Football Across Europe: February 13-21 | Champions League Edition

2017-2018 UEFA Champions League Round of 16, First Leg

The knockout phase of the 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League is underway, with matches beginning Tuesday, February 13. Even casual sports fans have likely heard the phrase “Champions League,” but the Football Across Europe blog is here to break it down a bit further for the non-football (soccer) fan. The first thing to note is that the Champions League is not a league at all, per se, but a tournament. It is comprised of professional club teams from UEFA member nations (UEFA is the governing body of the European confederation of international soccer). Qualification is based on performance in the previous season’s domestic leagues in each respective nations.

After domestic league play wraps up across in Europe in late spring into early summer, the early stages of the ensuing Champions League competition begin within weeks that same summer, with teams from the lowest-ranked UEFA member nations forced to play through a myriad of qualification rounds.

By late summer into early fall, the qualification rounds are over and the surviving smaller clubs are joined by teams from the powerhouse nations to form a 32-team group stage, a familiar format to anyone who’s watched a FIFA World Cup. The 8 group winners and 8 runners up advance to the knockout phase – or Round of 16 – where the play in a home and home two-legged format against whatever opponent they’re drawn against.

Winners are re-drawn and play in this format all the way through the semifinals, whereupon the winners meet in a one-match final, considered by most to be the highest prize in world club football and the most-watched annual sporting event in the world. It is also financially rewarding, with the prize for a Final victory in excess of €15 million, or over $18 million. Overall, with all rounds’ prize money combined, winning clubs can take home in excess of €50 million ($61m).

Real Madrid from Spain are the two-time defending Champions League winners and also have the most wins overall in the competition with twelve. A.C. Milan of Italy have won it seven times, with Germany’s Bayern Munich, Spain’s Barcelona, and England’s Liverpool all boasting five trophies. The last four have all been won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona and the last English club to win it was Chelsea in 2012, their only win.

We will be breaking down every match through the duration of the tournament, and we’ll continue with the two matches played today (previously played match previews below):

Sevilla vs. Manchester United

Where They’re From: Sevilla FC call the Andalusian capital of Seville in southern Spain home. While perhaps not the giants of Real Madrid or Barcelona, they are older than both of them, having played the first officially recognized professional football match in Spain. They also boast an impressive history, with a league title, five Spanish cups, and a long recent tradition of success in the Champions League’s little brother, the Europa League, which they won three straight times from 2014-2016. They play home matches in Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium and are currently fifth in La Liga. Manchester United scarcely need an introduction but they call the northern English city of Manchester home and play at the famed Old Trafford. They have dominated English football in the modern era, with a staggering 13 Premier League titles since its inception in 1992 and 20 English titles overall, both the most of any English club in history. They sit second in the Premier League currently.

How They Got Here: Sevilla finished in fourth in La Liga last season, which meant they had to get through a playoff round to secure a place in the group stage. They played and beat Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir and secured a spot in Group E with Liverpool, Spartak Moscow, and Maribor. They finished in second with nine points from a possible 18. Manchester United secured a spot in the Champions League group stage by virtue of winning the UEFA Europa League last season. They were drawn into Group A with Swiss regulars FC Basel, CSKA Moscow, and Portuguese side Benfica. They went 5-0-1 to win their group handily.

What to Watch For: Manchester United are clear favorites in this contest and they should be. That said, this contest has some ingredients of the kind of narratives that lead to surprise upsets in tournaments such as these. Much of that has to do with United. White hot out of the gate this season, they are realistically out of the English title race to their fierce rivals Manchester City, and have three teams within four points of them in the table.

Despite being fit, €105 million midfielder Paul Pogba will not feature, adding weight to rumors that he and manager José Mourinho are not seeing eye to eye. The Red Devils are also only 4-3-2 in their last nine league matches. That isn’t terrible form by any means, but for a team with the lofty payroll and expectations of this United squad, it’s also left fans wanting more.

United can win without Pogba, to be sure. They have one of the world’s finest goalkeepers in David de Gea. Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly recently returned from injury and could bolster the United back line. They went out and paid more big money to pry Alexis Sánchez away from Arsenal in January. Summer signing Romelu Lukaku is a striker no defense enjoys seeing on the pitch. A supporting cast that could include Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, or Jesse Lingard provides plenty of firepower. And they play for a manager in Mourinho who has won this tournament twice before.

None of this will be news to Sevilla, who boast no names of such reputation in their squad. They come in having won their last three contests domestically, though obviously against much different competition. But they will also likely not be wide-eyed. This team won the Europa League three straight times before last season, where they made it to the Round of 16 in the Champions League, so European competition is nothing new for them. They will hope that fact as well as playing at home will help them to spring the upset and show that they belong here.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. A.S. Roma

Where They’re From: Shakhtar Donetsk represent the Ukraine in the Champions League as the only club remaining from the country hosting the tournament final in May. They’re nestled in the city of Donetsk and are in their first season playing in the Metalist Oblast Sports Complex, a 40,000-seat stadium. As 10-time Ukrainian Premier League champions and 11-time Ukrainian Cup winners, there’s no club more synonymous with glory in the country. On the other hand, A.S. Roma has no shortage of competition within Italy’s Serie A league. Along with representing the prestigious city of Rome, they play in the famous Stadio Olimpico. Roma haven’t won Serie A since 2001, but they are consistent contenders domestically.

How They Got Here: After two down years in their domestic league, Shakhtar earned immediate qualification into the group stage of the Champions League by winning the Ukrainian Premier League. They arguably surprised by finishing second in a group containing Manchester City, Napoli and Feyenoord, winning four games and losing two despite finishing with as many goals for as against (nine). One could say that Roma turned some heads en route to the knockout stage as well. They finished second in Serie A last season and topped a group containing Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Qarabag while allowing only six goals in six matches.

What to Watch For: Two of the more defensive-minded sides left in the Champions League will go head to head for two legs of an affair that won’t feature much free-flowing attacking play. Shakhtar Donetsk have navigated their way atop the Ukrainian league again so far in this 2017-18 season largely behind the effort of an impenetrable back line, which has allowed 18 goals in 20 matches. While they’ve also bagged a league-leading 43 goals in that span, they might not have faced as tough of a defensive squad as that of Roma. The Romans have allowed just 19 goals in 25 league matches, and contain the more impressive attacking names of the two with Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolarov manning the front. However, stealing the headlines lately has been 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under, who has banged in four goals in his last three games.

 

Chelsea vs. Barcelona:

Where They’re From: Chelsea FC are the current kings of the English Premier League after running away with the 2016-17 title. As one of many iconic football clubs located in the English capital, Chelsea hail from West London and play in the esteemed Stamford Bridge in Fulham. The Blues’ magical 2016-17 season has faded fast, however, as Antonio Conte’s men currently sit fourth in the EPL and are 19 points adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Barcelona are also nestled in one of the world’s most popular cities, but have their city’s footballing focus all to themselves. Playing their home matches in the spectacular Camp Nou, Barca endured a tough 2016-17 season but are back on track this campaign; they sit seven points clear atop La Liga, appearing poised for another trophy-filled spring.

How They Got Here: Barcelona’s second-place finish in La Liga last season is undeniably below their lofty expectations, but got them an automatic UCL bid. Starting out in a tough group containing Juventus, Sporting and Olympiacos, Barca only conceded one goal in the group stage and became one of four teams to go undefeated. On the other hand, the Blues achieved qualification through last year’s EPL title but faced plenty of peril in the group stage with two draws and a blowout loss at Roma. However, they still eased through into the knockout stages with a whopping 16 goals.

What to Watch For: Chelsea vs. Barcelona guarantees to be one of the knockout stage’s most dazzling affairs, but one that pegs two clubs who have endured quite the opposite runs of form as of late. The Blues have looked far from their best over the course of 2018, having won just four of their last 12 in all competitions and being outscored 7-1 combined in league defeats to Bournemouth and Watford. They do take a stellar head-to-head record against Barcelona into Tuesday’s fixture, having gone unbeaten against the Spanish giants in seven straight matches including a 2012 semifinal triumph that led to Chelsea winning the Champions League.

