By JUSTIN FERGUSON
The last time a serious La Liga title contender entered the new San Mames stadium for a league match, it left with a streak-breaking loss.
Now that they trailing top rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by just one point in the race for the league lead, third-place Real Madrid will face fourth-place Athletic Bilbao on the road this weekend, looking to extend their 11-match unbeaten run in La Liga play.
After a slow start to the season by their lofty standards, Real Madrid have fought all the way back to the thick of the title race with 10 victories since their 2-1 El Clasico loss to Barcelona. Although Real defeated Bilbao 3-1 at the Bernabeu earlier this season, Bilbao have not lost a league match inside their brand-new stadium, posting nine wins and two draws so far this season. With Real leading Bilbao by 11 points for third place in the league, Sunday’s meeting at San Mames will mean more to Los Blancos’ spot in the race for the top.
In Italy, runaway title leaders Juventus suffered a small setback last weekend when they drew 1-1 with Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico, ending their long winning streak in Serie A play. Now the two-time defending champions will return to Juventus Stadium, where they have won 10 out of 10 league matches this season, to face fifth-place Inter Milan in another edition of the Derby d’Italia. Inter have not won since their narrow 1-0 Milan derby victory last month, but they would love nothing more than an upset victory against their traditional rivals to push them closer to the race for a Champions League spot.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
With new league leaders Manchester City facing third-place Chelsea on Monday, second-place Arsenal have a perfect opportunity Sunday to reclaim the top spot in the English Premier League — for at least a few hours. After a disappointing 2-2 draw at Southampton in the midweek, the Gunners will return to the Emirates Stadium for a home match against 14th-place Crystal Palace, who have posted back-to-back 1-0 wins to pull themselves four points clear of the drop zone. Arsenal have not lost a home league match since their opening day loss against Aston Villa, so the visiting Eagles will have a tough task ahead of them if they want to keep moving away from the drop Sunday.
After a solid 2-0 home victory against Cardiff City in Juan Mata’s debut match, Manchester United hit the road to take on a Stoke City side that is slowly sliding into danger in the EPL table. The Potters are on a six-match winless league streak heading into their Sunday home match with the Red Devils, who had to fight back to avoid a stunning home loss to Stoke earlier this season. Manchester United sit three points back from Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League spot and six points from Liverpool’s Champions League spot, so David Moyes’ side cannot afford to drop results against bottom-half sides if it wants to keep the dreams of Europe alive.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Newcastle United vs. Sunderland
West Ham United vs. Swansea City
Cardiff City vs. Norwich City
Everton vs. Aston Villa
Fulham vs. Southampton
Hull City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool
Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace
Tenth-place Valencia have only won one of their last six matches in La Liga play, and ending that slide will be extremely difficult this weekend as they travel to Camp Nou. First-place Barcelona have won 25 straight in La Liga at the legendary stadium and have outscored opponents 14-1 in their last five home league matches. Superstar Barcelona forward Lionel Messi netted a first-half hat trick in Barcelona’s 3-2 victory at the Mestalla earlier this season, and the Argentine will look to recreate some of that magic to break his personal goalless streak against La Liga competition.
Second-place Atletico Madrid still trail Barcelona on goal difference alone as they host Real Sociedad this weekend at the Vicente Calderon. Atletico are coming off a successful two-game road trip where they defeated Rayo Vallecano 4-2 and became the first road team to win at the new San Mames in Copa del Rey play by defeating Bilbao 2-1. Real Sociedad, who trail Bilbao by six points for the final Champions League spot in La Liga, recently defeated Elche 4-0 and played close with Atletico in their first meeting of the season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Granada vs. Celta Vigo
Barcelona vs. Valencia
Levante vs. Rayo Vallecano
Getafe vs. Real Valladolid
Malaga vs. Sevilla
Elche vs. Almeria
Real Betis vs. Espanyol
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Sociedad
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid
First-place Bayern Munich are coming off their 10th consecutive win, a thrilling 2-1 victory at Stuttgart featuring some late scissor-kick heroics by Thiago, in a Bundesliga race that seems to be all but locked up early in the second half of the season. With a 13-point league lead, Bayern return to the Allianz Arena to host 14th-place Eintracht Frankfurt, who gave the defending champions quite a scare in their first meeting of the season. Bayern have won all nine of their league matches at home so far this season, while Eintracht have only won once in their last five road trips.
Third-place Borussia Dortmund open the Bundesliga weekend with a good opportunity to end their four-match winless skid — a trip to last-place Eintracht Braunschweig. Although Braunschweig sit at the bottom of the league table, they have posted back-to-back shutouts to move just four points away from safety. Dortmund struggled with Braunschweig earlier this season, but a couple of late goals at Signal Iduna Park gave Jurgen Klopp’s men a 2-1 victory in their second match of the campaign.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Borussia Dortmund
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Stuttgart
Augsburg vs. Werder Bremen
Mainz vs. Freiburg
Schalke 04 vs. Wolfsburg
Hoffenheim vs. Hamburg
Hannover 96 vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Hertha Berlin vs. Augsburg
Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Second-place AS Roma will be hoping for a little help from Inter Milan on Sunday as they trail Juventus by six points, but the capital club will have to take care of its own business beforehand when they face seventh-place Parma. Both clubs are on winning streaks heading into their matchup at the Stadio Olimpico — Roma have won three following their loss to Juventus, while Parma have shot up the table with four straight victories. Roma won their first meeting of the season, a 3-1 result away from home, and they will be the favorites once again as they look to keep their unbeaten record in the capital city going.
After posting back-to-back draws, third-place Napoli will be on the hunt for all three points from their trip to 12th-place Atalanta on Sunday. Atalanta have continued their up-and-down ride through the season with back-to-back home victories and a 1-0 loss to Torino in their last three matches. Napoli have fared well away from home in recent weeks, scoring 10 goals in their last four road matches in Serie A.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Bologna vs. Udinese
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina
AC Milan vs. Torino
Genoa vs. Sampdoria
AS Roma vs. Parma
Atalanta vs. Napoli
Catania vs. Livorno
Chievo Verona vs. Lazio
Sassuolo vs. Hellas Verona
Juventus vs. Inter Milan
First-place Paris Saint-Germain return home to the Parc des Princes this weekend, a place where they have outscored their last five opponents 19-3. The Parisians open the Ligue 1 weekend Friday with a home match against seventh-place Bordeaux, who are trying to stay in the hunt for a European spot. Bordeaux have only won twice at home, but they have only lost twice as well — the seventh-place club has recorded a league-high six road draws this season.
Second-place AS Monaco have posted back-to-back 2-0 victories in Ligue 1 play to keep them three points behind defending champions PSG in the Ligue 1 race. This weekend, Monaco travel to Lorient, which has been one of the toughest places to place in France this season. Tenth-place Lorient have only lost once in their home stadium this season and could be a stiff challenge for a Monaco offense still trying to find its form without injured striker Radamel Falcao.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bordeaux
Lorient vs. AS Monaco
Bastia vs. Guingamp
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Ajaccio
Sochaux vs. Nantes
Saint Etienne vs. Valenciennes
Stade de Reims vs. Montpellier
Nice vs. Lille
Stade Rennes vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Toulouse
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Real Madrid will end Bilbao’s unbeaten start at the new San Mames Stadium? Who do you see taking the second Derby d’Italia of the season? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.