Football Watch: Maximum efforts for top clubs as new season gets underway

Chia Han Keong
Soccer Football - Premier League - Liverpool v Norwich City - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - August 9, 2019   Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their second goal    Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine    EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details.
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores their second goal against Norwich City in their English Premier League season opener. (PHOTO: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine)

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SINGAPORE — The new European season will be right upon football fans this coming week, with the opening weekend of the Spanish La Liga and the German Bundesliga. They join the English Premier League (EPL) and French Ligue One, both of which began last week.

It certainly heralds much excitement, as teams put up their maximum efforts to begin their season on the right foot. A victory would bring much optimism amid the fan base, while a defeat would certainly cause fans to question how well the team have prepared for the new season.

Major Europeans clubs will also want to lay a marker to all their prospective rivals with winning runs to begin their seasons. Which clubs will succeed in doing so?

Uefa Super Cup: Liverpool v Chelsea (14 August)

There were contrasting starts last week for the two English winners of last year’s European competitions.

Champions League winners Liverpool tore through newly-promoted Norwich City, going 4-0 up in the first half before easing to a 4-1 home win in their EPL season opener last Friday (9 August).

Europa League champions Chelsea, however, were badly thumped 0-4 by Manchester United, conceding three second-half goals to undo a decent first-half showing on Sunday.

The two English giants meet midweek for the one-off Super Cup tie, the traditional opener to Uefa’s club competitions. While it is a lucrative bonus for the clubs involved, it is nonetheless an inconsequential additional match amid their busy schedules, and both sides are unlikely to field their first-choice starting XIs.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard must lift his squad from Sunday’s heavy defeat and push for a victory to set their season on the right track.

But with their inexperienced defence line struggling badly, the Blues face a daunting prospect to fend off Liverpool’s relentless pressing style. Lampard must be hoping that key defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante will be fit enough to last the full 90 minutes to provide security to the backline.

Liverpool also have personnel woes, with goalkeeper Alisson Becker suffering a calf injury in the Norwich game. Second-choice custodian Adrian San Miguel is the only fit goalie the Reds can currently call upon.

Which English club can claiming bragging rights to being Europe’s top club?

La Liga: Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona (16 August)

It has certainly been a disconcerting few months for Spanish giants Barcelona. On the one hand, they have been imperious in La Liga, romping to their second straight title last season with an 11-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid.

On the other hand, the trophy they covet most – the European Cup – stayed out of reach for a fourth straight season. Few can forget how they capitulated 4-3 on aggregate to eventual winners Liverpool in the semi-finals, despite holding a 3-0 first-leg advantage.

FC Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann, left, vies for the ball with Arsenal's goalkeeper Bernd Leno during the Joan Gamper trophy soccer match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)
French striker Antoine Griezmann (left) has joined Barcelona from rivals Atletico Madrid. (PHOTO: AP/Joan Monfort)

So Barca will open the new La Liga season eager to dispel doubts about their mental fortitude. French star striker Antoine Griezmann has joined Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to form a potentially fearsome strike force, but there are lingering questions whether playmaker Philippe Coutinho can live up to his pricey transfer tag from Liverpool after two seasons.

Barca’s opponents, Athletic Bilbao, endured a rollercoaster 2018/19 season, struggling badly in the first half under head coach Eduardo Berizzo and improving dramatically after Berizzo was replaced by Gaizka Garitano last December to eventually finish in eighth place.

Can they score an upset win over the defending champions?

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin (16 August)

These are troubling times for Bayern Munich, Germany’s most successful club, even as they bid to win the Bundesliga for an eighth straight time in the new season.

Like Barcelona, their priority lies in winning the European Cup. And just like Barca, they were eliminated by Liverpool last season in the round-of-16. Such an early exit was unacceptable for the German giants.

Yet, worryingly for their fans, Bayern have been very quiet in the summer transfer market, only bringing in defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, while seeing key veterans like Mats Hummels, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery being released.

It is no wonder that their key striker Robert Lewandowski voiced his concerns, telling Bild, “We need three new players... If you want to play a whole season with 13 or 14 experienced pros, it's going to be hard. We have 50, 60 games over one full season, and we have too few players for that.”

Coupled with an ageing side, few pundits fancy Bayern as favourites to win the Champions League. Nonetheless, they should have little trouble overcoming mid-table side Hertha Berlin in their Bundesliga season opener.

Can Bayern at least get their domestic season off to a flyer?

EPL: Manchester City v Tottenham (17 August)

Hugely favoured to capture their third straight EPL title, Man City face their first major challenge of the new season, when Tottenham visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Both sides enjoyed winning starts to their campaigns on Saturday, although City had a far easier time in dismantling West Ham 5-0. Spurs, on the other hand, fell behind to newly-promoted Aston Villa before recovering well for a 3-1 victory.

Both their key England forwards have started in fine fettle. City’s Raheem Sterling grabbed a superb hat-trick against the Hammers, continuing his stunning transformation from a fleet-footed winger to a deadly goal poachers under Pep Guardiola’s guidance.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane, who scored a memorable long-distance goal in Singapore last month, also ended a curious streak of never having scored a Premier League goal in August, as he plundered two late goals against Villa.

It should be an entertaining match-up, with both City and Spurs committed to high-energy attacking styles that ramp up the excitement levels for fans. Can City fend off Tottenham to stay top of the table?

Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Chelsea - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - August 11, 2019  Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring their third goal as Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Kepa Arrizabalaga look dejected   Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff  EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  Please contact your account representative for further details.
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (red jersey) celebrates scoring their third goal as Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta and Kepa Arrizabalaga look dejected. (PHOTO: Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff)

EPL: Wolves v Manchester United (19 August)

Last season, Wolverhampton Wanderers finished one place below Manchester United in seventh place, but arguably received more plaudits than the Red Devils, who sputtered through lengthy winning and losing streaks.

After all, few expected them to do so well in their first season back in the EPL following promotion from the Championship – much less doing so by playing stylish yet effective football.

Yet, Man United will go into next Monday’s tie buoyed by their sparkling 4-0 win over Chelsea last Sunday, with impressive debut performances by their new signings Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James.

Wolves, however, were frustrated by Leicester City in their goalless opener, especially after they had a goal disallowed by the newly-introduced video assistant referee (VAR) system.

Still, they are a tough side to beat at Molineux, their home stadium. Can the Red Devils maintain their superb start to the new season against Wolves?

Want to play along with your own football results predictions? Try the You Predict app on iPhone or Android.

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