B/R Experts' Big-Game Predictions, September 8-10
After the break for international football, the big leagues around Europe get back into the swing of things.
We have a host of intriguing games taking place, with Manchester City's Premier League home clash with Liverpool arguably the highlight.
Our experts have been burning the midnight oil in a bid to point you in the right direction. Read on for their views on the major games around Europe.
Metz vs. Paris Saint-Germain
The 2017-18 season hasn't started well for Metz. Four straight losses and just one goal scored point to a team in mini-crisis even at this early stage. Things aren't about to get any better anytime soon, either.
The visit of Paris Saint-Germain on Friday surely brings a fifth defeat on the bounce. A Neymar-powered front line of overwhelming quality will descend upon the Stade Saint-Symphorien and likely find little resistance in its path.
Prediction: Metz 0-3 PSG
First goalscorer: Edinson Cavani
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
This could be one of the most exciting games of the season, given the attacking talent on show.
City have got off to an unremarkable start but have the potential to explode and produce the best display of the season at any given moment. So far they haven't clicked, but against a Liverpool side that should look to go exploring themselves, holes could open up.
Pep Guardiola's men have endured tight games against Brighton & Hove Albion, Everton and Bournemouth despite large amounts of possession, mostly because those three sides were content with parking behind the ball. Liverpool may show more ambition than that given they also own some of the best attackers in European football.
In Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, they possess the ability to cut apart any back line, and City's could easily be caught out given their tendencies to push forward. Worth noting: Philippe Coutinho won't feature for the Reds.
An easy prediction would be that both teams will score on Saturday, but it is difficult to separate the sides when picking a winner.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool
First goalscorer: Gabriel Jesus
Arsenal vs. Bournemouth
Aaron Ramsey led the apologies after Arsenal were thumped 4-0 at Liverpool before the international break, and this is a game where the Gunners owe fans a big performance.
The failure to make a big-name addition on deadline day means there is little fresh hope of sparkle in their play, but Alexis Sanchez is expected to feature. It will be intriguing to monitor his display, given he wishes he was at Manchester City.
Arsenal won this fixture 3-1 last season, and Arsene Wenger would welcome a similar scoreline. If the Gunners lose, or even draw, you sense there will be a bad reaction in the Emirates Stadium stands.
It's an ideal time to play Bournemouth. They are out of form having lost their first three games of the season and have only scored one goal.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Bournemouth
First goalscorer: Alexandre Lacazette
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
This is a clash between the Premier League champions of the past two seasons, and one man could hand Chelsea some tips on what to expect from Saturday's trip to the King Power Stadium.
Danny Drinkwater has moved from Leicester to the Blues, but he will have his work cut out to break into the midfield two of N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas, particularly as Tiemoue Bakayoko is also now battling for a starting berth.
Chelsea's transfer business wasn't exactly seamless, but they have added depth to their squad. They have also shrugged off an opening-day defeat against Burnley by seeing off Tottenham Hotspur and Everton since then.
Leicester's only home match this term saw them beat Brighton 2-0, and they will show no fear against Antonio Conte's side.
The Foxes remain well-organised and, crucially, have the attacking power to cause their own problems.
Prediction: Leicester City 1-1 Chelsea
First goalscorer: Jamie Vardy
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
There have been times in the past when Stoke City would have been planning to turn this game into a physical battle, but that would no longer be advisable.
Jose Mourinho's United are a different beast these days. Not only do they play great football, but they also have the bruisers who can match any side when they have to.
The signings of Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku are perfect for a trip to the bet365 Stadium, and we can expect both men to have a major influence on the outcome.
It's difficult to predict games after an international break, but if United retain the form we saw before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, they should weather the storm and put the game to bed in its latter stages.
Stoke have not looked particularly impressive so far, but they do have a new creative edge since Jese Rodriguez arrived at the club. Keep an eye on Ramadan Sobhi, too; he has a goal and assist from his last two outings.
Prediction: Stoke 1-3 Manchester United
First goalscorer: Paul Pogba
Real Madrid vs. Levante
The enduring and thoroughly unwarranted fury of Real Madrid fans is still alive and well despite back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles, as the dismal response to the draw with Valencia last time out showed.
