The European league season has returned. Here are five of the best matches across Europe that you should watch this weekend.
The season is finally here. After the World Cup and global training tours, some of the top leagues in Europe open this weekend. Since La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga seasons don’t start for another week, the best games to watch come from the Premier League and Ligue 1, which both begin on Friday.
5. Wolves vs. Everton — Saturday, Aug. 11, 12:30 p.m. ET NBC
Wolves and Everton aren’t the biggest or most successful clubs in England. However, they’re two of the more interesting clubs heading into the new Premier League season. Wolves won the Championship last season but have developed a reputation as one of the most hated teams in Europe. Everton are coming off of a disappointing campaign after a huge spending spree last summer. Marco Silva comes in as manager, and is tasked with improving the club’s play and fighting for a top-six spot.
Wolves, through their relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes and an Asian ownership group with deep pockets, have invested heavily in new players. The club have signed nine Portuguese players, including Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves. The 21-year-old Neves was one of the best players in the Championship last season and is one best young players in the Premier League.
Everton didn’t spend as heavily as they did last summer, but they did bring in Richarlison and Lucas Digne, who will likely form a partnership on the left flank. The Toffees could be a strong attacking team with Theo Walcott, Richarlison and Cenk Tosun leading the line. After struggling in his first season at Goodison Park, Gylfi Sigurdsson having a bounce-back season would only make Everton’s attack better. However, while the Toffees are flush in attacking talent, they may struggle at the back. Everton’s defensive woes could be multiplied under Silva, who never found an answer at Watford last season. In his 26 games in charge of the Hornets, they allowed 47 goals.
4. Nantes vs. Monaco — Saturday, Aug. 11, 11 a.m. ET beIN Sports
The Ligue 1 schedule doesn’t offer many great games on the opening weekend of the season. Most of the top teams from last season are playing clubs that finished in the bottom half of the table. The lone exception is Nantes vs. Monaco. Nantes finished ninth, while Monaco finished second last season. Monaco enter the season with high expectations. While they likely won’t be able to challenge Paris Saint-German for the league title, they’re expected to claim a Champions League spot. Nantes should again compete for a spot in the top half of the table but likely won’t be able to challenge for the top four.
Monaco have one of the brightest young midfields in Europe. Youri Tielemans was considered one of the best young players in Europe before joining Monaco. However, he was a disappointment in his first season with the club. Still only 21 years old and coming off of a good World Cup run with Belgium, Tielemans will be hoping to take a step forward this season. Monaco also beat several teams in Europe to sign Aleksandr Golovin, who also excelled at the World Cup. The Russian playmaker should only improve an already strong attack led by Radamel Falcao.
While Nantes finished in the top half of the table last season, they allowed more goals than they scored. The club signed United States international Matt Miazga on a loan deal from Chelsea to help improve their defense. When on the attack, Nantes will look for Argentine striker Emiliano Sala, who led the club with 14 goals last season.
3. Manchester United vs. Leicester — Friday, Aug. 10, 3 p.m. ET NBCSN
The Premier League season kicks off at Old Trafford on Friday with last season’s runners-up Manchester United hosting Leicester. United are again expected to finish in the top four and qualify for Champions League. Leicester finished ninth last season, recovering from an awful that saw manager Craig Shakespeare fired, and replaced by Claude Puel.
Jose Mourinho enters his third season in charge of United. If history is any indication, it could be his last. Mourinho’s tenures at Chelsea (twice) Inter Milan and Real Madrid all ended by the end of the third season. Despite plenty of complaining from Mourinho, United’s only major summer signing was Brazilian Fred, who will play as a holding midfielder.
With essentially the same roster as a season ago, Mourinho will have to figure out how to get the best out of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez. Pogba is one of the most talented players in the world and coming off of an impressive World Cup winning campaign with France. However, Pogba and Mourinho have never had a strong relationship and it has shown on the field. Sanchez was signed by United midway through last season. While the Chilean winger has been one of the best players in the Premier League since he joined Arsenal in 2014, he struggled with United, failing to gel with his new club.
