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The Madrid derby in Spain should be the highlight of this weekend’s football, mainly because Real Madrid seem to be on the verge of crisis despite a 1-0 win at Sevilla on Saturday. Zinedine Zidane is yet to give them a clear tactical identity, which should ensure Diego Simeone can ruthlessly organise Atletico Madrid to a derby-day win.
In England, Manchester United against Arsenal on Monday night is unlikely to be a good game of football. Both clubs are meandering this season, and instead neutrals should look to Goodison Park for the best action. Everton have a genuine chance of unsettling the Man City centre-backs and taking points off Pep Guardiola’s side.
Everton FC v Manchester City
This is certainly a dangerous fixture for Man City, even if Everton blow hot and cold under Marco Silva. There is obviously a chance that the hosts won’t turn up, will look flat in midfield and drift in that peculiar way that Silva’s teams so often seem to. However, given Man City’s issues at centre-back, Goodison Park will be rocking, meaning an intimidating and challenging game for Guardiola’s men.
Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi were exposed horribly early on against Watford as Gerard Deulofeu went clean through on goal, mimicking the terrible defending that led to Todd Cantwell’s strike the previous weekend. With Gylfi Sigurdsson feeding Moise Kean and Richarlison, Everton ought to produce something similar.
Manchester United v Arsenal FC
This might just be the lowest-quality game between these two sides in 30 years. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man Utd are in the midst of an injury crisis that means they have no plausible way to attack the Arsenal goal (or even string passes together in midfield) while Arsenal are bizarrely inept on their travels.
Arsenal will back off pathetically, allowing United’s midfield to pass freely into the final third, which probably means Daniel James can use his pace and directness to win the match. He is at his best when given the chance to run at a full-back and cut inside, and Arsenal’s terrible back four will leave him free to do so, allowing United to edge this one.
Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid
Real Madrid have lost their energy. Zidane appears unable to lift them, his tactics non-existent as Real drift aimlessly through matches. Their new signings have not bedded in well at all, but more worryingly their centre-back pair Sergio Ramos and Rafael Varane look inept at the moment. This should ensure victory for a highly-disciplined Atletico.
Diego Simeone’s side are as powerful and organised as ever, and their compressed shape and heavy tackling on Sunday should ruffle Real’s feathers. Atletico might have failed to win in their last two La Lig games prior to the midweek action, but Simeone knows how to get his players motivated for the Madrid derby. They will not take prisoners and will surely exploit the timidity of Zidane’s team.
RB Leipzig v Schalke 04
As the two biggest clubs in Germany surprisingly stutter there is a real chance for these two outsiders. RB Leipzig are currently top of the table and look superbly fluid in a 3-4-1-2 formation, while Schalke are only two points behind following sturdy early performances. There won’t be much between the sides, with home advantage likely to make the difference in the end.
Only Bayern Munich have stopped Leipzig from winning in 2019/20. Timo Werner has five goals in five games but it is playmaker Marcel Sabitzer who has taken the club to the next level. Working behind Werner, Sabitzer’s creativity should be enough to break through a Schalke side that have conceded six goals in their last three games.
Sevilla FC v Real Sociedad
This season is a huge opportunity for one of the smaller Spanish clubs to do a Leicester City and win La Liga. It might appear a longshot for both Sevilla and Real Sociedad, but five games in and both are just one point off the top with Real and Barcelona foundering. They have identical records and play very similar football, too.
Sevilla, on home soil, should win this. Sociedad have dropped four points from four away games already this season, and although Sevilla are yet to win at home that can be explained by them playing Real Madrid and an ultra-defensive Celta Vigo. As Sociedad look to play on the front foot, Sevilla will cut through them.
FC Girondins de Bordeaux v Pari Saint-Germain
Bordeaux are unbeaten in three home matches so far this season, suggesting Paulo Sousa has stabilised the club somewhat this summer: they got through three managers last year, ending with Sousa himself losing each of the last three at home. Bordeaux, then, can win a point against a PSG side continuing to stutter under Thomas Tuchel.
Their 3-0 win against Real Madrid and 1-0 victory at Lyon do suggest things are settling. Neymar scored the winner last weekend, but more importantly Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye started together in midfield. These two can add calm and order, meaning Bordeaux are unlikely to hold out for the full 90 minutes.