However, recent form indicates that trend could very well be bucked by the brilliant Lionel Messi and crew. His Barcelona side have only lost once in all competitions throughout the 2017-18 season, somehow seeming to improve after Neymar’s exodus to Paris Saint-Germain. Messi should once again be hungry to prove his all-time great status against one of England’s marquee clubs, while Luis Suárez’s EPL history has him very familiar with how to thrive against the likes of Chelsea. But for their brilliance, it’s no individual effort that propels Barcelona – instead, they’ve returned to their free-flowing team football that collected so many trophies over the last decade and promises to deliver more to the Camp Nou.

While Chelsea are loaded themselves with quality including the likes of longtime Barcelona target Eden Hazard, they will be hard-pressed to match up personnel-wise against La Blaugrana. The midfield pairing of N’Golo Kanté and Cesc Fàbregas that proved so magical a season ago has lost some of its luster, and Conte’s once impenetrable five-man defensive scheme has been anything but in 2017-18. The Blues will have to hope the back line can play lights out, and will need to procure a mental edge stemming from their recent history of success against Messi, who has failed to score in eight matches against Chelsea.

 

Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas

Where They’re From: Bayern Munich are Germany’s most successful club team in history both domestically and in Europe. They play in the Bavarian capital in the south of Germany with home matches played in the Allianz Arena. They have won the Bundesliga five years running and are cruising to six in a row, a whopping 19 points clear. Besiktas hail from Turkey, where they play their home matches in Vodafone Park in the Besiktas area of Istanbul. They are one of the traditional powerhouses in Turkish football, having never been relegated from the top tier. They are reigning champs but currently sit in fourth.

How They Got Here: Bayern Munich have been the class of Germany for most of the decade and are en route to their sixth straight league title and 28th overall. As such, they qualified directly for the group stage and were drawn into Group B with PSG, Celtic, and Belgian side Anderlecht. Despite finishing level with PSG with an impressive 15 of a possible 18 points, they lost 3-0 to the French side and wouldn’t have touched their staggering +21 goal differential anyway and settled for second. Besiktas also qualified directly for the group stage by virtue of winning the Turkish league title last season. They were drawn into Group G along with FC Porto, German side RB Leipzig, and last season’s French champion Monaco. They went unbeaten at 4-2-0 and won the group four points clear of Porto, allowing only five goals in six matches.

What to Watch For: While Besiktas were impressive in the group stage, this is their first match ever in the Round of 16 and will be heavy underdogs against the giants of Bayern. Bayern have won 19 of their last 20 home matches in Champions League play. Besiktas won all of their away matches in group play, including their last match, and will be hoping that counts for something, though that was back in early December. They are on a seven match unbeaten streak domestically, but were held to a 1-1 draw last Friday.

For the hosts, the only issues facing manager Jupp Heynckes seem to stem from an embarrassment of riches. His world-class first choice goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, is still recovering from a broken foot, but understudy Sven UIreich has handled duties just fine, contributing to 24 wins in the team’s last 25 matches in all competitions.

In attack, Robert Lewandowski is an elite scoring threat, but his supporting cast also has few holes to exploit. With a back line anchored by German international Mats Hummels, Lewandowksi can get support in midfield and attack from the likes of Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben, James Rodríguez, Arturo Vidal, and long-time Germany international Thomas Müller.

Besiktas will no doubt take confidence from their away record in the group stage as well as their overall defensive numbers. But they will need to be at their absolute best against the firepower of their hosts if they are to limit the damage. Any precious away goals would likely be seen as a bonus.

 

FC Porto vs. Liverpool

Where They’re From: FC Porto ply their trade in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, where they are one of three clubs who have remained in the top flight since the league’s inception. They are the second most-decorated team in Portugal. They call the city of Porto home and play in the Estádio do Dragão. They are currently on top of their table and have yet to lose in their league season, taking 55 from a possible 63 points. Liverpool hail, unsurprisingly, from the city of Liverpool in the northwest of England. Though the 21st century has not been as fruitful as the previous, they are one of English football’s true giants. Only Manchester United have won more domestic championships (20) than Liverpool’s 18, though the Reds last won the league in 1989-90, before the current Premier League was formed. They remain the most decorated English club in European play. They play their home matches at Anfield and currently sit third in the Premier League.

How They Got Here: FC Porto finished second in the Primeira Liga last season, qualifying directly for this Champions League’s group stage. They finished second in their group, taking ten points from a group that included Turkish side Besiktas, Germany’s RB Leipzig, and French side Monaco. Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season. They had to survive a play-off round to earn passage to the group stage. They defeated German side Hoffenheim 6-3 on aggregate to advance before being drawn in and winning a group with Sevilla, Spartak Moscow, and Slovenian side Maribor.

What to Watch For: In short: goals. FC Porto are second in their league in scoring and led their group in goals for. Liverpool tallied the second highest goal total of any team in the group stage and only Manchester City have scored more in England. Both squads feature high-powered, electric attacking front lines capable of finding the net. Both teams, however, have also had questions asked of them defensively. Porto have a fine defensive record domestically, but gave up ten goals in the group stage, the second highest total of any advancing team. Liverpool only allowed six goals in six matches in the group stage, but have allowed seven more goals than the next highest total of the top five teams in England.

The main man in attack for FC Porto is Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar, who has 26 goals in 32 matches in all competitions, though he is questionable to play in this first fixture. Though he’s only featured sporadically this season at age 36, FC Porto also feature one of this era’s best goalkeepers in Spanish international Iker Casillas. In a long and storied career at Real Madrid, Casillas won five La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies, establishing himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers of his age.

For Liverpool, much was made of their losing Brazil international Philippe Coutinho in the January transfer window, but all season long their man has been Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah. With 29 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions, he is the focal point of a dangerous Liverpool pressing attack. Defensively, keep an eye on center back Virgil van Dijk. After a clumsy and frustrating pursuit last summer, Liverpool finally got their man in January, and much is expected of the Netherlands international in regard to providing some stability and resolve to Liverpool’s maligned back line.

 

Real Madrid vs. PSG

Where They’re From: Real Madrid are arguably the biggest sport brand in the world. Hailing from Spain’s capital city, they have won La Liga more than any other club and are also the most successful club in European competition of all time. They play in the famous Santiago Bernabéu Stadium which seats over 80,000 fans. They are the reigning La Liga and Champions League champions, though this season has been a disappointment thus far, with the giants currently fourth in the table. PSG, short for Paris Saint-Germain FC, is by most measures the pride of French football. They have never been relegated from France’s Ligue 1 and have the most domestic trophies in history including four straight before finishing second last season. They play home matches in the Parc des Princes in the French capital and are back in their familiar position atop their table, twelve points clear of their closest competition.

How They Got Here: Real Madrid earned automatic UCL qualification by beating Juventus in last year’s final – their second straight and third in the last four years – but Los Blancos would have qualified with last season’s La Liga title regardless. Despite an incredible 2016-17 campaign, Madrid have been far from their best this season. They did manage to advance through a difficult group containing Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL, but finished second to Spurs and sit a whopping 17 points shy of Barcelona in La Liga. Currently in fourth place domestically, they’re in danger of missing the Champions League altogether next season. On the other side, no club looked as dominant throughout the group stage as Paris Saint-Germain. They won a group boasting the mighty Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht while scoring 25 goals and conceding just four in six group-stage bouts. PSG were shockingly beaten in France’s Ligue 1 by Monaco last season, but still easily qualified for the UCL and appear hungry to make up for last season’s nightmarish collapse to Barcelona in this very same round.

