By JUSTIN FERGUSON
At the end of their last league match, a dramatic 2-2 draw with Everton, Tottenham Hotspur had control of third place in the Premier League table.
Two weeks later, as Tottenham have been away from domestic competition, London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal have moved past Spurs and into England’s last two Champions League spots.
When Spurs return to action this Sunday, they will be 10 days removed from a heartbreaking Europa League exit at FC Basel. Star winger Gareth Bale’s status is unknown for the match. Arsenal’s lead over their North London rival could be as many as five points before kickoff at White Hart Lane.
And to make things even more difficult, Tottenham will have to defend their home turf against the hottest squad in England.
Tottenham will look to record a much-needed win over second-place Manchester City, who have won eight of their last nine matches and are on their way to the FA Cup Final next month. While other top teams in England have slipped down the home stretch, the defending champions are playing some of their best soccer this season.
City took the two sides’ earlier meeting this season by a 2-1 margin. Top scorer Edin Dzeko played the super sub role to perfection in the November win at the Ethiad, knocking in a pass from David Silva in the 88th minute to cap off a second-half comeback.
In Italy, league-leading Juventus will face their final big test of the Serie A campaign when they host third-place AC Milan on Sunday.
Juve lead second-place Napoli by 11 points with six matches to play, and their last five matches of the season will all be against teams from outside the hunt for European qualification. If they can get a good result against Milan, it should be smooth sailing for the defending champions all the way to their 29th domestic title.
Milan currently sit four points behind second-place Napoli and ahead of fourth-place Fiorentina, so the Rossoneri will not be making any moves in the table this weekend. Manager Massimiliano Allegri told reporters after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Napoli that he still thinks Milan can grab the runner-up spot by season’s end. But unlike Juventus, Milan still have a couple more tough matchups left. Milan still have home matches with European hopefuls Roma and Catania on the remainder of their schedule.
The question heading into Sunday’s clash at Turin is which impressive league streak will come to an end. Juventus have won five straight matches, but Milan are still sporting an undefeated record in 2013. Milan handed Juventus their second loss of the season back in November, a match that helped spark the Rossoneri’s surge towards the top of the Serie A standings.
Here is a closer look at the rest of this weekend’s top action in Europe:
Two other top teams in England will battle it out following the conclusion of Tottenham-Manchester City on Sunday. After getting a bounceback road win at Fulham earlier in the week, Chelsea will travel up to the Northwest for Rafa Benitez’s return to Liverpool. Anfield has been tough recently for the Blues, who are winless in their last five trips to the historic stadium. Depending on the result of Arsenal’s trip to Fulham on Saturday, Chelsea might be behind the Gunners once again in the back-and-forth battle for Champions League positioning. Liverpool will enter Sunday’s match at Anfield during the middle of a club power outage— the Reds have played back-to-back scoreless draws against bottom-half clubs.
On Saturday, two teams desperate for points in their fight to stay up will meet at Loftus Road. Queens Park Rangers, now 10 points away from safety, will have to win at least four out of their five matches to have a chance at survival—and they have a solid chance at victory this weekend against Stoke City. The Potters, who have fallen all the way down to just three points above the drop zone, have not recorded a win in their last seven league matches. While QPR’s current form is not impressive by any means, Saturday’s hosts averaged two goals in their last five matches. Stoke City, on the other hand, have scored only twice during their current winless stretch.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Premier League:
Fulham vs. Arsenal
Norwich City vs. Reading
QPR vs. Stoke City
Sunderland vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Southampton
West Bromwich Albion vs. Newcastle United
West Ham United vs. Wigan Athletic
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Saturday will feature a battle between the fifth and sixth place teams in La Liga, two sides that are trying to keep the pressure on fourth-place Real Sociedad for that final Champions League spot. Fifth-place Malaga travel to face sixth-place Valencia, who managed to score in the dying moments of their last two matches to draw level with Malaga in points. Malaga ended their three-match losing streak last week with a 1-0 win over bottom-half Osasuna, Real Sociedad’s opponent for Sunday. A draw could put both teams six points behind Sociedad by the end of the weekend, so look for both teams to push hard for a win on Saturday.
