What felt like the most intrusive, tedious international break in football history has mercifully come to an end, and each leading league in Europe is poised to put on an enthralling show this weekend.
Here are five matches to catch over the next few days:
Chelsea vs. Leicester City
- When: Saturday, Oct. 15 (7:30 a.m. ET)
- Where: Stamford Bridge
The previous two champions in English football battle it out at Stamford Bridge, but the fight is more pinches and pulls than the haymakers landed in their respective triumphs.
N’Golo Kante is top of the bill in this bout. The Frenchman was a revelation at Leicester City last term, averaging a league-best 4.2 interceptions per game to scupper the most decorated attacking midfielders. Now, at Chelsea after a summer switch, he has struggled with the longer job list handed to him by new boss Antonio Conte.
With the exception of some fine individual showings here and there, both teams have underwhelmed this season. But with such fine players on show, something has to give. – Daniel Rouse
Napoli vs. Roma
- When: Saturday, Oct. 15 (9 a.m. ET)
- Where: Stadio San Paolo
A pair of Serie A bridesmaids resume play Saturday when Napoli begins life without Arkadiusz Milik against Roma.
The Partenopei received the worst possible news over the international break, with Milik suffering a total rupture of his left ACL. There are suggestions manager Maurizio Sarri will play one of Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens as a false nine to compensate for Milik’s absence, but the vacancy could easily mean more minutes for deputy striker Manolo Gabbiadini. Sarri will give onlookers a glimpse of his plans at the San Paolo.
Meanwhile, Roma’s looking for some consistency after a helter-skelter start to the season. A 2-1 win over Inter should buoy the spirits of Luciano Spalletti’s lot, and Edin Dzeko in particular. The Bosnian poacher has found the net five times already, and the renaissance of form is expected to continue. – Anthony Lopopolo
Villarreal vs. Celta Vigo
- When: Sunday, Oct. 16 (2:45 p.m. ET)
- Where: Estadio El Madrigal
Coming off an incredible 4-3 victory over league giant Barcelona, 10th-place Celta Vigo looks to continue climbing up the Spanish standings with a win over fifth-placed Villarreal, which sits just two points behind Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table.
The Yellow Submarine will be just as hungry for all three points.
Expect a back-and-forth tilt as Villarreal striker Nicola Sansone and Celta attacker Iago Aspas look to swap goals at El Madrigal in the heart of the Valencian province – keep an eye out for Villarreal’s Alexandre Pato, too. – Armen Bedakian
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
- When: Monday, Oct. 17 (3 p.m. ET)
- Where: Anfield
No introduction is necessary to the hostilities between Liverpool and Manchester United, two fallen Premier League giants who are desperately fighting to regain relevance this season.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have so far impressed English spectators with their high-pressing and high-octane football, but the same can’t be said for Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils. There’s still a lack of balance in United’s ranks, and Paul Pogba hasn’t yet looked like a world-record signing.
A result at Anfield would validate Liverpool’s rise under the German, who took home September’s Manager of the Month award.
Mourinho, however, would gain the most if his side can put its early-season troubles firmly in the rear-view mirror. – AL
Hipster Pick: VfL Wolfsburg vs. RB Leipzig
- When: Sunday, Oct. 16 (11:30 a.m. ET)
- Where: Volkswagen Arena
Saturday’s match could be a recipe for disaster for an underachieving Wolfsburg squad tasked with going up against an in-form RB Leipzig side.
RB Leipzig has already made history during its first season in Germany’s top flight – becoming the first promoted team to avoid a defeat after six matches – and could conceivably add another feather to the cap if it can add to Wolfsburg’s early-season woes.
It’s a match that could also play a factor in Dieter Hecking’s fate as manager if he fails to snap Wolfburg’s five-match winless streak against a Leipzig side bursting with confidence after accumulating twice as many points (12) as Die Wolfe. – Gordon Brunt