The soccer deities are being kind to us this weekend, as the international break ends and club soccer returns across the globe with a buffet of brilliant matches. So many, in fact, that our viewing plans might benefit from a little structure. From the Premier League to MLS, from Serie A to the Bundesliga, there's plenty of top action and enough of it to melt your DVR and/or internet connection.
So we decided to welcome back league play with a neat guide to the best matches in the soccer universe over the next two days.
The Merseyside derby has been sadly moribund in recent years given Liverpool's dominance -- Everton haven't beaten their rivals in a decade -- but this weekend might be the Toffees' best chance in all that time to finally get back in the win column. The Blues, under genius manager (and magnificently eyebrowed) Carlo Ancelotti, are perfect so far this season and boast an all-star attack: James Rodriguez arrived this summer to knit things together, Dominic Calvert-Lewin has scored six league goals in four matches and Allan (a former Liverpool transfer target) is the steel needed in attack.
- Ogden: Everton are primed to end futile decade vs. Liverpool
- Connelly: How far can Everton go?
The Reds have been simmering rather than on full boil in 2020 despite clinching that first league title in 30 years, but don't expect them to let subpar form, the emotional aftershocks of their previous league game (a 7-2 hammering at Aston Villa) or a string of health concerns following some positive COVID-19 tests derail them for the short trip across Stanley Park. Mohamed Salah is quietly having a good season, and all the talent is still in place from last season's runaway procession to the title. -- James Tyler
Both teams come into the first Old Firm derby of the season with near-perfect records: Rangers (who have a growing injury list) sit at the top of the league with eight wins and two draws, Celtic are second with eight wins and one draw. Saturday's clash between the two sides of Glasgow will go some way to giving us a solid indication of where the balance of power will lie this season.
It's a crying shame the game will be played behind closed doors due to COVID-19 protocols, but it should be a fascinating tug-of-war as the two sides have alternated victories in their past six meetings. Keep an eye on two prolific strikers: Rangers' Alfredo Morales and Celtic's Odsonne Edouard (who has scored six against Rangers). It's also going to be a timely test of Rangers' watertight defence (the best in the Scottish Premiership) against Celtic's potent attack (they have the best shot conversion rate). -- Tom Hamilton
Arsenal need 'Aubameyang's miracles' vs. Manchester City
Mark Ogden backs Arsenal to snatch a point vs. Manchester City at the Etihad.
Expect this Serie A clash to be one of the most thrilling and easy-on-the-eye games this weekend, in any league. The two sides meet in Naples with lots to offer: Napoli are always difficult to crack at home, and Atalanta are scoring for fun and have three wins from as many matches.
Napoli's renaissance under Gennaro Gattuso is gaining traction, with Hirving Lozano finding some of his best form, but they come into this off the back of a bizarre situation: they did not travel to Turin for their match against Juventus on Oct. 4 due to an issue over COVID-19 restrictions, and after some discussion, they were awarded a 3-0 defeat. They need to park that turbulence fast, though, as Atalanta will be ready to pounce.
Gian Piero Gasperini's men routed Cagliari 5-2 last time out, and already have a 4-1 win over Lazio to their name. They will be looking to continue their free-scoring run on Saturday with Papu Gomez key. They're one of the sharpest, most entertaining attacking teams anywhere and will test Kalidou Koulibaly & Co. to the fullest. -- Tom Hamilton
ESPN's Derek Rae has a deeper dive on Augsburg, one of the more unlikely unbeaten teams across Europe right now, but it's a testament to their Herculean work rate -- they cover more ground per game than any other Bundesliga team -- that they're sharing a slice of the league lead right now.
Alongside them up there? RB Leipzig, a team that draws plenty of criticism for its construction but is must-see TV for neutrals. Losing Timo Werner to Chelsea has done little to dampen Leipzig's gusto in attack, with new signing Hwang Hee-Chan already in the goals alongside Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg. With U.S. international Tyler Adams pulling the strings in midfield with Marcel Sabitzer, expect the energy drink XI to keep rolling. -- James Tyler
Having smashed Bayern Munich 4-1 in their second league game and then losing 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 a week later, it's hard to judge exactly which version of Hoffenheim will turn up on Saturday as they entertain an equally unpredictable Borussia Dortmund, who hammered Freiberg and lost to Augsburg this term.
