By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Saturday’s clash between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich may not matter much in the end of the Bundesliga season, but it could have a major effect on their upcoming match for the biggest prize in Europe.
Bayern, winners of a record 14 straight Bundesliga matches, have already clinched this year’s league crown and Dortmund, last year’s champions, have second place in the table all but officially wrapped up. But both sides will be looking to grab an advantage heading into their Wembley showdown on May 25.
The German powers are both coming off of their midweek semifinal matches in Spain—Dortmund held off a late charge from Real Madrid, and Bayern continued their dominant run with another blowout win over Barcelona. Still, Dortmund should expect the best effort from Bayern, who have not beaten Dortmund in their last five league meetings.
Bayern is unbeaten away the Allianz Arena in their dominant league campaign, and Dortmund have won eight home matches across all competitions. The UCL finalists’ earlier Bundesliga meeting ended in a 1-1 draw after Götze cancelled out a goal from Toni Kroos. Bayern took the last meeting in all competitions, a 1-0 home victory in the DFB-Pokal quarterfinals.
The absence of Dortmund midfielder Mario Götze will be a huge story heading into Saturday’s match at Signal Iduna Park. The 20-year-old Götze, who has been a part of Dortmund since he was eight, will be a member of his club’s biggest rival next season after Bayern triggered his release clause last month. He is out with a torn hamstring, and manager Jurgen Klopp is uncertain whether Götze will be able to play in the UCL final against his future club.
On Sunday, another league champion will take on a rival looking for momentum heading into their own European final. Manchester United, who wrapped up the Premier League title more than a week ago, host a Chelsea side that continues the race for a Champions League spot after knocking off Basel in the Europa League semifinals.
Chelsea got their revenge on United for October’s controversial 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge by knocking the Red Devils out of the FA Cup last month. Depending on Arsenal and Tottenham’s matches on Saturday, the Blues could enter Old Trafford needing points for a return to the Champions League.
While Chelsea still have a busy end to the 2012-13 campaign ahead of them, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United squad only have two league matches ahead after the defending UCL winners’ visit. While last weekend’s draw at Arsenal ensured that United will not be able to break Chelsea’s points record, the Red Devils could be looking for revenge of their own on Sunday.
Here is a closer look at all of the weekend’s action in Europe’s top leagues:
With Chelsea facing the league champions, North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur need to take advantage of their Saturday matches against bottom-half sides. Tottenham will open the Premier League weekend with a home match against 13th-place Southampton. Spurs rode a strong second half performance to a 2-1 win earlier in the season against the Saints, who saw their recent six-match unbeaten run come to a crushing end with a 3-0 loss to West Brom last weekend. A Tottenham win could put added pressure on Arsenal and Chelsea, Tottenham’s opponents in next Wednesday’s massive Premier League clash. Arsenal will close out Saturday’s EPL action with a trip to Queens Park Rangers, who ensured their relegation last week in a scoreless draw with Reading. The Gunners, unbeaten in their last seven matches, enter this weekend two points above Tottenham with one more match played.
This weekend’s top matchup outside of the race for the top four spots is the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton. Sixth-place Liverpool are coming off of last Saturday’s 6-0 beatdown of Newcastle United and have only lost once in their last 12 league matches against their city rivals. Fifth-place Everton will need a win to keep their hopes of a spot in next season’s Europa League alive, so they will most likely be going for all three points at Anfield on Sunday. The two sides drew 2-2 in October’s battle for city bragging rights as Everton clawed back from two down before Liverpool striker Luis Suarez had a winning goal unfairly ruled out in stoppage time.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Premier League:
Fulham vs. Reading
Norwich City vs. Aston Villa
Swansea City vs. Manchester City
Tottenham vs. Southampton
West Bromwich Albion vs. Wigan Athletic
West Ham United vs. Newcastle United
QPR vs. Arsenal
Liverpool vs. Everton
Manchester United vs. Chelsea
After a humiliating 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the UCL semifinals, Barcelona turn their attention to wrapping up the only piece of silverware they can win this season—the La Liga trophy. Barcelona enter the weekend with an 11-point lead over defending champions Real Madrid. If Real fail to beat 12th-place Real Valladolid on Saturday and Barcelona grab all three points against seventh-place Real Betis on Sunday, the league title will return to Catalonia. Betis, who have watched their European dreams slip away during their current three-match winless streak, lost to Barcelona 2-1 earlier this season. Valladolid gave Real quite a scare back in December, but Los Blancos rallied to a 3-2 road win.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao
Valencia vs. Osasuna
Granada vs. Malaga
Real Madrid vs. Real Valldolid
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Atletico Madrid
Mallorca vs. Levante
Real Zaragoza vs. Rayo Vallecano
Sevilla vs. Espanyol
Barcelona vs. Real Betis
Fourth-place Schalke will kick off the Bundesliga weekend with a Friday match at European hopeful Borussia Monchengladbach. Schalke are coming off of a 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt that strengthened their control of the final Champions League spot in Germany. Monchengladbach will enter Friday’s match five points back from Schalke and two points back from Freiburg for a Europa league spot. The two sides played out a 1-1 draw in December as Julian Draxler’s late equalizer was one of the few bright spots in Schalke’s lengthy winless streak towards the end of 2012. Monchengladbach will have the advantage heading into the weekend—while Schalke are still nursing a few injuries, hosts Monchengladbach will be at full strength.