What to Watch For: We’re only in the round of 16, but football fans may not see a more scintillating contest throughout the rest of the tournament. The 12-time European Cup champions, Real Madrid has more than enough pedigree, confidence, and skill to make up for a recent dip in form. They have always owned this competition, whether you’re pulling from a recent sample size or in history. But their opponent may have the most eyes on it. PSG has long been a formidable foe in the Champions League, but their gigantic summer acquisitions of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have thrust them into the forefront of European club football. The domestic French league is no match for PSG this season, leaving the Champions League as the only true barometer to measure their quality.

Real Madrid has the greatest player in Champions League history on their side, forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whose 114 goals in the competition are the most all time. He links up with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to formulate an all-time great attacking trio, but albeit one that hasn’t performed up to standard in 2017-18. Madrid’s attackers, fueled by midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, are notorious for rising to the occasion when the spotlight is brightest, but they’re used to facing outmatched competition at this stage. Will they rise to the level it takes to dissect PSG’s defense?

The other end of the pitch, however, possesses the most compelling matchups. Neymar, Mbappe and striker Edinson Cavani are possibly the world’s best-performing attacking trio this season, but they haven’t faced a back line with half the quality possessed by Madrid. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo will go down as some of the greatest defenders in footballing history, but even they can be susceptible to foes who attack with fluidity and unselfishness. Neymar moved over from Barcelona this summer so that he could be the hero on a stage just like this, and he’s not short on teammates with the skill to complement him. If he happens to fall flat against one of the most vulnerable Real squads we’ve seen in recent times, the criticism will be palpable.

 

Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Where They’re From: Juventus are the reigning champions of Serie A in Italy, their sixth consecutive league title and 33rd overall. They are, simply put, the class of Italian football right now. They play their home matches in the Allianz Stadium in Turin in the northwest of Italy. They currently find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they are second in the Serie A table, albeit a mere point behind leaders Napoli. Tottenham are based in north London and play their home matches for this season in Wembley Stadium, home to the England national team, while they build a brand new facility on the site of their long-time home White Hart Lane. They currently sit fifth in the English Premier League table.

How They Got Here: Juventus qualified directly for this year’s Champions League group stage by virtue of being Italian champions last season. They had the misfortune of being drawn into the same group as Barcelona, but finished second with 11 points, ahead of Portugal’s Sporting CP and Greek side Olympiacos. Tottenham also qualified directly for the group stage via their second place finish in the Premier League last season. They were drawn into what many considered one of most difficult groups alongside Spanish giants and reigning champs Real Madrid and German side Borussia Dortmund (as well as APOEL FC, champions of Cyprus). But they won their group with all but two of the possible 18 points to advance as group winners.

What to Watch For: Juventus bring to this contest deep Champions League experience and pedigree as regular Italian champions and having reached the Final in two of the last three years. They also boast arguably the era’s greatest goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon. He just turned 40, however, though he often makes it hard to believe. Juventus are a squad who traditionally, like the Italy national team, begin their match plan with defense. Though they gave up five goals in group play, three of them were to Barcelona and they have not conceded a goal in 2018 in any competition, winning seven consecutive matches.

They also feature a number of dangerous attacking players, including Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuaín. However, they also carry a number of injuries into this match. Those include key man and fellow Argentina international Paolo Dybala and Colombia international Juan Cuadrado, both of whom are expected to miss the match.

On the opposite side, Tottenham have also been on a roll. They have not lost a match in any competition since mid-December, and that to Premier League leaders Manchester City. They have drawn three of their last seven, but they are coming off a win against fierce rivals Arsenal in a North London Derby this past Saturday.

In attack, the conversation must be about striker Harry Kane. With 32 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions, Kane is considered by some to be the best footballer in the world right now, and his form makes it very difficult to argue. Playmakers in midfield like Dele Alli and Eric Dier give Kane plenty of opportunities. Belgium international and long-time center back Jan Vertonghen and captain / goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, also the captain of the France national team, are at the heart of a Tottenham defense that has only conceded six goals in their last nine league matches.

 

FC Basel vs. Manchester City

Where They’re From: FC Basel are the pride of Switzerland’s club football, having won 20 Swiss Super League titles in the club’s esteemed history. They have claimed eight straight league titles, but are currently sitting second in this season’s domestic campaign. They call the northwestern city of Basel home, the country’s third-largest city that carries past the Swiss borders with France and Germany. They play at St. Jakob Park, Switzerland’s largest stadium that hosted matches during Euro 2008. Manchester City are often dubbed the “little brothers” behind Manchester United within the northern English town, but there’s nothing little about these European giants. One of the world’s richest clubs, City have basically wrapped up the English Premier League title with months left to play as legendary manager Pep Guardiola has transformed Manchester City into one of the most dangerous attacking teams that the sport has seen in several years. Even in the ultra-competitive EPL, The Citizens have the look like they could remain on top for quite some time.

How They Got Here: FC Basel cruised to another Swiss league title last season, etching their place in Group A alongside Manchester United, CSKA Moscow and Benfica. They managed to lose twice in the group stage, but a shock win over United turned heads and helped to advance them into the round of 16. As for Manchester City, they earned an automatic qualification by finishing third in the Premier League last season. Guardiola’s men cruised through the group stage with only one hiccup, having no trouble winning a group that included Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, and Feyenoord. However, they may have a bad taste in their mouths after rounding out the group stage with a 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar.

What to Watch For: With no disrespect to FC Basel, who are Champions League regulars and a tough out for any foe, they will have to play at their absolute best to have any chance at upsetting Manchester City. They’re currently second domestically behind Swiss club Young Boys, who failed to qualify for the Champions League group stage, while City are 23-3-1 in an English Premier League that has five of the 16 teams left in the CL. It may not be a full “David vs. Goliath” affair, but Basel may face the toughest road to the quarterfinals of any club in the competition.

Manchester City are on pace for the best finish in EPL history behind their unstoppable team attacking play. They have 79 goals in 27 league games, and with an average of 66.5% possession, opponents hardly get the chance to match them on the scoresheet. Sergio Agüero and Raheem Sterling are the usual goal-scoring suspects, but the influence of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Gabriel Jesus and several other attacking-minded stars make for a cohesive unit that consistently passes the ball with conviction until easy goal-scoring opportunities are presented.

Basel may have the defensive quality to limit City as they’ve only conceded 17 goals in 21 domestic contests, but they’ll need to stay glued to their defensive assignments and must refrain from being caught out of position. Even in the opening leg at home, viewers can expect Basel to play a conservative game in the hopes of preventing City’s quest at an all-important away goal. In their rare counter-attacking opportunities, look for Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel to push the Manchester City back four and try to get in behind.

Football Across Europe: December 8 | A Weekend of Northern Derbies

Premier League (England)

The crowded fixture schedule of the holiday season is upon us, and all of a sudden, we are up to Match Day 16 in England and indeed, some shifting in the table has been underway. Spurs have dropped points due to a recent dip in form. Liverpool have surged, pushing their way back into the top four. The two Manchester clubs are still atop the table. Everton have finally found a manager and it’s a familiar face indeed in Big Sam Allardyce. Fitting, then, that most of our attention this weekend will turn to the north of England for a pair of heavyweight derbies on Sunday. First, the Merseyside derby will see Everton make the short trek across Stanley Park to Anfield. And then, in the final kickoff of the weekend, it is a Manchester derby between the top two teams in England. Let’s look a little closer:

West Ham vs. Chelsea: The Blues have been doing their part as of late to revitalize their title defense, but six points in two away affairs over the next four days is vital to keep pace with Manchester City. That begins Saturday with a trip across West London to face West Ham. Chelsea are red hot in the league with 19 out of a possible 21 points ever since losing two straight tilts to City and Crystal Palace, with Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata bashing opposing clubs while manager Antonio Conte re-establishes his dominant defensive system. They still enter the weekend eleven points adrift of league-leading City, so three road points is crucial against a Hammers side mired in the relegation zone with just ten points in 15 matches.

