Padraig Whelan·30 September 2022
Padraig Whelan·30 September 2022
The international break is over and heralds the return of club football across the globe.
These are the biggest games outside of the Premier League to look forward to.
The season is still in its infancy in Portugal but this weekend throws up an exciting early showdown at the top as reigning champions Porto in third take on Braga, who sit second.
They have won six and drawn one of their opening seven games and if they were to topple the title holders, it would open up a daunting six-point gap.
There is every possibility of that too as Braga (although this will be their toughest test yet) have not only shone domestically this season but also replicated their form on the continental stage, picking up impressive scalps against Malmö and Union Berlin.
Artur Jorge’s side have also outscored all of the rest in Portugal so far this season and there are some exciting attacking figures to keep an eye on in this one on their side.
Simon Banza has justified the €30m release clause inserted into his contract when he signed in the summer, hitting the ground running with five goals so far, while the often underrated Ricardo Horta continues to provide at a reliable rate and has four goals and three assists already this season.
They are one of Europe’s form sides and with their style, well worth tuning in for.
The first of two top-of-the-table clashes in Europe we’re focused on this weekend takes place in Turkey, where first place Adana Demirspor take on Galatasaray, who are level on points prior to kick-off.
It makes for a surprising early improvement on last season’s ninth place finish under Vincenzo Montella for the Adana outfit who are a squad filled with veteran figures from across the footballing landscape with no fewer than 19 nationalities making up their first team squad.
Gökhan Inler, Artem Dzyuba and Henry Onyekuru are among the most recognisable faces, which is contract with Galatasaray, whose star names so far this season have been younger faces proving themselves at the top level in the Süper Lig.
Highly-regarded defender Sacha Boey is fulfilling the promise he showed at Rennes and is still just 22, as is Turkish midfielder Yunus Agkün who, along with Kerem Aktürkoglu, are making a real name for themselves in the early going this season.
In attack for the Istanbul giants, both Dries Mertens and Mauro Icardi are still waiting for their first goals following their arrivals in the summer and there would be no better time to secure swift hero’s status than to fire their side to the summit in tough conditions.
The infamous away fan ban in the Super League does temper the fierier side of things somewhat but on the field, this one is hugely significant despite being just the sixth game of the season.
That is because Panathinaikos have won all of their games so far and if they were to win at the intimidating Toumba (or the Black Hell to some), would open a seven-point lead over both PAOK and Olympiacos (assuming they were to win against Atromitos) and make a huge statement in doing so.
Even at this stage, that has the potential to ultimately prove title-defining and would give the chasing pack little wiggle room for error, particularly given the more inexperienced profile of PAOK’s squad, Olympiacos’ identity crisis and AEK’s defensive issues.
It is a big opportunity to take a huge early step for the Athens giants, who will be well aware that their recent record in this fixture isn’t overly impressive and that they haven’t won in Thessaloniki since 2017, losing their last six of nine.
The Nerazzurri have struggled this season any time they have faced a top half side and have just one win against such opposition (courtesy of a last gasp winner against Torino) and have been soundly beaten by the likes of Lazio and Milan already.
Fan protests against ownership took place across the city during the international break and their cause for this one hasn’t been helped by the absence of marquee summer signing Romelu Lukaku through injury.
The Giallorossi may be able to call upon their own big transfer arrival, Paulo Dybala, off the bench following a recent injury problem but they too have their own problems with recent losses against Udinese and Atalanta giving cause for concern.
History is also against José Mourinho’s men as their 75 losses against Inter in Serie A are more than against any other team, while the 290 goals they have shipped in this fixture is also an unwanted record.
The pressure is building on both coaches even if it their situations are far from critical and defeat for either here could make for a hot collar in the dugout given the underperforming on expectations.
Anytime Bayern Munich slip up domestically is viewed as a potential disaster at the Allianz Arena.
So the fact that they have now gone four Bundesliga games without a win has really ramped up the spotlight and scrutiny on the German champions.
As they aim to finally get back on track, Julian Nagelsmann could have been forgiven for cursing the calendar, which has handed them a tricky home clash with an exciting yet unpredictable Bayer Leverkusen side.
They haven’t been at their best this season to put it mildly but with the attacking firepower within their ranks, they are very capable of causing Bayern plenty of problems and adding to their solitary Bundesliga win this season.
Pressure could reach fever pitch if the visitors frustrate them further (and they have picked up four points from the last nine on offer in Bavaria) which simply makes this a must-win game for Bayern.