After what was an exciting international break – for those whose nations booked a place at next year’s world cup in Russia. Or those with their chances still alive after they made the playoffs, it’s back to the various domestic leagues.
For those whose chances of making the Russian party next year ended with the break, chin up, league football is still there across Europe and we have a low down on the cracking games this weekend. There are five fixtures that stand out for our European Football writer, Izu Akawor.
1. Liverpool vs Manchester United
This is one of the biggest rivalries in football, but in recent times, the Reds have underwhelmed against their fiercest rivals, United, who visit Anfield in an early kickoff on Saturday.
With just a win in their last five games in all competitions against the Red Devils, Liverpool host United, currently second on the table, and in great vein of form. United have won six of their last six games in all competitions, including the 4-0 defeat of Crystal Palace just before the break.
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Liverpool will be hoping to put a stop to their poor run against the Red Devils, having gone six Premier League games without a win against their visitors, who have also won in three of their last five visits to Anfield. So, for Jurgen Klopp and his side, they have to be really good to do better than just a win in eight matches against United in all competitions.
They will be buoyed by the fact Klopp has only lost to Mourinho once in seven meetings, though Sadio Mane’s absence makes the task even more difficult for the Reds.
2. Roma vs Napoli
These two are in fantastic form at the moment, with Napoli currently atop the Italian Serie A with a perfect record, having won seven in seven games. Roma aren’t doing bad themselves, too, having lost just one in their six Serie A matches so far to occupy third on the log.
On Saturday, the Stadio Olympico will play host to both of them, as Napoli’s perfect start faces a stern test. Roma have had the upper hand in this fixture, winning 18 in 36 games, compared to Napoli’s nine. However, the away side won the last encounter between the two, a 2-1 win in Saturday’s venue.
So, this match is between Serie A goals kings, Napoli, and one of the league’s meanest defenses, Roma. Who will crack?
3. Juventus vs Lazio
“We actually do need a win after giving up 1st place to Napoli. It’s not easy seeing Juve in 2nd. So, [we] have to win to take advantage of any slip up by Napoli against Roma,” says Otoiks Osagie, a US-based, avid Juventus fan and co-host of the Banter Era Internet radio show.
The quote above underpins the importance of the game between defending champions, Juve, and Lazio at the Juventus Stadium in Turin.
Three points separate both sides, with Juve in second while Lazio find themselves fourth. For the home side, this game is more than just three points, as they host a side that have beaten them once already this season.
Lazio defeated Juve 3-2 earlier in the season to take home the Italian Super Cup, and travel to tackle the champions aware of a possible revenge on the cards.
Both sides are in great form, but Juve drew their last game before the break, and will be hoping to bounce back to winning ways, especially with a chance to reclaim top spot from Napoli, who have a tricky tie against Roma.
With Ciro Immobile in solid form, Lazio will be confident going into this one, but Juve are indomitable at home, where they have won their last five games, keeping clean sheets in all.
4. Inter vs Milan
The magnificent San Siro plays host to two sides who share the same stadium in Inter and their arch-rivals, Milan in the Derby di Milianio. While they may share same stadium, it is Inter who are the home side this time, and will be looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
For Milan, despite committing over €160million in getting new players, their season appears over, as far as the title is concerned, as they are currently nine points behind leaders, Napoli.
Milan will do well to avoid a no the defeat this weekend, having already lost three of their first eight games this season ahead of the game against the I Nerazzuri, who have the meanest defense, with just three goals conceded so far.
So, can I Rossoneri revive their season with a good win over their rivals? The numbers don’t favour the visitors, who have only won six of the last 20 games between the two compared to Inter’s nine. With four draws in the remaining five coming in their last seven meetings, perhaps both sides might just be content with a share of the spoils once again.
5. Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona
The biggest game in La Liga this weekend sees Atletico Madrid host league leaders, Barcelona at the new Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Atletico drew their last game before the break, a goalless affair with Leganes, while Barcelona, who are still unbeaten with a perfect record, thrashed Las Palmas 3-0 in a game played behind closed doors at Camp Nou.
Lionel Messi scored twice in that game, and Barcelona will be hoping he carries that form into the game against Atletico, after his heroics during the international break with Argentina. Messi wasn’t the only one who fired his team to the world cup, Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann also scored for France, who booked a place in Russia.
However, Barcelona have proven a difficult nut to crack for the home side, who have failed to pick a win in the last four games against the league leaders.
With Atletico needing a win to close the gap between them and Barcelona, who hope to maintain their perfect start to the campaign, this game is a perfectly poised battle one cannot afford to miss.
There you have it, five games we believe you cannot afford to miss this weekend, but before we end this, here are three notable omissions from this list;
Lyon vs Monaco
Sevilla vs Athletic Bilbao
Borussia Dortmund vs RB Leipzig
One more thing, with Serie A having three of the best games this weekend, we asked Osagie his predictions:
Juve vs Lazio: Win for the Old Lady and a revenge for the Supercoppa defeat
Inter VS Milan : The Chinese Milan derby; old head Spalleti to edge it over transfer window winners Milan.
Roma Vs Napoli: Beautiful football battle. Napoli to edge it, slightly; Although if Radja Naingollan and Edin Dzeko are on fire, they may have a say in how it goes.”
Agree? Let us know in the comments section below.