Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images Europe
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
The final international break for the 2012-13 season has come and gone, leaving the members of Europe’s top leagues with a little over two months of uninterrupted club competition to close out the calendar.
While league leaders Manchester United and Barcelona return to action this weekend against bottom-half sides, Juventus and Bayern Munich—two sides that will face off in Champions League action on Tuesday—kick off the home stretch of their seasons with monumental matches.
Juventus will headline a packed Saturday of Serie A action with a trip to sixth-place Inter Milan, the 184th league edition of Derby d’Italia. The league leaders will try to avoid a repeat of the 183rd meeting, where traveling Inter scored three second-half goals in a 3-1 victory that snapped Juventus’s 49-match unbeaten Serie A run.
The hosts will be without the hero of the first meeting, Diego Milito, and they will have to grab at least a point from the defending champions if they want to keep their Champions League hopes alive. Inter sits seven points back from city rival Milan, which currently holds that cherished third-place slot. The last time Andrea Stramaccioni’s players were in action, they were booted out of Europa League by an away goal from Tottenham.
Juventus, winner of five out of its last seven Serie A matches, is currently enjoying a nine-point lead over Napoli with nine matches to play. Who will Antonio Conte send out in Saturday’s derby with revenge on the mind and a visit to Bayern Munich in the near future?
Juve’s Tuesday opponent will also be in a big match on Saturday. Bayern Munich could clinch its 22nd Bundesliga title on Saturday with a win and some help from rival Stuttgart. The German giants host Hamburg, one of the six clubs in a battle for the last Bundesliga spot in next season’s Champions League. If Bayern defeats Hamburg and Stuttgart avoids a home loss to second-place Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga plate will once again return to Munich.
The Bayern-Hamburg match will kick off after the conclusion of Stuttgart-Dortmund, so the club and all of the fans at Allianz Arena will know if Bayern has a chance to clinch by kickoff. If Bayern succeeds in wrapping up the title race on Saturday, the club will become the first to clinch the Bundesliga during the month of March.
Here is a closer look at all of this weekend’s top European action:
While the Manchester clubs face bottom-half clubs this weekend, the best matchups in the Premier League will involve the two teams fighting it out for third place in the league. Both Chelsea and Tottenham will hit the road on Saturday and kick off at the same time, adding another dramatic element to their tight race.
Third-place Chelsea will face Southampton just two months after the clubs’ first league meeting, a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Demba Ba and Eden Hazard combined for a 2-0 halftime lead for the home Blues during that match, but Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon saved the day for the Saints. Chelsea will try to get its revenge on its 16th-place opponent on Saturday, but the club will have to make a quick turnaround—Chelsea hosts Manchester United in a FA Cup quarterfinal replay early Monday afternoon.
Tottenham, which relinquished its lead over Chelsea in a 1-0 loss to Fulham in its last match, will look to get back on track at Swansea City on Saturday. Spurs defeated the ninth-place Capital One Cup champions 1-0 in December off of a late Jan Vertonghen goal. The Swans’ home of Liberty Stadium, usually a tough venue for England’s top clubs, was quieted during their last match, a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. Both clubs dropped their final two Premier League matches before the international break—which side will turn it around on Saturday?
Here are this weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Sunderland vs. Manchester United
Arsenal vs. Reading
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United
Southampton vs. Chelsea
Swansea City vs. Tottenham
West Ham United vs. West Bromwich Albion
Wigan Athletic vs. Norwich City
Everton vs. Stoke City
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Fulham vs. Queens Park Rangers
Barcelona, currently 13 points ahead of second-place Real Madrid, kicks off a stretch of five straight matches against bottom-half clubs on Saturday with a visit to Celta Vigo. The Catalans will be without winger Pedro for the weekend match and Tuesday’s Champions League visit to PSG. Real Madrid will look to extend its streak of six straight league wins on Saturday when the club visits relegation candidate Real Zaragoza. Los Blancos will get an extra day to prepare for their Champions League match as they host Galatasaray on Wednesday.
The best match this weekend in Spain will take place on Easter Sunday when Atletico hosts Valencia. Third-place Atletico will make its to Estadio Vicente Calderon, where the club’s perfect home record took ended with a 1-0 loss to fourth-place Real Sociedad. Fifth-place Valencia, which got a bounce-back 3-0 win over seventh-place Real Betis in its last match, is one of several La Liga sides within striking distance of Sociedad’s Champions League spot.
