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.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

De Rossi admits desire to beat young teammates with bat

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Daniele De Rossi doesn’t like the modern world.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Roma legend dropped a funny quote when discussing the differences between young players these days and those when he began his career.

A one-club man, the 33-year-old De Rossi has played in 556 matches for i Lupi and admits that he probably flummoxed veterans when he began his career because that’s the cyclical nature of adulthood.

From Italia Football:

“When we started out, it was all different, that was 20 years ago. Now a 20-year-old will get into the first team and have more Instagram followers than Messi. When I was young, the older players would say ‘it wasn’t like in my day’ – that’s life and it always will be.

“Mind you, some of them irritate me too. When I see them do live Instagram videos from inside the locker room before a game, I’d like to take a baseball bat to their teeth… But they’re 18 years old and in 20 years’ time they will find themselves complaining about the youth of today.”

Mmmm, tastes like ash and hickory.

It’s a safe bet that De Rossi isn’t wild about Stephan El Shaarawy’s hair, we imagine, but living legends generally get a little leeway with their comments in the media.

Plus, it sounds like he has the wisdom to understand the “why” and at least channel his angry into tackles.

Rooney ready to use experience to “get Man Utd over the line”

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An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic has opened the door for one of England’s all-time greatest scorers, and Wayne Rooney is ready to seize it.

Manchester United and England’s living legend could play a key role in United’s run-in toward a Europa League title and a Top Four place in the Premier League.

Rooney has six goals and 10 assists in 32 matches this season, and his 1,937 minutes under Jose Mourinho are a product of both injury and the manager’s preferences.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

But Mourinho has claimed there’s a place for Rooney all year, and now the opportunity is here just in time for the Manchester Derby.

Rooney is buzzing, from Sky Sports:

“I feel I can contribute quality, composure, experience, and know-how, how to get over the line, whether it’s to win the league or finish top four or get to the final. That’s a lot of experience I can contribute to the team.”

Five Premier League titles and a Champions League medal certainly count for a lot, and the 31-year-old striker is still a productive PL player. The question, assuming Mourinho calls his number, is whether Rooney can roll back the years to be an out-and-out finisher for at least a few more weeks.

The inactivity could be a blessing for Rooney, he says:

“Everyone mentions that age, I’m 31, not an old person. Of course, I’ve played a lot of games. … Who knows, not playing so many games this season might benefit me.”

Totti out to ‘destroy’ Lazio in what could be his last derby

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MILAN (AP) Roma great Francesco Totti is out to “destroy” Lazio in what could be his last derby.

Totti’s contract runs out at the end of the season and the 40-year-old forward is likely to retire and move upstairs into a director’s role at the club where he has spent his entire career.

“It’s a different match to all the others,” Totti said. “It’s a team you always try to destroy on the field but with the maximum respect.

“For the city, for the curva, for the fans, you always try to give 101 percent. It’s a match you always want to win.”

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Roma won the last derby 3-2 last month but still lost to Lazio in the two-legged Italian Cup semifinals. Totti played less than 10 minutes in each match.

That semifinal defeat still hurts Roma and its fans, which are likely to fill the Stadio Olimpico again after ending a 14-month protest following the removal of deeply unpopular security barriers.

“It will be like all the other derbies, a must-win match,” Totti said. “It’s important because we all remember how the last one finished. We have to get our revenge.”

Sunday’s match is also crucial for the battle for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League.

Roma is currently second, four points ahead of Napoli, which visits Inter Milan on Sunday. The team which finishes third has to go into a playoff for Europe’s premier club competition.

Roma has a more difficult run-in than Napoli. After the derby, it next faces AC Milan and Juventus before ending its season against Chievo Verona and Genoa. Napoli plays Cagliari, Torino, Fiorentina and Sampdoria.

[ MORE: Henry, Aguero on playing for Pep ]

“It will be a very important derby for the standings and we will try everything to have a great game to bring home the three points,” Totti said. “We are going through this battle for second serenely and calmly, also because now we have a four-point advantage on them.

“There are only a few matches left until the end of the season, even if three out of five are very difficult on paper. We will try everything to finish second.”

Lazio is fourth, seven points behind Napoli.

Totti has been playing for Roma for 25 years – remarkably more than 28 percent of the club’s existence – since making his debut in the final stages of a 2-0 win at Brescia on March 28, 1993.

Totti, who also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, could have won more than the solitary Serie A title, two Italian Cups and two national Super Cups he claimed with Roma, but he rejected offers of more money and glory to remain with his childhood club.

His face adorns murals and posters across Italy’s capital, where he is loved by Roma fans and respected by supporters of Lazio, despite his antics against them.

Totti has scored 11 times against Lazio and often celebrates these extra-special goals with T-shirts made for the occasion. One famously said, “I have purged you again,” while he revealed another reading simply “Game Over” after a victory in May 2015.

He hit the headlines in January of that year when he scored the second of two goals against Lazio and, in a pre-planned celebration for becoming the all-time leading scorer in the derby, grabbed his phone off Roma’s goalkeeping coach and took a selfie under the Curva Sud with thousands of adoring fans in the background.

In the Eternal City, Totti is Roma’s eternal leader – first made captain in 1998 when he was only 22.

Nike alluded to his “King of Rome” nickname at a promotional event on Wednesday to unveil new gold-colored boots to mark the Roma captain’s 25 years at the club.

Totti, who was greeted by about 200 chanting fans, was instructed to sit on a throne with the steps leading up to it bearing the names of the seven kings of ancient Rome, with his name placed on the final step.

“I have nothing to do with these kings,” Totti said. “I prefer to be judged than to judge.”