Forget about international football until March!
The 2020-21 season really gets going now and there’s a bumper set of matches over the coming days to get us reacclimatized to domestic action.
Aside from two clashes featuring four potential title challengers in the Premier League, there are eye-catching encounters from France, Spain and Italy to savor.
All kick offs are Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Monaco vs. Paris Saint-Germain
While matches between Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain don’t carry the same sort of allure as they have done in recent years, this showdown in the principality represents an excellent Friday-night treat.
Monaco may not possess the firepower they once had, but there are some small signs that they are beginning to find their groove after a slow beginning to the season. Manager Nico Kovac steered them to back-to-back wins before the international break, lifting them up to sixth spot in Ligue 1.
Even after a sluggish start by their own high standards, PSG lead the way in the French top flight, with a five-point gap to nearest challengers Lille. Already, there are signs Thomas Tuchel’s squad will run away with the competition before it has even really got going.
PSG have also had to cope with the absence of some key players in recent weeks, although Neymar is reportedly ready to make his return alongside former Monaco man Kylian Mbappe. The home side’s attacking trio of Wissam Ben Yedder, Kevin Volland and Gelson Martins will all fancy their chances of causing problems for the champions.
Tottenham vs. Manchester City
The visit of Manchester City feels like a barometer encounter for Tottenham Hotspur, with many tentatively tipping them as title challengers after a strong beginning to the Premier League season.
Their performance before the international break was one of their worst of the season, although they were able to dig out a 1-0 win at West Brom thanks to Harry Kane’s late header. For manager Jose Mourinho, it was the type of hard-earned win you anticipate would’ve been hugely satisfying.
Although Mourinho teams have become renowned for being dull to watch in recent years, this Spurs team has been scintillating this term. With Harry Kane and Son Heung-min both creating and scoring goals at an incredible rate—Gareth Bale is also slowly beginning to reach full fitness—they have an edge few teams in the top flight can match.
City are one of those sides that can compete with Spurs for firepower and flair, but there are still questions over the defensive cohesion of Pep Guardiola’s side in these types of matches. If they can stand up to Spurs and take three points back to Manchester, it’ll be an indication that they’re serious about taking the title back off Liverpool.
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
Arguably the match of the weekend comes in the Spanish capital, when Atletico Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico have looked a cut above the Blaugrana and local rivals Real Madrid this season, stringing together four consecutive La Liga wins before the international break. The attacking duo of Joao Felix and Luis Suarez has flourished, while there’s a typical robustness in defense and midfield supporting them.
In a blow for Atletico, Suarez will not be involved on Saturday after testing positive for coronavirus. But with confidence pulsing through the squad, manager Diego Simeone will feel as though his team can find a way to win.
There’s arguably more pressure on Barcelona going into this encounter anyway, with Ronald Koeman’s team blowing hot and cold throughout the season. If they were to suffer defeat here, they’d already find themselves a whopping nine points behind Atletico and potentially out of the La Liga title race.
Liverpool vs. Leicester City
Liverpool and Leicester have arguably been the two most injury-ravaged teams in the Premier League this season, but they are both sitting pretty in the standings ahead of their clash at Anfield on Sunday.
The Reds have a number of defensive issues to contend with, as Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold are all poised to miss this weekend’s game. They will also be without Mohamed Salah, who tested positive for coronavirus during the international break, leaving manager Jurgen Klopp with a lot to ponder.
Leicester have also had problems, albeit they haven’t been as widely documented as Liverpool’s. Brendan Rodgers has been without Ricardo, Jonny Evans, Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfried Ndidi and Timothy Castagne for large portions of the season, so it is testament to the players who are fit that they sit top of the pile despite the issues.
Although each manager has a defensive crisis to contend with, there will still be high-class attacking players on the field. It means that if you’re after goals this weekend, this match is the one to watch.
Napoli vs. AC Milan
With Juventus languishing in fifth place in Serie A as things stand, there’s some renewed hope that a genuine title race can break out in Italy this season. Napoli and Milan will want to be at the forefront of it.
While they would have been disappointed to draw 2-2 at home to Verona before the international break, Milan remain top of the pile. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic they boast the best striker in the division at the moment, while in midfield and defense there’s a balance that’ll encourage Rossoneri boss Stefano Pioli.
Napoli have an effervescent attack that’ll put Milan’s structure to the test, with a vibrant trio of Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne supporting summer signing Victor Osimhen. If they can find some extra consistency in the coming weeks, Gennaro Gattuso’s side look capable of being in the fight for the Scudetto for long spells of the season.
A win over Milan would add credence to those thoughts and would be especially sweet for Gattuso, a former player and manager at the San Siro. Napoli sit in third spot going into Week 8 of the season, just three points behind the early pace-setters.
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