Euro Leagues: Weekend Preview
With all of Europe’s top leagues back in full swing after the winter break “Stoppage Time” previews this weekend’s top matches:
ENGLAND (Chelsea 22 games/51 points; Man. United 23/50; Arsenal FC 23/49)
For the first time in many years it looks as though more than two teams can challenge for the English Premier League title. However two of the contenders are to meet on Sunday as second place Manchester United, fresh from their League Cup semi-final win over local rivals Manchester City, travel to the Emirates Stadium with hopes of doing the ‘double’ over Arsenal FC after their 2-1 win at Old Trafford earlier this season. Chelsea will hope to put some more distance between themselves and their rivals in the Saturday evening fixture where they meet struggling Burnley FC. In other games in-form Birmingham City meet Champions League contenders Tottenham Hotspur whilst Liverpool FC, not for the first time in this tough season, hope to get back to winning ways at home to Bolton Wanderers.
SCOTLAND (Glasgow Rangers 22 games/51 points; Glasgow Celtic 21/41; Hibernian FC 21/39)
Sadly it seems that the much anticipated four-way challenge for the SPL has now hit the rocks after Rangers’ good form has coincided with all of their potentials rivals dropping points. While the league leaders and current champions Rangers were strolling to a 2-0 win at St.Mirren on Wednesday Old Firm rivals Celtic lost 2-1 at home to Hibernian FC, who now have ambitions of claiming the second Champions League spot for next season. This weekend sees Rangers at home to bottom side Falkirk FC, Celtic play away at Hamilton Academicals and Hibernian face-off against mid-table St.Mirren.
GERMANY (Bayer 04 Leverkusen 19 games/41 points; FC Bayern München 19/39; FC Schalke 19/38)
In recent years the Bundesliga, arguably more than any top European league, has concluded with final-day drama and tension and this season has the potential to emulate some of the drama from the past. The top five teams in the league are separated by only seven points and with none of them playing against each other on Matchday 20 then this weekend may tell us more about each team’s title hopes. Leaders Leverkusen, still unbeaten after 19 games, play against SC Freiburg on Sunday evening knowing if they need to win to reclaim top spot. In the meantime either FC Bayern (at home to 1. FSV Mainz) or Schalke 04 (at home to Hoffenheim) can take over the leadership of the league, if only for a matter of hours. Other top games include Hamburger SV against champions-in-crisis VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund’s trip to VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt host 1.FC Köln.
FRANCE (Girondins de Bordeaux 21 games/47 points; Montpellier 21/39; Lille OSC 21/37)
Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux have ambitions to usurp Olympique Lyonnais as the top team in France and have a handy eight point lead over nearest challengers Montpellier. Many expect them to stroll to another three points in their latest match at home to second bottom team Boulogne. After reaching the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals this week, Olympique Marseille will play against surprise title contenders Montpellier in a southern derby. A win for l’OM will allow them to overtake Montpellier in the table. Lille OSC, who were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday, will hope to put cup disappointment behind them with a win against Racing Lens. In the Côte d’Azur derby AS Monaco play against OGC Nice, a win for the former will improve their European credentials whilst for the latter will help les Niçoise pull further away from the relegation zone.
SPAIN (FC Barcelona 19 games/49 points; Real Madrid CF 19/44; Valencia CF 19/39)
La Liga has looked like a potential two-horse race ever since Matchday 1 and not much has changed now that we have reached the halfway stage of the campaign. FC Barcelona became only the seventh team to end the first half of the league season unbeaten and will hope to consolidate their position with a win away at Sporting, which is traditionally a tough place for any side to go due to the hostile reception their fans provide their opponents. Cristiano Ronaldo endured mixed emotions in his last outing for Real Madrid, his two goals in a 2-0 win over Malaga were overshadowed by his red card in the second half. El Real must play without their record signing this Saturday away at Deportivo de La Coruña where, surprisingly, Madrid haven’t won since 1992. Third-place Valencia play against the team who occupied that position for most of the season Sevilla, who recently embarked on a torrid spell of one win in the last five games.
ITALY (Internazionale 21 games/49 points; AC Milan 20/40; AS Roma 21/38)
After last weekend’s Milan derby many people have already suggested that the Nerazzurri should be given their fifth consecutive lo Scudetto already having built up a nine-point lead over their eternal and nearest rivals. However Inter coach Jose Mourinho would not want to take their next opponents Parma lightly as they are a team capable of beating anybody on their day. In other games AC Milan are at home to Livorno, who are struggling against relegation lying fifth from bottom, AS Roma hope that they can continue their recent good form at home to bottom side Siena whilst Juventus, with talk of crisis in the air, will have their work cut out at home to SS Lazio.
NETHERLANDS (PSV Eindhoven 19 games/51 points; FC Twente 19/49; Ajax Amsterdam 19/42)
The Netherlands is expecting the mother of all battles on Sunday afternoon as De Klassieker between Feyenoord Rotterdam and Ajax Amsterdam resumes again. Feyenoord are at home this weekend and will hope to avenge the 5-1 mauling they suffered at the home of their bitter rivals earlier in the season. Ajax will hope that a win for themselves can bring them closer to the main title challengers above them. FC Twente, who had led the table for most of the season, have been overtaken by PSV since the resumption of the Eredivisie after the winter break but Steve McClaren’s men will be hoping to get back to winning ways at home to Roda JC Kerkrade whilst PSV are away at mid-table Vitesse Arnhem.
PORTUGAL (Sporting Braga 16 games/39 points; SL Benfica 16/39; FC Porto 16/33)
Little Sporting Braga have captured many people’s hearts in Portugal as their title challenge continues. They lead the table despite having a much inferior goal difference to Benfica due to their head-to-head record (Braga won the first meeting 2-0 in October) but the ‘Eagles’ of Lisbon have been stronger since that game winning five and drawing two of their last seven games. Braga play against Benfica’s local rivals Sporting Lisbon on Friday whilst Benfica plays at home to Vitoria Guimarães. Only six points behind both teams are FC Porto who have a tough away tie against Nacional Madeira on Saturday.