Here are this weekend’s La Liga fixtures:
Rayo Vallecano vs. Malaga
Celta Vigo vs. Barcelona
Real Zaragoza vs. Real Madrid
Levante vs. Sevilla
Real Valladolid vs. Osasuna
Mallorca vs. Deportivo La Coruna
Espanyol vs. Real Sociedad
Atletico Madrid vs. Valencia
Athletic Bilbao vs. Granada
Real Betis vs. Getafe
Dortmund’s match with Stuttgart on Saturday will be an interesting one—while the club could keep Bayern from clinching the title with a win, it would take an impossible collapse from the league leaders for Dortmund to stay in the hunt. However, Dortmund still has its eyes on silverware. The defending Bundesliga champions visit Malaga in the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday. How will Jurgen Klopp decide to attack Saturday’s match?
Fourth-place Eintracht Frankfurt will look to regain its footing in the race for Germany’s final Champions League spot on Sunday in a match against last-place Greuther Furth. The surprise of the Bundesliga’s first half has not captured a victory since Feb. 2, which has invited clubs five through nine in the Bundesliga table to enter the Champions League hunt. Despite the drastic slide in the last two months, Eintracht Frankfurt is a heavy favorite to get the three points on Saturday as Greuther Furth is still winless at home this season.
Here are this weekend’s Bundesliga fixtures:
Augsburg vs. Hannover 96
Freiburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Stuttgart vs. Borussia Dortmund
Schalke vs. Hoffenheim
Mainz vs. Werder Bremen
Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Bayern Munich vs. Hamburg
Wolfsburg vs. Nurnberg
Greuther Furth vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
While most of the eyes on Saturday will be on Derby d’Italia, Francesco Totti and surging AS Roma may steal some of the spotlight in their match. Totti, who celebrated the 20th anniversary of his AS Roma debut on Thursday, has scored three goals in Roma’s current four-match undefeated run. The club will travel to last place Palermo, which still has a shot to avoid relegation under manager Giuseppe Sannino—the same Giuseppe Sannino who was fired from Palermo just three games into the season. Sannio returned to Palermo for the club’s last match, a 2-0 loss to Milan, after successor Gian Piero Gasperini was fired for the second time of the season.
The three clubs embroiled in the battle for the final two Champions League spots each hit the road on Saturday to face one of six Serie A squads that are tied with 35 points in the table. Second-place Napoli visits Torino, which scored in stoppage time to draw 1-1 in the first meeting of the season. AC Milan will look to repeat its earlier 5-1 performance against 35-pointer Chievo Verona, still stinging from this season’s Champions League exit at the hands of mighty Barcelona. Fiorentina, winners of three straight Serie A matches, will look to continue its run with another multi-goal win over Cagliari.
Here are this weekend’s Serie A fixtures:
Atalanta vs. Sampdoria
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina
Genoa vs. Siena
Inter Milan vs. Juventus
Lazio vs. Catania
Palermo vs. AS Roma
Parma vs. US Pescara
Udinese vs. Bologna
Chievo Verona vs. AC Milan
Torino vs. Napoli
Paris Saint-Germain will kick off the European weekend with a home match against European hopeful Montpellier. The seventh-place visitors should be a good test for the Ligue 1 leaders ahead of their clash with Barcelona in Champions League action. However, PSG midfielder Clement Chantome told reporters this week that the squad was having a hard time focusing on Montpellier ahead of the Barcelona match. PSG has only won two out of its last five Ligue 1 amidst the Champions League frenzy—will the club suffer another domestic setback on Friday?
Here are this weekend’s Ligue 1 fixtures:
PSG vs. Montpellier
Troyes vs. St-Etienne
Ajaccio vs. Toulouse
Bordeaux vs. Lorient
Evian Thonon vs. Stade de Reims
Stade Rennes vs. Nancy
Valenciennes vs. Bastia
Nice vs. Marseille
Brest vs. Lille
Lyon vs. Sochaux
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Do you see Inter grabbing another win from bitter rival Juventus? Think Bayern will clinch the Bundesliga title this weekend? Which matchup in the Premier League should we keep an eye on?
Share your comments below.