One thing's certain: Erling Haaland, fresh off his midweek hat trick for Norway, will be looking to add to his frankly ridiculous goal tally as one of Europe's most prolific strikers. Then throw in Gio Reyna, Jadon Sancho and the impressive youngster Jude Bellingham, and you have a Dortmund team packed with youth looking to continue their charge to a first Bundesliga title since 2012. But Hoffenheim are building nicely under Sebastian Hoeneß with Andrej Kramaric top of the goal-scorer standings with six goals in three games. Plus their new loan signing from Tottenham, Ryan Sessegnon, will be hopeful of some game time. -- Tom Hamilton
Alanna Kennedy: Midfield role was key to Spurs move
Alanna Kennedy explains how Tottenham Hotspur were able to persuade her to join the club on loan.
It's been a while since both sides of Milan were in form. After routinely contending for (and winning) domestic honours, they're more known for their endless rebuilds than their successes in the modern era. But 2020 might be the year that sees a house reformed in full: under Antonio Conte, who won league titles with Juventus and Chelsea, Inter have been a tough proposition at home and on the continent, as shown by their Europa League runners-up medals at the end of the 2019-20 season. Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku have picked up where they left off last season in attack, with three Serie A goals each already, and new signing Achraf Hakimi has proved very adaptable on the right flank in Conte's system.
AC Milan, meanwhile, pipped their rivals to the signing of Sandro Tonali this summer -- Tonali is regarded as Italy's next great midfielder -- and boast some guy named Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, who continues to defy time by banging in goals at the ripe old age of 39. They're also one of two teams in Serie A yet to drop a point (alongside Atalanta) and while they've not really faced stern opposition yet, this will be the most robust test yet of the Rossoneri project.
Both of last season's meetings went Inter's way -- a 2-0 win in September 2019 was followed by a 4-2 win in February, in which Milan raced to a 2-0 lead only to concede four after half-time -- but this weekend's clash is anyone's guess. -- James Tyler
Over lunch, why not enjoy this classic David vs. Goliath clash?
Arminia Bielefeld are back in the big league for the first time since 2009 and have a win, draw and loss to their name so far. Their annual budget of €22m would pay for a quarter of Bayern defender Lucas Hernandez's transfer fee, and while it's a crying shame the Bielefeld faithful will not be there to witness their team taking on the Champions League holders, Bayern Munich will face a team anchored on teamwork, running and a collective desire to continue punching above their weight.
For Bayern Munich, they head to Bielefeld after a bizarre start to the season that saw them lose heavily at Hoffenheim and then need an injury-time penalty from free-scoring Robert Lewandowski to down Hertha Berlin 4-3 in round three. They were busy over the final days of the transfer window, so expect to see a couple of new signings make their first steps for the reigning Bundesliga champions, but this is a potential trap game for Hansi Flick's men as they have still find their form in the new season after winning the league and Champions League in 2019-20. -- Tom Hamilton
Mikel Arteta cut his teeth as a coach alongside Pep Guardiola at Man City, but he has been building something impressive and very much in his own image since taking the Arsenal job last December. The Gunners are no longer the harmless punchline they were considered under other managers post-Arsene Wenger, with three wins from four league games this season and a hard-fought defeat at Liverpool on Sept. 28.
The partnership of Alexandre Lacazette (three league goals) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is working nicely, the addition of Willian has had the desired effect on the wings, and new signing Thomas "The Octopus" Partey, brought in from Atletico Madrid on deadline day, should be the missing piece in midfield. (Fans are hoping to see him debut this weekend.)
Premier League debuts: When will Partey play for Arsenal?
As for Man City, their defensive struggles continue to undermine their attacking brilliance: a 1-1 draw vs. Leeds United before the international break could easily have been another defeat to go with the 5-2 hammering they suffered against Leicester City at the end of September. Ruben Dias, one of their two new center-backs brought in over the summer, has a lot of work on his hands to keep the machine from breaking down again.
