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After an exciting opening to the English Premier League season, in which we saw 27 goals despite there being two 0-0s, both the Bundesliga and La Liga kick off this weekend. The biggest news on the continent over the summer is Real Madrid's difficult pre-season, with reports suggesting Zinedine Zidane could be about to walk. Things are equally worrying for Bayern Munich, who failed to replace the attacking talents that left at the end of last season. Both clubs need a strong start, but both could drop points.
Here are six tips for games coming up across Europe:
Man City v Tottenham - Saturday, 17/08/19, 17:30
Spurs remain a weakened side at the moment with Son Heung-Min suspended and Dele Alli injured, needing 76 minutes to break down Aston Villa last weekend after Christian Eriksen's introduction. Man City's impeccable defensive record ensure they will nullify Harry Kane and company on Saturday, while at the other end Spurs' weakness in the full-back positions gives City the advantage.
Raheem Sterling's brilliant start to the season should continue up against Kyle Walker-Peters, plus Davinson Sanchez did not look comfortable on the opening weekend. Finally, Riyad Mahrez and Kevin de Bruyne, newly combining on the right wing for City, should be able to overwhelm Danny Rose given that Erik Lamela does not track back very often.
Back Man City to win with a -1.5 handicap at 2.03*
Wolves v Man Utd - Monday, 19/08/19, 20:00
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has decided to build Man Utd's tactics on raw speed this season, using Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Daniel James to attempt to counter-attack like the 1990s United sides Solskjaer himself was a part of. That worked against an expansive Chelsea side, but it probably won't against Wolves - who sit deep and remain compact when playing Big Six clubs.
Wolves had a superb record against the big sides last season, and in a narrow 5-3-2 formation will suffocate the likes of Rashford and Martial. That means a disjointed and laboured performance from the visitors, who remain too light in midfield for grittier contests such as these. After Sunday's 4-0, United are about to crash back down to earth.
Back Wolves to win at 3.47*
Celta Vigo v Real Madrid - Saturday, 17/08/19, 16:00
Having survived relegation by just four points last season Celta Vigo fans were excited by the acquisition of Denis Suarez over the summer, a statement of intent as Fran Escriba - hired in March - begins his first full season as head coach. Celta won 16 points from their final 10 matches of last season thanks to Escriba, including a 2-0 home win over Barcelona that makes ominous reading for Real Madrid fans.
Zinedine Zidane is reportedly on the verge of resigning following a disappointing summer in which president Florentino Perez reasserted his authority, refusing to fund a move for Paul Pogba. Consequently Celta could emulate their backs-to-the-wall victory against Barcelona back in May; it will certainly be a tense and difficult game for the visitors.
Back Celta Vigo to win with a +0.75 handicap at 2.10*
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona - Friday, 16/08/19, 20:00
An unproductive summer for the Basque club leaves them in a fairly perilous position at the beginning of the new La Liga season. Last year's eighth-place finish should be replicated, however, and Athletic only lost one of their nine league matches against the top three in 2018-19. Barcelona drew twice, frustrated by sturdy defensive performances from the club that conceded the fifth fewest goals in La Liga last campaign.
But Barca have strengthened superbly in the summer, modernising their central midfield with the signing of Frenkie de Jong and providing Lionel Messi with better support in the form of Antoine Griezmann. These two should forge a fluid and lethal partnership together, meaning a low-scoring victory for the visitors this weekend.
Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin - Friday, 16/08/19, 19:30
Hertha's gradual decline over the last couple of years has led to the appointment of a new head coach, Ante Covic, promoted from the second team at the beginning of July. A baptism of fire awaits Covic, who travels to a Bayern side expecting bigger and better things under Niko Kovac this season; having won 18 and lost just one of their final 22 Bundesliga matches, Kovac has stabilised at Bayern.
However, things aren't quite as rosy as they first appear. Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard are significant defensive upgrades for a side that lacked stability and leadership at times last season, but Bayern have not replaced Frank Ribery, Arjen Robben, or James Rodriguez. Without strong attacking options Hertha - who beat Bayern 2-0 at home last season - could cause an upset.
Back Hertha to win with a +2.00 handicap at 1.98*
Lyon v Angers - Friday, 16/08/19, 19:45
Having lost Tanguy Ndombele, Ferland Mendy, and Nabil Fekir over the summer, Lyon did superbly well to beat AS Monaco 3-0 in the first match of the new season. Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore, and Moussa Dembele all excelled in Lyon's pacey front three, regularly swapping positions to trouble 10-man Monaco after Cesc Fabregas was sent off on the half-hour mark.
