Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
With the English Premier League and La Liga returning to action on Saturday, this highly anticipated first major weekend in Europe will be the official start of several new eras at some of the world’s top clubs.
Before Chelsea takes the field in their first league match since the return of Jose Mourinho on Sunday, defending champions Manchester United will kick off the season with a new face on the sidelines, former Everton manager David Moyes.
Of all the preseason title favorites in the EPL, Manchester United probably have the toughest season opener, a trip to Wales to take on rising Swansea City. The Swans soared to ninth place in the league last season and captured the Capital One Cup, pushing them into continental play for the first time in two decades. Michael Laudrup’s squad gave the Red Devils a tough test during last season’s match at Liberty Stadium, as they were one of the only teams not to lose to the eventual champions during last season’s 18-match unbeaten run.
In Spain, Barcelona will kick off their title defense with their first competitive match, a home bout against Levante, under new manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
Rivals Real Madrid will also start a new era of their own as former Paris Saint-Germain boss Carlo Ancelotti leads his squad against Real Betis, who shot up to the top-half of the league table last season. Betis stunned Madrid 1-0 in their first meeting last season, but Mesut Ozil’s brace gave Los Blancos some revenge in a 3-1 win at the Bernabeu.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action in the top leagues in Europe:
All eyes will be on Stamford Bridge on Sunday as “The Special One” takes charge of his first competitive match for Chelsea since a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg in the 2007-08 Champions League group stage. The Blues will welcome the newly promoted Hull City Tigers, who have had a busy summer of moves ahead of their first top-flight campaign since 2009-10. Unlike several of their rivals, Chelsea lost only one time in their preseason campaign, a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup. Mourinho may not have a full-strength lineup to pick from in his celebrated return as Spanish stars Juan Mata and David Luiz are listed as doubtful for Sunday’s match.
The other EPL match on Sunday should be an intriguing one as Tottenham Hotspur kick off their season against another newly promoted side, Crystal Palace. Despite the ongoing transfer drama with the mysteriously injured superstar Gareth Bale, Andre Villas-Boas will lead a Spurs squad that has made several improvements during the summer transfer window. Tottenham have brought in former La Liga scoring machine Roberto Soldado and midfielders Paulinho, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue in hopes of getting back into the Champions League.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Liverpool vs. Stoke City
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
Norwich City vs. Everton
Sunderland vs. Fulham
West Bromwich Albion vs. Southampton
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea vs. Hull City
While managerial La Liga debuts at Barcelona and Real Madrid will command most of the headlines out of Spain, perhaps one of the continent’s top matchups can be found on Saturday when Valencia host Malaga. Both sides battled with Real Sociedad for the league’s final Champions League spot, but neither were able to keep the surprise club from Basque Country from grabbing fourth place. It will be interesting to see if the two clubs, who finished fifth and sixth in the league, repeat their surprising results from last season—the home team won by four goals in both of their 2012-13 meetings.
In Sevilla, it will be a start of a new era for Atletico Madrid, but not on the sidelines. While Diego Simeone is back on the sidelines for Los Colchoneros, there will be a fresh face leading the Atletico attack. After Atletico sold star forward Radamel Falcao to big money French club AS Monaco, they went out and bought former Barcelona mainstay David Villa, who will suit up in the club’s red and white for the first time in a competitive match on Sunday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Real Sociedad vs. Getafe
Real Valladolid vs. Athletic Bilbao
Valencia vs. Malaga
Barcelona vs. Levante
Osasuna vs. Granada
Real Madrid vs. Real Betis
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid
After a thrilling opening weekend that featured 37 goals in nine matches, the Bundesliga will open up its second round with newly promoted Hertha Berlin holding the early lead. Hertha will try to follow up their 6-1 dismantling of Eintracht Frankfurt with a win in this weekend’s match, a road test at Nurnberg, who drew 2-2 last weekend with Hoffenheim. The other new team in the German top division, Eintracht Braunschweig, faces a monumental task after last week’s 1-0 loss to Werder Bremen—a visit to Borussia Dortmund’s intimidating home at Signal Iduna Park.
Bayern Munich gave new manager Pep Guardiola a sparkling debut in last week’s 3-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach, and the defending champions will look to continue their 26-match unbeaten run in the Bundesliga at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday. Bayern were responsible for all four goals in last Friday’s opener as Dante’s own goal was Monchengladbach’s only score of the day. Bayern fans could see the debut of new midfielders Mario Gotze and Thiago on Saturday, but they most likely will start the match on the bench.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Bayern Munich
Hamburg vs. Hoffenheim
Freiburg vs. Mainz
Stuttgart vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Wolfsburg vs. Schalke 04
Werder Bremen vs. Augsburg
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Hannover 96
Nurnberg vs. Hertha Berlin
Borussia Dortmund vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
AS Monaco had to grab two late goals in the final 10 minutes of their much-anticipated return to Ligue 1 last weekend, and the summer’s big spenders will look to follow up that 2-0 win over Bordeaux with three more points on Sunday. Monaco’s home opener will be against Montpellier, who gave defending champions Paris Saint-Germain fits in a 1-1 draw. The 2011-12 champions scored on their only shot on goal in the entire match, and second-half red card helped PSG rescue a precious road point.
PSG will also have their home opener on Sunday, a match with AC Ajaccio. Although Ajaccio barely avoided relegation last season, the champions were unable to record a single goal against them in their title campaign. Laurent Blanc’s men will have to work hard to break down the Ajaccio defense on Sunday, a unit that handed PSG two frustrating scoreless draws in the 2012-13 season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Sochaux vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Bastia vs. Valenciennes
Nice vs. Stade Rennes
Saint Etienne vs. Guingamp
Stade de Reims vs. Lille
Toulouse vs. Bordeaux
AS Monaco vs. Montpellier
Lorient vs. Nantes
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Ajaccio
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Excited for the return of the EPL and La Liga? Which new manager do you think will have the most success in his league debut?
Share your thoughts below.