Photo by Michael Zemanek / ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Arsenal’s draw with Manchester City last weekend may have kept them alive in a crowded race for the English Premier League title, but a road loss this weekend could do more than keep them out of contention—it could keep them out of the Champions League next season.
Fourth-place Arsenal are four points of fifth-place Everton heading into Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where Everton have only lost once in league play this season. Everton, who have a match in hand on Arsenal, have won six straight at home and will be looking to move closer to a Champions League spot with a victory Sunday. The Toffees could be boosted by the return of Phil Jagielka to the starting lineup, but bright young midfielder Ross Barkley might miss Sunday’s clash after leaving last weekend’s match against Fulham with an injury.
Arsenal are slowly getting back to health as Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal return to Arsene Wenger’s squad this weekend. Although Everton will enter the match with more momentum, the two sides battled to a 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium and have played extremely tight matches in recent seasons. In the last eight EPL fixtures between Arsenal and Everton, neither side has won a match by more than one goal, making for another intense battle at Goodison Park on Sunday.
In Spain, third-place Real Madrid have rallied from their short slump with a 5-0 rout of Rayo Vallecano in league play and a 3-0 first-leg victory against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals. This weekend, Los Blancos look to stay within striking distance of crosstown rivals Atletico when they visit fifth-place Real Sociedad. Madrid had no problem with Sociedad in their 5-1 smashing earlier this season, but Sociedad have won three of their last four home matches—including a 3-1 victory against Barcelona—to keep them in the hunt for a Champions League spot.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
First-place Liverpool take their two-point lead atop the EPL table into Upton Park this weekend for a road match against 11th-place West Ham United, who have won four of their last five matches at home. Liverpool have won eight league matches in a row and are on a remarkable offensive tear, scoring three or more goals in seven of those victories. While West Ham have cemented themselves in the midtable of the EPL after a solid run of form, they will definitely have their hands full against a Liverpool side that controls its own destiny in the race for a league title.
Second-place Chelsea are looking to stay unbeaten at Stamford Bridge in league matches under Jose Mourinho this weekend, when they take on a 10th-place Stoke City side that defeated Chelsea 3-2 earlier this season. The Potters have also won four of their last five league matches to put them into the top half of the league table, but they also sport won of England’s worst home records—just two wins in 16 trips away from the Britannia. Mourinho’s Blues have lost back-to-back matches after their 6-0 destruction of Arsenal and will need to get back to their winning ways this weekend.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Manchester City vs. Southampton
Aston Villa vs. Fulham
Cardiff City vs. Crystal Palace
Hull City vs. Swansea City
Newcastle United vs. Manchester United
Norwich City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Chelsea vs. Stoke City
Everton vs. Arsenal
West Ham United vs. Liverpool
First-place Atletico Madrid are winners of five straight in La Liga, and they hope to stay ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid with a victory against Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon. Atletico also grabbed a precious road goal against Barcelona earlier this week in the Champions League, a competition that could lead to some interesting lineup decisions for manager Diego Simeone. Villarreal forced Atletico to share points in their meeting earlier this season, but the league leaders will most likely need all three from the match to stay on top in La Liga.
Second-place Barcelona will hope to end their rough week on a high note against last-place Real Betis at Camp Nou. On top of the club’s 1-1 home draw with Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinals, Barcelona now have to deal with the news of a transfer ban for the next two windows. Barcelona handled Betis 4-1 in their first meeting of the season, and they should have no problem posting another victory at home as they prepare for an all-important second leg with La Liga’s leaders next week.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Almeria vs. Osasuna
Atletico Madrid vs. Villarreal
Barcelona vs. Real Betis
Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid
Rayo Vallecano vs. Celta Vigo
Malaga vs. Granada
Elche vs. Getafe
Sevilla vs. Espanyol
Real Valladolid vs. Valencia
Before Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich return to the Allianz Arena for the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal against Manchester United, the title holders must visit eighth-place Augsburg in league play. Bayern had no problem with Augsburg in their 3-0 meeting earlier this season, and Augsburg will enter Saturday’s match on a four-match winless skid. With the title already sealed for Bayern, the storyline surrounding this match will be if Bayern can continue their impressive domestic unbeaten run and get ready for the visit from Man United.
The match of the weekend in the Bundesliga will be second-place Borussia Dortmund vs. fifth-place Wolfsburg at the Signal Iduna Park. While Dortmund hold a one-point lead over Schalke for the runners-up spot in the league, Wolfsburg are one point behind fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen for the final Champions League spot in Germany. Wolfsburg have not lost since their 6-1 demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich, and they will have more momentum heading into a match against a Dortmund side that was humbled 3-0 at the Bernabeu earlier this week.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Hamburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Mainz
Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich
Nurnberg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Stuttgart vs. Freiburg
Werder Bremen vs. Schalke
Borussia Dortmund vs. Wolfsburg
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Hamburg
Hertha Berlin vs. Hoffenheim
Second-place AS Roma can put extra pressure on league-leading Juventus, who play Monday, when they visit 15th-place Cagliari. The two sides battled it out to a scoreless draw, the only one of the season for Cagliari, in their first matchup at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this season. Roma are rolling on a five-match winning streak as they try to keep their long-shot chance at a league title alive, while Cagliari have done just enough in an up-and-down run of form to stay five points above the drop zone.
Sixth-place Parma are gunning for a return to European action next season, and they will have a tough matchup standing in their way this weekend when they host third-place Napoli. Rafa Benitez’s squad is fresh off a 2-0 victory against league-leading Juventus, but Parma managed to squeak out a 1-0 road win against Napoli earlier this season. Parma have dropped three straight close matches against top Serie A competition, and they are hanging onto their Europa League spot by a thread heading into Sunday’s match.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Chievo Verona vs. Hellas Verona
Inter Milan vs. Bologna
Lazio vs. Sampdoria
Atalanta vs. Sassuolo
Cagliari vs. AS Roma
Catania vs. Torino
Fiorentina vs. Udinese
Parma vs. Napoli
First-place Paris Saint-Germain will start their stretch of matches without star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they host seventh-place Stade de Reims this Saturday. Ibrahimovic was injured in PSG’s victory against Chelsea in the Champions League, and now they will have to go a few weeks without the Swedish goalscorer. The capital club should have few problems against a side it beat 3-0 away from home earlier this season, but they will have to replace the offensive production of a dynamic playmaker like Ibrahimovic.
Second-place AS Monaco will try to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to Evian Thonon Gaillard this Sunday when they face 14th-place Nantes at the Stade Louis II. Monaco are 13 points behind league-leading PSG and nine points ahead of fourth-place Saint Etienne in the race for Champions League qualification, but they will want to finish their grand return to Ligue 1 strong with only seven matches to play. Nantes are unbeaten in their last four matches and sit a safe eight points above the drop zone and will be looking for a better result than their 1-0 loss to Monaco earlier this season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Marseille vs. AC Ajaccio
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Stade de Reims
Bastia vs. Sochaux
Bordeaux vs. Stade Rennes
Guingamp vs. Montpellier
Lorient vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Toulouse vs. Lille
Saint Etienne vs. Nice
Valenciennes vs. Lyon
AS Monaco vs. Nantes
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Everton getting an important win at home Sunday against Arsenal? Think Real Madrid continue their turnaround against Real Sociedad? See any potential upsets this weekend?
Share your thoughts below.