Liverpool vs. Everton: The first Merseyside derby of the 2017/18 campaign kicks off on Sunday, with the Toffees of Everton traveling to Anfield in what will be the third match with their new manager, Sam Allardyce, on the touchline. Since being mired in a dismal run in form, Everton have won three in a row in all competitions by a combined 9-0 score. While Big Sam will no doubt be thrilled to have Wayne Rooney at his disposal, he will no doubt be preaching defense as Everton look to slow down their cross-town rivals in red. For Liverpool, it is impossible not to focus on the opposite. Since their thrashing at the hands Tottenham in late October, the Reds have gone nine matches without defeat. Six of those were in the league, by a combined score of 19-3. They beat Spartak Moscow to win their Champions League group by a 7-0 score midweek, with a hat trick from Philippe Countinho and a brace from Sadio Mané. Combined with the Premier League’s top goal scorer in Mohamed Salah, Liverpool will hope their current blistering attacking form will simply be too much for Everton.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City: The top two teams in the table clash in the final kickoff of the weekend when Manchester City visit Old Trafford to take on their rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils will be looking to close the gap to the league leaders with three points at home. José Mourinho will have nearly all of his most dangerous weapons at his disposal, including both Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović. But it’s possible the most important men on the pitch will be the United back line and world-class keeper David de Gea, as City have simply not stopped scoring. Despite losing an essentially meaningless Champions League match midweek, they remain unbeaten in the Premier League, with 43 points from a possible 45 and a range of pundits calling them the best team in the world at the moment. Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and a long list of other weapons will test a deep and talented United squad in its own right. With two animated managers to boot, it promises to be a classic on Sunday in Manchester.

La Liga (Spain)

 

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla: Fresh off his fifth Ballon d’Or award, Cristiano Ronaldo still has a lot to prove to get back in the running for this year’s world player of the year and he’ll look to make a statement Saturday against a dangerous Sevilla side. While Ronaldo has dominated the Champions League group stages, it proved only enough to finish Real Madrid second in their group. Furthermore, Ronaldo has only netted two goals in the league, a world away from Messi’s league-leading 13. But of the most importance heading into Saturday’s game is the fact that Madrid still sit eight points back of Barca in the table, making every point crucial. Notching three points won’t be an easy task against a Sevilla side that’s tied with them in points and just advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Villareal vs. Barcelona: On the heels of a comprehensive Champions League group-stage win, mighty FC Barcelona sets their sights to Villarreal in a Sunday clash. Barca began their La Liga campaign in unstoppable fashion before two distasteful draws in their last two league matches, and have since seen their league lead dwindle to just five points over second-placed Valencia. They still have yet to lose a match all season, but need Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez to be at their brilliant best to remain distanced from the pack. Villarreal will present a raucous environment and a tough test as they currently sit in sixth with 21 points, but they’ll be hard-pressed to generate offense against a Barca side that’s conceded just seven times in 14 matches.

Football Across Europe: November 18 | North London Derby Takes Center Stage

Premier League (England)

It’s Match Week 12 in England, just about a third of the way into the season. The two Manchester clubs remain atop the table, but our main focus this weekend goes south to London where it’s another edition of the North London Derby to get things started on Saturday. Tottenham travels to The Emirates to take on their bitter rivals, with the clubs sitting third and sixth in the table respectively. Let’s look at all the matches that caught our eye this weekend, including table-leaders City visiting Leicester:

Arsenal vs. Tottenham: It was a lackluster run of form going into the last international break for Arsenal, whose fans saw an unconvincing draw in the Europa League and a 1-3 loss to City. The Jekyll & Hyde season continues for Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, and the first test coming out of the break is no picnic. They welcome their North London rivals Tottenham to The Emirates with the first kickoff of the day Saturday. Spurs have won four of their last five league matches, conceding only twice in that span. Spurs striker Harry Kane has scored in every match he’s played against Arsenal in the league, though both he and Dele Alli will have to brush aside concerns over some lingering injury woes to see the pitch. For Arsenal, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez, and Alexandre Lacazette should all feature.

Leicester City vs. Manchester City: The positive for Leicester is that they have taken points from their last five matches in all competitions, including two wins in the league. Further good news is that they find themselves at home this Saturday. The bad news is that they welcome perhaps the deadliest-looking team in world football at the moment to the King Power Stadium in the form of Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men visit Leicester having won 15 straight matches in all competitions. City have more than double Leicester’s goal output and have only conceded seven in the league, their Achilles heel last season. Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, veteran Fernandinho, and others will give Leicester all it can handle.

Manchester United vs. Newcastle: Mighty Manchester United have been treading water amid a slew of injury problems, but expect to see some pivotal players return when they welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford. Chief among them is Paul Pogba, who hasn’t played since September 9 and will serve as a key reinforcement to a United midfield that has been lacking since his injury. Zlatan Ibrahimovic also makes his triumphant return from last season’s ligament tear. However, Ibra will likely begin on the bench behind striker Romelu Lukaku, who hasn’t scored an EPL goal since September after opening with seven in his first seven matches. The Red Devils still sit second in the table, but a loss along with wins from Spurs and Chelsea would see them drop to fourth. As for Newcastle, losers of two straight, they desperately need to string points together if they hope to avoid another relegation battle.

 

La Liga (Spain)

Leganes vs. Barcelona: Manager Ernesto Valverde has FC Barcelona stomping through La Liga after falling flat in their league title pursuit last season, and the train rolls through to face Leganes at the weekend. Barca have only dropped two points through eleven matches in league play, four points ahead of second-placed Valencia and perhaps most importantly, a comfortable eight points clear of Real Madrid. Lionel Messi has been at his best; his 12 league goals are three more than any other La Liga player and nine more than any teammate. Leganes have begun their second-ever season in top flight football brilliantly, coming into this matchup in ninth place with 17 points. But getting anything out of their hosting of the Spanish giants would be pretty miraculous.

Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid: Probably the most pivotal match of the entire European slate this weekend takes place in Madrid, as Atlético and Real clash in a Madrid Derby that features massive implications both ways. The clubs are tied in the table with 23 points apiece, and a potential loser from this bout could slip eleven points below league-leading Barcelona before the match day concludes. Grabbing three points in a hostile environment is a must for Real Madrid, who have lost two out of three in all competitions coming in and will hope that the international break gives Cristiano Ronaldo a chance to get going after he’s slotted just one league goal this season. Stars on both sides of the pitch, Antoine Griezmann for Atlético and Gareth Bale for Real, will have to plug their ears to incessant transfer rumors and find a way to make a winning contribution.

Serie A (Italy)

Roma vs. Lazio: AS Roma will be the de facto home team on Saturday, but there will be no clear advantage for either side in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the first edition of this season’s derby della Capitale or Rome derby. One of the fiercest local derbies in football, Rome’s two major clubs clashing always means an intense affair, and for this edition, they sit a mere point apart in the table, in fourth and fifth respectively. Roma have won four straight in the league and five straight overall in all competitions, including a 3-0 thrashing of Chelsea in the Champions League. Lazio have won five straight in the league, including over reigning champions Juventus a month ago. Only Napoli and Juventus have scored more goals than Lazio, while no Serie A club has allowed fewer than Roma’s seven. Saturday’s match has all the ingredients for a memorable affair in Rome.

