25 Early Games to Look Forward to Across Europe's Top Leagues
With the 2014/15 season finally set to get underway as early as this Friday in some countries on the continent, we build up to that much-anticipated domestic kick-off by highlighting 25 of the most eye-catching early fixtures for you to watch out for between now and the end of the month across Europe’s top leagues…
Ligue 1: Reims (11*) v Paris Saint-Germain (1)
Where: Stade Auguste Delaune
When: Friday, August 8, 7:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While the visitors’ back line will be expecting a fairly quiet evening with which to kick off the defence of their top-flight crown, most people’s focus will still be on PSG’s new defensive arrivals, David Luiz and Serge Aurier, from Chelsea and Toulouse respectively.
Reason to tune in: It will be a first chance to run the rule over last season’s champions and ascertain just how much stronger they may be in this campaign following what by their standards has been a relatively quiet summer in the transfer market.
* Last season’s top-flight position
Eredivisie: Ajax (1) v Vitesse Arnhem (6)
Where: Amsterdam ArenA
When: Sunday, August 10, 1:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Home supporters will be hugely excited about the prospect of catching a first view of much talked-about Groningen attacker Richairo Zivkovic in this season opener in the Dutch capital following the £2.1m arrival of the 17-year-old Netherlands under-19 international earlier this summer.
Reason to tune in: To see how the champions fare in their first contest of the new season as they bid to make it an incredible five successive Eredivisie titles under the management of Frank de Boer.
Premier League: Manchester United (7) v Swansea City (12)
Where: Old Trafford
When: Saturday, August 16, 12:45 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Red Devils fans will be excited to catch a first glimpse in a competitive fixture of new boys Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, although the former still needs to convince recently appointed boss Louis van Gaal that he is fit enough to feature.
Meanwhile, the Swans themselves have added four new players to their roster during the summer, one of who—goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski from Arsenal—could be in for a busy afternoon in the north west.
Reason to tune in: It is the first match of the 2014/15 Premier League season, as well as being new United coach Van Gaal’s competitive debut in the Theatre of Dreams dugout.
Premier League: Liverpool (2) v Southampton (8)
When: Sunday, August 17, 1:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Both sets of supporters will be paying special attention to the various Saints players who swapped the south coast for Merseyside during the close season, such as Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren, although former Southampton skipper Adam Lallana will miss this contest through injury.
Reason to tune in: This will be a first chance to gauge just how new Southampton manager Ronald Koeman will fare in the tough task of trying to replace former head coach Mauricio Pochettino.
However, the Dutchman could not have been a handed a much harder challenge than beginning his Saints reign at the home of last season’s Premier League runners-up, although at least the visitors’ defence will not have to contend with facing Luis Suarez.
Premier League: Newcastle United (10) v Manchester City (1)
Where: St James’ Park
When: Sunday, August 17, 4 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: For the home fans, there could be as many as seven new faces on show in the northeast, the most exciting of who—France international Remy Cabella—arrived from Ligue 1 outfit Montpellier on a six-year deal last month.
And the visitors themselves have made three additions to their big-money squad since the end of the previous campaign, the most intriguing of who is right-back Bacary Sagna from Arsenal.
Reason to tune in: A first opportunity to assess just how well placed last season’s champions are to defend their trophy this time around, and what better test than an opening-day visit to the Magpies?
Ligue 1: Bordeaux (7) v AS Monaco (2)
Where: Stade Chaban-Delmas
When: Sunday, August 17, 8 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While last season’s top-flight runners-up have added both Toulouse defender Aymen Abdennour and Rennes midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko to their ranks during the close season, it is the big-name players who the mega-rich Ligue 1 giants have managed to keep hold of so far this summer that will be of most interest in this fixture.
Reason to tune in: After the outfit from the South of France finished the previous campaign a distant nine points behind eventual champions and archrivals PSG in the race for the title, coach Claudio Ranieri was inevitably replaced by Leonardo Jardim, with this fixture representing the Portuguese’s first test in charge of his new team.
Premier League: Burnley (Newly Promoted) v Chelsea (3)
Where: Turf Moor
When: Monday, August 18, 8 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: The home side have brought in six new players during the close season as they prepare for the tough task of trying to remain in the Premier League, with the experienced midfield duo of Matt Taylor and Steven Reid sure to start against the Blues.
Meanwhile, the west London club have also been busy in the transfer market since their disappointing third-place finish in the previous campaign by making five signings, the most high-profile of which was the capture of FC Barcelona and former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas.
Reason to tune in: Not only is the first live night match of the new top-flight season, but what’s more, it also pits the newly promoted Clarets and their highly rated young manager Sean Dyche against the multimillionaires from Stamford Bridge.
