10 Bold Predictions for World Football, Weekend of September 13
The weekend is almost upon us and, following the temporary diversion of international football, Europe's top leagues return as the season continues to gather pace.
In both England and Spain that means early clashes between sides hoping to compete for a league title this campaign, while in South America first will take on second in the race for the Campeonato Brasileiro crown.
With all that action awaiting, it's time to make some predictions for the four days of intensive football action ahead. Here's our Top 10 for the weekend.
Van Gaal's Manchester United Emphatically Return to Winning Ways vs. QPR
Three Premier League games without a win is a mini-crisis for a club as accustomed to success as Manchester United, but with new high-profile signings in tow, they will be looking to make QPR's visit to Old Trafford an uncomfortable one.
Harry Redknapp's side secured their first win of the season last time out thanks to a 1-0 victory over Sunderland but have shown frailty and an inability to convert chances in the opposition area so far this campaign.
If gaps should emerge in their system on Sunday afternoon, then the likes of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are unlikely to offer much in the way of generosity.
Van Gaal will hope for an emphatic return to form and may just be facing the ideal opponent. The big question is whether he will now stick with his 3-4-1-2 setup or switch to a four-man defence, which his players may be more comfortable with.
Manchester City to Hand Danny Welbeck Fruitless Arsenal Debut
Arsenal will have England goalscorer Danny Welbeck in their ranks for the first time when they take on reigning champions Manchester City on Saturday, and they will hope the Mancunian can show his best form against his former rivals.
However, City will also be seeking to set the record straight having fallen to a shock defeat against Stoke last time out. Given the firepower at their disposal and Arsenal's lack of a proper defensive midfielder, it could be a difficult afternoon for fans of the Gunners.
City's midfield ranks, now bolstered by the signing of Brazilian Fernando, are perhaps only matched by Chelsea throughout the whole division, and they will fancy their chances of getting on top of their opponents from the early stages of the encounter.
If they can, in turn opening up space for the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri and in-form Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic, then it could well be a very long afternoon for Welbeck on his Arsenal debut.
Swansea to Remain in Second with Draw at Table-Topping Chelsea
Swansea City are flying, with three wins from three in the Premier League thus far, placing them level on points with leaders Chelsea. The two are set to meet at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
It is an ideal time for the Swans to play their Premier League rivals, with Chelsea having been largely unable to prepare properly for the clash thanks to many of their players departing on international duty over the past 10 days.
Swansea have not been unaffected, but they will have been able to train with at least a core of their first team and put plans in place for the clash this weekend. With that in mind, coupled with the fact that four of Chelsea's Brazilians were in action on Wednesday morning UK time, they have a shot at causing a shock.
Garry Monk's side will be full of confidence, given their fine start to the campaign, and they can use their opening-weekend success at Old Trafford as inspiration. If they can, it could be that they remain joint top of the league for yet another round.
Athletic to Hand Barcelona Setback in La Liga Clash
There is a long-standing animosity between Athletic and Barcelona that means Saturday's clash at Camp Nou will be less than straightforward for the Catalan side as they seek to maintain their 100 per cent record to start the season.
While Athletic's results (one win, one defeat) have been mixed, they would like nothing more than to be the first side to take points from Barcelona and will hope to seize on any weakness in Luis Enrique's recently adapted team.
Athletic's team is, above all, solid throughout its core, with Mikel San Jose and Aymeric Laporte forming a strong centre-back unit while Benat, Ander Iturraspe and Mikel Rico offer midfield protection. Barcelona will not find it easy to break them down.
Whether they can find a way to supply Aritz Aduriz enough to trouble Barcelona at the other end is another matter entirely.
Atletico to Claim Success in the Madrid Derby
Neither side of the Madrid divide have fully hit their stride this campaign, but it was Atletico who secured early bragging rights in the capital after the Spanish Super Cup, and they will hope to repeat that success this weekend.
At the Bernabeu, Real will be favourites with the bookmakers. However, there are real doubts as to whether their summer recruitment strategy—which saw Angel Di Maria and Xabi Alonso depart—has actually strengthened the side.
