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EMPICS Sport Cristiano Ronaldo during his Man United debut -- against Bolton Wanderers -- in August 2003.
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Prodigal son returns as Messi waits for home debut: John Brewin's standout matches this weekend
Our European football expert singles out games from the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A.

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. 

This week, he focuses on the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford.

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Manchester United v Newcastle United, Premier League — 3pm Saturday 

If Cristiano Ronaldo scores on his second debut for Manchester United and a UK TV audience doesn’t see it happen live because the 3pm blackout (Irish viewers will be able to watch the game on Premier Sports) did it really happen? We are probably about to find out the answer to that metaphysical question. 

It is eighteen years since his first debut, when in 30 minutes as a substitute Ronaldo left Bolton’s Nicky Hunt, a young full-back becoming a Premier League debutant that day himself, with twisted blood and set his way into becoming the club’s prodigal son. Hunt, incidentally, is now the 38-year-old player coach of seventh-tier Ashton United in the Manchester conurbation Ronaldo has returned to.

Newcastle’s non-interventionist attitude to the transfer market has made them look something of a soft touch in conceding at least two in each of their three games so far this season, all of them lost. Only Arsenal lie lower.

Steve Bruce will know that Ronaldo’s presence is likely to mean the crossed ball will be pumped into the great man; the fleet-footed winger who took Hunt apart has since become the best header of the ball since Nat Lofthouse.

Bruce has plumped for a back three of Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles in the last two Premier League matches because that is essentially all he has to hand. Callum Wilson suffered a muscle injury in the loss to Southampton, leaving him short of someone to lead the forward line.

How might Ole Gunnar Solskjaer configure his team? It appears certain Ronaldo will be granted a striker’s role though he will not be expected to track back in the manner Edinson Cavani might.

manchester-united-v-newcastle-united-premier-league-old-trafford PA Bruno Fernandes scoring a penalty against Newcastle in February. PA

Mason Greenwood, red hot so far this season, and who did not get an England call, will surely be squeezed in somewhere, perhaps at the expense of Jadon Sancho, who missed the trio of international matches with a minor knock. With Marcus Rashford still absent, might that make room for Anthony Martial. Or will Bruno Fernandes be pushed up? He and Ronaldo have failed to gel when playing for Portugal.

All roads now lead to Ronaldo, and the eventual fate of Solskjaer almost certainly lies in the success or failure of his former team-mate. It’s probably best to try and enjoy the homecoming party before all that stuff works itself out.

John’s bet: Cristiano Ronaldo to score two or more @ 5/2

RB Leipzig v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga — 5.30pm Saturday 

soccer-1st-bundesliga-fc-bayern-munich-hertha-bsc-berlin-5-0 DPA / PA Images Dayot Upamecano joined Bayern from RB Leipzig over the summer. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Alongside Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig were supposed to be Bayern’s main challengers this season, but having lost two of their first two matches, they are already dropping off the chase.

That’s what happens to clubs like Leipzig, whose business model is to sell on young talent to richer clubs, including their coaches. Julian Nagelsmann, the Bayern coach, will doubtless be dressed up for the occasion of his return to East Germany with Dayot Upamecano in defence and Marcel Sabitzer in midfield both poached from his former employers.

Jesse Marsch, his American successor, has rather understandably struggled to replace such key players, and even if Bayern have started a tad haltingly under their new coach, it is tough to predict anything other than a repeat of last season when the perennial champions won 1-0.

John’s bet: Bayern Munich to win both halves @ 11/2

Paris Saint-Germain v Clermont, Ligue 1 — 4pm Saturday 

spfrance-reims-football-ligue1-psg-vs-reims Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Lionel Messi is unlikely to be involved for PSG this weekend. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

An hour after Ronaldo is shown off at Old Trafford, his great rival was supposed to finally have got to play in front of PSG’s home fans. But no, there will be yet another delay to Lionel Messi running out at the Parc des Princes.

With Argentina facing Paraguay in the early hours of Friday morning, it is highly unlikely he plays any part here.

The same is likely to go for Neymar, Angel di Maria and Leandro Paredes, all of whom must also travel back from South American World Cup qualifiers. Does that open a gap for the visitors from near the Massif-Central, who are enjoying a good start to the season? Probably not.

John’s bet: PSG to win and both teams to score @ 6/4

Espanyol v Atletico Madrid, La Liga — 1pm Sunday

atletico-madrid-re-sign-french-forward-griezmann-on-loan Liewig Christian / ABACA Antoine Griezmann will be back in Atleti colours on Sunday. Liewig Christian / ABACA / ABACA

No game for Barcelona this week. Messi’s former club have also been given the weekend off, after La Liga decided that the fixture at Sevilla would be affected by the amount of players who would have missed the match after playing in South American qualifiers.

The focus in Spain now shifts to what could be Antoine Griezmann’s second debut for Atletico, making a speedy return to the city of Barcelona to face Espanyol. Shorn of his ponytail, the Frenchman has much to prove, and will have to recalibrate himself to the muscular approach of Diego Simeone.

The defending champions visit newly promoted opposition yet to score this season but who have also played out two goaless draws.

John’s bet: Antoine Griezmann to score first or last goal @ 15/8

Milan v Lazio, Serie A — 5pm Sunday

ss-lazio-vs-spezia-calcio SIPA USA / PA Images Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri. SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

Maurizio Sarri has been vindicated by the poor showing of his successors at Chelsea and Juventus, with both Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo flopping. He has begun his tenure at Lazio in style, winning 3-1 at Empoli on opening weekend, and smashing Spezia 6-1 the following week. Ciro Immobile has already scored four goals.

Milan will have their eye on facing Liverpool in their return to the Champions League — it has been seven long years away – but have begun the season in good form themselves. A return for Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely with Olivier Giroud out after a positive Covid test.

Lazio have had the better of this fixture in recent times, winning three of the last five and a few goals can be expected to fly in.

John’s bet: Goals over 3.5 @ 6/4

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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