There are plenty of big games this weekend with matches taking place in all five of Europe’s major leagues. Sam Thompson joins us again to preview the three biggest matches…
Juventus v Lazio (Saturday 31st August, 7.45pm, Serie A)
Defending Serie A champions Juventus started their 2013-14 campaign last week with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria, thanks to a Carlos Tevez strike in the second half – although it was Paul Pogba who impressed most for the Bianconeri.
Juventus’ last two league titles have been built around a solid defence thanks to the consistency of Gigi Buffon and his trusted back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. However, Conte has certainly tried to make his side more attack-minded this season.
With Pogba, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo all competing for a place in Conte’s three-man midfield, Juventus have arguably the strongest midfield unit in European football this season. They’ve also added genuine ability in the final third by bringing in not only Tevez but also Fernando Llorente – both are certainly a step up in class compared to Nicklas Bendtner and Nicolas Anelka.
An international break follows this fixture but Juventus know a trip to the San Siro against Inter Milan soon awaits them, after which the fixture list is relatively kind with matches against Verona, Chievo and Torino in September.
Lazio also recorded a win in their opening fixture, beating Udinese at home 2-1, and will provide stern opposition for Antonio Conte’s side. Despite beating Lazio 4-0 just a few weeks ago in the Italian Super Cup, Juventus struggled against the Biancocelesti last season, winning once, losing once and drawing twice.
Lazio’s key man will be Hernanes, who scored his side’s first goal last weekend, and whoever wins the battle between the Brazilian and Pirlo is likely to have a big say on the winner of this match.
Arsenal v Tottenham (Sunday 1st September, 4pm, Premier League)
We can expect goals at the Emirates this Sunday with the last two matches involving these sides at the 60,000 capacity stadium both finishing 5-2 to the hosts. We can also perhaps expect a red card with Scott Parker and more recently Emmanuel Adebayor both sent off on Tottenham’s last two visits.
Despite the season only just starting there’s already a lot for both of these sides to play for, with both having genuine aspirations of a top four finish, or even higher. After their disappointing loss to Aston Villa on the opening weekend, Arsene Wenger’s side have defeated Fenerbahce both home and away, and recorded a comfortable victory over Fulham.
Tottenham are one of only two sides with a 100% record in the league, after beating both Crystal Palace and Swansea City. Having qualified with ease into the group stages of the Europa League and spent around £100m this summer on new transfers, they will be looking to use this match to lay down a marker for the rest of the Premier League that they are genuine title contenders this season.
With a solid defensive trio of Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and the ever reliable Michael Dawson, an array of both solid and creative midfield options and the goalscoring form of Roberto Soldado, Arsenal certainly won’t be taking their North London rivals lightly. Perhaps this is the first season in the Premier League’s history where Tottenham have a stronger squad than Arsenal?
Tottenham may well be without star man Gareth Bale (I had to mention him at some point), but its Arsenal’s squad that is missing more key players. Wenger expects both Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to be fit for Sunday but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen are all unavailable.
Marseille v Monaco (Sunday 1st September, 8pm, Ligue Un)
The last time Marseille and Monaco met in Ligue Un they played out a goalless draw at the Stade Louis II in January 2011, but a lot has happened since then. That season Monaco were relegated to the second tier of French football, but having being taken over by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, the club have been rejuvenated and in just their first season back in Ligue Un they are seen as PSG’s biggest threat for the title.
Monaco have started well, with two wins and a draw to their name but Marseille, who finished second last season, currently sit top of Ligue Un with three wins from three matches. Both sides know that a win this weekend will see them sit top of the table after four matches, ahead of the international break.
This is the first big test of the season for both outfits but it is perhaps a bigger match for Monaco who know that their second match after the break is a very tricky trip to Paris, where they will meet Laurent Blanc’s hotly-tipped PSG side.
Marseille’s Andre-Pierre Gignac and Dimitri Payet both have three goals to their name and have put in some impressive performances but if L’OM are to have any success this season Mathieu Valbuena will need to continue his excellent recent form, having starred of late as the central playmaker in Marseille’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
The man likely to be tasked with marking Valbuena is Monaco’s Jeremy Toulalan, who has made an impressive start to his career in the south of France, but despite signing Radamel Falcao this window, it’s the goals of 23-year-old Emmanuel Riviere that have been crucial to Monaco’s start. The French forward has four goals in his three appearances so far.