With the opening round of the Champions League complete, it is time for the powerhouses of European football to revert their attention to their domestic programs, with several crunch games occurring this weekend, especially in Italy, where the always-fiery Roman Derby could quite possibly be out staged by a clash between two Champions League performers, Milan and Napoli. Speaking of derbies, Sunday also the stages the small matter of the Manchester derby, with two new coaches experiencing the game for the first time looking to stamp their mark on their new city and in the process earning some much-needed support from their new fans.
This Weekend’s Picks
Napoli (17/10) have started off the season in impressive fashion, scoring nine goals on their way to a full complement of points in their opening three games in the league, and brought that form into the Champions League, defeating last year’s runners up in the competition, Borussia Dortmund, in the opening game on Wednesday night. Gonzalo Higuain’s goals have made the loss of Edison Cavani more than bearable, and the spectacular start to the season by Marek Hamsik providing goals and assists behind him have given credence to the belief that Napoli can be genuine title contenders this season. Milan (6/4), on the other hand, have embarked on another campaign on the wrong foot, securing just four points from their first three games, needing a 97th minute penalty last week against Torino just to eke out a 2-2 draw. Their win midweek will give them some degree of confidence, even though the performance that brought them that win was far from commanding. Nonetheless, in this early stage of the season, this game will be an important litmus test for both teams as they look to build their campaigns, Milan looking to rebuild their start to the season, Napoli looking to further cement their title credentials and bring points away from the important stage that is the San Siro.
The Rome Derby plays second fiddle to no other in the Italian calendar, and this weekend’s game will be no different. Roma (11/10) are the only other side apart from Roma to have picked up a full bag of points from their opening fixtures, and will be further motivated by the fact that they haven’t won this fixture in the last two years, with Lazio (12/5) enjoying a hold over their cross-city rivals in recent times. The game will also be a repeat of last year’s Italian Cup final, which saw the blue half of Rome victorious thanks to a Senad Lulic goal. Lazio will have to come into the game following their Europa League exploits on Thursday night, and despite having recorded two wins from their opening three games, coach Vladimir Petkovic knows that his side haven’t performed as well as he would have liked in this opening stanza of the season. As with any derby game between these two teams, it is anyone’s for the taking, but recent form and the positive current flowing through Rudi Garcia’s side at the moment must his give the Giallorossi an edge coming into this one.
In other games in the Serie A, Inter (3/4) travel to newly promoted Sassuolo (7/2) and reigning champions Juventus (1/6) host Verona.
All the focus in the Premier League will be in Manchester this weekend, where the two heavyweights of English football clash on Sunday. Both teams come into the game on the back of emphatic victories in their opening Champions League fixtures, and, level on seven points behind early pace-setters Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, a win for either side could kick start their campaign into a higher gear. It was always going to be difficult for both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes to come into jobs demanding immediate results and success, and a victory in their debut Manchester derby could go a long way in defining their respective careers at these two clubs. City (6/5) are visibly still looking for the right combinations and have struggled following their 4-0 victory over Newcastle on opening day. United (12/5) have likewise suffered from their teething in period under the tutelage of Moyes, but a rediscovered Wayne Rooney could be a big boost to the former Everton manager’s side. Like the Rome derby, this will be difficult to call, but home ground advantage could prove decisive in this one.
Other matches in the Premier League this weekend include table leaders Liverpool (4/7) at home to Southampton (19/4), Chelsea (2/7) against Fulham (10/1), Arsenal (4/11) against Stoke (15/2), and Cardiff (16/5) against Tottenham (17/20).