The pick of matches from Spain’s top flight this weekend is its final clash before the international break, with La Liga champions Atletico Madrid hosting UEFA Europa Cup winners Villarreal at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on the evening of Sunday 29 August.
The Rojiblancos are unbeaten in their last six league matches against the Yellow Submarine, but visiting manager Unai Emery has backed his team to pose a major threat to La Liga’s defending champions.
“We are excited for the challenge [of playing Atletico], we are going to be competitive on the day and give them problems to deal with. Beating a team of their calibre on their home soil is never easy, but we believe we have the talent and capacity to cause an upset,” said Emery.
Another intriguing clash in La Liga this weekend sees Real Betis host Real Madrid at Estadio Benito Villamarin. Los Verdiblancos have proven tough opponents for the capital city heavyweights in recent seasons, with manager Manuel Pellegrini hoping that continues on Saturday night.
“It will be great to have our supporters in the stadium for the visit of this big team,” explained the former Manchester City boss. “We went too long without having their voices behind us and I know they will be excited to cheer us against a big team like Real Madrid.”
Sunday’s early game sees Barcelona welcome Getafe to the Camp Nou. The Blaugrana are still a team very much looking to find their identity after the shock departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, but manager Ronald Koeman remains hopeful that his team will still have a great campaign.
“We are very pleased with the squad we have, the signings we have made and the young players who are making the step up, who will always form part of the future of this great club,” said the Dutch tactician.
“We are sure that we will make you very happy this season. With effort, sacrifice and hard work, we will try to do our very best [for the fans]. We know what it means to support and represent this club.”
This weekend’s Serie A action opens on Friday evening with Udinese hosting Venezia, before champions Internazionale travel to the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi to face hosts Hellas Verona.
The Nerazzurri have been stripped of key players – in particular striker Romelu Lukaku – but manager Simone Inzaghi is determined that they will not let this affect them.
“The club have promised that the team will be as competitive as last season,” said Inzaghi. “We will have to find different ways of playing, new solutions to the problems that we will encounter, but that does not mean Inter will not be one of the top teams of Serie A.”
The pick of matches on Saturday sees Lazio in action against Spezia. Le Aquile are an intriguing prospect this season, having appointed the enigmatic Maurizio Sarri as their manager. Veteran midfielder Lucas Leiva hopes the players can adapt quickly to the new tactician’s methods: “Let’s rest, let’s get ready to start the season well. The key is the availability of the group to learn a different module, it is normal that there will be errors but we have had a good pre-season camp. If we want to learn we can do great things.”
Saturday also sees Juventus play their first home match of the season, as they welcome Empoli to the Allianz Stadium in Turin. With Massimiliano Allegri back in the manager’s seat, many have picked the Bianconeri as their title favourites, while former Juve and Italy boss Marcelo Lippi insists Allegri “has no equal on a tactical level”.
“He is a champion in the interpretation of Italian football. He is a truly special tactician, not a strategist nor a screenwriter, he says it himself,” explained Lippi. “Max has a consolidated experience at the highest level. He knows how to manage the most delicate moments of the season and follows a precise method with strict rules.”
Moving onto Sunday, Napoli face a tricky trip away to Genoa, Jose Mourinho’s Roma will take on newly-promoted Salernitana, and Milan will fancy their chances of a three-point haul at the iconic San Siro when Cagliari makes the trip from Sardinia to the North of Italy.