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An early-season title showdown and a North London derby: John Brewin picks this weekend's unmissable games

A repeat of last season’s Champions League final tops the menu this week.

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THE 2021/22 SEASON is up and running, 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 – looks 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. 

Today, John runs the rue over some mouth-watering fixtures in England’s top flight and identifies some intriguing games to keep an eye on across the continent. 

Chelsea v Manchester City, Premier League – 12.30pm Saturday 

19-september-2021-tottenham-hotspur-v-chelsea-the-premier-league-chelsea-manager-thomas-tuchel-during-the-premier-league-match-at-the-tottenham-hotspur-stadium-picture-credit-mark-pai Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The first Premier League title race blockbuster of the season and they don’t get much bigger than a replay of the Champions League final. In Porto, Thomas Tuchel ‘out-tacticed’ Pep Guardiola, whose decision to start the match with a free-jazz midfield formation may go down as the grandest folly of his career.

That Tuchel was able to add Romelu Lukaku to his European champions while City dallied and eventually did not try hard enough to sign Harry Kane further adds to the idea that Chelsea are robust where Guardiola’s no-strikers team have become an experimental art project. Of course, it is far more complicated than that, since the building blocks of the current champions were laid just as carefully as those at Chelsea.

Wednesday’s Carabao Cup defeat of Aston Villa may have required penalties but Chelsea’s first team have looked like the machine of old under Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte. At their peak, those teams weathered storms and then ran all over their opponents. That was the pattern of victory over Tottenham last week, while City’s 0-0 draw with Southampton was fractious and betrayed the lack of a cutting edge. There is also something of a rift developing between the fans and the manager after some poorly chosen words and a characteristic refusal to back down from the Catalan genius.

It appears unlikely that Guardiola will repeat his Porto mistake of not selecting a defensive midfielder which may tighten up Sunday’s encounter. Last week meanwhile, N’Golo Kante did not come on until the second half and ran riot all over Spurs, though was oddly quiet against Aston Villa, with Mason Mount instead providing the zest.

Setting aside last week’s 6-3 Champions League match with RB Leipzig and a reserve team letting an early goal in to Wycombe in the Carabao Cup, City have not conceded in the Premier League since losing to Tottenham on the opening weekend. Chelsea meanwhile, have only let in a Premier League goal to Liverpool and when down to 10 men. That would seem to point to a cagey encounter. This early in the season, and with Tuchel certain to stick to his dogged yet flexible plan, perhaps not even Pep Guardiola would risk some free improv.

John’s bet: Under 1.5 goals at 2/1

Arsenal v Tottenham, Premier League – 4.30pm Sunday 

harry-kane-10-of-tottenham-hotspur-scores-the-first-of-his-sides-penalities-in-on-9222021-photo-by-craig-thomasnews-imagessipa-usa-credit-sipa-usaalamy-live-news Harry Kane scores a penalty in the shoot-out against Wolves in midweek. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

One way to look at this North London derby is that it is between two clubs at their lowest collective ebb since the mid-1990s. Another is that both teams’ difficult start to the season make this an exceptionally high-stakes encounter.

Mikel Arteta’s team has shown sign of improvement, and quelled talk he would be sacked imminently. Twinned 3-0 defeats for Tottenham have Spurs fans asking what Nuno is doing managing their club. And whether Harry Kane is actually, well, finished. Something has to give, and it feels like a 50/50 call, so why not take the chance on Spurs at longer odds and with Kane given so much to prove?

John’s bet: Tottenham to win and Harry Kane to score at 17/5

Rayo Vallecano v Cadiz, LaLiga – 5.30pm Sunday 

luca-zidane-of-rayo-vallecano-warms-up-during-the-spanish-championship-la-liga-football-match-between-sevilla-fc-and-rayo-vallecano-on-august-15-2021-at-ramon-sanchez-pizjuan-stadium-in-sevilla-spai Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Rayo are Madrid’s smallest Liga club, and back in the top division after two seasons away, they have a familiar look for fans of Manchester United. They also feature a Zidane – goalkeeper Luca, above, son of Zinedine – and a Guardiola: Sergi, no relation to Pep. Tuesday’s late win at Athletic Bilbao came via a Radamel Falcao header served up by a cross from Bebe, his fellow Old Trafford flop.

Falcao, 35, has scored in both his matches for Rayo this season, rolling back the years with the quality of his finishing. Cadiz, with one of the poorer defensive records in La Liga, could offer another stage for his revival act, and another chance for Rayo’s unlikely push for the top four.

John’s bet: Vallecano to win and both teams to score at 3/1

Inter Milan v Atalanta, Serie A – 5pm Saturday 

artemio-franchi-stadium-florence-italy-21st-sep-2021-serie-a-championship-football-ac-fiorentina-versus-inter-milan-edin-dzeko-of-fc-internazionale-celebrates-after-scoring-the-goal-for-1-2-cre Source: Alamy Stock Photo

No Lukaku, no Antonio Conte, no problem for Inter so far this season. The defending champions top the Serie A table, with Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko in the goals and Simone Inzaghi harnessing the winning spirit of last season despite those departures and that of Achraf Hakimi.

Atalanta, in fourth, continue to punch above their weight under Gian Piero Gasperini’s team-building and relentless style of play, though winning at Salernitana last week arrested a slight wobble. With 18 scored so far to Atalanta’s six, Inter present a significant threat, while the champions have let in four goals to Atalanta’s five in their first five Serie A matches.

John’s bet: Inter to win to nil at 27/10

Greuther Furth v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga- 7.30pm Friday

munich-germany-18th-sep-2021-football-bundesliga-bayern-munich-vfl-bochum-matchday-5-at-allianz-arena-robert-lewandowski-of-munich-warms-up-credit-sven-hoppedpa-important-note-in-accor Source: Alamy Stock Photo

This must register as one of the mismatches of the entire European season, with a victory for the minnows in this Bavarian derby on offer at at mighty 18/1. This column is in no way going to suggest that is likely but there may be other value on offer.

Robert Lewandowski has scored in every match this season for Bayern, only England keeping him out when playing for Poland. He is 1/6 for anytime scorer, but 13/10 for both first and last goalscorer, with the first seeming the more likely as he is likely to be subbed off once the match and points are won.

John’s bet: Over 4.5 goals at evens

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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