Five key battles to watch out for as club action resumes

 By Israel Igiri

The international week is over and club football takes centrestage again. We are set for great battles across various centres in Europe as teams continue their quest for supremacy. Here we take a look at five key battles that will surely capture the attention of Europe.

Chelsea vs Manchester United

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England will be on fire when Manchester United visit Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea. In what certainly is the pick of the pack, struggling United hopes to continue their revival as they do battle with the high-flying Blues.

Chelsea are enjoying a great start to the season under new boss Maurizio Sarri. They have won eight of their opening 12 games, scoring 22 goals and currently lie seven points clear of United in joint top spot with Manchester City and Liverpool.

On the contrary, it has been a struggle for United as they are experiencing their worst start to a league campaign in 29 years following a poor start to the season. They have lost four games across all competitions, including three in the Premier League which leaves them currently sitting eight on the log.

It is a game the Red Devils cannot afford to lose if they are to kick-start their season and keep their hopes of winning their first Premier League title in six years alive. The superb comeback victory last time out against Newcastle may have reduced the pressure on Jose Mourinho, this fixture on paper, is not a great one for them at this time as Eden Hazard and co are in excellent form and are more likely to nick this one.

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                                Barcelona vs Sevilla

La Liga champions Barcelona welcome the current league leaders Sevilla to the Camp Nou in what promises to be an exciting encounter. Following an impressive 3-0 victory against Real Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in late September, the Los Roji Blancos look to record a statement win against another an inconsistent Barcelona side.

Despite Lionel Messi’s stunning performance in the league so far, a shaky defence means the Catalans have started their title defence in disjointed form and are winless in their last four Liga BBVA outings. Having made an early impression so far, Pablo Machin will be hoping to exploit Barca’s obvious weaknesses at the back and on the counter with the pace of the likes of Jesus Navas and Wissam Ben Yedder. However, if the men from Seville are to leave Catalunya undefeated, they must find a way to stop Messi, who has netted against them on 31 occasions, more than he has against any other club. How this tie pans out is what football fans look forward to seeing come Saturday night.

                                     Strasburg vs AS Monaco    

Following the sack of Leonardo Jardim last week, Thierry Henry was announced as the new head coach of Monaco. The French man who started his football career with the municipality club was prior to his appointment, one of the coaching crew of the high-flying Belgian side.

The reason why the Igwe of football as he is fondly called, was hired is obvious, as he is brought to revive the fortunes of the 2016/2017 Ligue 1 winners following their poor start to the season.

As he kick-starts his managerial career with an away trip to Strasburg on Saturday, all eyes will be on him to see if he can use his intelligence and wealth of experience garnered from his playing days to change Monaco’s narratives. While he is a man who has won every single title at both club and international level and was a great force to be reckoned with during his playing days, it remains to be seen if he can replicate his heroics as a manager. Therefore, his side’s game on Saturday will give football fans a glimpse of what to expect from the Henry-led Monaco.

         Wolfsburg vs Bayern Munchen 

The atmosphere at the Allianz Arena is certainly not palatable as Niko Kovac is under intense pressure to turn the fortunes of Bayern Munchen around following their worst start to a league campaign in eight years. It is definitely not what Kovac bargained for that he is getting at the moment. One fact has been established in the past eight years- the Bavarians do not struggle in the German Bundesliga.

They have stumbled in the league as their poor run of form which has seen the Die Rotens suffer two defeats (against Herta Berlin and Borussia Monchengladbach) and a draw (against Augsburg) now leaves them sixth in the table ahead of Saturday’s trip to Wolfsburg.

To cap it all, their 1-1 draw with Ajax in the Champions League on match-day two at home, means the German champions have failed to win in their last four matches in all competitions, leaving Kovac under pressure amid speculation he could be replaced by a new manager as early as January. It is certainly not good times for the team that has won the last six Bundesliga titles.

In what promises to be a very interesting and high-intensity game in Wolfsburg, nothing but victory is expected and failure to do that will cause the coach more scrutiny and further intensify the call for the Croat’s successor.

Real Madrid vs Levante

Since Julen Lopetegui’s appointment as manager of the team, Real Madrid have struggled to get results. The Los Blancos have lost three of their last four games in all competitions and are without a win since a narrow 1-0 victory against RCD Espanyol on September 22. In fact, they have not recorded a single goal in their last four matches, their worst drought in over two decades.

With Lopetegui having been criticized for the failure to either defeat or score against Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Alaves, this is a make or mar match for him. The pressure is certainly intensifying at the Santiago Bernabeu as Lopetegui confirmed. “I feel good, I’m Real Madrid coach, the pressure is at the maximum,” the ex-Spain coach said at the press conference prior to the Liga match against Levante on Saturday.

With a game against a tricky Paco Lopez’s side (a side they failed to beat last year) coming before a crucial El Clasico at the Camp Nou in a week’s time, Lopetegui has got to inspire his boys to victory because he just might not be able to tell what would become his fate if he fails to win. And with the rumour of Antonio Conte being contacted to take over soon, making the rounds, he must deliver on Saturday in order to heave a sigh of relief and if he does not want to be shown an early exit.

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