By NICK IUELE
Now that the excitement of the Champions League knockout stage draw has passed, attention turns to another round of league play in Europe. Although there are no true heavyweight matches on the docket, there are some interesting fixtures to check out.
Surging AC Milan take on fellow Italian giant Roma this weekend. Roma finds themselves just two points out of the final Europa League spot, while Milan is only one place back of Roma and are gaining on the top six. All three points are crucial to both sides, but both are in good form and we should see a good match.
In Spain, Real Madrid play Malaga a week after being held by Espanyol. Malaga has just regained solid form after a dip for a few weeks while Real sits in third position, four points back of second and 13 points back from the top spot. Madrid needs a win to keep themselves in the race for a repeat
Arsenal can move into the Europa League spot with a win over Wigan Athletic on Saturday. The Gunners have been in good form of late and climbed the table enough to have a shot at the top five. Wigan is an opponent Arsenal should beat, so fifth place and a spot in the UCL conversation is attainable.
Here’s a look at the rest of this weekend’s action in Europe’s top leagues:
Tottenham are a positive result away from snatching the third automatic UCL spot and will look for that against Stoke City. Spurs have had four wins in their last five matches and appear to be on a mission after being losing out on UCL last season. Stoke have been a draw specialist this season and could not be upset with another this weekend.
Everton have sunk all the way to sixth and will look to get back into the Europe conversation with a win over West Ham United. The Toffees settled for a draw with Stoke last weekend and are in need of wins at this point. West Ham drew West Brom last weekend, but have been in good form and present a stiff challenge.
Here are this weekend’s English Premier League matches:
Wigan Athletic v Arsenal
Manchester City v Reading
Newcastle v Queens Park Rangers
Southampton v Sunderland
Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City
West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City
West Ham United v Everton
Liverpool v Fulham
Swansea City v Manchester United
Chelsea v Aston Villa
With some help, Napoli can stick themselves right back into the UCL mix with all three points over Siena. Napoli has slipped down the table a bit in recent weeks, but is only three points back of second place. Their current position, fifth, is not where they thought they’d be at this point, but a win will change that.
Inter Milan can inch closer to Juventus with a win over Genoa. I Nerrazzuri is seven points back of Juventus, but only one up on third place. It may be difficult to catch Juve, but Inter will have to keep winning to hold on to their automatic UCL spot.
Here are this weekend’s Serie A matches:
US Pescara v Catania
Cagliari v Juventus
Inter Milan v Genoa
Atalanta v Udinese
Bologna v Parma
Palermo v Fiorentina
Sampdoria v Lazio
Siena v Napoli
Torino v Chievo Verona
AS Roma v AC MIlan
Atletico Madrid look to rebound against Celta Vigo a week after a tough to Barcelona. Falcao is still in great goal-scoring form and Atletico will be eager to make up for their falter last round. They are nine points behind Barca for the top spot.
Barcelona can expand their lead with a positive result over Real Valladolid on Saturday. Messi and Co. are in great form of late and are plowing through the lead. Barca has still yet to lose and have won 15 of 16 fixtures this term.
Here are this weekend’s La Liga matches:
Ray Vallecano v Levante
Espanyol v Deportivo La Coruna
Real Sociedad v Sevilla FC
Valencia v Getafe
Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo
Real Betis v Mallorca
Real Valladolid v Barcelona
Malaga v Real Madrid
Osasuna v Granada
Athletic Blibao v Real Zaragoza
Paris Saint-Germain will try to get a firm grasp on the top spot against Brest. There is a three-way tie on points right now in Ligue 1 and PSG has an opportunity to earn three points against a mid-table club.
Lyon has an opportunity to rebound from last week’s loss at the hands of PSG against Nice at home. Lyon also has an opportunity to go three points clear of the competition.
Here are this weekend’s Ligue 1 matches:
Brest v Paris St.-Germain
Lille v Montpellier
AC Ajaccio v Stade Rennes
Bastia v AS Nancy Lorriane
Bordeaux v Troyes
Lorient v Stade de Reims
Lyon v Nice
Valenciennes v Evian Thonon Gaillard
Toulouse v Sochaux
Marseille v St. Etienne