By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After a holiday weekend off, Serie A returns to action this Sunday with a bang — a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup between back-to-back defending champions Juventus and still-unbeaten AS Roma.
With most of the week’s Italian action happening Monday, Juventus and AS Roma will take center stage at the end of the league’s Sunday tripleheader. Juventus, who hope to have key players Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo back from injury for the massive match in Turin, are currently on a ferocious tear in league competition. The defending champions have posted nine straight victories and have allowed only one goal during that span — a mere consolation goal for Atalanta in a 4-1 win just before the break.
Roma have not lost in their 17 matches this season, but five draws — including four consecutive ones that ended their early reign atop the league table — have them five points behind Juventus heading into Sunday’s blockbuster fixture. The capital club has drawn its last three matches away from the Stadio Olimpico, but it posted an impressive 4-0 rout of Catania in its last match. While Roma’s last trip to Juventus Stadium was a 4-1 loss, they will have fond memories of their last meeting with Juve, a gusty 1-0 home victory last February.
Elsewhere, clubs will take a break from a busy slate of English Premier League matches for the third round of the FA Cup, the first round for top-flight sides in England’s top domestic cup competition. The headline match in this weekend’s action is the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, two clubs on great runs of form despite their growing injury lists. Arsenal will look for a repeat of the season’s first derby match, a 1-0 home win, when they a Spurs side that has been rejuvenated under new manager Tim Sherwood.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Manchester City will open the Third Round of the FA Cup with a trip to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers, who are on a solid run of form in a crowded English Championship midtable. Manager Manuel Pellegrini will have an opportunity to shake up his lineup following a hard-fought 3-2 EPL victory at Swansea as several starters will be out at Blackburn due to injury. The Citizens struggled away from home at the beginning of the season, but the high-scoring squad seems to have turned a corner, winning five out of their last six road matches across all competitions.
Man City’s local rivals, Manchester United, will close the weekend’s action in England with a home fixture against Swansea City. The pressure is definitely on David Moyes after the Red Devils’ 2-1 home loss to Tottenham on New Year’s Day, and the first-year manager will look to keep his club’s momentum in club competitions going with a victory against the Swans. The visitors from South Wales have gone six straight matches without a victory, but upsetting the defending EPL champions at their home stadium could turn things around in Swansea.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Third Round of the FA Cup:
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester City
AFC Bournemouth vs. Burton Albion
Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United
Barnsley vs. Coventry City
Bolton Wanderers vs. Blackpool
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Reading
Bristol City vs. Watford
Charlton Athletic vs. Oxford United
Crawley Town vs. Bristol Rovers
Doncaster Rovers vs. Stevenage
Everton vs. Queens Park Rangers
Grimsby Town vs. Huddersfield Town
Ipswich Town vs. Preston North End
Kidderminster Harriers vs. Peterborough United
Maccelsfield Town vs. Sheffield Wednesday
Middlesbrough vs. Hull City
Newcastle United vs. Cardiff City
Norwich City vs. Fulham
Rochdale vs. Leeds United
Southampton vs. Burnley
Southend United vs. Millwall
Stoke City vs. Leicester City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace
Wigan Athletic vs. MK Dons
Yeovil Town vs. Leyton Orient
Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Nottingham Forest vs. West Ham United
Sunderland vs. Carlisle United
Derby County vs. Chelsea
Liverpool vs. Oldham Athletic
Port Vale vs. Plymouth Argyle
Manchester United vs. Swansea City
After a weekend away from league competition, the tight race between defending champions Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for the top spot in Spain will resume this weekend. First-place Barcelona lead Atletico by a +2 goal differential, something they can build on this weekend against 14th-place Elche. Barcelona have posted eight wins in eight matches at Camp Nou so far this season and will be favored to make it nine in nine against a side that dropped its last three matches in La Liga.
Second-place Atletico Madrid will be looking for their fifth straight win this weekend at 10th-place Malaga, who might be starting to turn the corner after a slow start to the season. Although Malaga have posted back-to-back shutout victories, they will have to find some offense against La Liga-leading scorer Diego Costa and the Atletico offense. Malaga have only scored 19 goals in 17 matches this season, while title-focused Atletico have scored 46 and allowed a league-lowest 11 goals in that same span.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Malaga vs. Atletico Madrid
Real Valladolid vs. Real Betis
Valencia vs. Levante
Almeria vs. Granada
Sevilla vs. Getafe
Barcelona vs. Elche
Osasuna vs. Espanyol
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao
The second match in Sunday’s Italian tripleheader will be Fiorentina’s home match against newly promoted Livorno. Fiorentina have won eight of their last 10 matches in Serie A play, which has pushed the Viola to fourth place in the league table — just three points behind Napoli for Italy’s third and final Champions League place. The hosts will have a perfect opportunity to draw level with Napoli on Sunday as they face a Livorno side that has lost six of its eight matches away from home this season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Chievo Verona vs. Cagliari
Fiorentina vs. Livorno
Juventus vs. AS Roma
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Juventus handing Roma their first loss of the season? Think Arsenal will post another home victory against rival Tottenham? See any potential upsets in the FA Cup?
Share your thoughts below.