By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After a major international break that finalized the field for next summer’s World Cup, the focus will be back on league play this weekend and a major rivalry clash in Germany
Even though they sport a perfect league record at home this season, the odds will be against second-place Borussia Dortmund when they face first-place Bayern Munich on Saturday. Dortmund claimed the first battle of the 2013-14 season, a German Super Cup victory, but Jurgen Klopp’s banged-up squad enters the first Bundesliga rivalry match of the season on a two-match losing skid. The hosts will be without three defensive starters and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan for the match.
Bayern have injury problems of their own, but the defending champions of Germany and Europe are riding a 37-match unbeaten run in Bundesliga play. Pep Guardiola’s squad has scored 18 goals in their last six matches while allowing only five during that same span. The star-studded Bayern attack will most likely feature midfielder Mario Gotze, who joined Bayern from Dortmund shortly after last season’s Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium.
Another matchup featuring teams at the top of their tables will be Arsenal’s showdown with a surprisingly strong Southampton team at Emirates Stadium. League-leading Arsenal sit just three points ahead of third-place Southampton in a crowded top-half of the English Premier League table, and the Saints will have plenty of momentum heading into Saturday’s match in North London. While Manchester United ended Arsenal’s long unbeaten run before the international break, Southampton extended theirs to eight matches with a commanding 4-1 win against Hull City.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
The EPL weekend kicks off at Goodison Park, where sixth-place Everton host second-place rivals Liverpool in the Merseyside Derby. Everton enters Saturday’s clash on the heels of two clean sheets, and Roberto Martinez’s side trails Liverpool by just three points in the league table. But Tim Howard and the Toffees defense will face a stiff test against the visiting Reds, who have scored 13 goals in their last five league matches — largely due to the in-form attack partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Few would have predicted at the beginning of the season that Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur would both be sitting on the outside of the top four heading into their first head-to-head contest. However, eighth-place Man City and seventh-place Spurs will enter Ethiad Stadium looking for a win that could catapult them back into the thick of the title race. Both sides are coming off of surprising 1-0 losses to Tyneside clubs, and this battle between the league’s second-best defense and the league’s top offense should be an intriguing one on Sunday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Everton vs. Liverpool
Arsenal vs. Southampton
Fulham vs. Swansea City
Hull City vs. Crystal Palace
Newcastle United vs. Norwich City
Stoke City vs. Sunderland
West Ham United vs. Chelsea
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Cardiff City vs. Manchester United
While injury problems continue to mount at Camp Nou, first-place Barcelona will look to keep rolling in La Liga play and maintain the league’s lone unbeaten record through 13 matches. Manager Gerardo Martino, who has yet to taste defeat at Barcelona, will have some interesting lineup decisions to make before Saturday’s match with eighth-place Granada, a side that has won back-to-back matches and gave second-place Atletico Madrid a real scare a few weeks ago. Martino will be without star forward Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, and several first-team players are doubtful for Saturday after sitting out the international break with injury concerns.
Sixth-place Getafe visit the Estadio Vicente Calderon, where second-place hosts Atletico Madrid are a perfect 6-0-0 this season. Atletico lost some ground on Barcelona before the break when they played out a disappointing 1-1 draw with Villarreal. While Atletico have made their home stadium a fortress this season, Getafe have risen in the La Liga table thanks to three consecutive 2-0 road wins — with the most recent one coming at Villarreal.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Real Valladolid vs. Osasuna
Barcelona vs. Granada
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo
Almeria vs. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid vs. Getafe
Levante vs. Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano vs. Espanyol
Elche vs. Valencia
Sevilla vs. Real Betis
Eighth-place Stuttgart and fourth-place Borussia Monchengladbach open a busy Bundesliga weekend with their showdown at Mercedes-Benz Arena. After a slow start to the season, Monchengladbach have won three straight league matches and are eyeing their second road victory of the season. Stuttgart, who are unbeaten in four consecutive home matches, successfully rebounded from their 6-1 embarrassment at Borussia Dortmund with a 3-1 win against Freiburg in their last league match.
Third-place Bayer Leverkusen will look to take advantage of the Bundesliga’s top two teams playing each other in their trip to seventh-place Hertha Berlin. Hertha snapped a two-match losing streak before the international break with a thrilling 3-2 victory at Hoffenheim. Leverkusen have struggled offensively away from home this season, but they are coming off a 5-3 goal fest with Hamburg that featured a hat trick from striker Heung-Min Son.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Stuttgart vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke 04
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim
Hertha Berlin vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Nurnberg vs. Wolfsburg
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Freiburg
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Hamburg vs. Hannover 96
Werder Bremen vs. Mainz
Second-place Juventus can take the Serie A lead at least temporarily this weekend with a victory against newly promoted Livorno on Sunday. While AS Roma have to wait until Monday to rebound from back-to-back draws, Juventus travel to Livorno on a four-match winning streak. Juve have not allowed a single goal during that streak, and another clean sheet could give them some momentum before next week’s crucial Champions League home match against FC Copenhagen.
For the first time since 2002, rivals Hellas Verona and Chievo Verona will square off in a Serie A match. The two Verona clubs are heading in opposite directions ahead of this Derby della Scala, as newly promoted Hellas host last-place Chievo with a perfect 6-0-0 mark at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. Sixth-place Hellas will look to rebound from their 2-0 loss at Genoa with a home victory against their city rivals, who have played out back-to-back scoreless draws and have only won once this season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Hellas Verona vs. Chievo Verona
AC Milan vs. Genoa
Napoli vs. Parma
Livorno vs. Juventus
Sampdoria vs. Lazio
Sassuolo vs. Atalanta
Torino vs. Catania
Udinese vs. Fiorentina
Bologna vs. Inter Milan
First-place Paris Saint-Germain are unbeaten in their last 33 matches across all competitions, and the defending champions face sixth-place Stade de Reims this weekend with a four-point lead in the Ligue 1 table. Stade de Reims are unbeaten in their last three matches and have been a tough team at home for some of France’s best this season. Third-place AS Monaco drew 1-1 at Stade Auguste Delaune II, and second-place Lille fell 2-1 to Reims in the first few weeks of the season.
Monaco will look to get back to their winning ways this weekend at fourth-place Nantes. After a hot start to the season, Monaco have only won two of their last six league matches and have not recorded an away win since their trip to Marseille on September 1. Star forward Radamel Falcao and Monaco need a win to start the climb back up to the Ligue 1 summit, but their Sunday opponents have not given up multiple goals in one match since a 3-1 loss to Lyon in mid-September.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Ajaccio vs. Marseille
Stade de Reims vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Lorient
Lyon vs. Valenciennes
Montpellier vs. Guingamp
Sochaux vs. Bastia
Stade Rennes vs. Bordeaux
Lille vs. Toulouse
Nice vs. Saint Etienne
Nantes vs. AS Monaco
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you think takes the first Dortmund-Bayern match of the regular season? See Southampton continuing their dream start on Saturday?
Share your thoughts below.