Real Madrid’s starlets shining under Carlo Ancelotti and Serie A title test as AC Milan face Juventus
Fresh off the back of a week of European action, the continent’s top sides are back in a domestic setting this weekend - and the games are no less exciting.
From battles between those expected to be top of the table come May and historical rivalries meeting for the first time this season, there’s lots to look forward to around Serie A , LaLiga and beyond.
Among the biggest names, there were positive results in the Champions League for Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus - but defeat and disappointment for Barcelona, Inter Milan and city rivals AC Milan .
They all have the chance to quickly bounce back, but some face a more difficult return to action than others...starting with the latter, as the Rossoneri follow up a trip to Anfield with another to the Allianz Stadium in Turin.
Here’s everything you need to watch out for this weekend.
Real Madrid’s next wave starting to shine
For what seems like an eternity, Real Madrid managers have turned to largely the same core of players to push for trophies in Spain and beyond: the Kroos-Modric-Casemiro midfield, Karim Benzema up front, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane as the centre-back partnership. The duo at the back have now departed, and further upfield there are finally signs that some of the young talent signed over the last few years are ready to play a regular, crucial role.
Vinicius Junior is front and centre of those standout starlets.
The Brazilian always had the talent and lightning pace to trouble teams, but rash final passes and a style of finishing woefully lacking in composure had frustrated fans and team-mates alike for a long time. Over the past few months the signs have been there of dramatic and significant upturn in fortunes, though, and this season he has started in imperious form.
Four goals in as many appearances - just two starts - in the league have included a point-saving brace at Levante and the crucial third to put Real ahead against Celta Vigo last weekend. The 21-year-old has won a place in the team on merit for now, and is likely to start against Valencia this weekend - that’s a meeting of the top two sides in Spain, after Los Che’s exceptional start to the campaign.
Meanwhile, Eduardo Camavinga, 18, netted on his debut just minutes after coming on against Celta too, while 20-year-old Rodrygo scored the last-minute winner against Inter Milan in midweek. Add in 20-year-old Miguel Gutierrez earning rave reviews at full-back, Federico Valverde now being a well-established key player at 23 and the same aged Eder Militao finally getting his chance at the heart of the defence, and we’re finally seeing the building blocks of Madrid’s next side being put in place.
Elsewhere in Spain, the Atletico vs Athletic rivalry resumes at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday afternoon, with the reigning champions the third side at the top on 10 points and their Basque opponents just two points and places behind.
Juve, Milan and an early title insight
Over in Italy, two of the historical greats of Serie A meet: Juventus, AC Milan and two of the top three teams - Inter the others - with the most titles in Italian top-flight history.
The match takes place on Sunday evening, a weekend-headlining event which, unfathomably, sees Juve still looking for their first win of the season under Max Allegri.
Two defeats and a draw leave Juventus down in 16th place with a single point to their name, already eight off the pace with Sunday opponents one of the three teams still protecting a 100 per cent record.
Allegri is still searching for the right balance in midfield in particular, while the lack of a reliable goalscoring No9 after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure has also meant chopping and changing for both personnel and system so far. He’ll hope for a more consistent showing this time around after going from a goal up to losing 2-1 against Napoli last weekend - while Milan will hope to bounce back after losing to Liverpool in midweek.
On Monday night, Udinese play Napoli in another top-five clash, both unbeaten so far this term.
Best of the rest
Around the rest of the top leagues, PSG vs Lyon is the eye-catching clash, with Mauricio Pochettino’s side still searching for their own style after all the new arrivals. Lionel Messi awaits his first goal for the Parisians, Gini Wijnaldum has come in for criticism after a slow start and Gigi Donnarumma awaits to see whether his Ligue 1 debut last weekend will be followed up by first appearance against a bigger French side, having been replaced in midweek by regular No1 Keylor Navas. Still no appearances for Sergio Ramos, either.
In Germany, Borussia Dortmund against Union Berlin on Sunday afternoon looks the ‘fun’ match with the potential for bags of goals, largely due to Marco Rose’s side still looking incredible going forward and incredibly susceptible at the back, for all the efforts of their superb new goalkeeper Gregor Kobel.
The biggest clash in the rest of the European leagues comes in the Dutch Eredivisie, where PSV face Feyenoord on Sunday. In truth, there has been a large gap between the two over the last few non-Covid-interrupted years, and PSV are four-wins-from-four this term so far. A fifth will keep them top, deal a rival a huge blow and probably return them to top spot after Ajax beat Cambuur a day earlier.