Five to Know: Key weekend match-ups across Europe’s big leagues

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After a week-and-a-half’s hiatus, European club soccer returns from the international break this Friday. Leading up to the weekend, ProSoccerTalk will be providing extensive coverage the upcoming Premier League matchday; however, to help you assimilate into your normal routines, here are the weekend’s marquee matchups in each Europe’s top five domestic leagues:

England: Everton vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, NBC

When will Everton score again? They lead the Premier League in possession. They’re playing the exact type of soccer Roberto Martínez wants, yet over the last two games, they have no goals. And through three weeks of the season, they also have no wins.

The Toffees haven’t lost, either, which may leave José Mourinho cautious going into Goodison Park on Saturday. ‘Special’ tactics often call for a conservative approach against quality opposition on the road. Considering how many Chelsea players saw significant time over the international break, Mourinho may replicate the plan he used at Old Trafford.

There is, however, still a huge talent disparity between the sides. Though Everton may be emboldened by their Deadline Day haul, they’ll occupy their typical underdog’s role.

source: Getty ImagesSpain: Villarreal vs. Real Madrid, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

The Yellow Submarine’s return to the Spanish first division has been a successful one thus far, the team sitting third place after wins over Almeria, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna. Mexican international Giovani dos Santos, acquired from Mallorca this summer, has already paid off with two goals and two assists, helping to fuel an attack that’s produced eight goals in three games.

At first blush Real Madrid would appear to be on an entirely different level, and their performance before the international break against Athletic Club hinted they may be coming around. But with Mesut Özil gone and Gareth Bale (right) to be incorporated, Los Blancos may be facing another period of adjustment similar to the one that saw them underperform against Real Betis and Granada. If so, Villarreal could snare a result.

Germany, Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. Eastern

The league’s top three teams — Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen — are all home favorites, leaving this as the weekend’s most enticing battle.

Hoffenheim, coming off an embarrassing 6-2 loss at Stuttgart (their first defeat of the year), still have the Bundesliga’s most prolific offense, having scored 12 times in four games. Unfortunately, they’ve allowed an identical number and sit 11th (1-2-1).

Equally unfortunate for Markus Gisdol’s team, the league’s second best attack is coming to Rhein-Necker Arena on Sunday – Juan Arango and Borussia Moechengladbach. Like Hoffenheim, they’ve given up more goals than they should (eight), but thanks to 10 scored, Moechengladbach sit seventh through four rounds.

Regardless, if form holds, this should be a shootout, with Moenchengladbach’s 4-1 win over Werder Bremen giving them some semblance of momentum ahead of Sunday’s kickoff.

source:  Italy: Inter Milan vs. Juventus, Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

The season’s first Derby d’Italia sees two perfect sides meet at the San Siro. For Juventus, that start’s not surprising, the Bianconeri favored to claim a third straight scudetto. Wins over Sampdoria and Lazio have done little to change that perspective, with two goals from Carlos Tévez complementing a defense that’s only conceded once.

Inter, under new coach Walter Mazzarri, has yet to concede at all through two games, one of only two teams in the league that can make that claim (Roma). Thanks to a strong starts from Rodrigo Palacío, a resurgent Ricky Alvarez, and two goals from Yuto Nagatomo (set to thrive in Mazzarri’s scheme), the Nerazzurri have been able to claim full points against Genoa and Catania.

It’s too soon to think Inter have left last year’s disappointment behind them, and Juventus is just the team to show them how far the have to go. But if Mazzarri can get full points on Saturday, expect the buzz to start screaming about a potentially overlooked contender.

France: Bordeaux vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Friday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern

Laurent Blanc, back in Ligue 1 for the first time since his title-winning tenure with Girondins, makes his first trip back to Bordeaux. Unfortunately for a team with so many international commitments, they do so on Friday, giving Paris Saint-Germain one fewer day to get people back and ready after national team duty. In contrast, Monaco and Lyon don’t play until Sunday, while Marseille have the early game on Saturday.

here PSG clicking before the break, that might not be as much of a concern, but although Blanc’s team are 2-0-2, they haven’t matched the form of league-leading Monaco or second place Marseille. For all their talents, PSG have yet to score more than two goals (perhaps a trifling concern), have been drawn twice, and their only multi-goal win came over Guingamp. These are relative problems — perhaps not even problems at all — but they still hint the transition from Carlo Ancelotti to Blanc needs work.

Bordeaux finished seventh last year, riding a stingy defense (34 goals allowed in league) to seventh place, eventually claiming the Coupe de France. While they’re off to a relatively slow start this season (15th after four rounds), they did play Monaco close the league’s opening weekend before losing 2-0. Their only other loss is at Saint-Étienne, fall 2-1 to a Les Verts team that’s started 3-1-0.

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”