*Odds subject to change
The Milan derby takes place this weekend at a crucial juncture for Antonio Conte’s side. Inter Milan have a 100% record with their new manager, but to challenge Juventus for the title they will need to win big rival games like this one. Fortunately for Conte, their tactical strategy is perfect to exploit the space on the flanks afforded by AC Milan’s diamond midfield.
In the Premier League, Chelsea and Liverpool should provide an entertaining game at Stamford Bridge – with the visitors the firm favourites – while West Ham can produce the result of the weekend when they face Manchester United.
Here are six previews of the biggest games from across Europe:
West Ham United v Manchester United
West Ham should be able to win this match. Manchester United are stodgy in possession and largely stunted by teams willing to sit back, as West Ham will likely do. And with Declan Rice patrolling the base of midfield to curb Paul Pogba’s influence, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko should be able to sprint forward on the counter with ease.
There will particularly be space on United’s left, where Manuel Lanzini will drift across to provide Anderson with additional support. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team were lucky to meet a below-par Leicester last weekend; they remain a poorly structured club with one-dimensional attacks. West Ham can suffocate them and break forward to victory.
Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC
Chelsea have been incredibly porous through midfield this season under Frank Lampard, whose team presses hard and plays expansively early on – before collapsing in the second half. However, their one disciplined performance was against this weekend’s opponents Liverpool in the Super Cup, and so Chelsea will surely look to repeat that tactical plan on Sunday.
For long periods in Istanbul Chelsea sat deep in a rigid 4-5-1, wary of the pace in Liverpool’s front line and consequently happy to keep things quiet. However, playing at Stamford Bridge means they won’t be able to be so negative, plus there is no N’Golo Kante to help the midfield battle. This one will not be as high-scoring as most of the Blues’ games this season, but nevertheless Liverpool should have the verticality and quality to break down a sloppy Chelsea defence.
AC Milan v Inter Milan
Following a 100% start in the league for Antonio Conte, the Milan derby is Inter’s first real test of character; win and they can be considered genuine title challengers. The hosts have had a mixed start to the season, and things will probably get worse on Saturday because of a tactical mismatch between the sides.
AC Milan play in a narrow diamond 4-4-2, which inevitably leaves space in the wide areas for opponents to exploit. Conte is deploying his usual 3-4-2-1 at Inter, with the wing-backs Kwadwo Asamoah and Antonio Candreva flying forward. These two will have the licence to attack the flanks.
Sevilla FC v Real Madrid
Sevilla find themselves on top of La Liga after four matches, their elegant – if cautious – possession football (56.4% average) seeing them concede just two goals so far. They don’t score often either, but a measured approach gives them a clear advantage against such a chaotically disorganised Real Madrid who cannot get their defence right.
They are yet to keep a clean sheet this campaign and have let in six goals in total, dropping two more points than this weekend’s opponents. Unless Eden Hazard can hit the ground running on what should be his first start, Real will likely fail to win in Seville.
Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Dortmund
This looks like a banana-skin fixture for Dortmund, whose emphasis on possession football and an expansive shape could play into the hands of their hosts Frankfurt. Against bigger clubs, their complex 3-4-2-1 formation aims at limiting space in the final third and absorbing pressure for long periods - hence their 32% possession in a 1-0 win over Hoffenheim.
Facing three central defenders and a stoic central midfield, Dortmund might struggle to make the breakthrough, particularly given that left wing-back Filip Kostic is in superb form and consequently may stunt Jadon Sancho. Dortmund could eventually score, but certainly this will be a tough grind for Lucien Favre’s side.
Lyon v PSG
The pace in Lyon’s counter-attacks could well be enough to cause an upset on Sunday. Paris Saint-Germain are lacking confidence and cohesion at the moment, struggling to create chances or score goals – needing a 91st minute Neymar strike to win 1-0 at the weekend. Their 2-1 defeat to a counter-attacking Rennes earlier this season gives further hope for Lyon, who should be capable of keeping the French champions quiet when bursting forward on the break.
Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traore, and Moussa Dembele make for an electric front three that ought to expose PSG’s underwhelming full-backs on home soil. And since the visitors are still relying on Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in attack, Lyon may only need to put away one of their chances to take the three points.
*Odds subject to change
There are no Big Six head-to-heads in the Premier League this weekend and the most interesting game isn’t even on TV, but Manchester United versus Leicester City should be a superb match in which Brendan Rodgers puts Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under even more pressure.
