Football Watch: Early top-of-the-table heavyweight clash between Liverpool and Arsenal

Roberto Firmino scoring from the penalty spot to complete his hat-trick when Liverpool last faced Arsenal at Anfield in December 2018. (PHOTO: Reuters/Phil Noble)

Every Tuesday, Yahoo News Singapore will be previewing the most talked-about football matches for the week.

SINGAPORE — With the Italian Serie A beginning this weekend, the 2019/20 European football season will finally be in full swing.

And there is already an exciting heavyweight clash coming up this week in the English Premier League (EPL), with the current top two clubs – Liverpool and Arsenal – facing off at Anfield on Saturday (24 August).

With the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals also happening this mid-week in South America, it all adds up to a rich mix of football matches for fans to catch this week. Which games are set to be memorable and entertaining?

Copa Libertadores: River Plate v Cerro Porteno (23 August)

To say that River Plate have had an eventful decade in the 2010s would be a huge understatement. Argentina’s most successful club were shockingly relegated in 2011, promoted in 2012, top-division winners for the 36th time in 2014, and then continental champions in 2015 and 2018.

It is an astonishing rollercoaster ride for River Plate’s rabid fan base, and they are once again hoping their club will retain their title in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition.

They face Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno in the quarter-finals on Friday morning (Singapore time), and look strong enough to clinch a first-leg advantage in Buenos Aires with international-level players such as Franco Armani, Juan Fernando Quintero and Enzo Perez.

Cerro Porteno, Paraguay’s most well-supported club, took out another Argentinian club, San Lorenzo, in the previous Copa round. They will need to a top defensive effort to fend off River Plate’s formidable attack, and hope veteran striker Nelson Valdez can finish off any opportunity presented to him.

Can River Plate claim a decisive advantage to take into the second leg?

Bundesliga: FC Cologne v Borussia Dortmund (23 August)

Poor Borussia Dortmund. Runners-up in the German Bundesliga to Bayern Munich for much of this decade, they must be wondering how they could clinch their first league title since 2011, when they were managed by current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Like most recent seasons, Dortmund have started the new edition brightly, with a 5-1 opening-day win over FC Augsburg. They will need to keep up this winning form as long as they could, before Bayern make their customary charge up the table.

Borussia Dortmund's Julian Brandt celebrates after scoring his side's fifth goal in their 5-1 German Bundesliga win over FC Augsburg. (PHOTO: AP/Martin Meissner)

With top players such as English teen winger Jadon Sancho, new signing Julian Brandt, and top scorer Paco Alcacer, Dortmund hope to finally make their domestic breakthrough after finishing just two points behind Bayern last season.

FC Cologne returned to the top division this season, one year after being relegated. Leading the successful rebuilding is captain and German international midfielder Jonas Hector, who stayed with the club even after they were relegated.

Can Cologne keep Dortmund at bay in this league clash?

EPL: Liverpool v Arsenal (24 August)

Week Three of the Premier League throws up an early top-of-the-table clash between two heavyweight clubs, with both Liverpool and Arsenal beginning their season in fine fettle with two straight victories.

The Reds toiled successfully in their previous league match, emerging 2-1 winners at Southampton despite being far below their best. Their forward trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have all opened accounts for the season, making it a daunting prospect for their opponents to try and stop all three of them.

Arsenal can also boast top strikers in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. More crucially this season, they have also shored up their leaky defence with the acquisition of veteran defender David Luiz. With loan signing Dani Ceballos settling down quickly in midfield, the Gunners look far more capable of launching a top-four challenge this season.

Nonetheless, against a Liverpool side which came a point short of winning last season’s EPL title and are unbeaten at Anfield for more than two years, Arsenal are the obvious underdogs. In last season’s corresponding tie, they were thrashed 5-1, no thanks to a Firmino hat-trick.

Will the scoreline be much closer this time around?

Serie A: Parma v Juventus (25 August)

Champions for the past eight seasons, Juventus could be forgiven for feeling blase about this new season. After all, who among their rivals are equipped to push them? In fact, Juve have strengthened their squad even further, with superb new signings (Matthijs de Ligt, Danilo, Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot and Gonzalo Higuain) and even a returning great (goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon).

And any team with Cristiano Ronaldo will be in contention for the Champions League, and the other Serie A teams must be hoping that Juve will be distracted by European action so that they may have a chance to topple them domestically.

Parma, which finished 14th in the Serie A last season, look ill-equipped to stop Juve from winning in their season-opening clash. The only players with international pedigree in their squad are 37-year-old Portuguese defender Bruno Alves and one-time Arsenal midfielder Gervinho from Ivory Coast.

Can they spring a shock result against the Juventus juggernaut?

Athletic Bilbao's Aritz Aduriz (centre) celebrates scoring their winning goal, as Barcelona's Gerard Pique (left) and Ivan Rakitic look dejected. (PHOTO: Reuters/Vincent West)

La Liga: Barcelona v Real Betis (25 August)

What’s the matter with Barcelona? For a long stretch of last season, Lionel Messi and Co looked unstoppable in their quest to win every trophy in their reach. All of a sudden, they lost their “mojo”.

First they were thrashed 0-4 by Liverpool to be eliminated in the Champions League semi-finals 3-4 on aggregate. Then they were surprisingly beaten by Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. And in last week’s Spanish La Liga season opener, they were shocked again, losing 0-1 to Athletic Bilbao.

Just what is happening to the Spanish giants? Many feel that Barca are starting to show signs of vulnerability due to an ageing squad (Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Arturo Vidal are all over 30 years old). Coach Ernesto Valverde must be hoping that top new signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong can settle in to quickly lift the squad out of their current slump.

Could the slump continue with Real Betis, the only side to beat them at home in last season’s La Liga?

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