THE FINISH LINE

Europe’s top football leagues serve up a weekend feast

The Milan clubs duke it out, while Premier League leaders Arsenal face big-spending Manchester United

Lee U-Wen
Published Sat, Sep 3, 2022 · 05:50 AM

A MONTH into the new European football season, the continent’s top 4 leagues - the English Premier League (EPL), Germany’s Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A and Spain’s La Liga - are serving up a massive feast of some blockbuster fixtures this weekend.

Get the popcorn ready, down a double espresso if you have to, and prepare to savour a feast served up by Europe’s finest teams. BT Weekend previews the key matches to watch out for, as the clubs look to get an early stranglehold on their respective title challenges.

Union Berlin vs Bayern Munich (Saturday, 9.30 pm kick-off, Singapore time) Germany’s perennial champions Bayern Munich face perhaps the toughest test of their season so far as they are in the capital to take on second-placed Union Berlin, with both clubs boasting identical records (10 points from 4 games). 

It’s been a fairytale start to the campaign for Union’s Swiss coach Urs Fischer, who has overseen an impressive 11-match unbeaten run (9 wins and 2 draws) dating back to last season. But Union have never beaten Bayern in 6 previous attempts, and incidentally, the last time they tasted defeat in the league was a humbling 0-4 thrashing dished out by Bayern in March.

Union are in good form in front of goal, racking up 11 strikes with Suriname international Sheraldo Becker the Bundesliga’s joint top scorer with 4. Bayern boast a lethal attack of their own that includes Sadio Mane, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Mueller.

All signs point to an entertaining, high-scoring battle in Berlin, with Bayern’s class and experience likely to prove too much come the final whistle.

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Real Madrid vs Real Betis (Saturday, 10.15 pm) There are only 2 teams in Spain’s top division that have a 100 per cent winning record, and both of them are set to go head-to-head this weekend. After racking up 3 straight wins on the road, leaders Real Madrid finally get to play their first match at home when they host second-placed Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu.

While many may feel that Real Madrid and their star-studded squad will be too much for Real Betis to handle, the statistics show that Betis are unbeaten in their last 5 visits to Madrid’s home ground, with the last 3 meetings ending goalless.

Even with the likes of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr leading the frontline, Carlos Ancelotti’s European champions are expected to face another difficult examination of their title credentials against the humble but talented team from Seville.

AC Milan vs Inter-Milan (Saturday, 11.55 pm) The bragging rights in the Italian capital belong firmly to AC Milan for now, with Stefano Piloi’s men winning their first Serie A championship in 11 years in May as they nicked the trophy from neighbours Inter-Milan on the final day of the season.

Inter - second in the table after 3 wins from their opening 4 games - go into this contest without injured striker Romelu Lukaku, but manager Simone Inzaghi remains confident as he pins his hopes on Lautaro Martinez, the club’s top scorer last season with 25 goals in all competitions. The Argentine striker has either scored or made an assist in Inter’s first 4 games, and it’s hard to bet against him continuing that streak.

AC Milan, currently in fifth, will want to put on a good show in front of their new owners. On Wednesday, it was announced that RedBird Capital Partners took a controlling interest and the New York Yankees a minority stake in the club. 

Manchester United vs Arsenal (Sunday, 11.30 pm) It’s been smooth-sailing for Arsenal in the English Premier League over the past month, but the Gunners - the league leaders with a perfect record of 5 wins - will face their toughest task this season as they prepare to take on a revitalised Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Arsenal are flying high at the moment, with Gabrielle Martinelli and their star summer signing Gabriel Jesus scoring in the 2-1 win over Aston Villa in midweek. Jesus has adjusted comfortably to life at the North London club, being involved in 6 goals in his first 5 games for his new team.

Manchester United have well and truly bounced back from their shambolic start to the season, winning 3 matches in a row to soar up to fifth in the table. The Red Devils have also spent heavily last month to bring in fresh blood, and all eyes will be on Brazilian forward Antony, who completed his £86 million (S$139.2 million) transfer from Ajax Amsterdam and is expected to be in Erik ten Hag’s matchday squad to face the Gunners.

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