Elsewhere, RB Leipzig have the chance to prove they are capable of a title challenge this year when they host Bayern Munich in undoubtedly the pick of the matches in mainland Europe. So without further ado, here are six match previews from the big five leagues and our top betting tips:
Manchester United v Leicester City
Man Utd are on the brink of full crisis, and Leicester are the perfect team to capitalise upon such misfortune with a starting 11 far stronger and cohesive than their opponents.
First, United’s focus on speed in the final third means they will be stumped by a reactive, flexible tactician like Brendan Rodgers – who will sit his defence deeper than usual to deny United space. Second, their central midfield is considerably stronger and more assured than the hosts, and third the Foxes’ quick counter-attacks can expose United’s defensive issues.
Jamie Vardy’s speed is a worry for Victor Lindelof, while the striker will also know Harry Maguire’s weaknesses. James Maddison and Youri Tielemans can pierce a lacklustre defence and inflict further damage upon Solskjaer’s men. Victory should be straightforward for the Foxes.
Liverpool FC v Newcastle United
This match is famous because of high-scoring history in the 1990s, and yet it continues to be televised despite Liverpool easily winning the majority of these games. Then again, it took a late Divock Origi goal to settle a 3-2 in May last year, a score that is unlikely to be repeated now Steve Bruce is in charge. This should be a simple win for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Newcastle have taken to their new manager’s tactics, frustrating Tottenham in a 1-0 win recently that bodes well for this weekend. However, Spurs have developed a habit of struggling to pierce a defensive shell whereas Liverpool are specialists, largely because they have superb full-backs capable of creating chances. Trent Alexander-Arnold versus Matt Ritchie is a mismatch that surely means Liverpool will win.
ACF Fiorentina v Juventus FC
Fiorentina have lost both of their Serie A matches so far this season, but a recent 4-3 defeat to Napoli suggests they have the firepower to trouble the champions on Saturday. This should be an end-to-end game, not least because Juve will remain open to the counter-attack while the players get used to Maurizio Sarri’s tactics.
Midfielder Erick Pulgar, averaging a remarkable 5.0 chances created per match this season, should cause problems in a Juve midfield that is light on defensive quality, while Federico Chiesa will win his one-on-one with Danilo. However, Juve’s strength in attack means Fiorentina’s poor start to the season will likely continue regardless.
FC Barcelona v Valencia CF
Barca have endured a difficult start to the new La Liga campaign, dropping five points in their first three matches as key injuries hurt their away form. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele remain out for the visit of Valencia, and so Ernesto Valverde’s severely weakened attack could be stumped by a mean Valencia side.
The visitors have conceded just two goals so far this season, and in a deep-lying 4-4-2 will feel comfortable sitting back and allowing Barcelona to hold aimless possession. This could be a frustrating 90 minutes at the Camp Nou as Barca’s Rafinha and Antoine Griezmann struggle to break Valencia down. Without Messi, they look distinctly average.
RB Leipzig v Bayern Munich
It might be early days but RB Leipzig’s 100% record in the Bundesliga this season suggests they may challenge for the title this year, particularly with Bayern Munich in an even worse position than last season and Borussia Dortmund already dropping points. The visit of Bayern will be a litmus test; win, and Leipzig will emphatically confirm they are part of a new big three in Germany.
There should be lots of goals here. Bayern and Leipzig matches have brought 25 goals in total this season, or 4.2 per game, largely because they both play very expansive football but are flawed defensively. Bayern’s ageing defence is seriously vulnerable to Leipzig’s fluid front three, while in-form Serge Gnabry will create numerous chances for Robert Lewandowski.
PSG v Strasbourg
The Neymar saga might technically be over, but he is not expected to play this weekend and his presence in the dressing room remains a problem. What’s more, new signing Mauro Icardi is a renowned negative influence and so he may destabilise things further, while Kylian Mbappe is unavailable. Strasbourg, then, have a better chance than ever to take a point.
Strasbourg like to dominate possession with short-passing football, but a poor start to the season tells us they may benefit from having to sit deeper and absorb pressure against Paris Saint-Germain. However, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has really stepped up and Idrissa Gueye adds control to midfield, meaning the hosts should still get the points.
*Odds subject to change
The North London derby at the Emirates on Sunday is the pick of this week’s games, not least because these two high-pressing teams will both look to counter-attack – creating a potentially chaotic end-to-end game.
