European Look Ahead: Champions League places up for grabs

European Look Ahead: Champions League places up for grabs

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European Look Ahead: Champions League places up for grabs

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Arsenal vs. newcastle

By JOHN BOSCHINI

The race for a coveted spot in next season's Champions League takes center stage in most leagues around Europe this weekend.

In Spain, Malaga and Levante square off in the weekend's early La Liga kickoff. Neither team was particularly heralded coming into the season but Levante currently occupies fourth place while Malaga lurks a single point behind. Malaga are in sixth place despite a -1 goal differential thanks in large part to a dominating home form. They have not lost to anyone not named Barcelona or Real Madrid at the Rosaleda since the beginning of the season.

England's version of "Monday Night Football" returns with a cracking match-up. Arsenal have been surging in recent weeks with impressive victories over Tottenham and Liverpool. Newcastle are sticking around on the edges of a Champions League spot far longer than many expected and Monday's result will go a long way to determining who wins the coveted fourth spot.

Here is a closer look at the upcoming fixtures from around Europe.

England

With Tottenham's loss last weekend, it's a near certainty the EPL title will be headed back to Manchester and both United and City face opponents that could prove tricky. Manchester City travel west to take on a 14th-placed Swansea team that has beaten Arsenal and drawn with Chelsea at home while United welcomes a dangerous West Brom side that is better on the road.

Chelsea have their first league game under new manager Roberto Di Matteo. The Blues are three points off Arsenal and are in desperate need of a statement win at home against Stoke City.

SATURDAY

Bolton Wanderers vs. Queens Park Rangers, 7:45 a.m.
Aston Villa vs. Fulham, 10 a.m. 
Chelsea vs. Stoke City, 10 a.m. 
Sunderland vs. Liverpool, 10 a.m.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Blackburn Rovers, 10 a.m. 
Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 12:30 p.m.  

SUNDAY

Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion, 10 a.m. 
Swansea City vs. Manchester City, 10 a.m. 
Norwich City vs. Wigan Athletic, 12:30 p.m.

MONDAY

Arsenal vs. Newcastle United, 4 p.m. 

Spain

Real Madrid and Barcelona hit the road as the top two sides continue to pull away from the pack. Lionel Messi will look to build on the momentum created by his five-goal masterpiece in the Champions League with a game against relegation-threatened Racing Santander.

Real Madrid shouldn't have a problem with 12th placed Real Betis. Gonzalo Higuain bagged a hat trick when the teams met in October.

SATURDAY

Malaga vs. Levante, 12 p.m.
Real Sociedad vs. Real Zaragoza, 12 p.m.
Sporting Gijon vs. Sevilla FC, 2 p.m.
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid, 4 p.m.

SUNDAY

Atletico Madrid vs. Granada, 7 a.m.
Espanyol vs. Rayo Vallecano, 7 a.m.
Valencia vs. Mallorca, 11 a.m.
Racing Santander vs. Barcelona, 1 p.m.
Osasuna vs. Athletic Bilbao, 4:30 p.m. 

MONDAY

Villareal vs. Getafe, 4 p.m.

Germany

Bayern Munich will try to get back into the title race after last weekend's 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen's left them seven points adrift of Borussia Dortmund. The defending champions will look to extend their lead with a trip to relegation-threatened FC Augsburg.

Schalke have to be careful as their lead in fourth place over Bayer Leverkusen has shrunk to four points. Leverkusen have a point to prove after Wednesday's humiliation in Spain.

FRIDAY

VfB Stuttgart vs. Kaiserslautern, 2:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Bayern Munich vs. TSG Hoffenheim, 9:30 a.m.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. SC Freiburg, 9:30 a.m.
FC Cologne vs. Hertha Berlin, 9:30 a.m.
Mainz vs. Nurnberg, 9:30 a.m.
VfL Wolfsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen, 9:30 a.m.
FC Augsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund, 12:30 p.m. 

SUNDAY

Werder Bremen vs. Hannover 96, 10:30 a.m.
Schalke 04 vs. Hamburg SV, 12:30 p.m. 

Italy

Chievo Verona continue to be one of the surprises of the Serie A season and can further add to Inter Milan's woes when the two clubs meet on Friday. Chievo dealt a blow to Juventus' title hopes with a draw last weekend and Inter Milan's Champions League hopes are fading rapidly.

AC Milan should hold on to the Serie A lead with a home stand against lowly Lecce. Juventus will try to keep pace with a trip to Genoa.

FRIDAY

Chievo Verona vs. Inter Milan, 2:45 p.m.
Napoli vs. Cagliari, 2:45 p.m. 

SATURDAY

Palermo vs. AS Roma, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

AC Milan vs. Lecce, 10 a.m.
Atalanta vs. Parma, 10 a.m.
Catania vs. Fiorentina, 10 a.m.
Cesena vs. Siena, 10 a.m.
Genoa vs. Juventus, 10 a.m.
Lazio vs. Bologna, 3:45 p.m.
Novara vs. Udinese, 3:45 p.m. 

France

If Lyon are to return to the Champions League next season, Saturday's matchup with Lille is crucial. Lyon are seven points adrift of third place but should gain an advantage from playing at home.

Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain take to the road as the top two are separated by only one point.

FRIDAY

AC Ajaccio vs. Marseille, 2 p.m.

SATURDAY

Brest vs. Bordeaux, 1 p.m.
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Sochaux, 1 p.m. 
Nice vs. AS Nancy Lorraine, 1 p.m.
Toulouse vs. Lorient, 1 p.m.
Valenciennes vs. St Etienne, 1 p.m.
Lyon vs. Lille, 3 p.m. 

SUNDAY

Dijon FCO vs. Paris Saint-Germain, 12 p.m.
Stade Rennes vs. AJ Auxerre, 12 p.m.
Montpellier vs. Caen, 4 p.m. 

The Netherlands

The top six teams in the Netherlands are separated by only five points. AZ Alkmaar will try to hold off a charging FC Twente that has scored 65 goals so far this season and amassed a +40 goal differential. None of the top six teams face off against each other this weekend.

FRIDAY

Roda JC Kerkrade vs. VVV Venlo, 2 p.m.

SATURDAY

FC Groningen vs. Vitesse Arnhem, 12:45 p.m.
SC Heracles Almelo vs. ADO Den Haag, 1:45 p.m.
Heerenveen vs. Excelsior, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

NAC Breda vs. PSV Eindhoven, 7:30 a.m.
Ajax vs. RKC Waalwijk, 9:30 a.m.
Feyenoord Rotterdam vs. FC Utrecht, 9:30 a.m. 
NEC Nijmegen vs. FC Twente, 9:30 a.m. 
De Graafschap vs. AZ Alkmaar, 11:30 a.m. 

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What do you think of this weekend's fixtures? Who do you think will make next season's Champions League? Will Arsenal and Newcastle have another contentious contest?

Share your thoughts below.

 

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