Fans will expect a reaction in this game, which shouldn't be an issue given Levante's lowly aspirations. That said, the promoted side are unbeaten after two matches and will be brimming with confidence, so Real shouldn't expect a walkover.
Still, rotations can be made and Los Blancos can remain strong ahead of the opening Champions League week; Saturday's game shouldn't throw up any shocks to the system.
Prediction: Real Madrid 4-0 Levante
First goalscorer: Karim Benzema
Barcelona vs. Espanyol
A lot can change in a week. Since Barcelona were last preparing for a match, they have signed Ousmane Dembele, have a 100 per cent league record and are two points ahead of Real Madrid. Not a bad start to the season in on-pitch terms, at least.
The general fume around the board remains but should be put aside as Saturday's derby against Espanyol kickstarts a big week, with the visit of Juventus in the Champions League on the horizon.
Does Ernesto Valverde know, and trust, his squad enough yet to make changes? Will Dembele be thrown straight in against an opponent whose major tactic in this fixture is usually to tackle everything that moves twice as hard as usual?
Quality usually prevails, but an element of caution might be needed in selection on Saturday.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Espanyol
First goalscorer: Lionel Messi
Juventus vs. Chievo
Having made their opening two Serie A matches more difficult than they should have been, Juventus will hope the international break has allowed Massimiliano Allegri to build his side into a more cohesive unit.
With a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona ahead on Tuesday, this game represents one last chance for the Old Lady to find her form or risk her European campaign starting badly.
Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio are expected to miss Saturday's clash due to injury, but Juve should continue with their 4-2-3-1 formation, hoping their attacking prowess is enough to see off Chievo.
For their part, the visitors will be looking to bounce back from defeat to Lazio but will know they have failed to win on any of their last six trips to Turin. The Bianconeri, meanwhile, have won all but one of their last 36 home league games.
Prediction: Juventus 3-1 Chievo
First goalscorer: Gonzalo Higuain
Freiburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund have won each of their last six contests against SC Freiburg, home and away, stretching back to 2013. There have been some absolute beatings in that stretch, with a 5-0 and two 3-0 scorelines outlining the dominance enjoyed by the Black and Yellows.
You can fully expect this run to continue on Saturday, as Dortmund have jelled quickly under new manager Peter Bosz and will almost certainly have far too much for a Freiburg side that has started this Bundesliga season in a rather indifferent fashion.
Prediction: SC Freiburg 0-2 Borussia Dortmund
First goalscorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Hoffenheim vs. Bayern Munich
The last time these two sides met at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Bayern put in a putrid performance on the way to a 1-0 loss. Andrej Kramaric's wonder strike punished a weakened Carlo Ancelotti selection that included Renato Sanches and lacked Manuel Neuer.
Such an upset—if you could have even called it that last season—should not be expected on Saturday.
True, Bayern have hardly been imperious despite winning all four of their games thus far, but Hoffenheim are a much weaker outfit now, having lost Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern over the summer. The hosts will also be worried over Serge Gnabry's fitness following an injury during the international break.
Prediction: Hoffenheim 1-2 Bayern Munich
First goalscorer: Robert Lewandowski
Lazio vs. AC Milan
AC Milan are one of the most intriguing sides in Europe right now, with head coach Vincenzo Montella's squad unrecognisable from the one that finished last season in sixth place.
After investing over €230 million, the Rossoneri have begun the new campaign in superb form, winning all six of their competitive fixtures thus far while outscoring their opponents by 15 goals to one.
However, Sunday's encounter with Lazio—who have already defeated Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana this term—will represent a much sterner challenge.
Under boss Simone Inzaghi, the Biancocelesti have coupled defensive solidity with attacking prowess, delivering a steady stream of chances for striker Ciro Immobile.
Both sides are expected to field a three-man back line, but the visitors should have too much firepower not to come away with a result.
Prediction: Lazio 1-2 AC Milan
First goalscorer: Suso