Towards the bottom of the Bundesliga table, Saturday’s match between Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim has all the makings of a great relegation battle. Fabian Johnson and Hoffenheim, who are coming off of a big win over Nurnberg, have a chance to pull out of the automatic relegation zone with a win at Bremen. The hosts are winless in their last 10 Bundesliga matches and will be without wingers Marko Arnautovic and Eljero Elia. The pair were suspended for the rest of the season earlier this week after getting pulled over for speeding at 3 a.m.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Schalke 04
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
Hannover 96 vs. Mainz
Nurnberg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Stuttgart vs. Greuther Furth
Werder Bremen vs. Hoffenheim
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Freiburg vs Augsburg
Hamburg vs. Wolfsburg
Juventus can officially clinch their second straight Scudetto this weekend with a home win over relegation-threatened Palermo. Juve have won seven straight Serie A matches in their push to the league title, and Palermo are undefeated in their last five matches to emerge from the drop zone. If Juventus draw with Palermo on Sunday and second-place Napoli win, the title will not be mathematically decided—but it will be close enough. A Juve draw and a Napoli win would put Napoli nine points back with three to play, and Juve have an advantage of +13 in goal differential. The Bianconeri defeated Palermo 1-0 in their first meeting, which was Antonio Conte’s first match after serving a suspension for his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal.
Before Serie A fans can see a title-clinching performance from the defending champions, they will be treated to a huge Saturday match in Florence. Fourth-place Fiorentina, winners of three straight, are just one point behind AC Milan in the race for the final Champions League spot. The Viola will host fifth-place AS Roma, who are looking to put some distance between themselves and a trio of clubs fighting for a Europa League spot. Roma, who defeated Fiorentina 4-2 in their first meeting, hold a slim lead over Udinese, Inter Milan and Lazio for the coveted fifth spot in the table. Michael Bradley and Roma are coming off of a dominant 4-0 performance over Siena last weekend, and they will need a similar performance to combat a Fiorentina offense that has scored 15 goals in their last five league matches.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Chievo Verona vs. Cagliari
Fiorentina vs. AS Roma
Udinese vs. Sampdoria
AC Milan vs. Torino
Catania vs. Siena
Genoa vs. US Pescara
Juventus vs. Palermo
Lazio vs. Bologna
Parma vs. Atalanta
Napoli vs. Inter Milan
Depending on the result of Marseille’s match with 13th-place Bastia on Saturday, Paris Saint-Germain have a chance to clinch the Ligue 1 title on Sunday against Valenciennes. If both PSG and OM win, the Parisians will be in a situation similar to Juventus—while they will be up nine with three matches to play, PSG have a goal differential advantage of +35 heading into Sunday. If OM slip up, PSG can officially claim their first title in 18 years with a victory over Valenciennes. PSG have kept three straight clean sheets in league play since losing to Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, and they defeated Valenciennes 4-0 earlier this season thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic hat trick.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Saint Etienne vs. Bordeaux
Marseille vs. Bastia
Montpellier vs. Brest
Sochaux vs. Lorient
Stade de Reims vs. Ajaccio
Toulouse vs. Lille
Troyes vs. Evian Thonon
Stade Rennes vs. Nice
Nancy vs. Lyon
PSG vs. Valenciennes
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you see taking the UCL Final preview match between Dortmund and Bayern? See Chelsea getting all three points from their trip to Old Trafford? Think Barcelona, Juventus or PSG will clinch their respective league titles this weekend?
Share your comments below.