Following the goal-fest that was matchday three of the Champions League and some intriguing UEFA Cup matches, league football returns this weekend and it really feels like the new season is taking shape.
This weekend sees the Tyne-Wear derby, the Turin derby and the top two face off in England and Germany.
Sunderland v Newcastle
One of the most eagerly awaited clashes of the Premier League season takes place at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. It might be a lunch-time kick off, to start a weekend of football, but it is sure to be a noisy Stadium of Light baying for a win over their great rivals.
Rarely in modern times have Sunderland come into this fixture in better shape than Newcastle, but thanks to two wins so far this season, Roy Keaneâ€™s men will be looking to add further misery to a troubled opening to the season for the Toon.
Sunderland are making steady improvements this campaign and they will be looking to play with the same intensity that they showed in their last home game â€“ a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. The Mackems came close to winning that match and if they close down their rivals in the same way could well record their first win over Newcastle at their new (ish) stadium.
Newcastle may also be buoyed coming into this game, thanks to two recent draws under new manager Joe Kinnear. The former Wimbledon boss appears to have instilled some fight into the team and their performance with ten-men against Manchester City was widely praised.
Although they will be without Michael Owen, speculation is rife that Joey Barton could make his long-awaited return from suspension for the 129th league meeting of these two teams. Barton could be just what the Toon need, if he can display his technical qualities rather than his suspect temperament.
Barton may not be the only player returning from a spell out, Kenwyne Jones could also play after missing the start of the season with an injury picked up at the end of last season in a friendly against England. The powerful striker could well come on as a sub to score the winner and give Roy Keane his first derby win over Newcastle.
101 Predicts: Sunderland 3 – Newcastle 2
Chelsea v Liverpool
This is a mouthwatering Sunday afternoon clash in what should be a stern test of Liverpool’s title credentials.
For so long this has been a fixture to miss following all those dire Champions League semi-finals and games in which defences and defensive midfielders always seemed to dominate. Judging by their new found attacking football under “Big Phil” Scolari, we can surely expect Chelsea to have a real go at Stamford Bridge to put some day light between them and the second placed team in the Premier League.
Whilst Liverpool have not been at their best for much of this campaign, they have done incredibly well to keep pace with the Blues and their fighting spirit should be applauded, as was evident in the victory over Wigan last week.
The Reds have injury problems with “El Nino” definitley out and doubts over Keane and Gerrard, so this will be a real test of Dirk Kuyt who was man of the match against the Latics.
Chelsea were awesome last week at Boro and will be confident going into this one after another impressive victory over Roma on Wednesday. The Blues will wear Liverpool down with some fine football to really stake their claim for the title.
101 Predicts: Chelsea 3 – Liverpool 1
Juventus v Torino
Claudio Ranieri pulled the rabbit out of the hat in the Champions League in midweek to secure his job for a little longer with an impressive win over Real Madrid.
In truth, Juve should see off Torino to further ease the pressure on Saturday night despite the lengthy injury list at the club. Gianluigi Buffon, David Trezeguet and Cristiano Zanetti are all definitley out and they have just been joined by Claudio Marchisio.
Despite their patchy opening to the season, Juve possess some incredible attacking talent. Amauri is a goal-scoring machine and Del Piero again showed his class with a super goal against Madrid. After signing a contract extension recently, Sebastian Giovinco may also get a run out.
Torino, who have also started the Serie A season poorly, also have injury problems doubts have been cast over the fitness of goalkeeper Matteo Sereni, Desare Natali, Marco Di Loreto and Francesco Pratali.
Ranieri will claim a victory and secure his job for a few more weeks at least.
101 Predicts: Juventus 3 – Torino 0
Hoffenheim v Hamburg
Whilst the Hoffenheim story has been an enchanting one so far this campaign, if they can win at home on Sunday it will take on a whole new dimension. A victory over Martin Jol’s team would put them two points clear and even at this early stage could see them challenge for the title and at least a Champions League spot.
At the beginning of the campaign much was made of the millions of owner Dietmar Hopp to explain Hoffenheim’s stunning rise through the lower leagues. But, having seen them play against the best in Germany it is clear there are other factors involved.
Hoffenheim have the youngest team in the Bundesliga and could well be the best run club in the country. Only Werder Bremen have scored more goals so far this season and their brand of attacking football (led by strikers Demba Ba and Vedad Ibisevic) could make an indelible mark on German football.
Hamburg will be a tough team to beat though, they have lost only once this season and they also have some great attacking players in Thiago Neves, Mladen Petric and Ivica Olic. Above all this should be a great advert for German football as both teams try to give their title credentials a real boost.
101 Predicts: Hoffenheim 2 – Hamburg 2