Football Across Europe: November 4-5 | United Storm Stamford Bridge

Premier League (England)

Match Week 11 promises one of the most sizable shake-ups to the top of the table, with everything centering on Sunday’s key fixtures. Super Sunday guarantees to shed some light on the title chase, with sizable favorites Manchester City facing an improving Arsenal side and second-placed Manchester United visiting west London giants Chelsea. While there are plenty of matches to catch the eye in England over the weekend, the masses will be focused on the Etihad Stadium, where most of the league will be hoping Arsenal can steal some points from City and keep the league leaders within reach as we reach mid-season.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Title favorites Manchester City face a tough task in a fixture against resurgent Arsenal FC at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday that could go a long way toward defining each team’s season. City have the look of a machine that cannot be stopped, riding an unbeaten season in all competitions and a five-point lead in the league table. A 1-1 draw to Everton on Aug. 21 marks the only time Pep Guardiola’s men have failed to win in 90 minutes this season, with Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne on fire of late. As for the Gunners, they fell on hard times early in the campaign before turning things around over the last several weeks. Whether or not Alexis Sánchez, who’s been linked to City, and Mesut Özil can drown out speculation over their futures and focus on the task at hand will decide whether or not Arsenal can hang against the goliaths of City and stunt their momentum.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United: It’s been two straight league wins for reigning champions Chelsea since their dreadful loss to last-place Crystal Palace. They are, however, coming off a 0-3 loss midweek to Roma in the Champions League, and will need focus hosting Manchester United on Sunday. Chelsea are hoping to welcome midfielder N’Golo Kanté back into the starting XI behind key man Eden Hazard. Second-place United responded to their first league loss of the season with a big 1-0 win over Tottenham last week. Paul Pogba seems set to miss another match, so United will look for Romelu Lukaku and the likes of Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford to find goals without the help of the star midfielder. United have made that look easy of late, winning their last three matches in all competitions without conceding. Chelsea, though, have only lost once in their last 14 home matches against United.

 

La Liga (Spain)

Now is typically the time in Spain when the two goliaths separate themselves in the table, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at the table entering Match Week 11. Barcelona does sit atop the table with 28 points in just 10 games, but Real Madrid are a whopping eight points back from their rivals with Valencia sitting in a surprise second-placed position with 24 points. Considering the run Barca is on to start the season, it could require a near-perfect next six months from Madrid if they hope to make La Liga interesting this season.

Barcelona vs. Sevilla: Despite being only ten matches into the season, Barcelona FC looks like they might not be stopped in La Liga with a sizable eight-point lead over rivals Real Madrid. Their title quest continues with one of their marquee affairs of the season at home to Sevilla. Barca have entered the month of November still unbeaten on the season with just one draw in the league to show. Lionel Messi has been his usual magnificent best, shining even more with Neymar gone and Ousmane Dembele sidelined. However, the draw to Atletico Madrid last month showed that the right defensive commitment can stifle Barcelona and take them out of their comfort zone. Sevilla enter Saturday’s prime-time fixture with the unenviable task of doing just that for 90 minutes.

Real Madrid vs. Las Palmas: It’s been two straight losses for the Spanish giants Real Madrid, including midweek to Tottenham in Champions League and last week to Girona in La Liga. Gareth Bale should return to join Ronaldo in the starting XI for Real, though Dani Carvajal remains injured. Las Palmas sit in 18th place, but all the pressure is on Los Blancos to take all three points and look to regain their immaculate form from last season.

 

Bundesliga (Germany)

Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich: It is another edition of Der Klassiker in the Bundesliga with Saturday’s final kickoff in Germany when Bayern Munich travel to the Westfalenstadion to play Borussia Dortmund. The two clubs, who have combined to win 20 of the last 23 league titles in Germany, find themselves in a familiar spot at first and second in the table. Borussia Dortmund have only one win in their last five matches in all competitions. Bayern, on the other hand, have won five straight. Bayern will be without the attacking threat of Franck Ribéry, though Robert Lewandowski should be joined by Thomas Müller in the starting XI after some injury time off. With three points separating the two giants, it promises to be a lively match.

 

Football Across Europe: October 21-22 | Spurs Host Liverpool

Premier League (England)

We are already to Match Week 9, just about a quarter of the way through the season, in the Premier League. With 29 goals in eight matches and 22 points from a possible 24, all eyes are on Manchester City. However, Match Week 8 gave us our requisite reminder that, at this level, anything can happen, with goalless and pointless Crystal Palace defeating Chelsea. City host surprise Burnley this weekend, and we’ll be watching. Let’s take a look at all the matches that grabbed our attention this weekend, including Liverpool’s visit to Wembley on Sunday to take on Tottenham:

Chelsea vs. Watford: The time is now for Chelsea FC to find the form they had a month ago if they want to defend their Premier League title, and it starts with a home affair against Watford. The Blues suffered defeat last weekend in one of the most shocking results of the young season, falling 2-1 to a Crystal Palace side that hadn’t produced a goal or a point in their opening seven matches. Following a 3-3 Champions League draw in the mid-week to Roma, the Blues are now approaching a month since their last league win. The road doesn’t get any easier Saturday, facing a Watford side that has risen to fourth in the table with 15 points. Eden Hazard will need to return to his sparkling form of last season, while Cesc Fàbregas has to come up big in the midfield with N’Golo Kanté still out with a hamstring injury.

Manchester City vs. Burnley: Can anyone stop Manchester City? Pep Guardiola’s club has the look of a wrecking ball, tearing through the league as they gear up for another potential decimation Saturday at home to Burnley. City are atop the league with seven wins and a draw to their name, but only sit two points clear of Manchester United. Following a 7-2 obliteration of Stoke at the Etihad Staidum last weekend, City fans are hoping for more of the same. Manchester City still await the return of Sergio Agüero, but the strike force of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling are more than doing their job in the goals department. Burnley surprisingly sit in seventh place with just six goals conceded through eight games. However, securing a clean sheet for the fourth time in six games will be quite the tall order against the most in-form club in Europe.

Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester United: For the new faces of Huddersfield Town, it’s been a dip since the early few weeks of their promotion campaign. They have a mere two points from their last five league matches, losing the last two by a combined score of 0-6, including 0-4 at home two weeks ago to Spurs. The going does not get easier on Saturday at John Smith’s Stadium, with second place Manchester United coming to town. The Red Devils surprised some by parking the bus last weekend at Anfield, leading to a goalless draw and marking only the second time this season they failed to secure all three points from a match. United appear as if they will still be without Paul Pogba for this match. But with Romelu Lukaku and some support from the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, or Anthony Martial, one would think José Mourinho will have more than a point on his mind this time.

Tottenham vs. Liverpool: Despite the frustration of a goalless draw at home last weekend against their bitter rivals Man United, Liverpool were likely thinking themselves unlucky not to have taken all three points with their possession and constant pressure. They certainly were clicking midweek, with a 7-0 thrashing of Slovenian champions Maribor in the Champions League. New men Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the Brazilian duo of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, were all among those who found net, prompting Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino to heap praises on Liverpool when speaking to the press ahead of this weekend’s match. But it is his Tottenham squad who is higher in the table, alone in third place behind the two Manchester clubs. They’ve won their last three league matches and battled Real Madrid to a draw midweek in the Champions League. However, Spurs have thus far been far better on the road than they have at their temporary home at Wembley. Harry Kane, tied for second in the Premier League in goals scored, will be looking to change that on Sunday.

Serie A (Italy)

It’s been an exciting start to the football season in Italy. Usually dominant Juventus has been, going 6-1-1 through their first eight matches. And yet that is only good enough for fourth in the table entering play this weekend. Napoli have won all eight of their matches with a +21 goal differential. Inter Milan are 7-1-0, and Lazio joins Juventus at 6-2-2 but already boast a win over the Turin giants. And now, Match Week 9 gives us a clash of the top two clubs:

Napoli vs. Inter Milan: For Napoli fans, it’s been a magical start to the 2017/18 season. They remain perfect in the league, and battled red-hot Manchester City to a close 1-2 loss in the Champions League midweek. At home, they have won their last two league matches by a combined 9-0. They will put their first place standing on the line on Saturday when they welcome second-place Inter Milan to the Stadio San Paolo. Inter are on a roll of their own, securing all but two of their possible points this season, and fresh off an emotional 3-2 win over cross-town rivals AC Milan last weekend. Juventus have won the league six years running, and will be looming all season. For both of these other giant Italian clubs, Saturday’s match could go a long way in determining if they will be able to usurp the reigning champs.

