Photo by Kieran McManus / ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Arsenal are back to the top of the English Premier League, but they will have to overcome a tough opponent if they want to keep it that way this weekend.
The first-place Gunners will kick off the weekend action from England this Saturday at Anfield, the legendary home of fourth-place Liverpool. The high-scoring Reds, led by former Arsenal transfer target Luis Suarez and in-form strike partner Daniel Sturridge, will be looking to further cement their place in the Top 4 with yet another home EPL victory.
The last time these two sides squared off, Arsenal won a 2-0 match at Emirates Stadium thanks to goals from Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey. However, that November meeting was the last time Liverpool have been shutout in league play, and they enter Saturday’s rematch having won eight of their last nine matches at Anfield. Arsenal, who hold a two-point advantage over Manchester City in the race for the league lead, are on an eight-match unbeaten run and have scored multiple goals in each of their last five in EPL play.
In France, the league leaders will also be on the road as Paris Saint-Germain visit the Stade Louis II for their match with second-place AS Monaco. The two sides drew 1-1 at the Parc des Princes earlier this season in the first meeting of the new big-money Ligue 1 contenders, but Radamel Falcao was the scorer back then for Monaco. The hosts will have to try to find goals without the talents of the star Colombian forward while slowing down the PSG attack, which is averaging almost three goals a match since their last loss of the league campaign.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
After a huge win against Manchester City at the Ethiad Stadium last Monday, third-place Chelsea will be looking for some revenge this weekend as eighth-place Newcastle United visit Stamford Bridge. Newcastle defeated Chelsea 2-0 in their first meeting of the league season, but the Blues are undefeated at home in EPL play under manager Jose Mourinho. The Magpies are coming off a stunning 3-0 derby loss to Sunderland, and their struggling offense will have a tough test ahead of them Saturday against a Chelsea side that has kept a clean sheet in four of their last five EPL matches.
Saturday’s South Wales Derby will have an extra bit of intrigue following the firing of Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup. Swans captain Garry Monk will be in charge for the rivalry match at 19th-place Cardiff City, who trail 12th-place Swansea City by just three points in a jam-packed bottom half of the EPL table. Cardiff defeated Norwich at home last weekend for their first win under manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, and they will be eager to repeat their performance in order to get both South Wales Derby victories in their first EPL season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Aston Villa vs. West Ham United
Chelsea vs. Newcastle United
Crystal Palace vs. West Bromwich Albion
Norwich City vs. Manchester City
Southampton vs. Stoke City
Sunderland vs. Hull City
Swansea City vs. Cardiff City
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton
Manchester United vs. Fulham
The weekend’s top fixture in La Liga is third-place Real Madrid’s home match against fifth-place Villarreal at the Bernabeu. Los Blancos will look to stay in the thick of the tight title race with their two biggest rivals with a victory against last season’s Segunda Division champions, but they will have to do so without the likes of superstar winger Cristiano Ronaldo, who is suspended the next three league matches for his red card from last weekend’s match against Athletic Bilbao. Villarreal played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in their first meeting of the season, and an upset victory at the Bernabeu could move them into the prized fourth-place slot in La Liga over Bilbao.
Atletico Madrid will take the field Saturday at lowly Almeria as league leaders for the first time since 1996, and they will be favored to keep that lead intact through the weekend. Almeria sit just two points ahead of the drop zone heading into their home match against the new first-place outfit, but they have posted three consecutive league shutouts at the Juegos Mediterraneos. Almeria will most likely sit back and play their defensive style in hopes of grabbing a point, putting the pressure on Diego Costa and the Atletico offense to get the road victory Saturday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Espanyol vs. Granada
Valencia vs. Real Betis
Rayo Vallecano vs. Malaga
Real Madrid vs. Villarreal
Almeria vs. Atletico Madrid
Osasuna vs. Getafe
Real Valladolid vs. Elche
Real Sociedad vs. Levante
Sevilla vs. Barcelona
The Bundesliga weekend kicks off with a great matchup as second-place Bayer Leverkusen travel to face fifth-place Borussia Monchengladbach — a fixture that has produced some high-scoring matches in recent years. Leverkusen grabbed a much-needed home win last weekend against Stuttgart and will look to keep their four-point lead over last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund with a road win at Borussia Park. After back-to-back losses to start the second half of the Bundesliga campaign, Monchengladbach need some sort of positive result at home to stay in the race for a Champions League spot.
First-place Bayern Munich will look to keep their dominant run through Bundesliga play going this weekend when they travel to a resurgent but relegation-threated Nurnberg. Timothy Chandler and Nurnberg have won back-to-back matches in their current five-match unbeaten streak to move themselves to a safe 15th-place spot, but they are tied on points with playoff-zoned Freiburg heading into this weekend’s action. Grabbing even a single point will be tough this weekend for Chandler and company as Bayern have won 11 straight matches in Bundesliga play.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Nurnberg vs. Bayern Munich
Freiburg vs. Hoffenheim
Wolfsburg vs. Mainz
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund
Hamburg vs. Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart vs. Augsburg
Schalke 04 vs. Hannover 96
First-place Juventus will put their 14-match unbeaten streak against Serie A competition on the line Sunday when they travel to fifth-place Hellas Verona, who played close with the back-to-back defending champions in their match in Turin earlier this season. Juve are coming off a relatively easy 3-1 home win against rival Inter Milan in last weekend’s Derby d’Italia, and they have outscored opponents 13-3 in their last five trips away from home. Hellas are still holding onto the fifth and final European qualification spot in Serie A after ending their three-match losing skid last weekend, but they might have to survive a tough test at home to keep that spot.
After their match last weekend against Parma was suspended due to heavy rain, second-place AS Roma stay in the capital for the always-heated Eternal City Derby against ninth-place Lazio. Roma, who trail Juventus by nine points in the race for the title, have won three straight in Serie A play and will look for a repeat of their 2-0 victory against their bitter rivals at the Stadio Olimpico. Lazio are unbeaten in their last five league matches and sit just four points back from fifth-place Hellas Verona in a crowded top-half of the Serie A table.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Fiorentina vs. Atalanta
Udinese vs. Chievo Verona
Napoli vs. AC Milan
Torino vs. Bologna
Hellas Verona vs. Juventus
Lazio vs. AS Roma
Livorno vs. Genoa
Parma vs. Catania
Sampdoria vs. Cagliari
Inter Milan vs. Sassuolo
Third-place Lille are currently on a five-match winless skid, one that has put their position for a Champions League spot in jeopardy with fourth-place Saint Etienne trailing by just one point. Lille will have a great opportunity to turn it around this weekend at home against 19th-place Sochaux, who will be looking to grab back-to-back wins in their efforts to get out of the relegation zone. Lille handled Sochaux 2-0 earlier this season thanks to a first-half brace from Nolan Roux, but their defense will most likely be put to the test again when a Sochaux offense that put up more shots on goal in their first meeting comes to the sparkling Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Toulouse vs. Saint Etienne
Marseille vs. Bastia
Ajaccio vs. Stade Rennes
Guingamp vs. Stade de Reims
Lille vs. Sochaux
Montpellier vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Valenciennes vs. Nice
Nantes vs. Lyon
Bordeaux vs. Lorient
AS Monaco vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Arsenal can hold onto the top spot in the EPL after their trip to Anfield? See AS Monaco giving PSG trouble in their clash of Ligue 1 powers? Interested in any of the weekend’s derby matches?
Share your thoughts below.