Expect a high-scoring affair, but City should still have the power and prowess to rattle Arsenal where it hurts. -- James Tyler
This is the kind of game you'd expect the defending La Liga champions to win at a canter, but Real Madrid have looked anything but reliable so far this season. Yes, they're top of the table with three wins and one draw, but none of their results was especially convincing: a 0-0 snooze at Real Sociedad in their opener was followed by a come-from-behind win at Real Betis, capped by a Sergio Ramos penalty, a 1-0 home win in their Bernabeu opener vs. Valladolid and a 2-0 win at Levante clinched only in injury time by Karim Benzema.
Eden Hazard has yet to play a game this season due to more injury issues, the midfield combination with Casemiro, Luka Modric and Fede Valverde isn't as sharp, and there's a vulnerability that bold teams can exploit. Yet this is their first league game against Cadiz since their last time in the top flight back in 2005-06, and Saturday has the makings of "back to business" for Zinedine Zidane & Co. if we're honest. -- James Tyler
Newcastle vs. Man United has a bit of a throwback feel to their title battles in the 1990s -- Kevin Keegan might never live this rant down given how his Magpies side quickly lost their grip on the title race and watched Sir Alex Ferguson & Co. claim yet another trophy -- and it might feel especially retro given how flawed both teams are heading into this match.
Weirdly, Newcastle look a little more polished at present, with new striker Callum Wilson scoring twice before the break against Burnley and looking like the perfect foil for Joelinton, who already looks better in 2020 than he did in black and white all of last season. As for Man United, they're 16th with two woeful defeats in three league games so far -- and a 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham ringing in their ears -- a patchwork defense likely given Harry Maguire's form, and no Anthony Martial up front following his red card in the aforementioned disaster vs. Spurs.
Man United's issue is never one of talent, but of mindset: can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rally his demoralized bunch to an away win at St. James' Park? A monumental effort from Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba is needed to lift them out of the doldrums. -- James Tyler
The Ronald Koeman era has begun in Barcelona with two wins, a draw and one new signing in U.S. right-back Sergino Dest. So it's evolution over revolution, but of course any Barcelona match revolves around their talismanic, diminutive forward, Leo Messi. With Luis Suarez now departed, he's their main man up front -- that said, take the opportunity to watch the outstanding teenager, Ansu Fati, in action. And it'll be fascinating to see how Koeman copes with a frantic fixture schedule that sees Barcelona open their Champions League campaign the following Tuesday before the first clasico of the season, against rivals Real Madrid, the following Saturday. Dest will likely start at left-back with Junior Firpo and Jordi Alba both absent.
- Notebook: Barca keeping tabs on U.S. talent?
- What's happened in soccer since Messi's 2004 Barca debut
- Messi and Barcelona: How they fell out and what's next
For Getafe, they have two wins from four in La Liga and will hope to fare far better than their round 4 whitewash 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad. Keep an eye on their left winger Marc Cucurella, who lines up against his former club having joined Getafe in June. -- Tom Hamilton
The last time Thierry Henry and Gonzalo Higuain went up against each other was Nov. 29, 2009, when Henry's Barcelona edged Higuain's Real Madrid 1-0 thanks to a goal by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now Henry is a manager desperately trying to keep his Montreal Impact side above the playoff line, while Higuain's Inter Miami attempt to climb back in the race.
Miami has been the hotter team of late, now unbeaten in three while the Impact have won just once in their past eight matches. They'll also be hoping for the sibling connection with Higuain's brother, Federico, himself a longtime fixture in MLS, to keep pulling this squad in the right direction. -- Jeff Carlisle
Both Sheffield United and Fulham will be hoping to get their campaigns back on track after making stuttering starts to the 2020-21 season. Sheff United were magnificent last term and will continue building under Chris Wilder this season around, but are still looking to find that same level of form. Oliver Burke looks a class acquisition and Rhian Brewster could make his debut for the Blades, having moved from Liverpool for £23m in the last-gasp hours of the transfer window.