Football Across Europe: October 13-14 | United Visit Anfield

Premier League (England)

Match Week 8 in England kicks off with a bang this weekend with Manchester United visiting their bitter northwest rivals Liverpool. Any match between these two clubs feels like the tensest of derbies already, but José Mourinho and company are also forced to try to put the pressure on their actual Manchester derby rivals City, who join them atop the table with 19 points from a possible 21. Liverpool will be looking to re-assert themselves as genuine contenders after another frustrating draw in their last match before last week’s international break. We take a closer look at that match and others around Europe this weekend that caught our eye:

Liverpool vs. Manchester United: Liverpool may have felt they were back on track after a 3-2 win over Leicester away from home in late September, but a pair of 1-1 draws — one in the Champions League and one away to Newcastle two weeks ago in the league — have raised old frustrations. Manager Jürgen Klopp will hope his players have no shortage of motivation, however, with bitter rivals Manchester United coming to town for the first kickoff on Saturday. If Liverpool are to prevail, they will have to do it without the use of Sadio Mané, who picked up an injury over the break. The Red Devils are not without injuries of their own, as both Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba will be forced to miss the match, but the Reds’ suspect defense will still have their hands full with striker Romelu Lukaku, who is surely no stranger to the derby atmosphere at Anfield.

Manchester City vs. Stoke City: League-leading Manchester City can’t afford a slip-up on their return from the international break when Stoke City visit Etihad Stadium for a Saturday afternoon battle. Before the break, City notched their biggest three points of the season in a gutsy road win at Chelsea, ensuring they kept pace with United’s 19 points. However, Stoke City surprised the Etihad in last year’s trip to Manchester when they pulled out a surprise draw. While Pep Guardiola’s crew look to be a different monster this season, with Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne in spectacular form, they’ll need laser focus to avoid a letdown. City could also get a boost with Sergio Agüero potentially available off the bench after missing a few matches with a rib injury.

Crystal Palace vs.  Chelsea: Mired in a horrendous slump, Crystal Palace just can’t catch any breaks with West London giants Chelsea traveling across the city for a Saturday showdown. Typically a top half club in the table, Palace have endured one of the most treacherous starts to an EPL season in recent memory. Not only have they failed to secure a point in seven games, but they haven’t even scored a goal while allowing 17. The Blues have spent some of the international break figuring out what went wrong in their recent home loss to City, but they preceded that with a strong win streak. Expect Eden Hazard and company to flex their muscles against a Palace squad who can’t get anything going.

Tottenham vs. Bournemouth: With points from their last five league matches, Tottenham find themselves in a familiar position in the early part of the season: only one defeat on their record, but still looking up at the league leaders. Saturday will present an opportunity to take all three points with Bournemouth visiting Wembley. Only Crystal Palace (with no points) have managed less through seven matches than Bournemouth’s four. The Cherries did manage a draw in their last match, however, and manager Eddie Howe would no doubt be content with another point in a tough test for his squad. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and company will be looking to ensure that Spurs show they can be ruthless enough to take all three points from relegation zone teams as they’ll need to if they want to truly contend for the title this season.

La Liga (Spain)

Getafe vs. Real Madrid: The time is now for Real Madrid to get going if they want to revitalize their La Liga title defense, and it starts with a road trip to Getafe slated for Saturday. Starting the season 4-2-1 isn’t considered bad for most teams, but it is for Los Blancos, especially when Barcelona have begun a perfect seven for seven. Cristiano Ronaldo is still finding his form after an early season suspension, while the stacked strike force of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Isco surrounding him have yet to truly kick it into gear. A sense of urgency is critical for Madrid against 12th-placed Getafe, who scrapped to a 2-1 defeat to Barca earlier in the season and dismantled Villarreal 4-0 three weeks ago.

Atlético Madrid vs. Barcelona: FC Barcelona emerged from a disastrous summer to surprise in their opening of La Liga play, looking to continue their perfect season with a tough trip to face Atlético Madrid. Lionel Messi has shown he can carry the squad with 11 goals thus far in the season, making him the league’s top scorer by a margin of five. That’s only one less than Atlético Madrid have notched as a team this season. However, Atleti do sit one point up of Real Madrid with 15 points, and could get to within three of league-leading Barca with a surprise win at the Wanda Metropolitano. Messi may not be at his brilliant best with fatigue likely to kick in after he had to carry his Argentina side dramatically into World Cup qualification during the week, but his best may not be needed to achieve three points.

Serie A (Italy)

Roma vs. Napoli: It’s a fun and exciting early part of the season in Italy as Turin giants Juventus have not been their usual perfect. True, a draw just before the international break is their only blemish, but that is enough in the early going to keep them from atop the Serie A table, where high-flying Napoli sit with a perfect 21 points from 21. Napoli have already scored 25 league goals in seven matches and have won their last five matches in all competitions, scoring at least three goals in all of them. Dries Mertens has seven goals, good for third in the league, and will be looking for more. But hosts Roma are flying, too, also winning their last five matches in all competitions, including a 2-0 win over AC Milan the last time out. In front of their supporters, it promises to be a fun one on Saturday night under the lights at the Stadio Olimpico.

Inter Milan vs. AC Milan: It is another Milan Derby on Sunday, with Inter Milan the official “home” team, though they will have no distinct advantage with fellow San Siro residents AC Milan lining up against them. Both editions of this match ended in 2-2 draws last season, and there is excitement this year behind an Inter squad that has 19 points from a possible 21 and is level with Juventus on points in second place in the league. AC Milan have lost their last two league matches, both by 0-2 scorelines, after also starting hot out of the gate. They still have 12 points, good for seventh in the league, and will look to use the energy of another derby della Madonnina to get back on track against their cross-town rivals.

Football Across Europe: September 23 | Manchester Clubs Look to Pull Away

Premier League (England)

Match Week 6 in England gives us a range of interesting matches this weekend. Manchester City is riding high, now level with United atop the table on the heels of a 6-0 thrashing away to Watford. Spurs and Liverpool were held to draws on their home grounds by Swansea and Burnley respectively, and Chelsea and Arsenal battled to a goalless draw in London, which could be a big confidence boost to a Gunners squad seemingly adrift a few short weeks ago. None of the big six clubs play one another this weekend, but four of them hit the road, and there could be some tricky tests in store for the top clubs. Here, we take a look at them:

West Ham vs. Tottenham: The Spurs are riding high but can’t afford another slip-up in the league as they visit troublesome West Ham. The Hammers could give Tottenham serious problems if they continue a recent trend; Spurs have only won once at West Ham in the last four seasons including two successive 0-1 defeats. Currently in fifth, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Dele Alli will have to be at their brilliant best against a West Ham side that’s struggled with just four points through five games. One positive pointing Tottenham’s way is that the Hammers are tied for the most goals conceded in the league.

Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace: Pep Guardiola’s City bring their world-class form into a Saturday fixture against Crystal Palace, pegging the team atop the EPL table against the only team yet to notch a single point. The Manchester City strike-force of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus have been unstoppable in recent weeks, as the club produced 15 goals in three matches before a League Cup win to West Brom this week. Crystal Palace have undergone such a treacherous start to their 2017/18 campaign that they fired Frank de Boer after just four matches, replacing him with former England manager Roy Hodgson, who will surely be on a short leash with Palace falling further into the relegation zone.

Southampton vs. Manchester United: The Red Devils take aim at keeping pace with their Manchester rivals and eye three points on a road trip to Southampton. With victory this weekend, Manchester United would equal a club record with 16 points through six matches. Paul Pogba is out with injury, putting the onus on United’s deep midfield to get the job done against the Saints, who are coming off a win and looking to break out of a seven-team deadlock of teams with eight points. United striker Romelu Lukaku has been in fine form with his new club, and could be the first Premier League player to score at St. Mary’s for three different clubs after scoring there for Everton and West Brom.

