After two weeks of international action with wildly different levels of positivity and success (or otherwise), domestic football takes centre stage once more this weekend.
Around the major leagues in Europe are a host of big-club clashes and notable encounters to look out for – and even a few games not going ahead which are newsworthy, with Barcelona’s trip to Sevilla being one of those postponed to accommodate the late return of South American players.
Important clashes this early in the season can make a statement of intent for the campaign ahead at the top of the table, but can also send optimism soaring at the other end that safety and survival can be earned.
Here are all the storylines you should watch out for around Europe after the end of the international break.
Last year’s top two clash as Leipzig host Bayern
As has habitually been the case, the Bavarians cherry-picked the best from their rivals as they look to maintain domestic dominance – and that went beyond the playing squad, this time.
Manager Julian Nagelsmann swapped the Red Bull Arena for the Allianz Arena, followed by centre-back Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Marcel Sabitzer making the same move in the transfer window. Those changes have hampered Leipzig’s early-season attempts to maintain pace at the top, winning one of three so far under Jesse Marsch, while Bayern are just off top spot after two wins and draw.
Of course, Bayern aren’t in top gear just yet, but the squad looks formidable again and they’ll be heavy favourites to lay down an early marker that last year’s title-challengers…well, won’t, this year, when they head to Nagelsmann’s old club on Saturday afternoon.
Early pace-setters Wolfsburg, with three wins from three, face newly promoted Greuther Furth before Bayern’s game, while at the same time another big clash takes place between the expected Champions League challengers.
Bayer Leverkusen host Borussia Dortmund in that game, both further clubs with new managers and plenty of changes this summer, and both also having taken two wins from three so far. Early days in the Bundesliga, but already the storylines carry intrigue and interest.
Champions League challengers face off in Italy
Across two particularly big games in Serie A this weekend, three sides sit in the top five and one would usually do so – the outlier being Juventus, who have taken just a point from their first two games under Max Allegri in his second spell in charge.
They will face another tactical reshuffle this weekend as he looks to put his stamp on the squad in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, with Manuel Locatelli likely to come in for his full debut following a couple of sub outings so far. With fellow Italy star Federico Chiesa unavailable and still question marks over the defensive arrangement and even formation, a trip to Napoli presents a tough task for the bianconeri to pick up their first win of the season in.
24 hours later on Sunday, two of the 100 per cent sides face off: Lazio at AC Milan, Stefano Pioli against Maurizio Sarri, Olivier Giroud against Ciro Immobile. Both clubs are not only hopeful of a top-four finish this season, but genuinely harbouring ambitions of succeeding Inter Milan as title-winners, fueled no doubt by Juve’s sluggish start.
For goals, entertainment and exciting new seasons, Serie A provides one of the games of the weekend: Atalanta against Fiorentina, the latter hoping to quickly introduce the likes of Alvaro Odriozola, Nicolas Gonzalez and Lucas Torreira from Real Madrid, Stuttgart and Arsenal respectively.
Best of the rest
A huge and expensive squad of ‘free’ transfers they might have, but PSG are feeling the injury heat early on this term. Sergio Ramos isn’t yet ready and neither are Colin Dagba, Juan Bernat, Marco Verratti, Layvin Kurzawa, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria and Nuno Mendes, for a wide variety of reasons according to Mauricio Pochettino.
They face Clermont on Saturday in what will be billed as a one-sided encounter, but could end up being rather more tricky – unless Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi simply bag a brace apiece, of course.
Monaco face Marseille on Saturday too, in Ligue 1’s biggest clash, while in LaLiga Real Madrid must wait until Sunday night to play Celta Vigo and try to open up an early gap between themselves, Barca and Sevilla, whose encounter is off.
Still not enough? Last year’s second and third-placed teams in the Eredivisie face off, PSV at home to AZ Alkmaar, while two of the top four – last year and in the early knockings of this – play in Turkey, with Trabzonspor hosting Galatasaray on Sunday night. The biggest game elsewhere in Europe, though, takes place in Portugal, where last year’s title-winners Sporting CP face the team they pipped to the championship, FC Porto.
They lost a grand total of three games between them last year – perhaps Saturday night will see one of them pick up the first of 21/22, leaving the other dreaming of silverware already.