The final round of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers are upon us this weekend, with teams looking to either punch their tickets to next summer’s continent-wide, 24 team final celebration, or merely to survive and advance. It all begins Thursday at noon Eastern, when Turkey (7-9) take on Iceland (43-10) from Istanbul. The fun doesn’t stop until the end of Matchday 10 on Tuesday. From there, well, it gets complicated.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has accused Bayern Munich of “manipulating behind the scenes,” when it snatched up former Gunners’ youngster Serge Gnabry. The Frenchman confirmed that he had tried to extend the player’s contract but the Bavarians managed to turn the tables.
Two more of the world’s biggest soccer leagues kick off their seasons this weekend. Bayern Munich (2-11) will look to extend their period of unparalleled dominance of the German Bundesliga, as they take on Hertha Berlin (20-1) on Friday. That same day, FC Barcelona (14-19) begin their quest for a three-peat in La Liga, away to Athletic Bilbao (4-1). Both Bayern (1-3) and Barca (4-6) are heavily favored to win their respective leagues. Both will seemingly have their sights set on the Champions League.
The most popular professional sports league in the world kicks off its 2019-20 season on Friday, as English Premier League runners-up Liverpool (2-13) take on newly-promoted Norwich City (25-1). A full slate of games follow on Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions, Manchester City (5-19), start their quest for a three-peat Saturday in East London versus West Ham United (14-1). Meanwhile, American fans can watch USMNT star Christian Pulisic with his new club, Chelsea (45-17), against traditional rival Manchester United (11-9) on Sunday.
- Few knew what to expect when Europe’s governing football (“soccer: in the US) body replaced friendly exhibition matches with a full-fledged tournament, but UEFA’s new Nations League has reached its final round of qualifying matches this week.
- What Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp once called “the most senseless competition in the world of football,” has already piqued the interest of fans in and outside the continent.
- Croatia and Spain kick off a dynamite schedule of matchups between bitter rivals and World Cup powers. The fun begins Thursday afternoon (for fans in the United States), and lasts through Tuesday.
- Nine teams are left in the top division, League A, to qualify for June’s UEFA Nation’s League Finals. Several are fighting to remain in — or to win promotion to— League A. Chief among these is Germany, infamously bounced in Round One from last summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup, adding more scrutiny to manager Joachim Loew’s position.
- Nations League also brought a change of format to UEFA’s traditional championship tournament. The new qualification criteria has given smaller nations, like Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Scotland, a better chance of qualifying for Euro 2020. With it comes a new lease on life for teams and supporters which often don’t have much to play for in the latter stages of Euro qualification.