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (1) v Wolfsburg (5)
Where: The Allianz Arena
When: Friday, August 22, 7:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: The Bavarian giants have enjoyed a relatively quiet close season so far, with their main piece of business having been concluded as early as last January with the mouth-watering free acquisition of deadly Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.
Meanwhile, their visitors for this opening-night contest have added both Werder Bremen midfielder Aaron Hunt on a free transfer and Eintracht Frankfurt defender Sebastian Jung to their squad from the previous campaign.
Reason to tune in: This fixture kicks off the new Bundesliga campaign, so all eyes will naturally be firmly focussed on the Allianz Arena as last season’s runway champions look to make it three top-flight titles in a row come next May.
Premier League: Everton (5) v Arsenal (4)
Where: Goodison Park
When: Saturday, August 23, 5:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: It would be something of an understatement to say that Toffees supporters are eager to see Romelu Lukaku’s first match at home for the club since the giant frontman made his permanent club-record £28m switch from west London to Merseyside last month.
However, those Gunners fans making the trip to Goodison Park will also be just as excited to check out their own big-money summer capture from Camp Nou, Alexis Sanchez, after the Chile international’s £35m move from FC Barcelona in July.
Reason to tune in: This is the first meeting of the new campaign between two teams who finished the previous season in the top five of the league, so it will be fascinating to see which of the heavyweights has enjoyed the better close season.
Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund (2) v Bayer Leverkusen (4)
Where: Signal Iduna Park
When: Saturday, August 23, 5:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Between them, these two heavyweights have bought eight new players during the summer, with the home side spending big to land both Hertha Berlin striker Adrian Ramos and Torino forward Ciro Immobile as replacements for Bayern-bound frontman Lewandowski, while Freiburg defender Matthias Ginter was also lured to the Ruhr Valley.
However, their visitors have also had a busy close season recruiting the likes of Hamburg midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu and highly rated Nurnberg attacker Josip Drmic.
Reason to tune in: Both sides enjoyed a ding-dong battle to try and qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League last time around while Bayern ran away with the title, and following a raft of summer purchases there will plenty of anticipation and excitement for their fans as the new campaign gets underway at the 80,000-capacity Westfalenstadion.
Eredivisie: Ajax (1) v PSV Eindhoven (4)
Where: Amsterdam ArenA
When: Sunday, August 24, 3:45 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While so far this summer the champions have added the likes of Bayer Leverkusen forward Arkadiusz Milik, AZ Alkmaar defender Nick Viergever and highly rated Groningen wonderkid Richairo Zivkovic to their title-winning squad from last season, their archrivals have surprisingly been far quieter in the transfer market.
In fact, to date in this close season PSV boss Phillip Cocu has purchased only FK Rad midfielder Andrija Lukovic for an undisclosed fee for a side that finished the previous campaign in what is now fast becoming a familiar position outside the top two.
Reason to tune in: Regardless of the supposed relative strengths of these two big-name outfits, this fixture is always one of the most eagerly anticipated in the Dutch top-flight calendar, pitting together as it does the two most successful teams in the history of the Eredivisie.
Portuguese Superliga: Boavista (Newly Promoted) v Benfica (1)
Where: Estadio do Bessa
When: Sunday, August 24, 4 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While the home side have yet to purchase any new players so far this summer, in stark contrast the Lisbon giants have been busy during the close-season transfer window in luring six players to the Portuguese capital.
And perhaps the most intriguing of those acquisitions is that of former United attacker Bebe (pictured right), with the one-time Portugal u21 international having joined the champions last month for a fee that could rise to £2.4m.
Reason to tune in: The visitors may have ended up winning the league last time around by a comfortable margin of seven points, however, Jorge Jesus’ side know that they will face a stern test of their title credentials in their first away match of the 2014/15 campaign at newly promoted Boavista.
All of which makes this spicy encounter an absolute must to watch, especially when you consider that it will be the 2001 champions’ first home encounter in the top flight for six years.
La Liga: Real Madrid (3) v Cordoba (Newly Promoted)
Where: Santiago Bernabeu
When: Monday, August 25, 7 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Inevitably, there will be an enormous amount of focus surrounding Los Blancos’ latest galactico James Rodriguez (pictured) following the Colombia international’s £63m purchase from AS Monaco in July.
Meanwhile, the leading goalscorer at this summer’s World Cup has also been joined in the Spanish capital by Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas and Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos.
Reason to tune in: As just mentioned, the UEFA Champions League holders have as ever splashed the cash in the close season in an attempt to ensure they do not again finish this coming campaign behind both city-rivals Atletico Madrid and arch-enemy FC Barcelona.