While league leaders and Champions League semfinalists Barcelona will most likely start another youth-filled lineup for their match Saturday against struggling Levante, Real Madrid will face a tougher league challenge ahead of next week’s first leg at Borussia Dortmund. No matter the result on Saturday, city rival Atletico will not be able to take control of second place in the league, but Jose Mourinho has showed no signs of fielding a weak side in domestic play. On Saturday, Los Blancos host European hopeful Real Betis, who rallied from three goals down last weekend to get a draw against rival Sevilla. Betis will be looking for an upset to improve their chances at Europe next season, so this weekend’s match at the Bernabeu is not expected to be a walk in the park for the defending champions.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Mallorca vs. Rayo Vallecano
Granada vs. Real Valladolid
Real Madrid vs. Real Betis
Barcelona vs. Levante
Valencia vs. Malaga
Getafe vs. Espanyol
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna vs. Real Sociedad
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid
Although they have recorded only one win in their last nine Bundesliga matches, sixth-place Eintracht Frankfurt are still in the hunt for a spot in next season’s Champions League. After losing 2-0 at Stuttgart last weekend, Frankfurt return home this weekend to face fourth-place Schalke, the club Frankfurt are desperately trying to catch. Schalke have overcome their midseason slide and are four points ahead of Frankfurt heading into Saturday’s match at the Commerzbank Arena. The trip to Frankfurt will open a tough stretch of matches to close out Schalke’s 2012-13 campaign—four of their final five matches are against top-half clubs.
With an eight-point lead over Bayer Leverkusen in the fight for second place in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp will most likely elect to rest some starters ahead of Wednesday’s first leg with Real Madrid. Dortmund face Mainz this weekend, a club that has only won once in its last ten matches in a spiral down the table. Mainz are not out of contention for a Europa League spot by any means—they trail fellow slumping club Eintracht Frankfurt by three points—but, like Schalke, they have a tough finish to their season in store. A positive result against a Dortmund side that may looking ahead to next week could spark a late season surge into Europe.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Augsburg
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hoffenheim
Borussia Dortmund vs. Mainz
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Schalke 04
Hamburg vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
Hannover 96 vs. Bayern Munich
Werder Bremen vs. Wolfsburg
Stuttgart vs. Freiburg
Nurnberg vs. Greuther Furth
Fifth-place Lazio will have to fight to keep their European qualification spot at eighth-place Udinese. Although they have not managed to recreate the season that put them in third place last season, Udinese are still in contention for a Europa League spot with one of the best home records in Serie A. The Zebrette have not allowed more than one goal since their 2-1 loss to AC Milan in early February, and that defense could pose a problem for visiting Lazio. This banged-up Lazio squad has only won once in its last seven matches and have not looked like the squad that beat Udinese 3-0 earlier this season in quite some time.
Despite a current run that has included five losses in their last seven matches, Inter Milan could find their way back into a spot in Europe this weekend with a win over 11th-place Parma. Manager Andrea Stramaccioni, who refused to comment on his job security after the Roma loss, will have to do some major lineup shuffling before Sunday’s match at San Siro. But while the injury list contains almost a dozen names of their first-team players, Inter showed some fight in defeat a few days ago against Roma in the Coppa Italia semifinals. If Inter can end their nightmarish form this weekend with a win, the dreams of a return to European competition will still be alive in the blue side of Milan.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Genoa vs. Atalanta
Udinese vs. Lazio
Inter Milan vs. Parma
AS Roma vs. US Pescara
Bologna vs. Sampdoria
Catania vs. Palermo
Fiorentina vs. Torino
Napoli vs. Cagliari
Siena vs. Chievo Verona
Juventus vs. AC Milan
After losing to relegation-threatened Evian Thonon earlier this week in the French Cup, Paris Saint-Germain enter Sunday’s match with European hopeful Nice with only one trophy left in their sights. Nice, who defeated PSG earlier this season on a late goal from Valentin Eysseric, have scored seven goals in their last two matches. If PSG cannot bounce back from what manager Carlo Ancelotti called “the worst game” the club has had since he took charge, then the Parisians’ once-comfortable lead at the top of Ligue 1 could be in danger. Second-place Marseille, nine points back from PSG, have kept five straight clean sheets and face relegation favorites Brest on Saturday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Montpellier vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Brest
Bastia vs. Lille
Nancy vs. Evian Thonon
Sochaux vs. Bordeaux
Stade de Reims vs. Valenciennes
Toulouse vs. Lorient
PSG vs. Nice
Which matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? How do you think Tottenham will do at home against Manchester City? Do you think AC Milan will suffer their first league defeat of 2013 this Sunday? What are your thoughts on PSG’s recent slump?
Share your comments below.
I’m very curious what sort of lineup Mancini will trot out for the Spurs match. His focus has to be on getting the squad ready for the FA Cup final. He could rotate some “lesser lights” in as he did in the midweek Wigan match in order to have all the big guns fit for May 11th. I think that Spurs are catching City at the right time.