Leicester had a busy summer, remaking their defense by adding Jonny Evans and Ricardo Pereira, and holding onto Harry Maguire despite United being interested. However, Leicester lost a key player as well, as Riyad Mahrez was sold for a record fee to Manchester City. Leicester bought James Maddison from Championship side Norwich following a strong season. Maddison will be tasked with getting to ball forward to Jamie Vardy, who despite being 31 is still one of the better strikers in the Premier League. However, if Maddison struggles, Leicester’s ability to provide service to Vardy will be tested.
2. Liverpool vs. West Ham — Sunday, Aug.12, 8:30 a.m. ET NBCSN
Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League last season as Mohamed Salah broke out as one of the most prolific scorers in the world. This season, the Reds are expected to challenge Manchester City for the league title. Liverpool open the season on Sunday hosting West Ham at Anfield. The Hammers had a busy summer, spending heavily to upgrade a side that finished 13th last season. With the new additions, West Ham could challenge for a Europa League spot.
After losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid, Liverpool were busy. Jurgen Klopp recognized his side’s flaws and went out to fix them. The club signed Alisson from Roma for a then-record fee for a keeper. Alisson replaces Loris Karius, whose mistakes against Madrid were part of the reason Liverpool lost. Naby Keita and Fabinho were both signed to bolster the midfield and improve Liverpool’s ability to win the ball back. Xherdan Shaqiri also arrived, adding another talented piece to their roster and a great insurance policy for Salah and Sadio Mane.
West Ham replaced David Moyes with Manuel Pellegrini and spent more money than they ever have, significantly upgrading their roster. Lukasz Fabianski was a smart signing from relegated Swansea and should be an upgrade between the sticks. Jack Wilshere will play a key role in midfield this season after joining the club from Arsenal on a free transfer. The additions of Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson will be a sizable upgrade on the wing for West Ham. Yarmolenko scored 10 goals and added nine assists last season for Borussia Dortmund while Anderson eight goals and 10 assists for Lazio. However, the most important for West Ham could be Issa Diop. The 21-year-old French center-back has all of the ability to develop into a very good Premier League defenders However, after playing last season with Toulouse, Diop has to prove he’s up to the challenges of the Premier League.
1. Arsenal vs. Manchester City — Sunday, Aug.12, 11 a.m. ET NBCSN
Whenever two of the top six teams in the Premier League play, it’s appointment viewing. In the opening weekend of the season, defending Premier League champions Manchester City travel to London to play Arsenal. After breaking the 100-point barrier last season, the Citizens are expected to retain their title. The Gunners finished sixth last season but are targeting a top-four finish this time.
City opened their season winning the Community Shield 2-0 against Chelsea, with Sergio Aguero scoring both goals. Last season, City scored an incredible 106 goals and had a goal differential of 79. Few teams in the world can attack with the skill and ability of City, who added Mahrez in the summer to make their attack even more impressive. If stopping City wasn’t a big enough challenge, scoring on them is just as difficult. City allowed the fewest goals in the league last season.
The Arsene Wenger era ended at Arsenal last season after 22 years. Unai Emery was the surprising choice to replace arguably the greatest manager in Arsenal history. Emery had a successful run with Sevilla, winning three consecutive Europa League titles. After leaving Sevilla, Emery joined Paris Saint-Germain, winning a league title but suffering disappointing exits in the Champions League two years running. Emery is getting thrown into the deep end with Arsenal, forced to start the season against one of the most dominant teams in Premier League history.
The Gunners had a busy summer, but it’s fair to wonder how much better they got. Bernd Leno is a solid but unspectacular keeper. Sokratis’ best days are behind him, as he looked at times slow and out of position with Borussia Dortmund last season. Stephan Lichtsteiner has had a great career, winning multiple league titles with Juventus. However, at 34 years old, he’s unlikely to be a big difference maker on the pitch. Arsenal’s best signing was Lucas Torreira who at only 22 years old could turn into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League.
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