By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After two weeks of European club action, Serie A in Italy returns this Saturday, giving this weekend the first full slate of matches from the continent’s five biggest leagues.
Juventus are widely expected to be the ones lifting the Scudetto yet again at season’s end, but they will kick off their quest for a three-peat against a team that had their number last season. Sampdoria defeated Juve by scores of 2-1 and 3-2, the latter coming in the 2012-13 season finale, when the visitors already had the title locked up.
However, the hero of those two Sampdoria wins, striker Mauro Icardi, is now at Inter Milan. While Sampdoria lost their leading scorer, Juve added two top-level goalscoring threats in Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez. Other Italian clubs sold some of their best players this transfer window, but the defending champions retained their core.
Meanwhile, in England, two of the highest-scoring teams of the 2013 calendar will take the field at historic Villa Park. Aston Villa return from a split road trip against two of the major London clubs to take on Liverpool, who hung onto a narrow 1-0 home victory last weekend against Stoke City.
Liverpool will try to slow down Villa striker Christian Benteke, who has carried over his success from last season into this young English Premier League season. The Belgian has three of Villa’s four goals in their first two games, and he will go toe-to-toe with a young Liverpool attack that has impressed during striker Luis Suarez’s lengthy suspension.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
After their shocking 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa on opening day, Arsenal bounced back during the midweek with a 3-0 win over Fenerbahce in the first leg of their Champions League playoff round. The Gunners will look to keep that momentum going in the EPL’s early Saturday match, a road test with London rivals Fulham. The Cottagers suffered some injuries in their 1-0 win over Sunderland, but their injury list does not come close to Arsene Wenger’s squad, which could be without six first-teamers on Saturday.
Arsenal’s London rivals, Tottenham, are also entering the second weekend of the league season on the heels of a big continental win in the midweek. With transfer drama still swirling around White Hart Lane, Spurs will take the field on Sunday against a Swansea City squad trying to move on from last week’s 4-1 home loss to Manchester United. Swansea have lost three straight matches against Tottenham, making this weekend’s clash another tough test for one of the league’s surprise outfits of the last two seasons.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Fulham vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion
Hull City vs. Norwich City
Newcastle United vs. West Ham United
Southampton vs. Sunderland
Stoke City vs. Crystal Palace
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Cardiff City vs. Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Swansea City
After exploding for seven goals in their La Liga opener and getting a late road goal from new man Neymar in Wednesday’s first leg of the Supercopa, Barcelona open their league road account on Sunday in Malaga. Barcelona finished their title run last season with a 4-1 home win over Malaga, who did not look like their usual selves in last week’s 1-0 loss to Valencia. The status of star forward Lionel Messi is unknown heading into Sunday’s clash at La Rosaleda—the Argentinian was replaced by goal-scoring Neymar in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid after injuring his left thigh.
Two rival sides that grabbed solid opening wins will battle at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday. Hosts Atletico Madrid defeated Sevilla 3-1 last week and now turn their attention towards local opponents Rayo Vallecano, who recently blanked newly promoted Elche. The two meetings between these Madrid neighbors last season had interesting conclusions. Atletico raced out to a four-goal lead and almost gave it away in the second half at home, while Rayo jumped out on Atletico early and denied a late comeback from Radamel Falcao in the return match.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Getafe vs. Almeria
Athletic Bilbao vs. Osasuna
Elche vs. Real Sociedad
Espanyol vs. Valencia
Villarreal vs. Real Valladolid
Atletico Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano
Levante vs. Sevilla
Malaga vs. Barcelona
Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo
Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen have each started the season 2-for-2 in wins, and the two clubs will open the Bundesliga weekend with a high-profile Friday matchup. Werder Bremen have shown strength in defense so far this season, shutting out Eintracht Braunschweig and Augsburg. However, they have only scored two goals in those two matches, and Dortmund are sure to provide a stiffer attacking threat in front of their home fans at Signal Iduna Park.
On Saturday, the league’s top offense and its worst defense through the first two weekends will face off. With eight goals in their first two matches, Hertha Berlin were on their way to a road win at Nurnberg when a free kick from Hiroshi Kiyotake forced the newly promoted side to share honors. Hertha Berlin will return to the Olympic Stadium, a place they scored six goals in the season opener, for a battle with Hamburg—a struggling side that has given up eight goals in the young season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Dortmund vs. Werder Bremen
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Bayern Munich vs. Nurnberg
Hannover 96 vs. Schalke 04
Mainz vs. Wolfsburg
Hoffenheim vs. Freiburg
Hertha Berlin vs. Hamburg
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Augsburg vs. Stuttgart
Napoli will kick off their new era on Sunday with a home match against Bologna, a side they defeated in both Serie A meetings last season but lost to in the Coppa Italia Round of 16. Following a roller coaster of an interim tenure at Chelsea, Rafa Benitez is back in Italy and has added several former players in what has been a busy transfer window in Naples. Last year’s runners-up sold top scorer Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain, but they have added attacking options Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens.
AC Milan kick off their domestic season at newly promoted Hellas Verona, who are back in the top division for the first time in a decade. The season opener comes at an awkward time for Milan as they are between their two Champions League playoff matches with Dutch side PSV. It will be interesting to see what kind of lineup manager Massimiliano Allegri puts out in this Saturday road match with a crucial second leg back at the San Siro coming up in a few days.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Hellas Verona vs. AC Milan
Sampdoria vs. Juventus
Inter Milan vs. Genoa
Cagliari vs. Atalanta
Lazio vs. Udinese
Livorno vs. AS Roma
Napoli vs. Bologna
Parma vs. Chievo Verona
Torino vs. Sassuolo
Through the first two matches of the season, AS Monaco have lived up to the hype that emerged after their first big-spending summer back in Ligue 1. After grabbing multi-goal wins over top-half clubs, Monaco will kick off the Ligue 1 weekend with a home match against another Top 10 finisher from last season in Toulouse. TFC bounced back from an opening weekend loss to Valenciennes with last week’s 1-1 home draw with Bordeaux, but they will need to find more success in front of goal in order to keep up with attack-minded Monaco.
After a pair of 1-1 draws to open the season, defending champions Paris Saint-Germain find themselves in 13th place after two matches. The Parisians have clearly been the aggressors in those two draws—they shot 37 times against Ajaccio last weekend—but two great goals from their opponents have kept them towards the bottom of the early league table. This Sunday, PSG travel to newly promoted Nantes, who shutout Bastia before falling at Lorient by a score of 2-1.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
AS Monaco vs. Toulouse
Valenciennes vs. Marseille
Bordeaux vs. Bastia
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Stade Rennes
Guingamp vs. Lorient
Lyon vs. Stade de Reims
Montpellier vs. Sochaux
Lille vs. Saint Etienne
Ajaccio vs. Nice
Nantes vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Juventus will repeat as Serie A champions this season? Who do you see winning the Aston Villa-Liverpool matchup? See PSG grabbing their first win of the season on Sunday?
Share your thoughts below.