We've kicked it back into gear after a much needed vacation for myself and an interesting international break for European leagues. First off all, congratulations are in order to Iceland and all the (Insert random letters)-sons who defied the odds to qualify for Euro 2016. Sadly, no Icelandic Premier League (or Úrvalsdeild) made this week's picks. I know, what a bummer. Rather than dwell on that, let's rejoice in the cavalcade of awesomeness that is this week's fixtures including a pair of rivalry matchups (one which I am already drinking at 3:40 AM because of). So crack your beer and let's get to our first stop which is (barf) France.
FRENCH LIGUE 1
Olympique Lyonnais vs Lille OSC (11:00 AM ET/beIN Sports 5)
When I first started getting into European soccer in the early 2000's, Lyon was the unyielding ruler of French football. They won seven straight Ligue 1 titles from 2001-02 to 2007-08 and had droves of talent in tow featuring the likes of Brazilians Cris and Juninho, eventual Chelsea man Michael Essien, current Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris, and current Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema. The mantle of top dog in France was eventually handed off to big spending PSG in 2012 with a small turnover period in the interim. During that monarch-less lull, little Lille were able to claim a crown of their own (2010-11). In present day, both squads sit in the middle of the table after four games. Lyon needs a victory to propel themselves back into the top three Champions League places, but may find it hard to break down a staunch Lille defense. Though Lille has scored just one goal thus far, that is the same number they've conceded (T-1 in Ligue 1). Lyon is still waiting for much desired Alexandre Lacazette to get on the scoresheet, but may have to wait at least one more week with Nigerian #1 Vincent Enyeama (3 clean sheets in four games) between the sticks. I'm going to go with my first nil-nil draw in these European picks columns and go chug a Leinenkugel's to wash away my thoughts of this game.
PREDICTION: Lyon 0 Lille 0
ITALIAN SERIE A
Juventus vs Chievo Verona (2:45 PM ET/beIN Sports 3)
If you were one of the two people in the world who thought Juventus would be closer to Carpi and Frosinone through two games than their fifth straight Scudetto, kudos to you. For everybody else, Juve's rough start to the 2015-16 Serie A season has been strange. The Champions League runners-up from a season ago have lost to both Udinese at home and at Roma to put them the farthest they've been from the title since the Calciopoli scandal put them in Serie B. They host top of the table Chievo today, fresh off of a 4-0 demoliton of Lazio in their last game. Juventus is known for their defense, but will need to attack with more potency to upend Chievo. The visitors will be coming in with two of the top goal scorers in the division in Alberto Paloschi (3 goals) and Riccardo Meggiorini (2 goals). Juve are hoping the returns of Alvaro Morata and Claudio Marchisio grouped with deadline day arrival Hernanes will be enough to light a fire under the rest of the reigning champs. I think the Old Lady gets her groove back in this one, and it will be decisive.
PREDICTION: Juventus 4 Chievo 1
RUSSIAN PREMIER LEAGUE
CSKA Moscow vs Zenit St. Petersburg (7:00 AM ET)
We take our first trip of the year to the hosts of the 2018 World Cup, Russia, for our early start of the day. CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have been 1-2 in the Russian Premier League for the last five seasons with the exception of 2011-12 when CSKA finished a disappointing third. CSKA sits atop the Premiership currently having yet to lose in seven games. Zenit are six points back in third place, but their latest Premier League match was an embarrassing 3-1 loss to newly promoted Krylia Sovetov Samara. They were also dealt the news that manager Andre Villas-Boas, the man that led them to the title last season, will be departing at the end of this campaign. The news seems to poorly timed with a trip to their biggest title rivals just a day away. Nevertheless, the two Champions League participants will face off in Moscow and there should be plenty of goals to go around. The past two Russian Golden Boot winners, Seydou Doumbia (CSKA/2013-14) and Hulk (Zenit/2014-15) have been in fine form to start the year. Hulk is tied for the Premier League lead with four goals and Doumbia scored three of CSKA's five goals over two legs against Sporting Lisbon to qualify for the UCL group stage. This is sadly the only game featured on the picks that won't be shown in the states, and it may be the best of the bunch.
PREDICTION: CSKA Moscow 3 Zenit St. Petersburg 2
SPANISH LA LIGA
Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona (2:30 PM ET/beIN Sports)
I didn't want to repeat on a team this early in the season, but this game was too good to pass up for Saturday's picks. The past two La Liga campeones square off as Barcelona travels to the Vicente Calderon to take on Atletico Madrid. Any time teams at the top of the Spanish Primera table play, there will be goals. Atleti/Barca doesn't have a catchy name like El Derbi Madrileño or El Clásico, but they've been crackers of games, even if Barca has dominated their recent fixtures (8-2-0 in the last 10). Everybody knows about the tremendous trio leading the Barcelona front line, but more should know the names Antoine Griezmann (even if he is French) and Jackson Martinez. The duo have traded off pairing with one of my favorites, Fernando Torres, up front over Atletico's wins over Las Palmas and Sevilla. They'll catch a break this week as Barca starting goalie Claudio Bravo is out injured. Unlike most squads though, Barca has a stellar back-up in German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Both teams need the win to keep themselves ahead of Real Madrid who have the early game of the day against Espanyol. This game may end in a draw, but having already picked my one draw for the day, I am going to pick a winner and like most times (idiotically usually) I am going to try to go against the numbers.
PREDICTION: Atletico Madrid 2 Barcelona 1
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester United vs Liverpool (12:30 PM ET/NBC)
As is the (two article) tradition on the European Soccer Picks, we end with the English Premier League. There is one of the fixtures of the season closing down this week's picks, as the rivalry between two sets of Reds, Manchester United and my beloved Liverpool, is renewed at Old Trafford. Man U have been lackluster thus far domestically, but have to be riding high after goalkeeper David de Gea put pen to paper on a new four year, £200,000 per week contract. The Spanish net minder had been the subject of transfer rumors to Real Madrid all summer just to have the talks fizzle out at the eleventh hour. His presence should boost the play of a defense that is filled with holes behind an attacking lines unfilled with goals. Wayne Rooney may be the all-time England goal scoring leader now, but he is goalless in the BPL and is a strong doubt to play this afternoon. Liverpool will be without their own attacking force as Philipe Coutinho serves his suspension after being sent off against West Ham. Either way, their should be some fireworks between these two highly combustible sides. Those absences could see first starts for deadline day buy Anthony Martial (Man U) and summer pick-up Danny Ings (Liverpool). Whoever is on the pitch, whether it be their first Man U/Liverpool game or their tenth, will feel the tension from kickoff. It'll be interesting to see who breaks first as that usually who scores first and eventually takes the game. The team who scores first has won seven out of the last eight of these fixtures across all competitions. I am a homer so I'll be taking Liverpool, yet I am always worried about this match so if you find me tweeting over the course of the match (@TREVORutley) you'll bear witness to the schizophrenic rant spree that is my viewing of a Liverpool game.
PREDICTION: Liverpool 2 Manchester United 1
What games or teams would you like to see featured tomorrow and in the future? Have you found a new team or new league you enjoy because of these previews/picks? Let me know at my own personal Twitter @TREVORutley or the site's @B3WHYC3. Until tomorrow, enjoy the day's games everybody!!