Photo by Matt West / ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
When Chelsea and Manchester United met at Old Trafford in the second weekend of the English Premier League season, the match was billed as a early clash between two high-powered title favorites.
While Chelsea are still very much in the hunt for the trophy, a lot has changed for the defending champions since that scoreless draw back in August.
A desperate and banged-up Manchester United squad will visit Stamford Bridge this weekend to face third-place Chelsea, who still remain two points behind league leaders Arsenal as the second half of the EPL schedule rolls on. While seventh-place Manchester United’s long list of injuries include Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, who was a major transfer storyline between the two clubs in their first meeting, most of the first-choice lineup will be at Jose Mourinho’s disposal for Chelsea, who will be hoping to extend their five-match unbeaten run against the Red Devils this Sunday.
In Spain, second-place Atletico Madrid will try to keep level with first-place Barcelona after the two sides’ scoreless draw at the Vicente Calderon. Atletico are still unbeaten this season in the comforts of their home stadium, where they will host a seventh-place Sevilla side that is on the rise in La Liga thanks to a seven-match unbeaten run. The hosts will look for more fine goalscoring from Diego Costa, who notched a brace in Atletico’s season-opening 3-1 victory at Sevilla.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Second-place Manchester City can continue their title push and get some revenge this weekend when they host Cardiff City at Ethiad Stadium. The Bluebirds pulled off a shocking 3-2 home win against Man City earlier this season, but they have struggled since their famous upset back home in Wales. Manchester City, who are a perfect 10-0-0 at home this season, will welcome back star forward Sergio Aguero to league play Saturday and have a great chance to build onto their massive +32 home goal differential.
Liverpool return to Anfield, where they have won their last seven league matches, this Saturday to take on 11th-place Aston Villa. The Liverpool strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge was reunited last weekend in a wild 5-3 victory over Stoke City, and they will look to stay hot against a team that has been in decent road form. The Reds lead Everton by one point in the race for a Champions League spot, so they will want to put extra pressure on their crosstown rivals with three more points Saturday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Sunderland vs. Southampton
Arsenal vs. Fulham
Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City
Manchester City vs. Cardiff City
Norwich City vs. Hull City
West Ham United vs. Newcastle United
Liverpool vs. Aston Villa
Swansea City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
First-place Barcelona will play their third road match in a span of eight days on Sunday when they face 10th-place Levante, who have been up and down in form in recent weeks. The defending champions had zero problems with Levante in their first meeting of the season — a 7-0 season-opening drubbing at Camp Nou — and they will enter Sunday’s matchup with the momentum from an easy Copa del Rey victory against Getafe. Levante have yet to get a signature win this season, and it will be tough to even come away with a point against a Barcelona team that is unbeaten in their last nine across all competitions.
A lot in La Liga has changed for Real Betis since Real Madrid’s last visit to the Estadio Benito Villamarin. When Betis defeated Madrid 1-0 at home last season, the hosts finished their season in seventh place and had qualified for Europa League. This season, however, Betis are in last place in La Liga and winless in their last dozen league matches. On the other side, third-place Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last nine in league play and will have a real chance to put pressure on rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who lead Los Blancos by just three points in the race for the league crown.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Malaga vs. Valencia
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid
Elche vs. Rayo Vallecano
Granada vs. Osasuna
Espanyol vs. Celta Vigo
Getafe vs. Real Sociedad
Villarreal vs. Almeria
Levante vs. Barcelona
Atletico Madrid vs. Sevilla
First-place Juventus will look to make it a dozen consecutive wins in Serie A when they host 12th-place Sampdoria on Saturday. Gianluigi Buffon and his defense have not allowed a goal in their last six league matches at Juventus Stadium, but they will have an intriguing test ahead of them when they host a Sampdoria squad that defeated Udinese 3-0 last weekend. Juve won the two sides’ first meeting of the season, a 1-0 finish that featured Carlos Tevez’s first career goal for the defending Italian champions.
The Serie A weekend will wrap up Sunday at the San Siro, where 11th-place AC Milan will begin their new era under manager Clarence Seedorf with a home match against sixth-place Hellas Verona. Milan have won one of their last five matches, and the result of their latest match, a 4-3 loss at the hands of Sassuolo teenage sensation Domenico Berardi, led to former manager Massamiliano Allegri’s firing. Milan will hope for a boost from both Seedorf’s appointment and their return to their home stadium against Hellas Verona, who are trying to stay in the fight for a European spot after last week’s 3-0 home defeat to Napoli.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
AS Roma vs. Livorno
Juventus vs. Sampdoria
Udinese vs. Lazio
Atalanta vs. Cagliari
Bologna vs. Napoli
Catania vs. Fiorentina
Chievo Verona vs. Parma
Genoa vs. Inter Milan
Sassuolo vs. Torino
AC Milan vs. Hellas Verona
After their 2-1 comeback victory over last-place Ajaccio, first-place Paris Saint-Germain return home to the Parc des Princes this weekend to host USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and sixth-place Nantes. PSG defeated Nantes 2-1 in their first meeting of the season, which was the defending champions’ first victory of their slow-starting campaign. Nantes are coming off a 1-0 league victory against Lorient and a wild 4-3 French Cup win against Nice, giving the club momentum heading into a match where an upset could push them into the thick of the European qualification race.
Friday’s match from France looks to be a good one as third-place Lille travel to play fourth-place Saint Etienne. The hosts still have some work to do if they want to catch Lille and grab a Champions League spot, but they have posted four consecutive shutouts heading into their rematch with the third-place club. Lille’s defense has been somewhat shaky after their long clean sheet streak came to an end — they have allowed six goals in their last four matches, with only one of those resulting in a Lille win.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Saint Etienne vs. Lille
Marseille vs. Valenciennes
Bastia vs. Bordeaux
Lorient vs. Guingamp
Nice vs. Ajaccio
Sochaux vs. Montpellier
Stade Rennes vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Stade de Reims vs. Lyon
Toulouse vs. AS Monaco
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Nantes
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Chelsea continuing their run of good results against Manchester United? Think Atletico will cool off Sevilla’s streak in La Liga play? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.