As a result, it will be absolutely fascinating to see just how boss Madrid Carlo Ancelotti fits all his big-name stars into his starting lineup for this opening fixture against newly promoted Cordoba.
Premier League: Manchester City (1) v Liverpool (2)
When: Monday, August 25, 8 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: New City holding midfielder Fernando will have the perfect chance to demonstrate just why he is nicknamed the Octopus when the attack-minded Reds visit the City of Manchester Stadium in week two of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the visiting fans will be hoping that their own new £20m capture from Benfica, Lazar Markovic, maybe able to make them quickly forget about the absence of last season’s Premier League top-scorer Luis Suarez.
Reason to tune in: This mouth-watering clash pits the top two sides from the previous campaign against one another on Monday Night Football in a fixture that never fails to provide goals, and usually plenty of them too.
La Liga: Rayo Vallecano (12) v Atletico Madrid (1)
Where: Campo de Futbol de Vallecas
When: Monday, August 25, 9 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While the home side have added Chelsea midfielder Gael Kakuta to their ranks this summer, the visitors have been far busier in the transfer market, bringing in six new players to beef up a squad that won the title last season.
However, of those new arrivals, it is the £24m capture of Real Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann and the acquisition of Bayern Munich attacker Mario Mandzukic for an undisclosed fee that has most captured the Atleti fans’ imagination heading into the new campaign.
Reason to tune in: No one thought that Diego Simeone’s inexperienced outfit would stay the course and see off the dual challenge of both then champions FC Barcelona and Madrid to win their first championship since 1996 last season.
And, not surprisingly, few now expect the champions to retain their top-flight crown this time around either, all of which makes Atletico’s opening fixture—a Madrid derby on the road no less—a must-see encounter.
Serie A: Chievo (16) v Juventus (1)
Where: Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi
When: Saturday, August 30, 5 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While the Flying Donkeys fans will be getting their first look of new striker Maxi Lopez, following the Argentinian’s arrival from Catania during the summer, the Bianconeri will be parading both £15.8m capture Alvaro Morata and £1.2m signing Patrice Evra in this season opener.
Reason to tune in: Well it is the very first fixture of the new Serie A season and so the perfect opportunity to assess the health of last season’s runaway champions, who will be taking part in their first top-flight match without inspirational and trophy-laden manager Antonio Conte at the helm since September 2011.
And so the question on everyone’s lips in Verona will be: can new Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri make a winning start to the Old Lady of Italian Football’s attempts to make it four Scudetti in a row this campaign?
Bundesliga: Schalke (3) v Bayern Munich (1)
When: Saturday, August 30, 5:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: The home team have so far had a quiet summer in the transfer market, adding only Mainz striker Eric Choupo-Moting to the squad that finished the previous campaign in the third and final qualifying berth for this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Meanwhile, this tough-looking early trip to Gelsenkirchen should provide Spain u21 international Juan Bernat with the ideal opportunity to show the watching public just why Bayern boss Guardiola was so keen to lure the versatile 21-year-old from Valencia last month.
Reason to tune in: While the Bavarians are of course big favourites this season to make it back-to-back Bundesliga triumphs following Guardiola’s arrival at the Allianz Arena last summer, that will only serve to further increase the rest of the top flight’s determination to get one over on the champions in this coming campaign.
And Bayern could not have asked for a more daunting first match on their travels than to be handed a visit to the intimidating Veltins-Arena as the whole of Germany looks on in anticipation of an upset….
Premier League: Everton (5) v Chelsea (3)
Where: Goodison Park
When: Saturday, August 30, 5:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While attention will naturally be focussed on the home team’s new signing from Chelsea—Lukaku—as the Belgium international lines up against his former club for the first time since moving to England, it is another player who made his loan switch to Merseyside permanent this summer—Gareth Barry—who may have a more important role to play against the west Londoners.
Elsewhere, however, the visitors will be hoping that their much-publicised struggles up front last season will be a thing of the past following the capture of prolific forward Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid this summer.
Reason to tune in: This is a match-up that always produces drama and talking points aplenty, and with so many big-money signings on display, expect that trend to continue in this campaign’s early-season meeting.
Serie A: AS Roma (2) v Fiorentina (4)
Where: Stadio Olimpico
When: Saturday, August 30, 7:45 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Giallorossi boss Rudi Garcia has added eight new players to his squad over the summer, with both £17.4m forward Juan Iturbe and free transfer Ashley Cole the two most exciting purchases the Romans have made.
Reason to tune in: Following the surprise departure of Juventus coach Conte in July, both these two teams will now be quietly confident of stealing the Bianconeri’s title this season after their own impressive campaigns last time out.
