By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Sep 7, 2020) US Soccer Players – The European season is upon us just a few weeks after the Champions League final ended the previous season. The pandemic pause pushed the conclusion of the continent's top leagues into the summer, forcing the Champions League to become a single-elimination event in August.
What that means is a very short preseason as leagues start up again over the next few weeks. That means September will be the start of a busy season. Barring another virus outbreak and a potential pause, the next eight months will again give fans the ups and downs that come with club soccer.
It's a real concern that Europe's top leagues, alongside sports around the world, will need to endure another pause should the coronavirus pandemic worsen come this fall and winter. While it remains unknown whether the virus will flare up again to the levels it did back in March, most leagues will feature limited or no spectators while health protocols remain in place to keep the virus from spreading.
The UEFA Nations League, the first time national teams have played in 2020, is already in full swing. At the same time, France's Ligue 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie, both suspended last season because of the virus, have already started up again. Here's a look at the five biggest dates on the European calendar this month after the virus pause delayed the 2020-21 season.
September 11: La Liga returns
Spain's topflight is back this Friday with the passion and excitement we have grown accustomed to over the past few decades. It also marks the return of Lionel Messi, after the superstar threatened to leave Barcelona just last month. Real Madrid, heavy favorites to repeat as champions as Barca rebuilds, has a strong squad once again. Rounding out the title hopefuls are last season's 3rd-place finisher Atletico Madrid, featuring Joao Felix, and 4th-place Sevilla. Matchday 1 has Granada hosting Athletic Bilbao. Real Madrid opens their title defense a week later on September 20, away at Real Sociedad.
September 12: Premier League returns
The league most Americans are waiting for returns this Saturday as Liverpool will look to defend their league title against contenders Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea. The attention will once again be on Christian Pulisic and whether he can replicate the success he had this past season with the London club. The opening weekend's fixtures include Liverpool hosting newly-promoted Leeds and Arsenal traveling to Fulham.
September 18: Bundesliga returns
The Bundesliga is the home of Champions League winners Bayern Munich, the likeliest champion just like they've been season after season. The Bavarian giants will be looking to win another league title after capturing the treble this past season. Bayern opens up their title defense against Schalke 04. Germany's topflight always features several Americans, including striker Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund. As always, it's Dortmund as the most likely title challenger.
September 19: Serie A returns
Serie A makes its return with Juventus seeking to win a 10th straight, this time with USMNT star Weston McKennie on first-year coach Andrea Pirlo's roster. While Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo look to prioritize the Champions League, they remain favorites for the league title. Juventus will host Sampdoria on matchday 1. Behind them are Inter Milan, AC Milan, Napoli and Roma. It's worth mentioning Atalanta, emerging as one of Italy's strongest club sides in recent years thanks largely to their academy system and ability to sign unheralded players on the transfer market.
September 24: UEFA Super Cup
Champions League winners Bayern Munich take on Spanish side Sevilla, winners of last month's Europa League, in the annual UEFA Super Cup. The game, slated for September 24 in Budapest, is taking place a month later than usual this season. Bayern will be looking to add to their 2020 trophy haul. Overall, the European Cup turned Champions League winners have lifted this trophy 24 out of 44 times.
September 29: Champions League qualifiers
With the Champions League's three qualifying rounds over by the end of the month, the tournament's playoff round will add the rest of the teams to the group stage. Austrian league champions Red Bull Salzburg, coached by Jesse Marsch, will look to reach the tournament proper. Czech side Slavia Prague and Greek club Olympiacos have also reached the playoff round this summer. While COVID-19 could alter the Champions League even at this early stage, European soccer has shown over the past year that it can persevere. After a busy summer of club soccer, this month will be equally captivating as a new season starts up again.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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Logo courtesy of EPL