By JUSTIN FERGUSON
It has been almost seven full months since the last El Clasico, the star-studded battle between Spanish powers FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
This Saturday, the long wait will finally be over for soccer fans all over the world.
The long wait will also be over for a handful of new key members on each side of this massive rivalry. When this first vs. third match kicks off at Camp Nou, it will be the first Clasico for Barcelona’s high-profile winger Neymar and Real Madrid’s record-breaking signing Gareth Bale. It will also be the first battle between managers Gerardo “Tata” Martino and Carlo Ancelotti, who have guided their teams to strong starts to this La Liga campaign.
Ancelotti’s Real side will enter Camp Nou with more momentum than their rivals, who hold a three-point lead in the league table. After draws with Osasuna and AC Milan put an end to their perfect start to the 2013-14 campaign, Barcelona return to their home stadium, a place where they have won 19 straight league matches. However, Los Blancos have lost only once in their last five visits to Camp Nou and are winners of four straight matches following their 1-0 defeat to city rivals Atletico last month.
While the matchup of the weekend in the English Premier League lacks the history and prestige of El Clasico, Sunday’s contest between Chelsea and Manchester City will be a battle of two modern powers in the English game. Although Chelsea and manager Jose Mourinho sport fantastic records at Stamford Bridge heading into Sunday’s clash, the Blues have only won once in their last five meetings with the Citizens. Man City recorded their first away league victory of the season last weekend at West Ham United, but they will face a much tougher road test this Sunday in West London.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Although they fired manager Ian Holloway earlier this week, things will not get any easier for Crystal Palace this weekend. This weekend, the Eagles host first-place Arsenal, who saw their 12-match unbeaten run across all competitions come to an end earlier this week at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. The Gunners have a perfect opportunity Sunday to get their confidence back before next week’s visit from Liverpool in what is sure to be a high-profile matchup.
West Bromwich Albion take their five-match unbeaten run to historic Anfield, where hosts Liverpool look to bounce back from a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United last weekend. The third-place Reds have a monster matchup next weekend at Arsenal, but they will have to take care of business this weekend against a West Brom squad that has allowed only two goals during their current run of good form. The last time the Baggies traveled to face a top opponent, they stunned Liverpool rivals Manchester United by a score of 2-1, a result Brendan Rodgers’s club wants to avoid before a tough trip to Emirates Stadium.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal
Aston Villa vs. Everton
Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion
Manchester United vs. Stoke City
Norwich City vs. Cardiff City
Southampton vs. Fulham
Sunderland vs. Newcastle United
Chelsea vs. Manchester City
Swansea City vs. West Ham United
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Hull City
While Atletico Madrid lost their perfect overall record last weekend in a 1-0 loss at Espanyol, they still have a chance to maintain perfection at the Estadio Vicente Calderon this Saturday. Second-place Atletico host Real Betis, who have fallen all the way to 15th place following back-to-back losses in La Liga. After netting a brace in his Champions League debut earlier this week, all eyes will be on in-form forward Diego Costa, who leads the league with 10 goals through nine matches.
Fourth-place Villarreal return to their home at the Estadio El Madrigal on Saturday to host seventh-place Valencia, who are fresh off a 5-1 rout of St. Gallen in Europa League play. Despite two road losses in their last three matches, the newly promoted Yellow Submarine have maintained their high position in the league table thanks to their unbeaten home record. Villarreal’s home match against Valencia this weekend is their first of two tough matches inside their own stadium as fifth-place Getafe visit next week.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Valladolid
Malaga vs. Celta Vigo
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
Elche vs. Granada
Levante vs. Espanyol
Sevilla vs. Osasuna
Villarreal vs. Valencia
Real Sociedad vs. Almeria
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Betis
The top matchup in Germany this weekend will be the always-heated Revierderby between second-place Borussia Dortmund and fifth-place Schalke 04. Although Dortmund finished ahead of Schalke last season and reached the Champions League final, USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones and Schalke claimed both installments of the rivalry in the 2012-13 campaign. But after bounceback victories against Hannover 96 and Arsenal, Dortmund will enter the Veltins Arena with more momentum than their rivals, who lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea in their Champions League group stage match earlier this week.
While Dortmund and Schalke battle it out Saturday, first-place Bayern Munich will play hosts to Hertha Berlin, who surprisingly sit in fourth place ahead of their trip to the Allianz Arena. Hertha, last season’s 2. Bundesliga champions, are undefeated in their last four matches and fresh off a 1-0 home win against sixth-place Borussia Monchengladbach. But Hertha will face their toughest test of the season Saturday at defending first division champions Bayern, who have outscored opponents 10-2 in their last five league matches.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Stuttgart vs. Nurnberg
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Augsburg
Bayern Munich vs. Hertha Berlin
Hannover 96 vs. Hoffenheim
Mainz vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund
Wolfsburg vs. Werder Bremen
Freiburg vs. Hamburg
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
First-place AS Roma’s hunt for a ninth straight league win takes them to Udinese, who have stumbled out to 11th place after a fifth-place finish last season. However, all four of Udinese’s losses this season have been on the road, and they have won back-to-back matches at Stadio Friuli. But if the hosts want to be the first ones in Serie A to snatch points from Roma, they will have to step up their offensive production against a defense that has only allowed one goal in their first eight matches of the season.
On Saturday, fifth-place Hellas Verona take their three-match winning streak to San Siro for a match against an Inter Milan side that is winless in three straight. Inter have not been at their best since their 2-1 comeback victory against Fiorentina last month, allowing twice as many goals in their previous two Serie A matches than they did in their first six. Hellas Verona, on the other hand, have scored multiple goals in five of their last six league matches and will enter Milan with plenty of momentum.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Sampdoria vs. Atalanta
Inter Milan vs. Hellas Verona
Napoli vs. Torino
Bologna vs. Livorno
Catania vs. Sassuolo
Chievo Verona vs. Fiorentina
Juventus vs. Genoa
Parma vs. AC Milan
Udinese vs. AS Roma
Lazio vs. Cagliari
First-place Paris Saint-Germain hit the road this weekend after star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s fantastic four-goal performance against Anderlecht earlier this week. The Parisians visit seventh-place Saint Etienne, who snapped a four-match winless skid last weekend at home against Lorient. PSG have won five straight matches across all competitions after their 1-1 draw to new rivals Monaco, with Ibrahimovic scoring nine goals in his club’s blistering run.
AS Monaco will look to reclaim the top spot in Ligue 1 this weekend as they host struggling 12th-place Lyon. Monaco have recorded four wins and one draw at Stade Louis II this season, while Lyon have dropped three straight matches away from home, including an embarrassing 5-1 loss to Montpellier at the beginning of October. The league’s top goalscorer, Radamel Falcao, has not scored in his last three matches for Monaco — could this be the week he returns to impressive goal-scoring form?
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Nantes vs. Lille
Marseille vs. Stade de Reims
Bastia vs. Nice
Guingamp vs. Ajaccio
Lorient vs. Sochaux
Toulouse vs. Stade Rennes
Valenciennes vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Bordeaux vs. Montpellier
AS Monaco vs. Lyon
Saint Etienne vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you think takes the first El Clasico of the season? Picking Chelsea and Jose Mourinho to keep their impressive home record intact? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.