By JUSTIN FERGUSON
With fellow title contenders Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool off from English Premier League action, Chelsea have a perfect opportunity this weekend to get one step closer to the title.
The first-place Blues, who are on a 13-match unbeaten run in EPL play, will head into Saturday’s clash against fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur with a 4-point lead on second-place Arsenal. Although Tottenham have won more matches away from home than any other club in the EPL, Chelsea will be favored to grab all three points at home and put more pressure on their major rivals in the race for the title. Chelsea are still unbeaten in league play at home under Jose Mourinho, and visiting Spurs are winless in their last 16 trips to Stamford Bridge across all competitions.
Tottenham will look for a result in order to stay in the midst of the race for a Champions League spot, but they will visit the Bridge with several major injury concerns, especially in defense. Their low-scoring offense has also come under fire in recent weeks, and it will go toe-to-toe Saturday against a Chelsea defense that has only allowed two goals in their last five league games at home. Saturday’s match against Chelsea will open a grueling month of March for Spurs, one that includes matches against Arsenal, Benfica and Liverpool.
Another clash between a league leader and a Champions League contender will take place in Italy, where first-place Juventus will host fourth-place Fiorentina in Turin. Sunday’s match at Juventus Stadium will be the first of three March matches between the two sides, who will also square off in the Europa League Round of 16. Fiorentina handed Juventus their lone Serie A loss of the season back in October, a 4-2 thriller for the Viola, and the defending champions would want nothing more than another home victory on their quest to a third consecutive league title.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
The final eight are set in the FA Cup, and this weekend’s top cup match is most definitely Saturday’s battle between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium. The two sides played out a dramatic 1-1 draw in North London back in December, when Gerard Deulofeu’s 84th-minute equalizer canceled out a late goal from Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. Both sides have their injury concerns heading into this match, and Everton will be without captain Phil Jagielka for this important quarterfinal clash.
Perhaps the most important EPL clash of the weekend will be found at the bottom of the table, where 19th-place Cardiff City host last-place Fulham in a true relegation six-pointer. Both teams have different managers from their September match, a 2-1 road victory for Cardiff, but they are still in serious danger of being dropped from the top division at the end of the season. While Fulham are winless in their last eight EPL matches, Cardiff City have not scored once in their last four — will either streak end in Wales this Saturday?
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester United
Cardiff City vs. Fulham
Crystal Palace vs. Southampton
Norwich City vs. Stoke City
Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Here are this weekend’s matches in the FA Cup quarterfinals:
Arsenal vs. Everton
Sheffield United vs. Charlton Athletic
Hull City vs. Sunderland
Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic
First-place Real Madrid are back at the Bernabeu this weekend after a blowout Champions League victory at Schalke and a hard-fought draw with crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon. With a one-point lead on Barcelona in the league table, Real Madrid will host eighth-place Levante this Sunday. Levante blew a late lead to Real Madrid in the final minutes of their first meeting this season, a 3-2 Los Blancos victory that included a 90th-minute Alvaro Morata equalizer and a last-second Cristiano Ronaldo match-winner.
Barcelona will hope Levante can get a road result this Sunday, but first the defending champions have to take care of business Saturday at 19th-place Real Valladolid. Although Real Valladolid have only won once in their last 10 La Liga matches, they have lost just three times at home this season. However, Barcelona cruised to a 4-1 against Valladolid in their meeting at Camp Nou, and they have outscored opponents 17-3 in their current 4-match winning streak.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Real Valladolid vs. Barcelona
Real Betis vs. Getafe
Celta Vigo vs. Atletico Madrid
Granada vs. Villarreal
Espanyol vs. Elche
Almeria vs. Sevilla
Real Madrid vs. Levante
Valencia vs. Athletic Bilbao
Fifth-place Wolfsburg is one of the few Bundesliga teams who have played close to dominant Bayern Munich this season, and they will look to end the defending champions’ 15-match winning streak in league play this Saturday. Wolfsburg will have to bounce back from their shocking 6-2 loss to Hoffenheim against a Bayern side that has scored 20 goals in their last five Bundesliga matches. Bayern only had four shots on goal in their 1-0 victory against Wolfsburg earlier this season, which was only a third of what they had in last weekend’s victory against Schalke.
Now that they are back to second place in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund will look to keep their momentum going this weekend against 17th-place Freiburg. Dortmund routed Freiburg 5-0 in their match at Signal Iduna Park this season, and their offense is starting to click with 14 goals in the last five league matches. Freiburg are on a 5-match winless skid in Bundesliga play, but a positive result could push them away from the drop zone in a crowded bottom of the table.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Augsburg
Hamburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Hannover vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Schalke vs. Hoffenheim
Stuttgart vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich
Nurnberg vs. Werder Bremen
Freiburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Mainz vs. Hertha Berlin
After first-place Juventus and fourth-place Fiorentina battle it out in Turin, second-place AS Roma will visit third-place Napoli in an important 6-pointer for Champions League positioning. Roma defeated Napoli 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this season thanks to a brace from midfielder Miralem Pjanic. Both teams are on good-sized unbeaten runs in league play right now, with Roma only allowing one goal in their last seven Serie A matches.
Fifth-place Inter Milan are hanging onto a Europa League spot in a crowded top-half of the Serie A table, and they will take their four-match unbeaten run into a Sunday home match against ninth-place Torino. Inter have only lost one match this season at the San Siro, while Torino have won three of their last five road matches in Serie A play. The two sides played out a dramatic 3-3 draw in Turin earlier this season, with Torino’s Nicola Bellomo notching a 90th-minute equalizer on the Inter defense.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Udinese vs. AC Milan
Catania vs. Cagliari
Juventus vs. Fiorentina
Bologna vs. Sassuolo
Chievo Verona vs. Genoa
Inter Milan vs. Torino
Lazio vs. Atalanta
Parma vs. Hellas Verona
Sampdoria vs. Livorno
Napoli vs. AS Roma
First-place Paris Saint-Germain will look to make it 12 straight Ligue 1 matches without a loss this weekend when they visit ninth-place Bastia. The defending champions routed Bastia 4-0 at the Parc des Princes in October with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani each netting a brace. Bastia are winless in their last three Ligue 1 matches, and they have not had good fortune at home against top teams, falling 2-0 to both AS Monaco and Saint Etienne in back-to-back matches.
After their 2-0 loss to Saint Etienne, second-place AS Monaco return to the Stade Louis II to take on 19th-place Sochaux. Monaco drew 2-2 with Sochaux in their first meeting of the season, and this weekend’s hosts will look to improve from losing their two-goal lead in October at the Auguste-Bonal. Sochaux are starting to turn the corner in their hopes of avoiding relegation and have lost only once in their last six matches in Ligue 1 play.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Marseille vs. Nice
Bastia vs. Paris Saint-Germain
AS Monaco vs. Sochaux
Guingamp vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Nantes vs. Ajaccio
Toulouse vs. Stade de Reims
Valenciennes vs. Stade Rennes
Lille vs. Montpellier
Lorient vs. Saint Etienne
Bordeaux vs. Lyon
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Chelsea extending their lead in the English Premier League? Think Fiorentina can pull off another upset of Juventus? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.