And this eagerly anticipated early-season match-up should provide some clues as to which of the duo is best placed to mount a serious challenge to the champions’ recent domination of Serie A.
Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur (6) v Liverpool (2)
Where: White Hart Lane
When: Sunday, August 31, 1:30 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: While not as glamorous as many of the other new arrivals in the top flight so far this summer, Spurs’ capture of left-back Ben Davies from Swansea has been a vital new addition to their squad in north London.
Meanwhile, by this stage of the campaign the Reds may finally be able to give a first competitive run-out to their new £25m summer signing from Southampton, Lallana, after the England international suffered an untimely knee injury during preseason.
Reason to tune in: The visitors won this particular fixture 5-0 last season, a result that led to the departure of former Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas, and so it will be intriguing to see whether the new man at the helm—ex-Saints coach Mauricio Pochettino—can do any better than the Portuguese.
Eredivisie: Twente (3) v Feyenoord (2)
Where: De Grolsch Veste
When: Sunday, August 31, 3:45 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: The visitors have so far been fairly quiet in the summer transfer window, adding only experienced former Netherlands international Khalid Boulahrouz (pictured) to their squad, with the versatile defender arriving on a free transfer from Bronby in July.
Reason to tune in: There is a nice little subplot to this clash between the sides that finished the previous campaign third and second respectively in that new Feyenoord manager Fred Rutten also played for and twice coached the home team in the past.
Portuguese Superliga: Benfica (1) v Sporting Lisbon (2)
Where: Estadio da Luz
When: Sunday, August 31, 4 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Despite the champions have enjoyed a busy summer in the transfer market, with the capture of Malaga midfielder Eliseu in particular exciting the home fans, it will be a recent acquisition by the visitors who is set to draw most attention in the Portuguese capital.
And that is because last season’s top-flight runners-up managed to capture 18-year-old Dundee United midfielder Ryan Gauld last month on a six-year deal that also includes a staggering £48m buyout clause for the highly rated Scotland u21 international.
Reason to tune in: Well, not only does this massive fixture feature a meeting between last season’s top-two teams, but it is also an explosive Lisbon derby to boot in just the third week of the new campaign.
So what more excuse does one need to watch this contest?
Serie A: AC Milan (8) v Lazio (9)
Where: San Siro
When: Sunday, August 31, 5 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: It will be the Rossoneri’s new central-defensive partnership of Alex and Adil Rami that will be under most scrutiny as the 2014/15 campaign gets underway in Milan, while midfielder Jeremy Menez looks like a shrewd acquisition by recently appointed manager Filippo Inzaghi.
Meanwhile, the visitors will also be parading their own new centre-back in this season opener at the Giuseppe Meazza following the summer arrival from Feyenoord of coveted Netherlands international Stefan De Vrij for an undisclosed fee.
Reason to tune in: These two Serie A giants have both changed head coaches since the end of the previous campaign, which adds a layer of intrigue to this contest as Milan’s Inzaghi and the Biancocelesti’s Stefano Pioli each hope to make a winning start to their competitive debuts.
La Liga: Villarreal (6) v FC Barcelona (2)
Where: El Madrigal
When: Sunday, August 31, 6 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: Yellow Submarine supporters will be hoping that their new £2m purchase from Barca, Mexico midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos, has a point to prove against his former employers after being allowed to leave Catalonia for Valencia this summer.
However, despite the Catalans’ £75m close-season signing Luis Suarez being ineligible to feature in this fixture due to suspension, the visitors will still be able to field recent new acquisitions such as Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Valencia defender Jeremy Mathieu in their first away match of the new campaign.
Reason to tune in: Similar to when Pep Guardiola took over the Liga giants back in 2008, there is also currently a huge amount of interest surrounding the recent appointment of another one-time Barca midfielder Luis Enrique to succeed former boss Tata Martino.
And the Spaniard’s first real test comes with this tricky looking trip to face a Villarreal side that finished the previous campaign in an impressive sixth place in La Liga.
La Liga: Real Sociedad (7) v Real Madrid (3)
When: Sunday, August 31, 8 p.m. BST
Possible signings to keep an eye on: The Basques have brought in Heerenveen striker Alfred Finnbogason over the summer to try and replace Atletico-bound forward Griezmann.
However, it is the visitors’ collection of big-money close-season purchases that are likely to be grabbing most of the attention at the Anoeta, especially Germany international Kroos, with the coveted midfielder arriving from Bayern Munich for an undisclosed fee on a six-year deal in July.
Reason to tune in: Los Blancos are never given an easy ride when they travel to Sociedad, and you can be sure that the home team will once again be determined to make this as uncomfortable an evening as possible for Madrid’s expensively assembled squad of big-name stars.