg and Hanover – with 100 per cent records, which ones will continue their perfect start this weekend?
The big game: Bayern Munich-Werder Bremen, Saturday, 18.30 CET, Allianz Arena
The quote: “I can't honestly say when he will be a force for my team. We’re going to let him get back to full fitness. Then we’ll see what happens,” Bayer Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes on Michael Ballack.
Ligue 1: Big guns in line of fire
Still struggling to extricate themselves from the bottom half of the table in France, Marseille (tenth), Bordeaux (14th) and Lyon (17th) have all earmarked this weekend as an opportunity to get their respective seasons back on track. Les Girondins look to have the toughest assignment on paper, travelling south to face eighth-placed Nice. Champions Marseille take on Monaco (seventh) while Les Gones entertain mid-table Valenciennes at Stade Gerland.
Surprise league leaders with a four-point advance on Rennes in second, Toulouse will be aiming for an unprecedented fourth win in a row when they welcome Saint-Etienne (fifth) on Saturday.
The question: After taking maximum points from their first three games, for how long can Toulouse continue racking up victories?
The big game: Marseille-Monaco, Sunday 21.00 CET, Stade Velodrome
The quote: “He came to see me on Saturday, the day before an important match…we’d just lost two in a row and were preparing for our game away to PSG on Sunday. The fact that he came and asked me at that particular moment shocked me a bit,” Bordeaux coach Jean Tigana, describing the lead-up to Yoann Gourcuff’s departure for Lyon.
In Portugal, Porto, early leaders after three wins from as many games, welcome second-placed Braga to the Estadio do Dragao. A fourth straight victory for the Dragons would see them open up a five-point gap on their nearest rivals.
While Bursaspor, reigning champions of Turkey, have started this season in the same impressive manner they ended the last, the country’s traditional heavyweights have been a little sluggish in coming out of their respective corners. Fenerbahce, currently lying fourth, will therefore expect nothing less than three points from their clash with third-placed Kayserispor on Saturday.
Seven games in, the Swiss Championship race promises to be a tight one if results continue in the same vein. Just three points currently separate the top six teams, but that could all change this weekend, when leaders Luzern play sixth-placed Bellinzona and Zurich (fifth) travel to Thun (fourth).