By JUSTIN FERGUSON
For manager Gerardo Martino and Barcelona, the long honeymoon is officially over.
After 20 consecutive matches without a defeat to open the Martino Era at Camp Nou, Barcelona return to Spain this weekend on the heels of a 2-1 Champions League group stage loss at Ajax. The banged-up Catalans now focus on defending their undefeated La Liga record against fifth-place Athletic Bilbao, who have not lost at their new home stadium this season.
Bilbao’s last two matches, 2-1 wins against Levante and Malaga, were comeback victories that have put the club within striking distance of a Top-4 spot. Los Leones trail Villarreal by just one point in the league table, a sizable jump from last season’s 12th-place finish. While they have not lost to Athletic in eight years, Barcelona’s recent trips to Bilbao have not been particularly easy — the two sides drew 2-2 in the defending champions’ last two visits to the old San Mames stadium.
While Athletic Bilbao look for a famous home win this weekend, Tottenham Hotspur will look for a home win to simply slow their slide down the English Premier League table. With only two wins in their last seven league matches, ninth-place Spurs host a sixth-place Manchester United side that is on a 13-match unbeaten run across all competitions.
The Red Devils sit just three points back of second-place Liverpool, so they will be aiming for three points that would move them back into the thick of the title race and give them some revenge for last season’s loss to Spurs at Old Trafford.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Although their spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League was secured earlier this week, Chelsea will return to Stamford Bridge with a bad taste in their mouths after a loss at Switzerland’s FC Basel. The third-place Blues can turn things around this weekend against fifth-place Southampton, who posted a victory against Chelsea in their last meeting. Southampton’s trip to West London will be the latest in a series of tough matches — by the end of next week, the Saints will have played EPL giants Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in the span of 14 days.
With a win against Manchester City and home draws against Everton and Manchester United, 15th-place Cardiff City have played well against top-half competition at Cardiff City Stadium so far in their first EPL season. This weekend, first-place Arsenal head to Wales fresh off 2-0 victories against Southampton and Marseille. The Gunners have done well away from home this season, but they will look to avoid the same mistakes as other top teams that have made the trek to Cardiff so far this year.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Aston Villa vs. Sunderland
Cardiff City vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. Stoke City
Norwich City vs. Crystal Palace
West Ham United vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. West Bromwich Albion
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United
Hull City vs. Liverpool
Chelsea vs. Southampton
Manchester City vs. Swansea City
Second-place Atletico Madrid, who demolished Getafe 7-0 in their last La Liga match, travel to Elche this weekend trailing league-leading Barcelona by only three points. Newly promoted Elche have risen to 10th place in the league and are fresh off a 2-1 home victory against Valencia. Elche have given several top teams a scare in their respective visits to the Manuel Martinez Valero, including Atletico’s city rivals Real, who needed a 96th-minute penalty to escape with a victory earlier this season.
Third-place Real Madrid will look to keep their high-scoring streak going Saturday, when they host Real Valladolid at the Bernabeu. Real have scored 26 goals in their last six matches across all competitions, with 16 of those goals coming in their three home matches. Despite their position right above the drop zone in the La Liga table, Real Valladolid have only given up more than two goals in only one match this season — will Real be able to light up the scoreboard again this weekend?
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Getafe vs. Levante
Villarreal vs. Malaga
Elche vs. Atletico Madrid
Celta Vigo vs. Almeria
Real Madrid vs. Real Valladolid
Espanyol vs. Real Sociedad
Real Betis vs. Rayo Vallecano
Granada vs. Sevilla
Valencia vs. Osasuna
Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona
This weekend, league leaders Bayern Munich host last-place Eintracht Braunschweig, and new second-place outfit Bayer Leverkusen host 17th-place Nurnberg. Bayern extended their winning streak to eight matches with a victory against CSKA Moscow earlier this week, but Leverkusen will still be nursing the wounds from a 5-0 blowout loss at the hands of Manchester United. Leverkusen are still unbeaten at the BayArena in Bundesliga play, and that record should still be intact after a visit from Nurnberg, who have not won away from home this season.
Following back-to-back losses in league play, Borussia Dortmund recorded a crucial victory for their Champions League hopes earlier this week when they defeated Napoli at home. Dortmund, now sitting in third place in the Bundesliga, will try to get their domestic game back on track with a trip to seventh-place Mainz, who have won back-to-back matches. While Dortmund have only won once in their last four league matches away from home, Mainz are unbeaten in their last three fixtures at the Coface Arena.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburg
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Nurnberg
Bayern Munich vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Hertha Berlin vs. Augsburg
Mainz vs. Borussia Dortmund
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen
Schalke 04 vs. Stuttgart
Hannover 96 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Freiburg
Juventus are the new top dogs in Serie A, and the defending champions will put their league lead and their perfect league record at Juventus Stadium on the line this weekend when 11th-place Udinese comes to town. Juve will have an extra burst of momentum following their important 3-1 Champions League victory against FC Copenhagen. Udinese, on the other hand, will hope last weekend’s 1-0 win against Fiorentina will help turn things around, as the club had lost four of their five matches prior to their victory over the Viola.
After 10 consecutive wins to start the Serie A season, AS Roma have lost their league lead thanks to three draws in their last three matches. Roma will try to get things back on track against 10th-place Atalanta, who are unbeaten in their last four home matches. Although the Francesco Totti-less Roma offense only scored twice in their three draws, it will have a favorable matchup Sunday against an Atalanta squad that will be missing six defenders due to injury.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Parma vs. Bologna
Genoa vs. Torino
Catania vs. AC Milan
Atalanta vs. AS Roma
Cagliari vs. Sassuolo
Chievo Verona vs. Livorno
Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria
Juventus vs. Udinese
First-place Paris Saint-Germain are unbeaten in 34 consecutive matches across all competitions, and the defending Ligue 1 champions will look to keep the streak going with a home result against seventh-place Lyon. After a rough start to the season, Lyon are slowly working their way back up the league table and are unbeaten in their last five matches. OL have not recorded a single Ligue 1 point against PSG since January 2010, when they rallied in the final 15 minutes to record a 2-1 comeback victory at the Stade de Gerland.
Second-place Lille will take their impressive streak of nine consecutive clean sheets to 18th-place Valenciennes, who are surprisingly in the midst of a three-match unbeaten run. Lille sit four points behind PSG and one point ahead of third-place AS Monaco, who host 11th-place Stade Rennes this weekend.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Marseille vs. Montpellier
AS Monaco vs. Stade Rennes
Guingamp vs. Nantes
Lorient vs. Nice
Saint Etienne vs. Stade de Reims
Toulouse vs. Sochaux
Valenciennes vs. Lille
Bordeaux vs. Ajaccio
Bastia vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lyon
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Barcelona bouncing back with a win against Bilbao? Who do you see winning Sunday’s match at White Hart Lane? Think AS Roma get back on track this weekend?
Share your thoughts below.