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Demolition derbies in North London and Manchester highlight the return of the Premier League

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho (L) competes with Manchester City's Spanish midfielder Rodri during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on September 17, 2022.
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho (L) competes with Manchester City's Spanish midfielder Rodri during the English Premier League football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on September 17, 2022. Photo by GEOFF CADDICK /AFP via Getty Images

It’s a rare occasion when the Manchester Derby takes a back seat.

But rarely has a North London Derby been so tasty, with league leaders Arsenal hosting neighbours and hated rivals Spurs, who sit just one point back of the Gunners, level with Manchester City.

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The margin between these two is razor thin, not just a solitary point separates them, they have both conceded just seven goals on the season while Spurs have scored 18, Arsenal 17.

The general consensus seems to be that with Liverpool languishing through a stuttering start to the season, that Manchester City will run away with the title, despite Arsenal leading the league.

A win, at home, against a strong Spurs squad may signal that Arsenal aren’t just off to a hot start, but that they will push City all the way.

Conversely, a Spurs win and they’ll leapfrog their neighbours and send a message of intent that they are legitimate contenders to win their first title since 1961.

While Arsenal have looked fantastic going forward, in particular thanks to new striker Gabriel Jesus, they have had moments of vulnerability at the back.

With Harry Kane sitting second in league scoring, the big concern going into their last league game was the form of Son Heung-Min, but in their 6-2 pasting of Leicester before the international break, Son netted a hattrick after coming on as a substitute.

Spurs manager Antonio Conte has tended to be cautious in the big games and lock up things at the back rather than take risks going forward. Fortune could favour the brave in this match, go for the win and you lay down an early season marker.

While the North London Derby may take centre stage, the Manchester Derby is still of note. City are the home team and United’s rough start has faded into memory as new manager Erik ten Hag has stabilized his squad.

However United’s back line is still dicey and with City’s Erling Haaland looking unstoppable, 11 goals in seven matches, I’m not sure United can surive this one. I’d expect a fairly comfortable City win with Haaland getting on the score sheet at least once. One of United’s biggest offseason signings was central defender Lisandro Martínez. While ‘the Butcher’ has looked ferocious the last few matches as he has settled in, much has been made of him only being 5-foot-9 inches tall. With the massive Haaland being 6-foot-5 inches and a beast in the air, he should feast, especially off corners and set pieces.

Other storylines to watch this weekend:

Crystal Palace host Chelsea and their new manager Graham Potter. The postponements for the Queen’s death likely helped Chelsea more than any other club as they’ve given Potter a chance to polish his philosopher’s stone and get his team lined up in his style. Palace are no mugs though, Patrick Vieira has made his team physical, defensively stout and difficult to play against.

The flip side of the Potter coin is his old club Brighton who travel to Anfield to face Liverpool. They’ll have a chance to prove if their sparkling start (they sit in fourth) is down to the players or Potter. Liverpool desperately need all the points and will be hoping to get blockbuster new signing Darwin Nunez going.

As surprising as Brighton’s start has been (and Arsenal’s for that matter) it’s the other end of the table where we may have the biggest shocks of the young season. Two clubs that seemed poised to challenge for a Top Four spot were West Ham and Leicester. They both sit in the relegation zone. West Ham have just four points and host Wolves this weekend who have proved incredibly tough to break down.

On Monday, Leicester host fellow relegation zoners Nottingham Forest. The Foxes only have a single point through the first seven games, losing six in a row after drawing the opener. While manager Brendan Rodgers has been whispered to have been on shaky ground for a few weeks now, it does not bode well that club owner Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has flown in from Thailand to take in the game. The decision may have already been made during the International Break, not even a win may save Rodgers, but a loss to Forest would surely seal it.

SATURDAY: Arsenal v. Tottenham; Bournemouth v. Brentford; Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Fulham v. Newcastle; Liverpool v. Brighton; Southampton v. Everton; West Ham v. Wolves.
SUNDAY: Manchester City v. Manchester United; Leeds v. Aston Villa.
MONDAY: Leicester v. Nottingham Forest.


Serie A

Juventus may look like they have the perfect tonic in matchup with 16th-place Bologna this weekend, but honestly, they look a mess. Manager Massimiliano Allegri is rumoured to be on his way out (with Spurs manager Antonio Conte the rumoured replacement) and the dressing room is allegedly fractured and sniping is rife according to the Italian press. They sit in eighth already four points out of the last Champions League spot and can’t afford to cede more ground in what is a surprisingly broad battle for those top spots.

One other big game to watch this weekend is Inter hosting their old boss Jose Mourninho’s Roma who arrive hoping to get back on track. The styles are in major contrast. Inter have scored 13 goals but conceded 11, while Roma have only surrendered 7 goals but have only scored 8.

You might have convinced people before the season that Napoli might be the league leader at this point, but guaranteed no one would have believed the rest of the Top four would be made up by Lazio, Atalanta and Udinese. Hellas Verona host Udinese this weekend who will be bidding for their sixth-successive win.

SATURDAY: Napoli v. Torino; Inter Milan v. Roma; Empoli v. AC Milan.
SUNDAY: Lazio v. Spezia; Lecce v. Cremonese; Sampdoria v. Monza; Sassuolo v. Salernitana; Atalanta v. Fiorentina; Juventus v. Bologna.
MONDAY: Hellas Verona v. Udinese.

La Liga

Real Madrid sit first, two points ahead of Barcelona. Yawn, you say, business as usual. But consider Real’s impressive +11 goal difference pales in comparison to Barca’s +16, and that Barcelona have conceded just one goal through their first six games. Barca travel to Mallorca this weekend, but so much of the talk around the club have, as usual, come from the mouthy directors of the club, this time Vice President of Economics Eduard Romeu.

Mostly because Romeu has been batting his eyes at former icon Lionel Messi with suggestions they would “be able to sign him” and bring him back after his contract at Paris St. Germain expires after this season. Of course this was done with suggestion that they would axe players who are still under contract, including Gerard Pique. Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Busquets. Again, I’ll never understand the lure of Barcelona to players with the disposable nature of the way they turn on their own when they want to bring in more shiny young things.

FRIDAY: Athletic Bilbao v. Almería.
SATURDAY: Cádiz v. Villarreal; Getafe v. Real Valladolid; Sevilla v. Atlético Madrid; Mallorca v. Barcelona.
SUNDAY: Espanyol v. Valencia; Celta Vigo v. Real Betis; Girona v. Real Sociedad; Real Madrid v. Osasuna.
MONDAY: Rayo Vallecano v. Elche.