The international break is over, the Champions League group stage is on the horizon and all the focus is back on the club game across Europe. Here's what to watch as things ramp up quickly across the continent.

By Avi Creditor
September 13, 2019

The FIFA international break is over at last and the transfer windows are finally shut, which means club seasons can resume overseas with teams moving forward with their squads as they'll be constituted until at least January. With the start of the Champions League group stage on the horizon and some key battles upcoming this weekend, there's little time for teams to ease into action, though.

Here are five key elements to watch this weekend as things ramp up quickly:

Star faces in new places make their debuts

Real Madrid has been waiting for Eden Hazard to make an impact, and it looks like he'll finally get the chance. The Belgian playmaker is fit and recovered from the hamstring injury that derailed the start of his first season in the Spanish capital, and his integration will be a welcome development at the Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane has been relying on a player whom he tried to matter-of-factly offload just a month ago in Gareth Bale. Real Madrid hasn't lost yet, but scraping to draws against Real Valladolid and Villarreal isn't exactly what the club had in mind after spending over $300 million this summer to remake its squad.

Elsewhere in Spain, Chicharito begins life at Sevilla on the heels of scoring a goal vs. the USA for Mexico. Sevilla signed over a dozen new players this summer, which Chicharito the star of the class, and the 31-year-old will be out to show he's more than the bit player who struggled to score at his regular pace with West Ham. 

In France, Mauro Icardi should relish the chance to turn the stories about him from off-field soap operas to on-field exploits. The Argentine's talent has never been questioned, and he begins life at PSG, where Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe are still on the comeback trial from respective injuries. With a Champions League tilt vs. Real Madrid coming up next week, Icardi could quickly endear himself to the PSG faithful with a hot start to life in Paris.

Neymar's return to PSG

Speaking of PSG, the club must now integrate Neymar into its matchday preparations, and his return couldn't come at a better time. WIth Cavani and Mbappe out, PSG has had to dip deep into its squad. The addition of Icardi alleviated that problem some, but Neymar is fit again after featuring for Brazil over the international break.

Everyone is saying the right things about his return, but it was made abundantly clear that he wanted out of Paris. That obviously didn't happen, though, and oddly enough, perhaps the current state of the union will reduce the pressure on Neymar to perform and allow him to thrive. Expectations are lowered given that he's hit his lowest point with the club. The transfer winds will undoubtedly pick back up in December and January, but for the meantime, the two sides must figure out a way to make it work.

"The transfer market is over. We can focus on us now," manager Thomas Tuchel said in his prematch remarks before Saturday's showdown vs. Strasbourg. "I'm convinced that Neymar will give everything to help us achieve our goals this season."

He won't be able to do so in the Champions League for the first half of the group stage as he serves his ban for berating referees following last season's exit vs. Manchester United, but he can begin to patch the wounds and set the groundwork for more vital contributions down the road this weekend.

Is Barcelona O.K.?

Without Lionel Messi, Barcelona has limped through the start of its La Liga title defense. A 1-1-1 mark against Athletic Bilbao, Real Betis and Osasuna isn't exactly inspiring, especially with a Champions League visit to Borussia Dortmund coming up on Tuesday. Messi's calf injury has kept him out of competitive action since Copa America, and it's unclear if he'll play against Valencia in a Copa del Rey final rematch this weekend. 

Valencia is going through its own turmoil, after abruptly firing coach Marcelino, so perhaps Barcelona can take advantage and squeak out a few more days of rest for Messi before Champions League play begins. But even after the additions of Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, it's quite clear that Barcelona is not the same juggernaut without its Argentine maestro.

The Premier League injury bug

The Premier League's Big Six is facing an injury crisis. Man United has wobbled through the start of the season and won't have Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial (and may not have Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Jesse Lingard, either) against a Leicester City side that's more than capable of going into Old Trafford and coming out with three points. Chelsea has struggled at the start of life under Frank Lampard and will continue to be without N'Golo Kante for a match at Wolves. Liverpool isn't expecting Alisson back in goal anytime soon, while Arsenal will have to venture forward without Alexandre Lacazette for at least a few weeks. Tottenham learned that new loan signing Giovani Lo Celso will be out until the end of next month, while Man City is bracing for Aymeric Laporte to be unavailable until January or February. Naturally, this is the week where there are no Big Six head-to-head showdowns, but each club is facing early season adversity at the point in the schedule where the midweek matches start to pile up.

A Bundesliga statement to be made

RB Leipzig has been bubbling as a Bundesliga contender for the last couple of years, but there's a genuine feeling that it can truly push Bayern Munich this season. Just how real that feeling turns out to be can be judged on Saturday, when RB Leipzig hosts Bayern Munich in a match that has statement potential for both. Either Leipzig confirms its credentials and lands a significant shot across the brow, or Bayern reinforces the fact that the Bundesliga is, in fact, still its league and nobody else's.

As it stands, RBL is perfect through three games, while Bayern has won its last two after slipping in a draw vs. Hertha Berlin in the season opener.

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