International break, something which every football fan looks at with a sense of antipathy. The free flowing, week after week of club football takes the back burner as the unexciting and uninspiring international football comes to the fore. Why this international break felt one of the longest was because a plethora of crunch fixtures was waiting on the other side of it.
Europe’s biggest leagues, the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga and the Serie A will witness the biggest of rivals in their respected countries come up against each other to make this weekend, for the football fans, a sort of festival.
After all, this is what we all long for, the biggest guns from all over, Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and the two Milan clubs, all coming together to form a tasty list of fixtures over the weekend, with none overlapping the other. Stuff dreams are made up of!
Although here, we will be concentrating our focus on the three fixtures which are sure to lighten up our Saturday night.
Manchester United vs Arsenal (Old Trafford, 6 pm IST)
Super Saturday starts with two old foes lining up against each other on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford. The footballing Gods have not been very kind on the Manchester-based club since Sir Alex left the managerial post. A seventh-place finish, followed by a fourth-place and a fifth-place finish, since SAF left, is not something the Old Trafford faithful would have hoped for. Not to forget, the United dugout has had four different faces in as many years, leading their charge.
On the other hand, Arsenal have been more or less what one would expect of them. They start the season strong, scupper it up a bit in the middle, gain some momentum again, only to find themselves out of the title race. However, amidst all this, you got to give it to Arsene Wenger as a 17th straight qualification to the UEFA Champions League is no mean business.
In spite of all this, when the two sets of team line up, the past and the future won’t matter, what will matter is which of them rise above the pressure and expectations to take the match by the scruff of the neck and give their fans the bragging rights.
Talking about the current situations of both the clubs, Arsenal, after surrendering to Liverpool on the opening day, haven’t lost a single match in the league and find themselves in the fourth position on the table with 24 points in 11 matches, two short of league leaders Liverpool. On the other hand, United after accumulating 3 wins in as many matches at the start of the league, lost the plot and now lie in the sixth position with 18 points, with title hopes more or less gone.
While there will be a number of one on one battles on the pitch, off it, Mourinho and Wenger will again be sitting in the corresponding dugouts. The former trying to maintain his unbeaten league record against the French, the latter trying to break the deadlock. Moreover, Arsenal haven’t won at Old Trafford, since Emmanuel Adebayor scored a late winner for the Gunners in 2006, which piles all the more pressure on Le Proffeseur.
While United will miss the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (suspension), whose absence might mean Marcus Rashford starting as the number 9 who sunk the Gunners’ ship last time, and Marouane Fellaini (calf injury). Arsenal will be lining up without Hector Bellerin (ankle problem) and Santi Cazorla (Achilles injury). Also, doubts still remain over Alexis Sanchez’s inclusion in the starting XI.
Whatever be the case, the match promises to be a feisty, touchy affair, with United wanting to get their form back on track and Arsenal willing to stay among the bunch of clubs pushing for the title.
Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich (Signal Iduna Park, 11 pm IST)
Bundesliga, widely considered to be a one-horse race with Bayern Munich stamping their authority on each of the seasons since their opponents on the day last won it in 2011-12, under the mentorship of Jurgen Klopp. In the seasons that followed, Die Roten have won the league by 25, 19, 10 and 10 points respectively and the only team which have remotely been able to hover around them are, obviously, Borussia Dortmund.
However, since the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti at the helm of the club, things have not been as easy as one would generally expect. After 10 gameweeks, Bayern do sit atop the league table, but courtesy only of goal difference with RB Leipzig, possibly the most hated club in Germany, breathing down their neck.
Dortmund, on the other hand, have had a mixed start to their season. With 18 points, six less than Bayern, they currently sit in the fifth position but one thing they’d be happy of is that they have been scoring goals fluently, 25 in 10 matches, one more than what their rivals have scored.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has single-handedly dragged the Thomas Tuchel’s side, scoring 11 goals in the league. His counterpart on the other side of the divide, Robert Lewandowski has scored 7 goals thus far.
The last time these two teams met was in the DFB Pokal final, where after a 0-0 stalemate, Bayern players held their nerves to prevail 5-4 in the penalty shootout. The result of Der Klassiker, as the Germans like calling the face-off between two of their biggest clubs, might not reflect much on the league table immediately, in the long run, the result of this match might just settle the league come May 2017.
Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid (Vicente Calderon, Sunday, 1.15 am IST)
The Madrid Derby, one of the most hotly contested affairs in modern football, and one which more often than not, brings out the best from Los Rojiblancos. Real Madrid have started this season on the front-foot, currently occupying the top most spot on the La Liga table, having accumulated 27 points in 11 matches.
Atleti, on the other hand, have not had the best of starts and are six points off their city rivals in the fourth position. However, whenever the opposition is the white half of the city, the Atletico players always seem to raise their performance to an altogether different level.
This match will also serve as a chance for Diego Simeone’s men to revenge the defeat in the UEFA Champions League final, where once again, after taking a lead, they failed to capitalise and Los Blancos took home the Un Decima.
Zidane’s team this season has not been riding on the Cristiano Ronaldo bandwagon as the Portuguese has failed badly to reciprocate his form from previous seasons. He has scored 5 goals in the league this season, with 3 of them coming against Alaves last month. Though Gareth Bale has scored same number of goals in the league, it’s the shift he puts in day in day out for the team that has seen him hailed as the next Cristiano.
Atleti’s talisman, Antoine Griezmann, after a not so good start to the campaign has finally come into his own and has 6 goals to his name, along with 4 assists. The Frenchman will definitely be leading his side with nothing less than a win in his sight. Moreover, the fact that Atletico have not lost any of the last nine league matches against Real Madrid will give the underdogs a lot of confidence, who will look to close down the gap between them and their city rivals.
On the other hand, Zidane’s men will be aiming to keep their 28-match unbeaten streak in all competitions intact and will hope that they’ll finally be able to break the Atletico spell.