Juventus v Napoli is arguably a bigger game, primarily because Maurizio Sarri plays against his old club with Juve currently looking unsure. The visitors have a big chance to lay down a marker for the season.
So without further ado, here are our top tips for six of the biggest matches across Europe this weekend:
Arsenal FC v Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs’ issues against Newcastle last weekend are unlikely to be replicated at the Emirates, where Unai Emery’s propensity to pass out from the back and break forward quickly will create another end-to-end Big Six encounter. Tottenham are much better when given space, meaning Lucas Moura and Son Heung-Min should return to form for this one.
Arsenal’s front three will expect joy against pretty weak Spurs full-backs, which guarantees goals at that end, particularly since the hosts’ central midfield is considerably more flexible and assertive in possession than Tottenham’s. This match will be defined by high pressing, defensive errors, and frequent counter-attacks from both sides, meaning there will be goals.
Juventus v Napoli
Napoli believe they have a genuine chance of winning Serie A this season, and following a 4-3 win at Fiorentina last weekend their hopes will have increased as Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus struggled to get past Parma. Sarri can make some odd tactical decisions in his pursuit of aesthetic perfection, and in his first game in Turin he picked Gonzalo Higuain up front with a flat, lifeless three-man midfield.
Unsurprisingly, that team struggled for fluency just as Chelsea did for several months when Sarri first arrived at Stamford Bridge. Similar teething problems means Napoli have a real chance of pinching the result; wingers Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon scored or assisted every goal in Florence last weekend, giving them confidence against a narrow Juve team likely to leave lots of space behind for counter-attacks.
CA Osasuna v FC Barcelona
Osasuna are exactly the sort of awkward opponent that will worry Ernersto Valverde’s Barcelona. They continue to look oddly directionless under Valverde, Antoine Griezmann’s double in a 5-2 win over Real Betis last weekend only temporarily painting over the cracks.
Lionel Messi should have recovered from a calf injury to assist on Saturday, but lacking match sharpness he will not be able to save Barca from a slog at Osasuna that mimics their 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao on the opening day.
Osasuna’s compact 4-4-2 formation has won them four points this season – and seen them keep consecutive clean sheets. What’s more, Osasuna’s full-backs are arguably their best players, meaning the in-form Nacho Vidal should win his one-on-one with Jordi Alba, Barcelona’s most creative player at the moment.
Everton v Wolverhampton Wanderers
There has been a total of just seven goals in the four league matches played by Wolves and Everton so far this season, with their games the sole reason as to why we are not currently on course for a record-breaking season of Premier League goals. It will be a tight, cagey affair at Goodison Park, but one ultimately decided in a lopsided midfield battle that hands Wolves the three points.
Jean-Philippe Gbamin, signed to replace Idrissa Gueye, is still on the treatment table, meaning Everton will be forced to play the same flat-footed and frankly woeful midfield duo that helped Aston Villa win 2-0 last Friday.
Morgan Schneiderlin struggles to track runs while Andre Gomes was dribbled past five times at Villa Park; Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves should dominate central midfield, driving the visitors to victory.
Borussia Monchengladbach v RB Leipzig
If RB Leipzig are to mount a serious title challenge this season then they need to win tough games like this one, extending their winning streak to three in the Bundesliga. They are more than capable of doing so, particularly because a clash of formations favours the away side; their 3-4-3 formation has the width to take advantage of Monchengladbach’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond.
Wing-backs Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann are given licence to roam very high up the pitch to support the wide forwards and swing crosses into the box, and left-sided Halstenberg scored a goal and assisted another in the recent 4-0 win over Union Berlin. Attacking the spaces outside a diamond midfield, they can overwhelm their hosts.
FC Metz v PSG
Metz are considerably more effective when allowed to sit back and counter-attack through Habib Diallo, Opa Nguette, and Farid Boulaya; they beat AS Monaco 3-0 when holding 48% possession and lost 4-0 to Angers when holding 63%. Consequently PSG could be set for the sort of frustrating sucker-punch that Monaco suffered on the opening day, particularly given their weakness in the final third at the moment.
Neymar was absent last weekend and Edinson Cavani played badly, with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting saving Thomas Tuchel’s side against Toulouse. The Metz defence is considerably stronger, meaning they may be able to capitalise on PSG’s current frailties.
Sitting 11 men behind the ball, Metz can become the second team in three Ligue Un matches to take points off the champions.
