Football fans throughout Africa can look forward to a feast of great football as they will be able to watch some of Europe’s top sides in action in three great leagues.
The Golden Week kicks off on Thursday with Premier League powerhouses Arsenal and Manchester United involved in Europe League action.
United brought an end to Liverpool’s astonishing run of 17 consecutive league victories (dating back to the 2018/19 season) with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday for a result that gives beleaguered coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær some breathing space ahead of the Reds’ table-topping away match in the Europa League against Partizan Belgrade.
The Serbian club currently top Group L on goals scored from United and will fancy their chances in what is bound to be a sold-out Partizan stadium.
Parni valjak (The Steamroller), as the club is affectionately known by its fans, has two African players in their squad, with both not only getting regular game-time, they are also amongst the club’s top scorers.
Nigerian forward Umar Sadiq, who is on loan from Serie A club AS Roma, has scored five goals this season and is Coach Savo Milošević’s preferred striker. The 22-year-old scored both goals in Partizan’s 2-1 victory at Astana, which took them to the top of the group.
Guinean attacking midfielder Seydouba Soumah has even scored one goal more than Sadiq and also features prominently in Milošević’s game plan.
Milošević, who played in the Premier League for Aston Villa, said he would “do everything to make sure our guests will feel comfortable and to think only of a game of football.
“I will say to our fans: ‘A big club, a giant club, is coming to visit us — and we should be honoured to play against Manchester United for the first time since 1966’. We have to be proud to host the players, coaches, leaders and fans of such a great club.”
Also on Thursday Arsenal with superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang defend their Group F lead at home against Vitória de Guimarães.
Having won both previous matches in the group phase, the Gunners can go into their game against their Portuguese opponents with some confidence, although they will have had just three days’ rest after playing Sheffield United in the league.
The Golden Week moves to the Bundesliga on Saturday as arguably the biggest derby in German football: The Ruhr derby, takes place in the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen and sees Schalke 04 welcome Borussia Dortmund.
On par with the world’s greatest derbies, like Al Ahly v Zamalek, AC Milan v Inter, or Barcelona v Real Madrid, the game between the two giants of the Bundesliga enflames passion not only around the whole Ruhr region, but throughout Germany.
Schalke missed out on an opportunity to go to the top of the Bundesliga table for the first time since 2010 as they were beaten 2-0 in Sunday’s late match at Hoffenheim. A victory would have seen Die Knappen open up a one-point lead in the standings.
Dortmund, for their part, will go into the local derby buoyed with confidence having beaten log leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 on Saturday to move to within a point of the Bundesliga summit.
Schalke coach David Wagner said although he was disappointed with the result in Hoffenheim, there had been a lot of positive things that his side displayed. “We were let down by not converting our chances. But now we will regroup and focus on the next game. We will take our good points into the game against Dortmund as we want to do well against them.”
Germany international Marco Reus, who scored Dortmund’s winning goal against Mönchengladbach, said that they were facing some tough matches, starting with Schalke. “That will show in which direction we are heading this season. Of course we want to go to the top and the victory on the weekend was an important step towards that. We will now go into the game against Schalke with a lot of confidence.”
But as the saying goes: All good things come in threes and African football fans will look towards Ligue 1 to complete the Golden Week of football as the first of this season’s Le Classique takes place in the Parc des Princes as Paris Saint-Germain welcome Olympique de Marseille.
Once the star of French football, OM have lost some of their standing to big-spenders PSG and the last time the club from the French Riviera beat their rivals was in 2011 and there is little to suggest that things could be any different this time around.
Even OM coach André Villas-Boas, who took his side to a victory against Strasbourg on Sunday, is aware of the enormity of the task that awaits his side. “We will try to do something, we dream of winning, but it (PSG) is a team from another league, in my opinion. If you look at the ranking after six match days, in my opinion, you have the reality. Paris is focused on the Champions League. ”
“It is true that there are gaps”, said midfielder Valentin Rongier. “But I do not think they are unbeatable, they lost in Reims and against Rennes.”
Defender Boubacar Kamara, who was only 12 the last time his club beat PSG, is similarly upbeat, saying tongue in cheek: “Cavani, Neymar or Mbappé, we all know them. We use them to play FIFA and we win.”
African football fans will be the first to know if OM can win Le Classique as they can watch all the matches of the Golden Week live and exclusive on the StarTimes football channels. It is a week no real football fan will wont to miss.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading European football experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.