Domestic soccer is back on the agenda again in the majority of European football’s elite leagues this weekend, meaning a return for our Top 5 feature.
It’s Week 2 in the Premier League after a gripping opening weekend, although we’ll likely learn more about the state of the elite sides when they take to the field over the coming days. We’ll see the world’s most expensive player in action on Friday, while last term’s top two meet on Saturday.
Elsewhere, the top flight gets going again in Italy and Spain, with the most eye-catching fixture from each division making the cut. There’s also a fascinating battle between two of Major League Soccer’s best teams to take in.
All kickoffs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Manchester United vs. Southampton
Friday, August 19, 3:00PM, USA, NBC Sports App and Sling Blue (free trial)
You need to be a pretty special character to steal the spotlight from men likes Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But that’s exactly what Paul Pogba will do when he strides out at Old Trafford for Manchester United against Southampton on Friday.
Indeed, Mourinho and Ibrahimovic will all be at the Theatre of Dreams for the first time in a competitive game. It’s Pogba’s second bow for the football club, although he returns from a four-year spell at Juventus matured, emboldened and as the most expensive footballer of all time.
Southampton will be out to spoil what promises to be a night to remember at this iconic stadium, although they do have fond memories of this venue. Under former manager Ronald Koeman they won on their last two visits to Old Trafford without conceding a goal. New boss Claude Puel would love three points to kickstart his tenure.
Mourinho will expect his players to pick up a victory here, though. There’ll be a lot of expectation on their new stars to shine in front of a packed crowd, although the manager will be under no illusions that building momentum early in the year is so important.
Leicester City vs. Arsenal
Saturday, August 20, 12:30PM, CNBC, NBC Sports App and Sling Blue (free trial)
Despite finishing in the top two spots last season, Leicester City and Arsenal both suffered defeats on the opening weekend. It means there is plenty at stake for both when they meet at the King Power on Saturday.
The Foxes’ loss was a huge surprise, with an unprepared and understaffed Hull City securing a 2-1 triumph. Manager Claudio Ranieri quickly brushed off the loss and will be confident his team can lift standards to those approaching last season’s title-winning efforts. Expect a big performance from his team in the first home game of their defence.
Should Arsenal lose, things could get toxic pretty quickly for manager Arsene Wenger. In their first game the Gunners were torn apart at times by Liverpool in a 4-3 loss, with a fractured lineup ruthlessly exposed. The boss should have some more faces to call upon for this one, although the pace in the Foxes’ front line will cause major problems for a toiling defence.
Arsenal were one of the only teams to get the better of Leicester in emphatic fashion last term, winning this fixture 5-2. You wonder what Wenger, accused of being reactive and frugal in the past week, would give for a repeat result.
Juventus vs. Fiorentina
Juventus may have lost Pogba, but there’s a sense of excitement accompanying their first game of the new season, as they host a strong Fiorentina squad.
The Frenchman will be a tough man to replace at the creative crux of the Bianconeri team, although in typical fashion, Juventus have recruited very well. Dani Alves and Medhi Benatia will both add bring experience to the defensive structure, while going forward the prospect of Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain is a tantalising one.
Fiorentina will approach this one with little pressure on their shoulders given just how formidable Juve are in Turin. Paulo Sousa’s team did superbly to finish in fifth place last season and while they haven’t splashed the cash this summer, he’ll be hopeful of a similar crop of players making improvements.
Juventus got off to a poor start last season and manager Massimiliano Allegri will be keen to avoid a repeat despite their subsequent recovery. Beating a side that’s potentially one of their main rivals in the upper echelons of the division would be a brilliant beginning.
New York City vs. LA Galaxy
New York City need to beat LA Galaxy to keep their position at the top of the Eastern Conference intact.
Patrick Vieira’s team continue to entertain the neutrals, having scored 43 goals and conceded 43 goals in just 25 games. They’ve been in decent form recently too, drawing 3-3 with previous MLS Cup finalists Columbus Crew in their last match. Having previously struggled at home, they’ve won their last three at Yankee Stadium too.
Los Angeles are going be very stiff opposition for the league leaders, though. Bruce Arena’s men are on a nine-game unbeaten run at the moment and have improved the away form that let them down far too frequently last season. Three points here would keep the pressure on Western Conference leaders FC Dallas as well.
With the likes of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa set to take to the field, this will be a star-studded affair. When NYCFC are involved, the goals usually fly in at both ends; Galaxy’s attacking talent will surely ensure that trend continues.
Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid
The Anoeta has been a testing venue for some of La Liga’s biggest teams in recent seasons, meaning Real Madrid must be wary when they visit Real Sociedad in Week 1.
Zinedine Zidane is the man tasked with guiding Real to what’d be an overdue title on the domestic front. There were signs in the UEFA Champions League that the Frenchman had struck the right balance in side; they won their last 12 matches in succession to finish the previous La Liga campaign too.
Sociedad will relish this opportunity and will feel confident of enjoying a better season under the guidance of Eusebio Sacristan. They’re a team bristling with talented players that can be a major threat on the counter-attack; it’s something Real, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have all fallen foul of in recent years.
Los Blancos could have asked for an easier start to the domestic campaign, but they’re in exceptional form and their star men, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, both enjoyed an excellent summer. With plenty aligning for Real in recent weeks, expect them to start with a swagger.
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