Weekend's Best: Manchester United-Leicester, Arsenal-Chelsea headline action
The weekend ahead is littered with the usual slate of key matches around Europe, and a pair of Premier League clashes headlines the action.
The drama begins early in England, where Manchester United looks to get back on track in the Premier League facing reigning champion Leicester City (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN). It marks a rematch of their Community Shield tilt, which United won on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's header to secure the first trophy of Jose Mourinho's Old Trafford tenure, but the bloom has fallen off the rose since then.
While watching rival Manchester City stay perfect, United just stopped a three-game losing streak across all competitions with a League Cup win over mighty League One midtable side Northampton Town. Questions persist for Mourinho and his high-priced collection of talent. When will Paul Pogba start validating his lofty pricetag? Can Mourinho find the best use of captain Wayne Rooney? Is it time to let Marcus Rashford spread his wings, especially with Anthony Martial out with a head injury?
Of course, there's the subplot of Mourinho vs. Claudio Ranieri, one of his many nemeses in the dugout. Things stayed cordial in the Community Shield, and Ranieri isn't one to be baited into a sideshow, but the fact that Mourinho was axed by Chelsea after losing at Leicester last season and having that being followed by Ranieri–who Mourinho unceremoniously replaced at Chelsea in his first stint with the club–winning it all, adds another thick layer to the matchup.
This season, Leicester has regressed, as many would have expected. The mid-table Foxes have already lost twice after losing just three times all of last season, and there's been an air of inconsistency around their play, whereas last season games played out to a certain script more often than not. A Leicester win and statement at Old Trafford would go a ways in restoring the champions' glow and provide a nice boost before a Champions League clash vs. Porto–and it'd also vault the Foxes over the Red Devils in the table through six games.
Here are some of the other top matches to keep an eye on around the continent:
Arsenal out to end Chelsea hex in Premier League play in London derby
It's been a while since Arsenal has beaten Chelsea in Premier League play, and Saturday (12:30 p.m., NBCSN) brings the Blues a chance to extend their league unbeaten run in this London derby to 10.
Dating back to October 2011, Chelsea is 6-0-3 against the Gunners in league play, with Arsenal failing to score in any of the three draws and only having a Community Shield triumph last August to look back on for head-to-head confidence.
Arsene Wenger's side enters on a three-game winning streak, though, outscoring opponents 9-3 and getting contributions from new signings Lucas Perez and Granit Xhaka in a midweek League Cup victory. The in-form attack runs headfirst into Antonio Conte's defend-and-counter tactical plan, which has yielded mixed results thus far. Chelsea was on a roll to start the season, but it fell to Liverpool last weekend after an unsatisfying draw against Swansea, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
Much figures to revolve around Diego Costa, who has been a villain with his customary antics in past encounters against Arsenal, but whose late-game heroics have saved Chelsea time and again this season. With both on 10 points with identical records and each bringing its own style to the Emirates, it promises to be a fascinating show.
Is Las Palmas for real? Real Madrid test will tell plenty
Las Palmas has been one of the surprise stories of La Liga, and while its undefeated start has given way to a couple of hiccups, Saturday's match vs. Real Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET, Bein Sports) offers a chance to see how legitimate the Canary Islands's club's credentials really are, although both teams will be missing key pieces.
Real Madrid is without the injured Casemiro and Marcelo, while Pepe and Fabio Coentrao will also miss out for Zinedine Zidane's side. Not to worry, as goalkeeper Keylor Navas is available for the first time all season, and the reigning Champions League winner boasts enough depth to cover. Pressure is mounting for the Cristiano Ronaldo-Gareth Bale-Karim Benzema front line to perform up to the elite standard it has set.
Las Palmas isn't as fortunate in the depth department, so making up for the suspension of Kevin-Prince Boateng could either prove to be a hurdle too big to clear or offer a rallying opportunity for an upstart team that still has plenty of doubters. Boateng's 21st-minute red card was a deathblow in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Real Sociedad, but it offered an opportunity for the side to get used to playing without him.
They'll get 90 minutes of that at home against the first-place Blancos, where an attack-first mentality, as manager Quique Setien prefers, could play right into Real Madrid's lethally countering feet.
Koln, RB Leipzig clash in battle of unbeaten Bundesliga hopefuls
It's long been assumed that the Bundesliga will come down to two clubs, with Bayern Munich the overwhelming favorite and Borussia Dortmund the clear challenger, but early starts have given hope to a few other clubs outside of the typical elite tier.
While Bayern is off to a 4-0-0 start and is expected to add to it Saturday against Hamburg, Koln and RB Leipzig have also yet to lose during the young campaign, and they'll both aim to keep it that way in Sunday's matchup (11:30 a.m. ET, FS2) that carries more weight than most may have expected. Leipzig's win over Dortmund announced the promoted, polarizing club's intentions, while Koln has quietly outscored opponents 8-1 in four games, conceding for the first time in an impressive 3-1 victory at Schalke in midweek play.
The two in-form players to watch are the ones leading the line for the respective clubs. Koln's French forward Anthony Modeste is following up his 15-goal campaign with four goals in as many matches, while 20-year-old Timo Werner continues to emerge as a breakout star for RB Leipzig in his first season after leaving hometown club Stuttgart. His three goals leads the club, and both players enter Sunday having scored three goals in their last two matches.