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Imago/PA Images Barca boss Ronald Koeman.
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Barcelona begin life after Messi: John Brewin's not-to-be-missed games this weekend
Welcome to European Eye, our new weekly slot with football expert John Brewin.

THE 2021/22 SEASON is upon us, and with it we are delighted to bring you a brand new weekly series.

Every Friday, football writer John Brewin – who has clocked up countless air miles covering the European game over the past decade – will look ahead to five key fixtures from the Premier League, the Championship and around the continent. 

As well as explaining why you need to know about these matches, he’ll also pick out a tip for each one along with the latest William Hill prices. 

To kick us off, John mourns the demise of Barcelona in a week that saw the Catalan club’s iconic figure depart for Paris. 

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Barcelona v Real Sociedad, La Liga – 7pm Sunday

Where do Barcelona go from here? What might Barcelona without Lionel Messi look like? Beyond the loss of the greatest player in the club’s history can signings Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson even be registered to play? The club was still way over its wages quota whether Messi played for free or not.

Sergio Aguero, signed to play alongside his erstwhile bosom buddy, would not have played in any case, having suffered a calf injury to echo the problems he suffered in his latter days in Manchester City.

Ronald Koeman, a manager handed one of the grandest hospital passes in football history, may not even be able to turn to the next generation of Barcelona talent. Ansu Fati and Pedri were two 18-year-olds who last season looked to be operating on Messi’s level.

Denied the great man’s tutelage, a wholly unrealistic level of expectation is being placed against them. Fati is still on the way back from an ankle problem and may not return until September. Pedri played his 72nd match of an overextended season when winning silver at the Olympics with Spain, and would be expected to take a rest of three to four weeks.

esp-fc-barcelona-real-sociedad-la-liga-santander SIPA USA / PA Images Pedri goes past Antoni Gorosabel of Real Sociedad when the sides met last season. SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

And yet reports in the local press suggest that Pedri, who seems set to inherit Messi’s crown as the sweetheart of Catalonia, will actually play against Sociedad, such is the desperation taking hold at Camp Nou. Pedri is an agreeable sort who loves playing football in the light of a lack of midfielders, with Frenkie de Jong absent. Another option might have been Gavi, yet younger than Pedri at just 17, but the latest embryo off La Masia’s production line has broken his jaw.

La Real came fifth in last season’s Liga, and are one of Spain’s most entertaining teams. In striker Alexander Isak, who signed a new deal, they have a jewel, and though Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Zubimendi will each be missing after their own Olympic duty, they must fancy a first win at Camp Nou since 1991 when Ireland’s John Aldridge (x2) and the late Dalian Atkinson got the goals in a 3-1 win.

John’s bet: Real Sociedad to win @ 10/3

Paris Saint-Germain v Strasbourg, Ligue 1 – 8pm Saturday 

imago-20210807 Imago / PA Images PSG striker Kylian Mbappé. Imago / PA Images / PA Images

If Barca are the have-nots, then what about their prodigal son? PSG are unlikely to be sparing with their prize asset. Messi, like all the greats, wants to play every game possible. Mauricio Pochettino has to accommodate Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé whatever his tactical designs may be.

Strasbourg finished just two points clear of relegation last season, so look like lambs to the slaughter. Expect one of the big boys to make hay with goals, and after reports of his superstar ego during the Euros, might Mbappé decide to seize the stage and show up this Messi character?

John’s bet: Mbappé to score two goals or more @ 29/10

Man United v Leeds United, Premier League – 12.30pm Saturday 

manchester-united-v-leeds-united-premier-league-old-trafford PA Bruno Fernandes and Raphinha during Man United's 6-2 demolition of Leeds at Old Trafford last December. PA

When Leeds finally got promoted, it was visiting Old Trafford that their fans most looked forward to, and after a year’s delay, they finally get their wish. Last season, they were probably glad to stay away from a 6-2 defeat in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team took Leeds apart on the counter.

Marcelo Bielsa is highly unlikely to have altered his approach so the question is how quickly can last season’s runners-up hit their stride. They were caught cold in last season’s opener by Crystal Palace while Bielsa’s team are likely to be fully tuned up by his rigorous training. Goals seem guaranteed.

John’s bet: Over 3.5 goals @ 11/8

Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt, Bundesliga – 5.30pm Saturday 

firo-07-08-2021-fuvuball-1st-bundesliga-season-20212022-dfb-pokal-1st-round-sv-wehen-wiesbaden-bvb-borussia-dortmund DPA / PA Images Borussia Dortmund's talisman Erling Haaland. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Much of the Bundesliga summer intrigue has followed the revolving door of coaches. Marco Rose is in at Dortmund, having impressed at Monchengladbach while Eintracht’s new man is Oliver Glasner, who took Wolfsburg to fourth, and then moved to the club his team had edged out, replacing Adi Hutter, who had replaced Rose at Gladbach.

Last week, Eintracht lost in the German Cup to third division Waldhof Mannheim, and Andre Silva, a revelation last season with 28 Bundesliga goals has headed to Leipzig. Erling Haaland et al must fancy their chances for Dortmund.

John’s bet: Dortmund to win to nil @ 2/1

Peterborough United v Derby County, Championship – 12.30pm Saturday

derby-county-v-salford-city-carabao-cup-first-round-prde-park PA Ravel Morrison and the Derby players celebrate his thunderbolt against Salford City in midweek. PA

The Rams’ Wayne Rooney roadshow rolled on with a midweek penalties defeat of Salford in the Carabao Cup. It included a Ravel Morrison wonder goal. After last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Huddersfield, things could be going much worse on the field. Chaos still reigns off it.

Last week, Peterborough took a harsh lesson on their return to the Championship in losing 3-0 to Luton. If Rooney has anything like a plan in place to avoid relegation, then winning at London Road, a first Derby away win since February, has to be part of it.

John’s bet: Derby to win @ 5/2

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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