This weekend saw the return of England’s Barclays Premier League, the second week of France’s Ligue 1, and cup games in Spain and Italy.
For serious soccer fans this means that the long, gruesome summer is over. There are matches to analyze, new players to see on new teams, and endless sources of intrigue across Europe.
And for casual fans of the sport, it means you can wake up on the weekend and be greeted by soccer games between teams with names like West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town and you can make fun of your hipster soccer friends.
What better way to nurse your hangover than a pulsating between Swansea City and Brighton Hove Albion?
Personally, the Premier League is the league I follow closest, mostly because of access.
NBC Sports has the exclusive rights to the league and every single game is broadcasted on their networks or streamed online (legally!).
But the Spanish league has the best players in the world, the French league now has Neymar and some of the best young talent, Italy’s Serie A looks set for a reawakening (Juventus may actually be dethroned this season), and Germany has some of the most interesting tactical setups (as well as the young American stud Christian Pulisic).
Let’s dive into some of the highlights from a full weekend of soccer.
Neymar scores on debut
PSG started their Ligue 1 season last weekend with Neymar watching in the stands.
This weekend, against Guingamp, Neymar took the field in the number 10 shirt for PSG for the first time since his $265 million transfer to the Parisian giants.
The Brazilian did not disappoint.
— g (@1GAFC) August 14, 2017
Starting on the left side of an attacking trident with Uruguayan Edinson Cavani and Argentinian Angel Di Maria (same nationalities as Neymar’s former partners Suarez and Messi, for whatever that’s worth), Neymar often drifted into the center of the pitch (he may have picked up a couple things from Lionel Messi) and pulled the strings for PSG.
His unique style and deft touch were on full display as he tore apart Guingamp (who finished 10th in Ligue 1 last year). Neymar assisted Cavani’s goal with a beautiful through ball.
Neymar's first assist for PSG. pic.twitter.com/gWyjhuLTAO
— Mootaz (@MHChehade) August 13, 2017
Then Neymar added a goal himself off a layoff from Cavani.
#Neymar has listened to our wish 🙂
— Transfer Rumours (@rumourkitchen) August 13, 2017
PSG are going to be an absolute force to be reckoned with this season. They should regain their throne in France after losing the title to an upstart Monaco last season.
But the real prize for PSG is the Champions League, after all that is why Nasser Al-Khalifi brought the Brazilian to Paris.
There are rumors swirling in France that PSG are about to spend another $200 million on Monaco 18-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe, the next great talent in the world.
Mbappe was benched this weekend for Monaco, but the Principality side still won as Falcao scored a hattrick.
Ligue 1, often a one-horse race, is definitely one to watch this season.
Gotta love El Clásico.
Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Some of the best players in the world, passion, sublime goals, and of course, ridiculous dives and plenty of controversy.
This edition of El Clásico featured in the Spanish Supercopa, a matchup played over two legs between the previous year’s La Liga winners (Real Madrid) and last season’s Copa Del Rey winners (Barcelona).
La Liga doesn’t start until next week, but this was a fashionable and dramatic kickoff to the Spanish soccer season.
Barcelona’s Gerard Pique kicked off the scoring with an own goal in the 50th minute. Then Luis Suarez took a ridiculous dive in the penalty box, giving Barcelona a penalty.
Messi slotted home the penalty and the tie was back on.
Then Cristiano Ronaldo, who subbed on later in the game, scored an absolute stunner on a break away, exposing Gerard Pique further.
(That pass from Isco was also astounding).
My god let me bless you all with the Ronaldo goal again pic.twitter.com/hO47dMfrqS
— ㅤ (@NaturalPerplex) August 13, 2017
Just goes to show you, dude still has it.
Ronaldo got yellow-carded for taking his shirt off and replicating Messi’s jersey-flaunting celebration from last season’s Clásico.
Ronaldo was then red-carded 3 minutes later for a supposed dive in the box.