They should be able to repeat this performance against Angers, although this weekend's visitors will sit deep in order to counter-act Lyon's speed. Angers beat Bordeaux 3-1 in a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation that, although well-suited to stop Traore and Depay running riot, isn't strong enough defensively to hold out over 90 minutes.
Back Lyon to win at 1.40*
*Odds subject to change
The English Premier League returns this weekend with some intriguing fixtures, including a mutually tough test for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard as Manchester United host Chelsea on Sunday. That match follows West Ham United versus Manchester City on Saturday, a game that could provide a mini-earthquake at the beginning of the new campaign.
We have to wait another week or two for most of the other big leagues across Europe, although Ligue 1 also gets underway on Friday with Monaco versus Lyon, before Paris Saint-Germain start their title defence against Nîmes.
West Ham United v Manchester City
Three consecutive league victories at the end of last season confirmed that Manuel Pellegrini’s transitional year at West Ham was a complete success; a coherent tactical strategy and talented squad needed only a more subtle playmaker and a goal-scoring striker to be ready for a top-six challenge. In Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Heller, the Hammers have pulled off two major coups.
They will sit deep and counter sharply on Saturday, looking to mimic the performance that saw them beat Spurs 1-0 back in April. Given that Man City looked a bit sluggish in the Community Shield, it might just work. Rodri will take time adapting to the physicality of the league, making him a target for Manuel Lanzini and Fornals through the middle, while Michail Antonio versus Oleksandr Zinchenko is a key battle that favours the hosts.
Back the draw at 6.36
Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
Villa have spent £130 million on 12 new signings this summer, and while their business has been sensible it is never easy accommodating so many new faces at once. What’s more, they still look vulnerable in the full-back positions, and until Douglas Luiz gets a work permit, Dean Smith is relying on Conor Hourihane, a box-to-box player, as his defensive midfielder.
That is problematic against the skill of Christian Eriksen and the powerful dribbling of Tanguy Ndombele, who is likely to burst clean through the centre of the Villa midfield. Stability and consistency have defined Tottenham in recent years, meaning a Villa side in flux should be comfortably beaten.
Back Spurs to win with a -1.5 handicap at 1.99
Manchester United v Chelsea
Aside from a brief period after Solskjaer’s appointment in which Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera dominated, Man Utd were appalling last season. The former wants out and the latter has already left, leaving United with a weak squad and an under-qualified manager, and setting them up for a disastrous campaign.
Chelsea’s transfer ban has made Lampard’s job a thankless one, but at Old Trafford they should be able to out-battle the hosts – partly because they are set to enjoy a manager bounce, and partly because N’Golo Kante will return to defensive midfield. United are slow and meandering in the middle of the park, which should ensure Chelsea can grind out the three points.
Back Chelsea to win at 3.59
Monaco v Lyon
After last season’s narrow escape from relegation, AS Monaco appear to have stabilised somewhat under returning manager Leonardo Jardim, and their chances of a winning start this weekend have improved following a terrible summer for Lyon. They lost Ndombele, Ferland Mendy, and Nabil Fekir, arguably their three most talented players, for a combined fee of £114 million. Gutted and unable to spend particularly well themselves, Lyon will struggle to tread water this year.
Monaco haven’t added too many new faces, although Gelson Martins joins for £27 million and, crucially, only one valuable player – Youri Tielemans – has left. Jardim’s side lost only one of their final eight home games last season, suggesting the club with the calmer summer will collect the points on Friday.
Back Monaco to win at 2.93
PSG v Nîmes
Beneath the circus of Neymar’s possible departure and the superstars PSG may buy to replace the Brazilian, Thomas Tuchel has made some surprisingly sensible signings this summer. Idrissa Gueye adds dynamism and defensive sturdiness to midfield, while Abdou Diallo and Ander Herrera offer cool heads that could help the Parisians go deeper in the Champions League.
Nîmes uneventful summer means moving backwards for a club of their size after unexpectedly finishing mid-table last season on a very small budget. Having lost twice against PSG last season by an aggregate score of 7-2, Nîmes won’t put up a fight on Sunday.
Back PSG to win with a -2.75 handicap at 1.98