Though Atleti also lost key players, their additions would seem better suited to the needs of the side than the more high-profile recruits of their rivals.
Diego Simeone will know the damage that an early defeat at home to their local rivals would do to Real's hopes and will be going all out for success.
Memphis Depay to Continue Scoring Form in Important Eredivisie Clash
PSV Eindhoven top the Eredivisie table for the time being and will this weekend take on third-placed PEC Zwolle as they look to consolidate their early lead over likely title rivals.
Much of their outstanding early form this campaign has been down to the exceptional performances of forward Memphis Depay, one of the highlights of the Netherlands' World Cup squad earlier this summer.
Depay has long since been recognised as an elite talent, but his recent performances have taken him from the realm of prospect to current star. In four league games, he has already scored five goals this campaign.
Last time out, Depay drew a blank for a first time in 2014-15. Still full of confidence, however, it would be little surprise to see him blast PSV to success once more this weekend.
Cruzeiro to Tighten Brasileirao Grip by Beating Rivals Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo's attacking quartet of Kaka, Ganso, Alan Kardec and Alexandre Pato have understandably been earning plaudits for their role in the club's recent rise to four points off league leaders Cruzeiro.
However, it is A Raposa's own quartet of Everton Ribeiro, Ricardo Goulart, Julio Baptista and Marcelo Moreno who have arguably been doing even better and for a more sustained period of time.
Sunday's clash could go a long way to settling the outcome of this year's league title, and with Cruzeiro's four international absentees set to return, they will hope to at least maintain their gap at the top.
If all leading lights can hit top form, it should be a clash to remember, with the two clearly ahead of all their Serie A rivals. Reigning champions Cruzeiro, though, have proven pedigree when it comes to performing under pressure.
Bordeaux to Maintain Their Early Lead of Ligue 1
Ligue 1 is a one-horse race this season, with PSG set to sweep to the title with record ease following Monaco's sale of their biggest assets this summer. At least, that is what we are meant to believe.
Instead, albeit after just four games, it is Bordeaux who have shot out the blocks to top the table with three wins and a draw, with Uruguayan forward Diego Rolan hitting goalscoring form.
Nobody truly expects the side from France's south west to maintain their lead until the end of the season, but a visit to Guingamp this weekend represents an excellent opportunity for them to claim yet another three points.
Willy Sagnol's side look compact defensively, with excellent width from their full-backs and predators in attack. If Tunisian Wahbi Khazri can continue his fine form in the centre of midfield, another win should be on the cards.
Fernando Torres to Mark Milan Debut with a Goal
Parma host Milan this Sunday evening in the game that could play host to Fernando Torres' first outing in Italian football. Given the circumstances, it would be little surprise to see him mark it with a goal.
Torres, for some time now, has been a man looking woefully bereft of confidence. Now, at Milan, he has a manager in Filippo Inzaghi who is willing to make him his main centre-forward and offer first-hand advice on how to get back into scoring habits.
Parma are an opponent Milan will be targeting for three points, regardless of venue. This weekend, the Rossoneri must build on their impressive victory over Lazio if they are to realistically push for a high league position this season.
Anyone who has witnessed Torres in a Chelsea shirt recently may consider the chance of him scoring as fairly outlandish, but stranger things have happened in football.
Steve McClaren's Derby to See Rivals Nottingham Forest Tumble from First Place
Nottingham Forest have enjoyed a fine start to the season, going unbeaten for the opening five games of the Championship campaign to sit top of the table for the time being.
This time around, though, they host Derby County in an East Midlands derby clash well worth watching on Sunday, with both sides candidates for promotion to the Premier League this year.
Steve McClaren's Derby came close last time around, losing to QPR in a play-off final in which they have every right to still be cursing their luck after failing to convert their dominance into success. A steady but unspectacular start to the season needs to improve, and where better to do so than at the home of their rivals?
Forest are top for now, but Derby's visit represents one of the division's toughest tests. The Rams will be determined to earn success, and they have a manager who has rebuilt his reputation with the club. If they win, Watford may well finish the weekend at the top of the pile.