I’m all for referees cracking down on diving in soccer, it’s a total joke, especially in El Clásico with tensions and dramatics at their peak, but the referee’s decision here was frankly ridiculous, especially after awarding a penalty for Suarez’s theatrical dive earlier in the game.
However, Ronaldo compounded the issue when he pushed the referee out of frustration.
Ronaldo will now serve a 5-game suspension for his actions, but that referee should be banned for eternity.
After the red card it looked like Barca would get back in the game but Madrid’s 21-year-old Marco Asensio, one of the brightest young players in the world, ended the game with a rocket of a goal.
(Yes, Gerard Pique looked helpless once again).
Real Madrid will be upset they lose Ronaldo for 5 games. But with a healthy Gareth Bale, Real Madrid’s attacking options are completely stacked even without Ronaldo.
Along with Bale, Zinedine Zidane can select from Isco, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, Dani Ceballos, and Karim Benzema to plug in for the time being.
Ronaldo can get a further vacation and come back with a vengeance.
Barcelona on the other hand might be in trouble. Their most important players look old and tired (besides Messi) and their backline looks especially vulnerable.
If Barca president Josep Bartomeu doesn’t bring in some fresh blood in the two and a half weeks before the transfer window closes at the end of August, it could be a disastrous season in Catalunya.
The second leg of the Supercopa will come on Wednesday with Real Madrid holding a 3-1 advantage. It will surely get testy. I’d bet on more red cards.
Premier League returns
Oh, Premier League, how we’ve missed you.
Arsenal and Leicester got us started on Friday in a wild 4-3 game. Arsenal did what Arsenal do: get off to a good start and score, give up two ridiculous goals, tie the game, give up another ridiculous goal, then score two goals after the 80th minute to win.
Sigh (this writer is an Arsenal fan).
The rest of the Premier League weekend saw the familiarity of a totally wacky league.
Liverpool continue to have significant defensive frailties but a dynamic attack, as they gave up a late equalizer to Watford in a 3-3 draw.
Chelsea saw their bad summer get worse with two red cards in a a 3-2 defeat at home to Burnley (who won one (1!) away game all of last year).
Manchester United got off to a hot start with new addition Romelu Lukaku netting twice on his debut in a 4-0 victory over West Ham.
Tottenham cruised to a routine 2-0 over Newcastle.
Manchester City looked ruthless and terrifying in a controlled 2-0 victory over Brighton Hove Albion.
City look to be the favorites this year, but they won their first six games last season and then stuttered in the middle of the season, so we know not to get hung up on starts.
The Premier League season is full of twists and turns, this may be the best one yet.
Lazio and Juve square off
After a record six-straight title wins for “The Old Lady” Juventus, this year’s race in Serie A looks to be one of the most competitive in years. As I wrote back in May, Serie A is back.
AC Milan have added significantly to their side and look ready to challenge again after years of disorganization.
Napoli, led by head coach Maurizio Sarri, are one of the best attacking sides in Europe and a joy to watch.
— Sean (@TheHaIfSpace) August 10, 2017
Roma should once again end up near the top of the table.
But it was Roma’s rival Lazio that grabbed the headlines in the Italian Supercoppa during the first weekend of Italian soccer. Like in Spain, the Italian Supercoppa is a matchup of league and cup winners from last year before Serie A officially starts next week.
After a summer that has seen Juventus lose Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci, two critical players in last year’s Champions League runner-up performance, Juve got absolutely beat up by Lazio.
Juventus’ Paolo Dybala, fresh off being given the famous Juventus number 10 shirt, was able to will his team back from a 2-0 deficit, but Lazio scored a late winner to take the cup.
Lazio are a young team led by Simone Inzaghi and they will have something to say about this season’s Serie A title race.
Between Juventus, Roma, Napoli, AC Milan, Internazionale, and Lazio, Serie A will be a league to watch this season.