The international break is over (that went well), club soccer is back in our lives, and there are a lot of good games this weekend that you should definitely watch. Here are some elevator pitches:
The Madrid Derby
Elevator Pitch: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Antoine Griezmann for the title of “World’s Prettiest and Most Unabashedly Eurotrashy Winger-Forward Hybrid”
It’s been six months since that misty evening at the San Siro when Atletico star Antoine Griezmann stepped up to the penalty spot, took a deep breath, and clanged it off the crossbar.
It’s been four months since Griezmann watched helplessly as Éder sniped the bottom corner with a worm-burner from just outside the box, putting the Euro 2016 title just out of France’s reach, right at the death.
And it’s been about three months since Griezmann — sweet, lovable, neatly tussled Griezmann, of impeccably on-trend cropped pants and air tie — had to stand 5 feet from Cristiano Ronaldo as Ronaldo won the Best Player in Europe award, and then take this quote, uttered by the fairest of them all, straight to the chest: “Sorry you lost in both finals.”
If the award ceremony counted as a “final,” and if we were keeping score — which we are — then technically, it was three. I don’t know about you, but I’d fight.
So what has changed since these two last did battle?
Ronaldo still has a 16-pack and can’t pass a mirror without taking a selfie. Real Madrid lead La Liga after 11 league games, and haven’t lost in 28 matches across all competitions, despite being uninspiring and somewhat irritating. Atletico Madrid has moved Koke from the wing to a more central role, and manager Diego Simeone’s team has become a more deliberate attacking unit, rather than a defend-to-the-death-and-counter one. Real’s defense and midfield look a little shoddier with Casemiro injured — more or less their duct tape and velcro. So this Madrid derby should be more open than last May’s Champions League final. Incidentally, that was the last time these two teams met.
Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund
Elevator Pitch: Christian Pulisic and Co. (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus, and André Schürrle sometimes) vs. The Literal Monstars.
Der Klassiker is never not popping.
Actually, given last year’s scoreless draw in Germany’s domestic cup competition, that might not be entirely true. But it is truth-y. Bayern, now under Carlo Ancelotti’s management, are certified world-eaters. Traditionally, they’re such a shoo-in for any and all silverware that their fan base need only pay attention on a few occasions: the later knockout stages of the Champions League, and any time the team plays Dortmund.
Dortmund has this air of unpredictability about them — the dazzling kind of unpredictability that gives way to Christian Pulisic skinning the left side of Real Madrid’s defense. The kind that makes opposing teams uneasy.
So, Der Klassiker is never not popping, most of the time.
It doesn’t matter that Bayern are ahead of Red Bull Leipzig by only the grace of goal differential, and are flirting with their first non-first-place standing since August 2014.
It doesn’t matter that Dortmund are five points worse off than they were at this point last year. Well, it matters some. Bayern will inevitably Figure It Out, and if currently fifth-place Dortmund don’t pull a favorable result, it’s probably a wrap for their title aspirations.
In sum, Der Klassiker is a must-watch. Because it’s never not popping, most of the time.
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Elevator Pitch: The Sort of Kind of Still Special One vs. The Other One
This rivalry doesn’t have a name, but it should.
Arsenal, currently two points back of first place, are still in that bubbly early-season phase when dreams of hoisting the Premier League trophy don’t seem all that out of reach. But it’s November, and spring — and the Arsenaling — is still a long ways off. The Gunners will look to win, but more importantly, they’ll hope that Liverpool lose, so that they might leapfrog Chelsea and Manchester City to the table summit.
Manchester United, on the other fucking hand [ed. note: Micah likes to be referred to as Rude van Nistelrooy around the office], will see their title hopes, which seemed pretty reasonable when the season started, totally disintegrate with a loss. The Red Devils are currently six points off of the top four, and will get a 30 percent haircut off of their Adidas kit deal if they miss out on the Champions League for the second straight season. That haircut will be a £30 million hit, which, adjusting for post-Brexit exchange rates, is about $30 million.
José Mourinho will probably play it close to the vest, hoping the ball will arrive on Marouane Fellaini’s head somewhere near the goalmouth, so it’s possible this could be a pretty meh game. But if nothing else, we’ll have Mourinho and Arsene Wenger, who genuinely hate each other; one staring confoundedly at a changing football landscape with a frowning stubbled face, the other in an eternal struggle with his jacket zipper.
Mourinho has never lost to Wenger, which seems predictive of the outcome, but as we learned with Leicester beating 5000-to-1 odds last year, it’s never too late for firsts.
The Milan Derby
Elevator Pitch: The People vs. Mauro Icardi
Or Derby della Madonnina. Whatever you call this storied and once-great sibling rivalry (both teams share the San Siro), it’s been given a fourth-place slot here only because it can’t be 10th. This third-place AC Milan team, owned, at least for a while longer, by Silvio Berlusconi — Italian Trump, if you’re nasty — will play a ninth-place Inter Milan team whose season has thus far been all scraped knees and stubbed toes. It will probably underwhelm. But there’s the off-chance that incredibly shitty human being but in-form striker-captain Mauro Icardi could be Inter’s saving grace, which is always a fun moral quandary for lookers-on.