Stoke City vs. Chelsea: It’s been a trying few days for Stoke City since being the only team to manage a result against Manchester United earlier in the month. They followed that up with a 1-2 loss to newly returned Newcastle last weekend and a 0-2 League Cup defeat to Championship outfit Bristol City midweek. The good news is they are back at home in newly renovated bet365 Stadium on Saturday. The bad news is they welcome the champions of Chelsea to town. Chelsea drew Arsenal last weekend before dispatching Nottingham Forest 5-1 in their League Cup match on Wednesday. They will be without David Luiz who is out through suspension, but Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kanté, and so-far fairly quiet new man Álvaro Morata will still be a lot to handle for the Potters.

Leicester City vs. Liverpool: It’s been a tough slate of games for Leicester, registering only a point against newly promoted Huddersfield in their last three league matches. They will be full of confidence, though, at home in King Power Stadium for the final kickoff this Saturday despite welcoming the Reds of Liverpool to town. For one, Liverpool do not have a win since August in all competitions. For another, Leicester beat Liverpool on the very same ground 2-0 in the League Cup on Tuesday. It will likely be two very different squads on Saturday, but Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare will be happy to hear Liverpool’s already shaky defense may be in crisis mode, with many defensive names on the injury sheet. The Reds will also be without key man Sadio Mané, who is serving suspension time. They should, however, see Philippe Coutinho in close to full-match action after a 45 minute tune up midweek that saw him closer to his usual full speed and dangerous form. Jürgen Klopp will absolutely want to see something positive before his squad flies off to Russia for their Champions League match early next week.

Football Across Europe: September 16-17 | Chelsea, Arsenal Clash in London

Premier League (England)

We are on to Match Week 5 in the Premier League. Seven clubs had European play midweek and may need to shuffle their starting XI for weekend clashes. Match Week 4 brought us some attention-grabbing results. Ten-man Liverpool suffered their worst defeat of the Klopp era. Arsenal got back on the winning side. Stoke held United to a draw. Chelsea won their third straight to make their opening day loss a far more distant memory. Here are the matches we’re most interested in this weekend, including the huge derby in London on Sunday:

Liverpool vs. Burnley: Liverpool take aim at bouncing back from their first true adversity of the season when Burnley FC visit Anfield in a Saturday fixture. The Reds got embarrassed seven days prior, a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of perceived title favorites Manchester City that saw star winger Sadio Mane sent off for a high challenge. With Mane suspended for the next three matches, it’s the perfect time for Philippe Coutinho to be re-inserted into the squad. After a tumultuous summer in which Coutinho was linked heavily to Barcelona, the Brazilian made his season debut in a mid-week Champions League draw to Sevilla. Meanwhile, Burnley have been one of the surprises of the EPL season with wins at Chelsea, versus Crystal Palace and a draw to Tottenham. Liverpool will need to flush out their defensive woes, or risk plummeting down the table.

Tottenham vs. Swansea: After a shaky August, Tottenham Hotspur are riding high entering their fifth match at temporary home Wembley Stadium as Swansea City comes to town for the league’s marquee Saturday match. The opening month saw defeat at home to Chelsea and a draw to Burnley, but Spurs opened September by smacking Everton 3-0 and toppling Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the Champions League. Harry Kane is back to goal-scoring form, while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are causing loads of trouble for opposing defenses. Swansea have only scored twice in four league matches, and they’ll need much more offensive output to keep pace with Tottenham’s electric attack.

Chelsea vs. Arsenal: Two London giants that appeared to be in serious trouble just weeks ago are both showing signs of life, and they clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as Chelsea host Arsenal. The reigning champions emerged from a shocking opening defeat to Burnley and have since won three straight in the league, appearing to be serious challengers yet again. Arsenal are still stuck in tough times with uncertainty around Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil’s future, but they got back to their winning ways last weekend with a 3-0 win over Bournemouth before a 3-1 Europa League victory over FC Koln. If Eden Hazard can make his first start of the season after injury, the Gunners will be hard-pressed to continue their win streak against their rivals.

Manchester United vs. Everton: It should be a warm welcome for Wayne Rooney in his first return to Old Trafford in a blue shirt as Everton travels to take on Manchester United in the final kickoff of the weekend on Sunday. It has been a brutal opening schedule for the Toffees, as they have faced City, Chelsea, and Spurs in their last three league matches since their opening victory at home. To make it worse, they suffered a 0-3 loss to Italian outfit Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday. United also played midweek, beating Basel 3-0 on Tuesday. The Red Devils did, however, only manage a draw against Stoke in their last league match, the first time this season they were forced to settle for less than three points. Romelu Lukaku scored again, joined by Marcus Rashford. They’ll be looking to get back to winning ways against an Everton club that is looking to weather a tough stretch of fixtures.

La Liga (Spain)

 

Getafe vs. Barcelona: Barcelona travel to take on Getafe on Saturday atop the La Liga table, yet to drop a point or concede a goal. Lionel Messi is in exceptional form, even for him. He’s scored seven of his team’s ten goals in all competitions so far this season. Luis Suárez is back healthy and Ousmane Dembélé debuted and showed that anyone who predicted the coming downfall of the Catalan club was perhaps being hasty. For Getafe, the final club winning promotion from Spain’s second division last year, is coming off the first win of the season, beating then-undefeated Leganés last week. Still, they are enormous underdogs even at home in the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.

Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid: It might seem strange to say a win and two draws is a disappointing start to a season, but for Spanish giants Real Madrid, their title defense season is not off to the start they’d hoped. Los Blancos beat APOEL, the reigning champions of Cyprus, 3-0 in the Champions League midweek, but have drawn their last two league matches. This match will be the final match without suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, though Marcelo will also miss the match through suspension and there are reports that both Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will miss out due to injury. And they will be facing an in-form club in Real Sociedad. The Basque Country team has won four straight in all competitions, including a 4-0 midweek thrashing of reigning Norwegian champions Rosenborg in the Europa League. They will be looking to keep it going at home and take advantage of a Real Madrid squad missing  a number of big names.

Bundesliga (Germany)

 

Bayern Munich vs. Mainz: It was a rare stumble for Bayern Munich last weekend, losing 0-2 to Hoffenheim, who find themselves tied atop the Bundesliga through the first three match weeks. The Bavarian giants did, however, thrash Anderlecht 3-0 at home in the Champions League midweek, and will be in front of friendly fans again against Mainz this weekend at the Allianz Arena. Robert Lewandowski and co. will be looking to get back to their goal-scoring and winning ways against a Mainz club who only have three points to their name, but did secure them in their last league match against Bayer Leverkusen last weekend. They will be looking to give Bayern a rare losing streak, but will enter the match as heavy underdogs.

Football Across Europe: September 9 | Liverpool Travels to the Etihad

Premier League (England)

The long International Break is over and Match Week 4 in England is upon us. Managers will be hoping all of their squads are back healthy and can either start fresh after an abysmal start (West Ham, Palace, Arsenal) or continue their momentum (United, Liverpool, Huddersfield). Here are the matches we’re most excited about this weekend, starting with the opening kickoff.

Manchester City vs. Liverpool: Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was likely among the managers cursing the timing of the break as his club is coming off a dazzling display. They carved Arsenal to pieces at Anfield, 4-0. The front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah all found net, as did Daniel Sturridge off the bench. The Reds will hope this attack stays on full throttle at the Etihad. Klopp has successfully retained Philippe Coutinho, though he likely won’t join the affair on Saturday. City are level on seven points in the table and are coming off an away win at Bournemouth. They drew Everton 1-1 in their last home match, however, and their last-gasp effort to acquire Alexis Sánchez fizzled by Deadline Day. With Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne leading the attack and what seems so far an improved defense, however, City remain a deep and dangerous squad. It’s a clash of two clubs with legitimate hopes for the league title.