*Odds subject to change
Serie A gets underway this weekend with hope among neutrals that this could finally be the year Juventus are toppled. Maurizio Sarri’s tactics are a big departure from those of Max Allegri and Antonio Conte before him, which could cause problems, while Conte’s arrival at Inter Milan makes them potential challengers.
Elsewhere Liverpool v Arsenal promises to be the most exciting match of the weekend in the Premier League on Saturday, plus Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain look to recover from dropped points last weekend.
Liverpool v Arsenal
There should be goals galore in this one. Unai Emery’s tactics are coming together this season now that David Luiz and Dani Ceballos have added an assertive energy to the team, meaning Arsenal can press aggressively and burst forward with quick vertical counter-attacks as Emery’s Sevilla did. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are practically guaranteed goals in this team.
But Liverpool’s similar pace in the final third and propensity to press high up the pitch will make this frantic, with end-to-end action developing as the two teams become stretched. Arsenal’s weakness in the full-back positions offer hope for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, too.
Schalke 04 v Bayern Munich
Despite drawing 2-2 with Hertha Berlin in their opening match of the new Bundesliga season, Bayern Munich should be just fine this weekend. Schalke had the worst home record in the division last season, winning just 4 of their 17 matches, and were regularly outplayed by possession-centric opponents. What’s more, new manager David Wagner will try to play assertive pressing football, which should play into Bayern’s hands.
Niko Kovac’s side have strengthened significantly in the last week, securing Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho in loan deals that freshen up a previously depleted attack. Robert Lewandowski’s double last weekend partially covered up the biggest flaw in the Bayern side – a lack of creative energy in central midfield, with Thomas Muller playing as part of a three. Coutinho’s arrival, then, is timely.
Real Madrid v Real Valladolid
It was a clumsy start to the season for Real Madrid despite winning 3-1 at Celta Vigo on the opening day of the season. Zinedine Zidane’s side only held 43% possession, reflecting wastefulness on the ball that will only get worse now Luka Modric - sent-off in that game – is out this weekend. Losing control of the ball will be a big problem against Real Valladolid, who are capable of fast counter-attacks.
Their 2-1 win at Real Betis should fill them with confidence for a trip to the Bernabeu, but despite Real’s frailties, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Vinicius Junior have enough pace and energy to trouble the visitors. Goals at both ends is the most likely outcome given the doubt and anxiety at Real Madrid at the moment.
PSG v Toulouse
PSG’s 2-1 defeat at Rennes last week highlighted a series of problems for the French champions, who suddenly look bereft of creativity without Neymar and are open to conceding from counter-attacks with such an unbalanced central midfield shape. However, despite defeat at Rennes their exceptional home record means Toulouse are unlikely to pile on the misery this weekend.
But Toulouse should score; in-form Mathieu Dossevi, averaging 4.5 key passes per game this season from the right wing, will no doubt create some opportunities up against the PSG left-back given that winger Julien Draxler is the only player tasked with helping out on that side of the pitch.
Parma v Juventus
Parma had the second worst home record in Serie A in 2018/19 and won just five home matches, and although their results against Juventus last season were promising – a 2-1 home defeat and 3-3 draw in Turin – things are looking bleak for Parma. They won only 1 of their final 11 matches last campaign, surviving relegation thanks to good form that ended abruptly in November - and manager Roberto D’Aversa may be in free-fall.
Juve have strengthened significantly, with Maurizio Sarri set to bring entertaining attacking football to the club following the cautious years under Max Allegri. Sarri’s arrival should mean an even greater outlay for Cristiano Ronaldo, while their strength in depth is remarkable now Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey have joined on free transfers. This should be an easy opening-day win for the champions.
Aston Villa v Everton
If Villa can just cut out the sloppy mistakes they will be capable of a strong home record this season; they outplayed Bournemouth last weekend, and should be similarly effective on Friday night against an Everton side sorely missing Idrissa Gueye. They are light in central midfield and unable to convert chances without a good striker, opening the door to the Villans.
Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, and Jack Grealish controlled the tempo against Bournemouth with their interplay, which should grind Everton down. Villa like to work the ball out wide for crosses into the box, and so the attacking instincts of Lucas Digne and Seamus Colman might leave the visitors open to Villa attacks.
*Odds subject to change
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:
Manchester City v Tottenham
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.
Wolves v Manchester United
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.
Celta Vigo v Real Madrid
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.
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona
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
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.
Lyon v Angers
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Odds subject to change