By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After several thrilling group stage matches in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, the top clubs in Europe return to domestic play this weekend, with a number of high-profile matchups taking center stage.
In England, all eyes will be on Sunday’s Manchester Derby at the Ethiad Stadium. Manchester City and Manchester United cruised to victory in their respective Champions League matches this week, and the two rivals will be looking for a major victory to create some separation in the early title race.
The last home derby match for Man City ended in disappointing fashion, as Robin van Persie scored a free kick in stoppage time to give the visiting Red Devils a 3-2 victory. The Citizens got their revenge with a 2-1 road win back in April, but the result turned out to be just a small bump in United’s road to their 20th league title. With the exception of last season’s match at the Ethiad and 2011′s 6-1 City win at Old Trafford, these derby matches tend to be low-scoring–which defense will stand stronger?
This weekend will also feature another fierce local rivalry, the Derby della Capitale at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. AS Roma have had a dream start to their Serie A campaign, winning their first three matches in league play by a combined score of 8-1. Roma now turn their attention to hated rivals Lazio, who have not lost to Roma since March 2011.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Chelsea have dropped their last three matches across all competitions: a penalty-kick shootout loss to Bayern in the UEFA Super Cup, a 1-0 loss to Everton in EPL play and a shocking 2-1 loss to FC Basel in Wednesday’s Champions League opener. Manager Jose Mourinho’s squad will look to turn it around Saturday in a West London showdown against Fulham. The Blues snapped a streak of frustrating draws with Fulham in their 3-0 win last season, and manager Jose Mourinho would love nothing more to get his club back on track with a local derby win at Stamford Bridge.
After losing their opening match against Aston Villa, Arsenal have now won seven straight matches across all competitions. The Gunners grabbed a vital Champions League road win against Marseille, and they will carry that momentum back to Emirates Stadium for Sunday’s match against Stoke City. Stoke are unbeaten in three straight league matches, including a scoreless home draw with Manchester City last weekend.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Norwich City vs. Aston Villa
Liverpool vs. Southampton
Newcastle United vs. Hull City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland
West Ham United vs. Everton
Chelsea vs. Fulham
Arsenal vs. Stoke City
Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City
Cardiff City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester City vs. Manchester United
Barcelona is still buzzing from the defending La Liga champions’ 4-0 rout of Dutch club Ajax in their Champions League group stage opener. Superstar forward Lionel Messi has now scored eight goals in his last three matches for Barcelona, and he will have a great chance to add to his impressive tally this weekend at Rayo Vallecano. Lowly Rayo have now lost three straight league matches by a combined score of 12-1.
Real Madrid are also heading into this weekend’s action on the heels of a blowout Champions League victory. Real gave Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and the rest of Galatasaray a humiliating 6-1 beatdown in Turkey, which was highlighted by a Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick. Now Los Blancos return to the Bernabeu for a match against Getafe, who defeated Real Madrid in the second match of the 2012-13 La Liga campaign. Getafe are coming off their first win of the season, a 2-1 home victory against Osasuna.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Osasuna vs. Elche
Real Sociedad vs. Malaga
Almeria vs. Levante
Rayo Vallecano vs. Barcelona
Real Valladolid vs. Atletico Madrid
Real Betis vs. Granada
Celta Vigo vs. Villarreal
Real Madrid vs. Getafe
Valencia vs. Sevilla
The marquee match in Germany this weekend features two of the country’s biggest clubs, Bayern Munich and Schalke 04. Bayern kicked off their defense of the Champions League title with a home 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow, and now they hit the road to face a Schalke side that has rebounded from their slow start to the season. Schalke have now kept three straight clean sheets across all competitions and are also coming off a 3-0 Champions League-opening victory. Bayern defeated Jermaine Jones and Schalke 4-0 and 2-0 in their two Bundesliga meetings last season, so look for the home side to come out with an extra spark against the defending champions.
League-leading Borussia Dortmund will have an excellent chance to bounce back from their 2-1 midweek loss at Napoli with a match at Nurnberg. With rivals Bayern Munich playing a much tougher opponent Saturday, Dortmund could extend their early two-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga table this weekend. Before their Champions League defeat in Italy, Dortmund were outscoring opponents 16-4 in their march to first place in Germany.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Hamburg vs. Werder Bremen
Hannover 96 vs. Augsburg
Mainz vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Nurnberg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Wolfsburg vs. Hoffenheim
Schalke 04 vs. Bayern Munich
Freiburg vs. Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
League-leading Napoli will look to keep their perfect start to the season going Sunday in a big match against AC Milan at the San Siro. Both sides successfully defended their home turf in midweek action, but an extremely shorthanded Milan team will be hobbling into its league match against Rafa Benitez’s soaring squad. The two sides have drawn their last three league meetings, and Milan will be hoping for history to repeat itself as they try to work their way back to full strength.
Juventus played out a frustrating road draw with FC Copenhagen earlier this week, and the defending champions will have to work hard to avoid another disappointing result back at their home stadium. Juve host newly promoted Hellas Verona, a side which knocked off AC Milan and blanked fellow newcomers Sassuolo last weekend. The trip to Juventus Stadium is the first of two straight matches in the city of Turin for eighth-place Hellas Verona, who have been the biggest surprise of the young Serie A season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Cagliari vs. Sampdoria
Chievo Verona vs. Udinese
Genoa vs. Livorno
Sassulo vs. Inter Milan
AS Roma vs. Lazio
Atalanta vs. Fiorentina
Bologna vs. Torino
Catania vs. Parma
Juventus vs. Hellas Verona
AC Milan vs. Napoli
On Sunday, the match that Ligue 1 fans circled on their calendars as soon as the season’s fixture list came out will take place at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Defending champions Paris Saint-Germain, fresh off a 4-1 Champions League victory at Olimpiakos, host new big-money rivals AS Monaco in an early-season battle for the top club in France. Third-place PSG and first-place Monaco are the only two undefeated sides left in Ligue 1, and the two big-money clubs will face off Sunday in the first of what could be many big-time league clashes.
Below the two French powerhouses sit Marseille, who are now riding a three-match winless streak across all competitions. OM have only scored one goal in each of those three matches, and their one against Arsenal was a late consolation goal from the penalty spot. Last year’s league runners-up will try to find their offensive spark at 10th-place Bastia, who have played in low-scoring matches all season long.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Saint Etienne vs. Toulouse
Bastia vs. Marseille
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Montpellier
Sochaux vs. Lille
Stade de Reims vs. Guingamp
Stade Rennes vs. Ajaccio
Lorient vs. Bordeaux
Lyon vs. Nantes
Nice vs. Valenciennes
Paris Saint-Germain vs. AS Monaco
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you think takes home the first Manchester Derby of the season? Think Roma get a much-needed win over Lazio this weekend? Excited for the PSG-Monaco match?
Share your thoughts below.