That crunch you can hear as club football returns after the international break is from a clutch of big matches spanning several continents, as pivotal fixtures in as many as eight major leagues just happen to fall on this weekend.
Nowhere will the blood be pumping more intensely than at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s Theatre of Dreams, where bitter rivals Liverpool will be hoping to turn manager Louis van Gaal’s second season in charge into a nightmare.
The same fixture last time ended 3-0 to the home side, but also marked the start of the Merseysiders’ most successful spell as Brendan Rodgers switched to a new system with three men at the back.
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Whoever mans the visitors’ defence may have to face Antony Martial, United’s new signing who
became football’s most expensive teenager when joining from Monaco and is now in line for his debut.
Greater Manchester Police have warned fans not to set off flares at the game, but they’re a time-honoured tradition over in Belgrade, where champions Partizan meet table-topping Red Star in a fixture long-anticipated by the city’s rival gangs of ultras.
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Boca v River
Of course the hope is that any fireworks from the terraces do nothing to interfere with the football itself. Under particular pressure to show good behaviour will be followers of Boca Juniors, who enter Sunday’s Buenos Aires derby under a cloud.
Rivals River Plate are the newly crowned Copa Libertadores champions, but only after being awarded a 3-0 win in the abandoned away leg of a tie against Boca, after several visiting players were affected by tear gas sprayed by home supporters.
South American managers in the Barclays Premier League, Chilean Manuel Pellegrini of Manchester City and Tottenham’s Argentinian boss Mauricio Pochettino, have both referred in past interviews to their experience of derbies in Argentina as a reason why no English match could possibly intimidate them.
Nowhere is the rivalry more passionate than in Rosario, where title-chasing Rosario Central ‘entertain’ Pochettino’s former club, Newell’s Old Boys.
Rosario Central were once asked to take part in a benefit match in aid of a local charity working to relieve the scourge of leprosy – but refused. Newell’s stepped in and played the game instead, thus earning the two clubs their enduring nicknames – the Scoundrels and the Lepers.
The Milan derby, taking place this weekend in Italy, would once have represented the pinnacle of European football. The city’s two clubs have been in the doldrums recently, but ambitious recruitment in the transfer window, bankrolled by new or nearly-new owners, has set both on an upward curve.
Time perhaps for expensive strikers Carlos Bacca (AC Milan) and Stevan Jovetic (Inter) to repay a chunk of their transfer fees.
Elsewhere, crucial fixtures pit sides with no local rivalry but who simply stand directly in the way of each other’s vaunting ambitions. La Liga champions Barcelona will face no tougher fixture than Saturday evening’s visit to the Vicente Calderon stadium, home to an Atletico Madrid side –
themselves buoyed by new signings – who have started the Spanish season in mean mood.
Russia and China
In Russia, ailing champions Zenit St Petersburg – reeling from news that manager Andre Villas-Boas is to quit at the end of this season – must travel to leaders CSKA Moscow, whose boss Leonid Slutsky returns to club action after masterminding a successful international break in his part-time job as Russia’s chief coach.
And in China, the Super League title may hinge on the game between leaders Shanghai SIPG and champions Guangzhou Evergrande, who trail them by a single point. Both are under the guidance of former international managers – the home side’s Sven Goran Eriksson, who took England to successive World Cup quarter-finals, and the visitors, by his nemesis on both occasions, ex-Brazil and Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
An international break feels like a long wait for the return of the main season’s action. But on this occasion the anticipation is about to break – big-time.