Photo by Javier Garcia / ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
If Arsenal are to stay in the hunt for the English Premier League title, Saturday might be their last stand.
Fourth-place Arsenal’s title hopes took critical blows within the span of a week when Chelsea crushed the Gunners 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and Mathieu Flamini’s own goal forced the contenders to draw with bottom-half Swansea City, 2-2. Arsene Wenger’s squad trails league-leading Chelsea by six points with seven matches to play, and it might be in danger of dropping out of the Champions League if the slide continues.
This weekend, injury-ravaged Arsenal must defend their turf against third-place Manchester City, who still have two matches in hand against the rest of the league’s top four squads. Manchester City have posted five consecutive clean sheets in EPL play and are starting to find their stride again on offense after their 3-0 derby victory against rival United. The Citizens smacked Arsenal 6-3 in the reverse fixture earlier this season, and they will be aiming to get all the goals they can as they continue to chase Chelsea and second-place Liverpool.
In Spain, Atletico Madrid are in La Liga’s driver seat after Barcelona’s El Clasico victory last weekend and Real Madrid’s midweek loss to Sevilla. With a one-point lead on Barcelona and a two-point lead on Real, Atletico travel to a tough San Mames Stadium to face fourth-place Athletic Bilbao, who are looking to secure their spot in next season’s Champions League. While Atletico, winners of four straight shutouts, defeated Bilbao 2-0 earlier this season at the Calderon, Bilbao have only lost once in their new home this season and are unbeaten in six straight league matches.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
First-place Chelsea most likely will not be able to afford any dropped points with Manchester City hot on their tails, so three points will be a must for the Blues as they visit 17th-place Crystal Palace this weekend. Although the two sides’ first meeting of the season was a tight 2-1 victory for Chelsea, Crystal Palace have scored just one goal from their last five matches and are three points above the EPL drop zone. Chelsea will be looking to make amends for their 1-0 loss to Aston Villa in their last away match, and the momentum from their 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal make them clear favorites for a victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Second-place Liverpool will be looking to take advantage of any Saturday slip-ups from title contenders on Sunday, when they host sixth-place Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield. Offensive juggernauts Liverpool are winners of seven straight and have scored fewer than three goals in only one of those victories, a 2-1 result against Sunderland earlier in the week. Tottenham still have some hope of a top-4 finish thanks to a favorable league schedule toward the end of the season, but it will be a tough task for Spurs to get a victory on Merseyside this weekend.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Manchester United vs. Aston Villa
Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea
Southampton vs. Newcastle United
Stoke City vs. Hull City
Swansea City vs. Norwich City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Cardiff City
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
Fulham vs. Everton
Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Second-place Barcelona will look to put some extra pressure on league-leading Atletico Madrid on Saturday when they face city rivals Espanyol. Barcelona will get their crack at Atletico in the Champions League quarterfinals next week, but they could jump back into first place in La Liga with a victory against eighth-place Espanyol, who they beat 1-0 at Camp Nou earlier this season. The defending champions are looking for their first back-to-back road victories since the start of November, when they defeated bottom-half sides Celta Vigo and Real Betis away from home.
Third-place Real Madrid are hoping to put an end to their nightmare week when they face 12th-place Rayo Vallecano on Saturday at the Bernabeu. Los Blancos have dropped back-to-back league matches after going on a lengthy unbeaten run, and now they host a club on a five-match unbeaten run in Rayo. Real had to hold onto a road victory against Rayo earlier this season, and they will not be able to afford another disappointing result in the home stretch of the league schedule.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Espanyol vs. Barcelona
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao vs. Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano
Real Valladolid vs. Almeria
Osasuna vs. Real Sociedad
Villarreal vs. Elche
Valencia vs. Getafe
With Bayern Munich already claiming the Bundesliga crown with seven matches left to play, the bigger storylines left in the league are the battles for European qualification and relegation. Those two storylines will overlap this weekend in Stuttgart, where the 17th-place hosts welcome second-place Borussia Dortmund. Stuttgart have only won once in their last 12 matches, but they sit two points away from safety heading into their home match against Dortmund, who failed to create any separation between themselves and third-place Schalke 04 in a scoreless midweek Revierderby.
Fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen ended their long winless slide earlier in the week with a road victory against Augsburg, and they return to the BayArena this weekend to take on last-place Eintracht Braunschweig. Leverkusen hold a three-point advantage over fourth-place Wolfsburg for the last Champions League place out of Germany’s top division, but they were stunned 1-0 by Braunschweig earlier this season. Braunschweig, five points behind safe Freiburg at this point in the season, are making a late charge to avoid the drop after their 3-1 home win against Mainz in the midweek action.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Schalke vs. Hertha Berlin
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Bayern Munich vs. Hoffenheim
Mainz vs. Augsburg
Stuttgart vs. Borussia Dortmund
Wolfsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Freiburg vs. Nurnberg
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Hamburg
Hannover vs. Werder Bremen
First-place Juventus continue their charge toward a third consecutive Serie A title this weekend with an important match at third-place Napoli. There are good-sized levels of separation among the three Champions League qualifiers in Serie A, but Juventus will be looking to grab some extra momentum heading into their Europa League tie with Lyon. Juventus have won seven straight matches in the Italian league and won the two sides’ first meeting 3-0 earlier this season, while Napoli bounced back from their loss to Fiorentina with a 4-2 win at Catania earlier in the week.
Second-place AS Roma are looking to keep their modest winning streak going and further cement their Champions League spot when they visit 19th-place Sassuolo this Sunday. Sassuolo got a last-second equalizer on Roma at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this season, but the club is in deep trouble of relegation as it sits five points from safety with eight matches to play. The 19th-place outfit has only won once in its last 11 matches and holds one of the worst away records in Serie A with just one win away from the Stadio Braglia.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Bologna vs. Atalanta
AC Milan vs. Chievo Verona
Sassuolo vs. AS Roma
Hellas Verona vs. Genoa
Lazio vs. Parma
Sampdoria vs. Fiorentina
Torino vs. Cagliari
Napoli vs. Juventus
Before their Champions League meeting with Chelsea next week, first-place Paris Saint-Germain will try to take care of business in Ligue 1 at Nice. Five of PSG’s last six matches in Ligue 1 have been shutout victories, and the defending champions have not lost in 14 consecutive league meetings. Nice have a modest three-match unbeaten run going on right now and boast one of the league’s most impressive home records, but it will be tough for them to get a result Friday against PSG and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who netted a hat trick in their first meeting of the season.
Fourth-place Saint Etienne and fifth-place Lyon will tangle this Sunday in a match that could be an important one for two teams fighting for European spots. Both teams ended losing streaks with league victories last weekend, and they are within striking distance of third-place Lille’s final spot in the Champions League. Lyon defeated Saint Etienne 2-1 earlier this season on a last-second Jimmy Briand goal and will host the rematch against a side that has not scored in its last two away matches.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Nice vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Sochaux vs. Marseille
AC Ajaccio vs. Toulouse
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. AS Monaco
Montpellier vs. Valenciennes
Nantes vs. Bordeaux
Stade de Reims vs. Lorient
Stade Rennes vs. Bastia
Lille vs. Guingamp
Lyon vs. Saint Etienne
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Arsenal can upset Manchester City and stay in the EPL title race? See Atletico holding onto the top spot in La Liga after this weekend? How do you think Liverpool will do when Tottenham visit Sunday?
Share your thoughts below.