10 Biggest Matches of the Coming 2012-13 Soccer Season
The brand spanking new 2012-13 season is upon us as leagues all over Europe prepare to kick off—indeed, some of the very biggest top flights already have done so with Russia, France, Ukraine, Holland and, err, Scotland already having seen their seasons get under way.
England, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy and the like will shortly follow suit as teams roll out their new signings, new managers, new hopes and fully optimistic fans with hopes that this season will eclipse the last.
Every season in every league throws up its fair share of surprises, but some games we look forward to every year, regardless of past performance—and sometimes new big clashes are thrown into the mix because of circumstance.
Here are the top 10 biggest matches in the coming European calendar season to look out for.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Tito's First Clasico
When Barcelona and Real Madrid do battle this season it will be new Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova's first experience of El Clasico as full coach of the team, instead of being Pep Guardiola's assistant.
Jose Mourinho of course remains in charge of Real Madrid.
Not only are these the big one-two of Spanish football, but also two of the very biggest on the world stage.
After a run of league victories and titles for Barcelona, Real hit back last season to win La Liga.
This is always an enthralling match and one of the few games where fans, even those who generally don't watch league football of the country in question, come together to witness a footballing feast.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City, Back at the Scene of the Drubbing
Last season this fixture threw up a belter.
City stomped United 6-1 at Old Trafford, before going on to win the Premier League title with near enough the last kick of the season.
This year both of these clashes will be huge, with United desperate for revenge over the huge result of last year—but more importantly to regain their lost league title.
City haven't spent as big this season while United have brought in Shinji Kagawa and look set to add Robin van Persie in the coming hours, but City still retain the better squad.
PSG vs Lyon, the Big Spenders Against Rebuilding Former Champions
Huge spending Paris St Germain have added the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to their already impressive squad this summer.
Last year they lost out on the French Ligue 1 title to Montpellier by three points, while Lyon finished in fourth place—their worst finish since way back in 1997-98.
PSG will be heavy favourites to win the Ligue 1 title this year, and it could well be only Lyon who have a chance of stopping them.
Montpellier did marvellously well to win the league last year but on a modest budget will merely hope to finish as high as possible again, with some players having been sold—and the same goes for Lille, though they have signed well this summer and will be a top three threat again.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich, After Two in a Row Can Bayern Bounce Back?
Just one Bundesliga title has fallen the way of Bayern Munich in the last four seasons, and during the last two the domestic scene has been thoroughly dominated by Borussia Dortmund.
A wonderfully technical and talented side who have grown together, some of the finest talents in Europe have helped Dortmund topple the Bavarians' dominance in Germany.
Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and the departed Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa, amongst others, have helped them on their way to glory.
For Bayern, the likes of new signing Xherdan Shaqiri they hope will lift them back up to the top of the national game.
This will doubtless be a stunning fixture.
AC Milan vs. Juventus, Which Giant Will Take the Throne This Year?
After one and two in the Spanish, German and English leagues we arrive at the same combination from Italy.
Juventus claimed Serie A last season, four points ahead of AC Milan who finished in second.
This season the two will likely be the stand out favourites again to challenge for the title, though Juve will have to do so without their manager Antonio Conte who has been suspended for 10 months.
AC Milan have been active in the transfer market—at least in the outgoing section, seeing off Zlatan and Thiago Silva to PSG for big fees.
Who deals better with their significant losses might show who will take the league title.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea, New Attack vs. New Attack
Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski vs. Oscar, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin.
Not a bad attack on each team, with not one minute of Premier League football between them as we head into the new season.
Both sides have rebuilt their attacks over the past three transfer windows, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho (Arsenal) and Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge (back from loan) (Chelsea) all having just a single full season so far with their clubs.
This could be a battle for one of the Champions League spots, and both teams will be desperate to remain in the top competition.
Oh, and it's a London derby.
Anzhi Makhachkala vs. Zenit St. Petersburg, Big Spending Power & Chasing Titles
If you're not into the Russian Premier League yet, you're missing out.
Loads of cash being splashed in Eastern Europe has led to some incredible stockpiling of talent from clubs, along with those who have regularly churned out their own starlets.
CSKA and Spartak Moscow have a fantastic battle of their own, but the clash of the season this year is likely to be Zenit St. Petersburg—reigning champions of the league and providers of a whole host of players to the Russian national team—against mega-rich Anzhi Makhachkala.
The Russian league is already underway and this game—the fifth fixture of the season for each club—is played this Sunday, 19th August.
Highly recommended viewing.
Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao, the Europa League Final Re-Enacted
Last season's cup side of Spain, Athletic Bilbao, reached both the Copa del Rey and the Europa League final, but were beaten on both occasions, by Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively.
Atletico vs. Athletic will be one of the key battles of the season as both bid to finish in top six places, which only the Madrid side managed last term.
Passionate and expectant fans, terrific young talents in both sides and managers with clear visions, this could be as fascinating a tactical battle as it will be an electric event of one.
Liverpool vs. Tottenham, Chasing Champions League While Rebuilding
This, unlike most of the other fixtures on the list, is not one of the ones which will likely have a bearing on where the title goes in the country.
Liverpool finished eighth last season while Spurs finished fourth, but both will play in the Europa League this term after Chelsea won the Champions League to deny Spurs their spot.
Both the Reds and Spurs have changed managers this postseason and are set for the long term with clear designs on how they see their clubs progressing.
This fixture will be a battle of who settles first into new tactics, with new signings and new objectives—but could certainly provide one of the four Champions League representatives, and some silverware into the bargain.
FC Porto vs. Benfica, Portugal's Superpowers at It Again
The final fixture to watch on our list comes from the big two in Portugal.
The Liga Sagres was won by Porto last season, finishing comfortably ahead of Benfica as they made a positive start to life without Andre Villas-Boas.
Only one defeat befell Porto in the league last season and they will be the team to beat again—but Benfica are certainly capable of doing so.
Two wins in these games could literally be the difference between victory and defeat in the entire title—a six point swing has been enough to change the league winner in three of the last four seasons.