By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Almost three weeks after shutting out Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey semifinals, Real Madrid will return to the Vicente Calderon looking to do the same this Sunday.
This time, Real Madrid’s visit to face Atletico will be about preserving their lead in La Liga ahead of their crosstown rivals and national rivals Barcelona. Real are one of the hottest teams in Europe at the moment, having outscored their last five opponents 18-3 heading into this weekend’s action. The fearsome attacking trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo each scored a brace in their last match, a 6-1 drilling of German club Schalke 04 in a road Champions League match.
Although they defeated Real Madrid 1-0 at the Bernabeu in their first league meeting, third-place Atletico have not been the strongest side in recent weeks. In addition to their 5-0 aggregate loss to their local rivals in the Copa del Rey, Atletico lost 3-0 to bottom-half side Osasuna last weekend. Diego Costa and the Atletico offense will need to get back on track this weekend, as a loss to Real could be a devastating blow to their title hopes in La Liga.
In England, Manchester City will take a break from their English Premier League title chase and face Sunderland in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The Citizens’ high-powered offense has cooled off in recent weeks, but Manuel Pellegrini could have prolific scorer Sergio Aguero back in his starting lineup against the Black Cats. USMNT forward Jozy Altidore and Sunderland, who have won two of their last three matches against the Citizens, will attempt to be the second consecutive relegation fighters to knock off Man City in a cup final at Wembley.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
Saturday’s EPL action will feature a first-versus-worst clash at Craven Cottage as league-leading Chelsea visit neighbors Fulham. Chelsea are coming off a last-minute victory against Everton and a road draw in Champions League play at Galatasaray, but they will most likely need all three points from their trip to face a Fulham squad needing all the points it can get. While Chelsea have a one-point lead ahead of second-place Arsenal, Fulham sit four points from safety heading into the weekend’s action.
Fourth-place Liverpool are unbeaten in their last eight EPL matches, putting them just four points behind Chelsea for the league lead. The Reds’ offense is the highest-scoring in the league this season, but Brendan Rodgers’ squad will travel this weekend to face a team it hasn’t scored a lot of goals against in recent years, Southampton. The ninth-place Saints defeated Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield earlier this season, and they will look to continue their impressive defensive record against the Reds — three goals in five meetings — on Saturday at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Everton vs. West Ham United
Fulham vs. Chelsea
Hull City vs. Newcastle United
Stoke City vs. Arsenal
Southampton vs. Liverpool
Aston Villa vs. Norwich City
Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Cardiff City
Second-place Barcelona will hope for an Atletico victory in the Madrid Derby, if they take care of business at home this weekend against Almeria. Barcelona are coming off a stunning 3-1 road loss at Real Sociedad, but the defending league champions have only lost once inside Camp Nou this season. Although Almeria pulled off a stunning upset of Atletico Madrid at home a few weeks ago, they have been outscored 10-1 in four consecutive road league matches, including a 6-1 rout at Athletic Bilbao.
Two weeks ago, fourth-place Athletic Bilbao suffered their first home loss at the new San Mames Stadium. After a 2-0 victory at free-falling Real Betis, Bilbao return to their new home to face 13th-place Granada, who have also struggled away from home in recent weeks. Bilbao are most likely out of the La Liga title race, but they maintain a four-point lead against Villarreal and Real Sociedad for the league’s final Champions League spot, so they will be looking to get back on track and keep their distance this weekend.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Athletic Bilbao vs. Granada
Malaga vs. Real Valladolid
Levante vs. Osasuna
Getafe vs. Espanyol
Elche vs. Celta Vigo
Villarreal vs. Real Betis
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid
Sevilla vs. Real Sociedad
Barcelona vs. Almeria
Rayo Vallecano vs. Valencia
First-place Bayern Munich will go for their 15th consecutive win in Bundesliga play Saturday in a home match against fourth-place Schalke 04 at the Allianz Arena. Bayern routed Schalke 4-0 earlier this season at the Veltins Arena, and they have outscored their opponents 17-1 in their last five league matches at home. Schalke will be looking to get revenge from their 4-0 defeate to Bayern, but they are also coming off a more recent rout, a 6-1 embarrassment to visiting Real Madrid in Champions League play.
Third-place Borussia Dortmund bounced back from their stunning 3-0 loss to Hamburg with a 4-2 victory in the Champions League against Zenit St. Petersburg. Dortmund return to domestic action this weekend against one of Germany’s hottest teams, 12th-place Nurnberg. The visitors have lost just once in their last eight matches in Bundesliga play, pushing them from relegation-zoned to four points ahead of the dreaded drop from the country’s top division.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Hertha Berlin vs. Freiburg
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Mainz
Borussia Dortmund vs. Nurnberg
Augsburg vs. Hannover
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Werder Bremen vs. Hamburg
Bayern Munich vs. Schalke
Hoffenheim vs. Wolfsburg
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Stuttgart
First-place Juventus will head to the San Siro this weekend looking for another Serie A victory against a ninth-place and rising AC Milan squad. The two-time defending Italian champions held on for a tense 3-2 victory against Milan earlier this season, and Juventus have risen all the way to a 9-point lead in the league since the two sides’ first meeting in Turin. Milan have posted back-to-back shutout wins in Serie A play to keep themselves in the hunt for a European spot, and they would love nothing more than to get a road result ahead of their Champions League trip to face Atletico Madrid next week.
The Serie A weekend will kick off at the Stadio Olimpico, where second-place AS Roma will host fifth-place Inter Milan. Roma have outscored their opponents 14-1 in their six-match unbeaten run, while Inter have only scored multiple goals once in their last nine matches in Serie A play. Inter are hanging onto a Europa League spot, but a crowded league midtable could close the gap even more if they fail to grab a result in the capital city Saturday.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
AS Roma vs. Inter Milan
Cagliari vs. Udinese
Atalanta vs. Chievo Verona
Genoa vs. Catania
Hellas Verona vs. Bologna
Sassuolo vs. Parma
Torino vs. Sampdoria
Livorno vs. Napoli
AC Milan vs. Juventus
Fiorentina vs. Lazio
First-place Paris Saint-Germain will look to keep their five-point lead atop Ligue 1 intact after they host fifth-place Marseille in the latest edition of Le Classique. Marseille are on a five-match unbeaten run heading into the Parc des Princes, where they have not won since February 2010. PSG have won four of the last five Le Classiques and will be favored to keep that streak and their 10-match unbeaten streak in Ligue 1 play going after Sunday’s rivalry match.
Second-place AS Monaco travel to fourth-place Saint Etienne for an important matchup in the title and Champions League races in Ligue 1. Monaco still have some work to do to catch defending champions PSG, but Saint Etienne trail third-place Lille by only one point for the league’s final spot in next season’s Champions League. PSG defeated Marseille 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome earlier this season, with the difference being a second-half penalty conversion from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Nantes
Saint Etienne vs. AS Monaco
Lorient vs. Bastia
Nice vs. Toulouse
Sochaux vs. Bordeaux
Stade de Reims vs. Valenciennes
Stade Rennes vs. Guingamp
Ajaccio vs. Lille
Lyon vs. Montpellier
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Marseille
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? See Real Madrid continuing their impressive run of form at the expense of rival Atletico Madrid? Think Sunderland have a chance to pull off a Wigan-like upset of Manchester City at Wembley? Predict any other upsets in European play?
Share your thoughts below.