Leicester City vs. Chelsea: Leicester have alternated losses and wins through their first three matches. Losses away to Arsenal and United surround a home win against Brighton. Their tough early-season schedule continues with reigning champs Chelsea visiting the King Power Stadium. Manager Craig Shakespeare will be hoping the home crowd and long break will give his team a good chance to secure a result. But the test will be tough. After a nightmare season opener, Chelsea have beaten Spurs and handily beat Everton before the break. Star man Eden Hazard should be in the squad on Saturday, as well as former Leicester man N’Golo Kanté, though his fellow recent Leicester transfer Danny Drinkwater will not. Still, Chelsea has the depth and quality to test every ounce of Leicester’s resolve.

Everton vs. Tottenham: Everton opened the season with a 1-0 win at home and then hit the road for tough matches away to City and Chelsea. They managed a point from those two and will be happy to return to Goodison Park where new man Wayne Rooney will look to continue his good form. The competition, however, will not let up this weekend as Tottenham come to town. Spurs will be looking to right the ship, however, as they suffered a loss to Chelsea and a home draw to Burnley just before the break. Harry Kane has fired over twenty shots this campaign but has yet to open his scoring account and will no doubt be looking to do so on Saturday.

Stoke City vs. Manchester United: In Saturday’s last kickoff, Manchester United travel to the newly renovated bet365 Stadium to take on Stoke City. The Potters have won at home over Arsenal and drew West Brom away since their opening loss away to Everton. They will no doubt be inspired to spring the upset as they look to build momentum early in this season in front of their home fans. Their guests, however, have so far looked impossible to slow down. United have taken all nine possible points and have scored ten goals without conceding. Romelu Lukaku has looked the perfect fit and Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba have looked lethal in midfield. With Spain keeper David de Gea manning the posts, Stoke will have their hands full everywhere on the pitch on Saturday.

La Liga (Spain)

Real Madrid vs. Levante: Levante were promoted to La Liga this season after winning the Segunda Division last season. They’ve already captured four points from their first two matches, but the test will be exponentially tougher on Saturday at the Bernabeu. Even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid have looked just as dangerous as ever. Isco, Marco Asensio, and a whole host of others have ensured that Los Blancos fans see the results they will demanding all year as they looked to defend their league and European titles.

Barcelona vs. Espanyol: The hectic and dramatic Barcelona summer transfer window is finally closed. Neymar is gone, yes, and their long-running pursuit of Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho ended in frustration. However, they have all six possible points and have kept two clean sheets. Saturday could see the debut of new man Ousmane Dembélé and the season’s first action for Luis Suárez who was able to play for his native Uruguay during the international break. It is a derby weekend, though, with fellow Barcelona club Espanyol visiting Camp Nou. However, Barca and Lionel Messi are 9-1-0 in the last ten fixtures of this derby, and Espanyol will need an epic performance to buck that trend on Saturday.

Football Across Europe: August 26-27 | Arsenal Visit Anfield

Premier League (England)

Heading into Match Week 3 in England, there are usual suspects (Man United) and some new faces (Huddersfield Town) atop the table, with all possible six points in hand, joined by West Brom. West Ham sits in the cellar, having conceded seven goals through the first 180 minutes of the season. Chelsea responded to their dreadful start with a big win over London rivals Spurs last week. Here are our favorite matches this weekend, including Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Arsenal.

Manchester United vs. Leicester City: With back-to-back 4-0 wins, nobody is flying higher to start the season than Manchester United. Summer signing Romelu Lukaku is scoring goals, the defense has yet to concede, and former Chelsea man Nemanja Matic has looked like the key in midfield, allowing Paul Pogba to show off his great skill. But with wins over injury-depleted West Ham and Swansea, the test may get tougher when Leicester come to Old Trafford on Saturday. The Foxes are coming in on the heels of a 2-0 win over promotion side Brighton & Hove after their heartbreaking last-minute 3-4 loss to Arsenal in the opening match of the season.

Chelsea vs. Everton: The defending champions rebounded last weekend with a needed win over Spurs in a match that could have left them with no points coming into the third weekend of play. Though they had less than 40% possession, Chelsea‘s defense held stout, with the only Spurs goal an own goal from Michy Batshuayi. Fullback Marcos Alonso provided both Chelsea goals. On Sunday, Everton come to Stamford Bridge. Key men Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kanté will look to lead a convincing display against the Toffees who come in with a win and a draw away to Manchester City on Monday, with new striker Wayne Rooney scoring in both. He’ll look to lead the Merseyside club to make an even louder statement that they are to be taken seriously this season by beating the reigning champs in their home.

Liverpool vs. Arsenal: The Gunners of Arsenal visit Anfield on Sunday to take on Liverpool. After a thrilling 4-3 comeback win to open the season, Arsenal looked flat in a 1-0 loss to Stoke last weekend. They should have star man Alexis Sánchez fit and on the pitch, though, joining Mesut Özil and the rest of the Arsenal attack who will look to make Liverpool pay for its high-pressing attacking style. The Reds must avoid an emotional letdown after securing advancement to this season’s Champions League group stage with a win over German side Hoffenheim midweek. Though it’s looking increasingly likely that the dangerous midfielder will remain on Merseyside, Liverpool will once again be without star player Philippe Coutinho and fellow midfielder Adam Lallana, further limiting manager Jürgen Klopp’s options should he look to shuffle his XI for fresh legs.

La Liga (Spain)

 

Alavés vs. Barcelona: It was an emotional opening match at the Camp Nou for Barcelona last weekend in the wake of the recent terror attack. The Catalan club won, though Lionel Messi, looking for his 350th La Liga goal, was denied, hitting the post three times. He will be looking to hit another historic milestone against an Alavés club who lost their opener on the road, but will be looking to spring the upset in front of home fans at the Estadio Mendizorrotza.

Real Madrid vs. Valencia: The title defense for Real Madrid got off on the right foot last week with a 3-0 win on the road over Deportivo. Though Cristiano Ronaldo remained suspended, Gareth Bale, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos all found net. They return home this weekend to open the season at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in front of their home fans.  Los Blancos will be without Ronaldo once again, as well as Sergio Ramos, who picked up a red card in the waning moments of last weekend’s match. Valencia comes to town with a win under their belt but will have to rise to the challenge of considerably tougher competition this weekend.

Bundesliga (Germany)

 

Werder Bremen vs. Bayern Munich: It was a 3-1 win for defending champs Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena last Friday in the Bundesliga opener, but manager Carlo Ancelotti could not have been pleased. Despite the scoring, including a Robert Lewandowski goal from the spot, they conceded 50% possession and 16 shots to Bayer Leverkusen. They hit the road this weekend, heading to the Weserstadion to take on hosts Werder Bremen who started their season last weekend with a 1-0 loss to Hoffenheim, though they were six minutes away from a point. They will need a similarly stout defensive effort against the German champions.

Serie A (Italy)

 

Genoa vs. Juventus: The Italian champs Juventus opened their title defense campaign at home in dominating fashion last weekend. Stars Mario Mandzukic, Paolo Dybala, and Gonzalo Higuaín all scored as The Old Lady dispatched Cagliari with ease. This week they travel to Genoa, who fought Sassuolo to a goalless draw last weekend and return to the home crowd in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Manager Ivan Juric will be looking for his squad to pull the upset as Juventus will be looking to keep showing why they are the giants of Italian football.

Roma vs. Inter Milan: It’s a clash of two iconic Italian teams as Inter Milan travel to the Stadio Olimpico to take on Roma. Inter opened their season at the San Siro with a 3-0 win over Fiorentina last weekend, while Roma were 1-0 victors away to Atalanta. This season, both clubs will be looking to put more pressure on Juventus at the top of the table and will see this match as a major test. Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi is the new Roma captain, inheriting the armband from the long-time and legendary Roma star Francesco Totti.