For Fulham -- who still lean heavily on U.S. center-back Tim Ream to anchor their defence -- they are searching for their first points of the season having played four matches, scored just three goals and shipped 11. They have new loan signings Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ademola Lookman available and will look to their new defensive acquisition, Joachim Andersen, to bolster their back four. But this should be an entertaining scrap with plenty of chances and, hopefully, goals. -- Tom Hamilton
Arsenal and Tottenham go head-to-head for the second time in three weeks in Sunday's Women's Super League north London derby, with the teams coming to the game with very different run-ups. Arsenal are top of the WSL table with four wins from four while Spurs are ninth and have yet to record a win. The last meeting between the two sides saw Arsenal come away with a 4-0 win thanks to a Jordan Nobbs screamer and a Lisa Evans hat trick.
- McNamee: Spurs ready for revenge in North London
However, the scoreline doesn't reflect what was actually a closely fought contest for the first 70 minutes, and Spurs will be optimistic that a number of injuries to key Arsenal players such as Evans, Nobbs and Jill Roord will help them get the upper hand.
Spurs' big summer signing Alex Morgan could make her debut for her new team, but with no minutes under her belt since giving birth to her first child back in May, it would be a big ask for the USWNT star. -- Kathleen McNamee
Speaking of Tottenham debuts, could this be the weekend we see Gareth Bale making a "debut" again for Tottenham? He was famously persona non grata in Madrid under Zinedine Zidane and finally found a new club this summer; he didn't just find any club, mind you, but the team that made the Wales international a superstar.
Will his return be a successful one? We might get a first look at him in a Jose Mourinho side this Sunday, despite lingering doubts about his fitness, though Spurs don't really need him at the moment: Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son & Co. are firing on all cylinders so far this season and famously humbled Man United 6-1 at Old Trafford right before the international break. West Ham are always a mixed bag, as evidenced by a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle and a 3-0 away win at Leicester already this season, but Jarrod Bowen (three PL goals in 2020-21) will be eager to test Spurs' rearguard at every opportunity. -- James Tyler
Two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference square off at MAPRFRE Stadium, though the Crew have been scuffling a bit with a four-game winless streak, including a humbling loss to FC Cincinnati. Injuries to Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan have started to cut deep.
After opening the coronavirus-interrupted season with four straight losses, NYCFC eventually found its footing and has gone 7-3-3 since the conclusion of MLS is Back. The loan of Alexander Mitrita to a Saudi Arabian club -- done mostly for family reasons -- is a blow, but the hope is that midfield dynamo Maxi Moralez will get back on the field soon. -- Jeff Carlisle
All hail the new kid on the block, 17-year-old Caden Clark, who has scored in each of his first two appearances for the Red Bulls -- including a golazo in New York's 1-1 draw against Toronto. Orlando's procession to the first postseason appearance in its history continues apace, with the Lions' unbeaten streak now at 11 games. They've done it with a dinged-up lineup as well, though the back line -- Ruan in particular -- is healing up. -- Jeff Carlisle
The Timbers had rather stealthily climbed to the top of the Western Conference in recent weeks, only to see their five-game winning streak halted at Real Salt Lake. On the plus side, after searching for years for a dependable forward, manager Gio Savarese now has three in Jeremy Ebobisse, Jarek Niezgoda and Felipe Mora. The trio has combined for 19 goals.
LAFC have been maddeningly inconsistent all season, due in part to injuries to the likes of Carlos Vela as well as international call-ups. The Black-and-Gold will be looking to rebound from Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to Vancouver with plenty of jostling for playoff positions to come ahead of early November's decision day. -- Jeff Carlisle
San Jose is in a better place than when these two teams last met, a 7-1 thrashing delivered by the Sounders, as four wins out of five have the Quakes back among the playoff places. Getting a win against Seattle will be a massive challenge, however, as the Sounders have been among the best in the West, though a recent 3-1 defeat to LAFC halted their momentum a bit. The loss of Raul Ruidiaz to a positive COVID-19 test cuts deep, but the Sounders still have some lethal attacking weapons in Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. -- Jeff Carlisle