The international break is behind us now and so the big games preview is back, along with club football. Atleti vs Villarreal featured in the last bgp and attentions turn to another pair of La Liga giants, in Sevilla and Barcelona, this time around. There are also big games for Bayern Munich and Juventus. Can Juventus regain the Serie A title this season?
Birmingham City vs Derby County, Friday @20:00
The issues facing Wayne Rooney at Pride Park this season are well documented and so their early season form has raised a few eyebrows. Derby were touted by most Championship fans to face the drop due to their issues on and off of the field. Thus far though, the Rams have lost just once and are in fifteenth under the stewardship of the legend of the game.
Derby will be in action on Friday night in front of the Sky cameras and it isn’t their manager under my microscope. Lee Bowyer is the man in charge of Birmingham City and opinions vary about them greatly. Birmingham have won two and drawn two of their opening five games which is a great platform to build off of. Boyhood fan Troy Deeney joining in the late stages of the window adds a further option going forward, but it is a loanee writing the headlines to date. Tahith Chong is one of a few promising youngsters on the books at Man United and he has hit the ground running under Bowyer. In this game against Derby and their general ambitions this season, Chong could play a major role for the Blues.
Atlanta United vs Orlando City, Saturday @00:00
Going stateside now to MLS and Atlanta United are looking to bounce back after losing to Nashville SC. This was Gonzalo Pineda’s first game in charge of the team from Georgia following Rob Valentino’s successful stint as interim manager. If Pineda could choose any team to get his first taste of victory against, it would likely be Orlando City, a close rival of the Five Stripes. There are no sides close to Atlanta geographically but they and Orlando don’t get along. The king Josef Martinez is dubbed by many, himself included, as the king of Orlando and so his return from that season-long injury is a huge positive at the Benz.
When the two last met, Josef actually opened the scoring at Exploria Stadium with the fastest goal in the club’s history. He curled home first time, in off of the post, in the game that finished 2-2 but given Orlando’s dominance, they’ll be hoping to take all three points from the amphitheatre of a stadium. Oscar Pareja has worked wonders with the Lions and having qualified for the playoffs last term for the first time ever, they are opposed to repeat this feat. They currently sit second in the East, although New England hold a huge advantage, and Daryl Dike starred last time out as they bettered defending MLS Cup champions Columbus. This fails to be another dramatic chapter in this fierce story!
Napoli vs Juventus, Saturday @17:00
Back to Europe and there are a number of games worth watching in the Serie A. Roma vs Sassuolo and Atalanta vs Fiorentina are the two who don’t feature but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Firstly, there is Napoli hosting Juventus! Maurizio Sarri, a former Juventus manager, posed the closest threat to their domestic dominance when he was at the helm of Napoli. Their decade of domestic dominance was ended by Inter last campaign and so they have re-hired Max Allegri with the hope of reclaiming their crown.
Juventus look different on the pitch too and whilst USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie is in trouble again for violating covid protocols, this time it has taken place whilst with the national team. Paulo Dybala was at his best under Allegri and so his future in a Juventus shirt has seemingly turned around, the Argentine along with Federico Chiesa set to be a key duo going forward. Napoli are one of five teams to have won their opening two games whereas Juventus are yet to win; drawing with Udinese before losing to Empoli. It may be early in the season but this could be a big game in the title race.
RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich, Saturday @17:30
From Italy to Germany and another major game in the respective title race. Last time out, Bayern won the league once again with Leipzig coming second and the transfer activity doesn’t suggest that the pair will switch places this time around. In a major managerial merry-go-round, Julian Nagelsmann has moved up the food chain to Bayern, as has defender Dayot Upamecano. Not only do Bayern have an innate ability of snapping up talent around the Bundesliga, but they always retain their key players too. It will be fascinating to see if Nagelsmann can rub further salt into the wounds of his former employer.
Dominik Szoboszlai starred in the season opener for Leipzig but they have since lost twice and it would a shock if their formed turner around in this one. Bayern aren’t indestructible though, they got off to an average start as they drew with Gladbach, Yann Sommer’s heroics making the difference. Robert Lewandowski netted a hat-trick last time out and young Jamal Musiala starred too in a drubbing of Hertha Berlin. Leipzig have a number of new arrivals, including Josko Gvardiol and Andre Silva, that are still in the bedding-in process and so Jesse Marsch’s side will be hoping to avoid an embarrassment in all truth.
Sevilla vs Barcelona, Saturday @20:00
No side in La Liga has won all three of their opening games but a number of them have seven points, Sevilla and Barcelona are included in this. Sevilla’s draw came against Elche in their last game whereas Koeman’s Barca dropped points against Athletic Club at the San Mames. The pair’s transfer windows were quite the contrast and whilst Sevilla didn’t need to make that many moves, Barcelona were the talk of the town. Antoine Griezmann’s late return to Atleti saw Koeman bring in yet another Dutch player, this one being as odd as ever. Luuk De Jong is hardly a superstar and even though he can’t get regular football with Sevilla, he has made the move over to the Nou Camp.
Another name linking the two sides is Ivan Rakitic, the Croatian midfielder having joined Barcelona from Sevilla before returning to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in 2020. Following Messi’s departure, there is a lot of murmuring about the so-called big three and whether Barcelona could be the one to fall from grace. Julen Lopetegui certainly has something going with Sevilla and so they may well challenge the Blaugrana for a coveted spot on the podium. This promises to be a major test of Barcelona’s credentials as a title contender or even as a major power in Spanish football.
AC Milan vs Lazio, Sunday @17:00
Finally then, back to Serie A and whilst Lazio are one of the teams involved in the managerial merry-go-round, Milan boast a rare level of continuity. Stefano Pioli is as classy as they come, from his football to his fashion, he is right at home in the San Siro. Along with the previously mentioned Napoli, both Milan and Lazio have made a perfect start. Lazio are the most impressive side in the league in truth, scoring nine goals already as they’ve swept aside both Empoli and even more emphatically, Spezia. Ciro Immobile has defied the doubters and his age by scoring four in these two victories.
Milan boast experienced forwards of their own in Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic although the latter is of course absent. Pioli has a nice blend of youth to add alongside of the French forward, including the returning loanee Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao. They had a strong window with Mike Maignan arriving from Lille to replace Donnarumma as well as making Fikayo Tomori’s stay at the club permanent. Lazio losing Joaquin Correa to Inter is a huge blow on the other hand, the likes of Felipe Anderson, Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto all need to step up in the Argentine’s absence. Both Milan and Lazio have shown they know where the back of the net is and so it could be a blockbuster clash on Sunday evening.