Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid
Quite why the Spanish insist on stretching their ceremonial season-opener over two legs is a mystery, but it does spice things up a touch. So, too, does the happy coincidence that last season's league champions were Atlético Madrid while their opponents, last season's Copa del Rey victors, just so happened to be cross-town rivals Real Madrid. There's no such thing as a dull derby.
That's not true: up until recently, Atlético lost to Real with astounding regularity, every time they played, regardless of circumstance. But since Diego Simeone rocked up to the Vicente Calderon, Atléti have made something of a habit of irritating their more glamorous, richer neighbours. Though Real emerged as eventual victors in last season's Champions League final, it's worth remembering that they needed a last-minute equaliser to do so. Atléti took four points from the two league games last season, including a 1-0 away win at the Bernabeu, and also triumphed in the 2013 Copa del Rey final. Fundamentally, Simeone has crafted a deeply unpleasant team to play against -- aggressive and well-structured in defence; precise and calculated on the counter-attack -- and they can get right up the noses of their preening, aristocratic, don't-you-know-who-I-am neighbours.
And so it proved in the first leg. After a forgettable first half, Real took the lead with a close-range effort from newest galactico James Rodriguez, the multi-million euro android-faced star of the World Cup. But Atléti, despite their having been resoundingly asset-stripped by Chelsea over the summer, stayed in touch, and eventually equalised with minutes remaining, Raul Garcia scrambling home a corner at the far post. Cristiano Ronaldo's likely absence with injury only makes things less predictable, and we can add to the poised scoreline an undercurrent of general moodiness. In the last game, Mario Mandzukic fell on top of Sergio Ramos ... so Sergio Ramos punched him in the face.
This being Real Madrid, there are also subplots. Will the noble, creaking Iker Casillas lose his place to the better, younger, newer Keylor Navas? And will Angel di Maria play? Real's ideological commitment to always buying the shiniest, most expensive footballers has this year snaffled them James, but it's also left them in the curious position of attempting to flog the Argentine winger despite him being arguably their best player last season. Di Maria is intensely popular with the fans, his manager and teammates, yet the exit door looms large. Such are the joys of galactico football.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Bayern Munich kicks off the 2014-2015 Bundesliga season, hosting Wolfsburg on Friday. But the most intriguing match of the weekend happens Saturday, when Bayer Leverkusen visit Borussia Dortmund in a match that could well define both seasons -- despite it being the very first week.
Alternatively, it could just be a fun game of football. In general, Bundesliga games nearly always provide good value, what with teams' tendency to ignore defense in favor of goals, goals and more goals. Dortmund -- in case you've missed the hype over the last few years and are just now joining us -- love a quick counterattack and put plenty of pressure on opponents. Leverkusen's new coach, Roger Schmidt, is an admirer of Jürgen Klopp, meaning we could see much the same from his side.
Certainly Leverkusen looked much more exciting in their first Champions League qualifier at FC Copenhagen, attacking at will, slightly neglecting their defensive duties, and coming away with a 3-2 win. Starting off their league season in much the same manner could go a long way toward boosting fans' hopes for the new season. Last year, Leverkusen held second for much of the season, before slipping in the standings and ultimately clinching fourth on the last day of the season. They might not be challenging Bayern for the title, but second, and an assured Champions League spot, sounds much better than chasing fourth.
BVB have their own reasons for a strong start, however, and won't be inclined to give their opponents an easy time. Injuries kept the team from challenging for the title last season, but they still faced little challenge for second. Now the defenders are healthy and they've smartly reinforced their squad, meaning Dortmund could well be very, very dangerous this season.
Fast football, free-flowing attacks, a loose approach to defense and title hopes will all combine Saturday at Signal Iduna Park. You won't want to miss it.
Everton vs. Arsenal
By most reasonable standards, the first 'big' game of the Premier League season. No, it's not first against second (you'll have to wait for Monday for that), but Everton hosting Arsenal is fifth against fourth, a gap fraught with Champions League-studded symbolism, and features two teams desperately trying to be more than they are.
Arsenal's achievement of being exactly good enough to finish in the top four but no more, somehow straddling an impossible line for a decade before beating Hull in the FA Cup final last season is both magnificent and deeply improbable. But the time has come to move from hanging around near the top of the table to genuine contenders, and with an influx of genuine stars the Gunners look a good bet to be competitive on all fronts this season.
Everton, meanwhile, have largely mimicked Arsene Wenger's achievement but on the other side of the Champions League fence. The arrival of Roberto Martinez last summer, however, has given fresh hope to the idea that Everton might break into the top four, and although they fell just short last season they've spent a vast sum of money this off-season to ... bring back the squad that fell just short last year. It's a novel approach, certainly, and with the likes of Manchester United strengthening it doesn't seem particularly likely to work, but the hope is back at Goodison Park, and that's what counts at this stage of the season.
And so we have two teams overflowing with expectation and underburdened by recent successes, which is the perfect recipe for some naïve, entertaining football. We also have the slim chance of seeing Alexis Sanchez forced into tracking back and actually challenging Belgian behemoth Romelu Lukaku for possession, which would make any match worth watching. Like Everton and Arsenal, we all live in hope.
Yes, we know this overlaps with BVB-Bayer. Our professional recommendation is that you install two televisions on opposite sides of your living room, buy an office chair of the spinny kind, and pretend to be a gyroscope for 90 minutes on Saturday.