Football is back! It was hardly a long lay-off following a congested season and then the Euros, but it is back all the same. A huge season awaits across the continent in spite of covid’s effects. Included in the first weekend’s preview are Barcelona amidst their Messi chaos, Dortmund and recently relegated Sheffield United too. All that and much more below!
Watford vs Aston Villa, Saturday @15:00
The first game of the first preview of this season may come as a surprise. Man United vs Leeds and Man City playing Spurs are the two Premier League games that jump out at you but Watford-Aston Villa is an enticing one. They not be at the level of Barcelona and Dortmund but you have a newly promoted team against Villa who are in the post-Grealish era now. New signings Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia can certainly link up with Ollie Watkins to replace the output but Grealish was a true local hero.
Meanwhile, Watford are without young Brazilian Joao Pedro as well as new arrival Josh King so it remains to be seen how they’ll look going forward. Ismaila Sarr is the man of the moment and the fact that the Hornets have been able to hold on to the Senegalese flyer is pretty special in itself. Many are tipping Watford no go down with Xisco being named as a favourite to be the first sacked manager also, as can be the way at Vicarage Road. Anything can happen on the opening day that’s for sure!
Lille vs Nice, Saturday @ 16:00
Next then to France where Ligue 1 got underway last weekend. Defending champions Lille who have had a few key names picked off played out an edge-of-your-seat 3-3 draw away at Metz. On the other hand, Nice also drew but it was instead a stalemate between them and Reims. Lille have lost manager Christophe Galtier to who? Oh yeh. Nice! Along with that, Leicester have snapped up Boubakary Soumare, Luis Araujo has gone to play for Atlanta United in MLS and goalkeeper Mike Maignan has joined AC Milan.
With all these departures, not much is being made of Lille’s chances of defending the title whilst Nice have had quite the window. Mario Lemina, Jean Clair-Todibo and Dutch trio Justin Kluivert, Calvin Stengs and Pablo Rosario are the headline names as well as the manager and this young, exciting squad will certainly be worth watching. It is still early days so the two sides under new managers may well experience teething problems.
Borussia Dortmund vs Eintracht Frankfurt, Saturday @ 17:30
At the time of writing, Bayern Munich and Gladbach are locked in a 1-1 draw and two more of the big Bundesliga sides will go to battle this weekend. Dortmund and Frankfurt, like with all of Lille, Nice, Bayern and Gladbach enter the season with new managers at the helm so they are a pair of unknown quantities. Jadon Sancho’s move from Dortmund to Man United is a big loss to the former but whilst not a direct replacement, the arrival of Donyell Malen from PSV is one to keep an eye on.
Dortmund are now managed by Marco Rose previously of Gladbach whilst Oliver Glasner has swapped Wolfsburg for Frankfurt. Sancho has left Dortmund and Andre Silva has gone from Frankfurt to Leipzig so the sides will line-up differently going forward. Attacking football is almost a given with the big Bundesliga sides so a goal-fest wouldn’t go a miss.
Swansea vs Sheffield United, Saturday @ 20:00
Sheffield United lost 1-0 to Birmingham on their Championship return last Saturday and they will be in action again in the evening slot. Managerial changes are afoot left, right and centre with Slavisa Jokanovic the man in charge now at Bramall Line whilst Steve Cooper left Swansea shortly not long before the season started. Marc Guehi and Andre Ayew were a couple of key players to depart Wales too and so from a promotion hopeful last season, many fans are predicting the Swans will finish mid-table.
Both were successful in the Carabao Cup in mid-week, Rhian Brewster striking early as the Blades beat Carlisle United 1-0. This is a huge season for Brewster who failed to score a single goal last season, quite the contrast to his impressive spell with today’s opponents Swansea. Both teams will have lofty ambitions and will be looking to improve after losing on the opening day. Can Brewster strike gold on familiar territory?
Barcelona vs Real Sociedad, Sunday @ 19:00
Barcelona may not have a managerial change to contend with but their issues are far deeper. Everyone and their dog has heard about the Lionel Messi situation and the wider reaching financial ramifications in Barcelona but La Liga is upon them either way. It is not an easy start either for Koeman’s men with Real Sociedad visited the Nou Camp, a side with some great forwards.
A number of players have been forced out of the door along with Messi and there will surely be more to follow, thus leaving quite a thin squad. A lot of talk has focused around Spanish midfielder Pedri and the sheer amount of games he has played yet we can still expect him to feature when La Real come to town. Their standout men include winger Mikel Oyarzabal and Swedish striker Alexander Isak, both of which are highly regarded in La Liga and could soon be the subject of major bids. If Real Sociedad are to further the woes of Barcelona, Oyarzabal and Isak will surely be involved.
Atlanta United vs LAFC, Sunday @ 21:00
Finally then to the greatest league in the world, MLS! No better way to finish your weekend than to watch Atlanta United against LAFC. Atlanta recently announced the arrival of new manager Gonzalo Pineda but interim Rob Valentino will still be in charge for this one. Pineda isn’t the only new face as, late in the window, the signing of Ligue 1 winning winger Luiz Araujo was announced, he played a fair bit as Lille shocked France last season. It remains to be seen if he’ll feature but Josef Martinez will be back amongst it after that suspension. Atlanta seemingly didn’t need their talisman last time out though as Marcelino Moreno and Ezequiel Barco worked wonders together in a 3-2 win over the reining MLS Cup champions Columbus.
It is easy to focus on the Five Stripes but LAFC aren’t exactly living a charmed life at the moment either. Carlos Vela now that he is back to full fitness has shown glimpses of excellence but there have been some poor results for Bob Bradley’s men in recent weeks. These are two of the bigger MLS names albeit fairly new as well and so their struggles won’t fall on deaf ears. It will be fascinating to see what Pineda can bring to the table at the Benz but for now, props to Valentino.