European Look Ahead: Barcelona tries to keep up, FA Cup resumes and more

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By JOHN BOSCHINI

While Real Madrid have all but wrapped up the La Liga title, Barcelona still have work to do to lock down second place.

The defending champions welcome third-placed Valencia in one of the more intriguing non-Clasico games of the season. Barcelona leads Valencia by only eight points, but a win at Camp Nou would put some decisive space between the two clubs who just battled in the Copa del Rey semifinals two weeks ago.

Barcelona's home form has been dominant this season with only two points dropped in 12 games and a goal differential of 45-3. Valencia has been less than convincing away from home with a 4-5-2 record. Neither team is in danger of dropping out of the top three anytime soon with an eight-point gap lingering between Valencia and fourth-place Levante.

The FA Cup takes center stage in England as the teams not located in Manchester make a push for silverware. Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham take on lower-league sides and have a great pathway into the quarterfinals. The same can't be said for Arsenal as a Saturday matchup with much-improved Sunderland is the Gunners' follow-up to Wednesday's UEFA Champions League embarrassment at AC Milan. The meeting between the two clubs is the second in as many weeks, as Thierry Henry's stoppage-time goal gave Arsenal the victory over the Black Cats last weekend.

Here is a look ahead to all the weekend action in Europe:


ENGLAND

After manager Andres Villas-Boas admitted during the week that he did not have the support of all his players, Chelsea's early kickoff against Birmingham takes on extra significance. The Blues are nowhere near the title challenge and a decent cup run might be needed if AVB is to save his job. Everton welcomes Blackpool in a potentially entertaining game between two teams enjoying a rich run of form. The match also marks Landon Donovan's last during his loan spell with the Toffees.

SATURDAY

Chelsea vs. Birmingham, 7:30 a.m.
Everton vs. Blackpool, 10 a.m. 
Millwall vs. Bolton Wanderers, 10 a.m.
Norwich City vs. Leicester City, 10 a.m.
Sunderland vs. Arsenal, 12:15 p.m.

SUNDAY

Crawley Town vs. Stoke City, 7 a.m.
Stevenage vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 9 a.m.
Liverpool vs. Brighton, 11:30 a.m.

SPAIN

Don't expect Real Madrid to drop points at home against 18th-placed Racing Santander as Jose Mourinho continues to roll through the La Liga schedule. Despite all the criticism Spain receives for being a top-heavy league, La Liga has the most congested mid-table in Europe. Only six points separate Athletico Madrid, currently occupying a Europa League spot, and a Granada side one spot above relegation.

SATURDAY

Getafe vs. Espanyol, 12 p.m.
Real Madrid vs. Racing Santander, 2 p.m.
Sevilla vs. Osasuna, 4 p.m.

SUNDAY

Granada vs. Real Sociedad, 6 a.m.
Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga, 10 a.m.
Mallorca vs. Villarreal, 12 p.m.
Sporting Gijon vs. Athletico Madrid, 12 p.m.
Levante vs. Rayo Vallecano, 1:45 p.m.
Barcelona vs. Valencia, 3:30 p.m.

MONDAY

Real Zaragoza vs. Real Betis, 3:00 p.m.

GERMANY

The deadlock at the top of the Bundesliga table looks likely to continue as none of the top four face difficult matchups. Schalke welcomes a Wolfsburg side that has won only once on the road all season while the other three teams face relegation-threatened opponents.

FRIDAY

TSG Hoffenheim vs. Mainz, 2:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Bayer Leverkusen vs. FC Augsburg, 9:30 a.m.
Hamburg SV vs. Werder Bremen, 9:30 a.m. 
Hertha Berlin vs. Borussia Dortmund, 9:30 a.m. 
Kaiserslautern vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, 9:30 a.m. 
Nurnberg vs. FC Cologne, 9:30 a.m. 
SC Freiburg vs. Bayern Munich, 12:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Schalke 04 vs. VfL Wolfsburg, 9:30 a.m.
Hannover 96 vs. VfB Stuttgart, 11:30 a.m.

ITALY

Inconsistency could cost Inter Milan a place in Europe next season as the Italian giants languish in fifth place. Dropping points in Friday's home game against struggling Bologna could be a knockout punch. Juventus will try to reclaim pole position in Saturday's only game, but AC Milan should have no trouble recapturing it on Sunday with a game against Cesena.

FRIDAY

Fiorentina vs. Napoli, 2:45 p.m.
Inter Milan vs. Bologna, 2:45 p.m.

SATURDAY

Juventus vs. Catania, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

Lecce vs. Siena, 6:30 a.m.
AS Roma vs. Parma, 9 a.m. 
Cesena vs. AC Milan, 9 a.m. 
Genoa vs. Chievo Verona, 9 a.m. 
Novara vs. Atalanta, 9 a.m. 
Palermo vs. Lazio, 2:45 p.m.
Udinese vs. Cagliari, 2:45 p.m.

FRANCE

The biggest game of the year in France is on tap this weekend. The only legitimate title contenders left, Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier, face off in Paris on Sunday. PSG were dominant in a 3-0 away win back in September. Montpellier is only one point behind the wealthy home side and the winner will be in prime position to push on to the Ligue 1 title.

SATURDAY

AC Ajaccio vs. Brest, 1 p.m.
AS Nancy Lorraine vs. Toulouse, 1 p.m. 
Caen vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard, 1 p.m. 
Dijon FCO vs. Nice, 1 p.m. 
Lorient vs. Lille, 1 p.m. 
Sochaux vs. AJ Auxerre, 1 p.m. 
Marseille vs. Valenciennes, 3 p.m.

SUNDAY

Bordeaux vs. Lyon, 11 a.m.
St Etienne vs. Stade Rennes, 11 a.m.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Montpellier, 3 p.m.

NETHERLANDS

The clear frontrunners for the Eredivisie, AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven are unlikely to drop points against mid-table sides. FC Twente and Ajax will try desperately to keep pace with and have trap games of their own.

FRIDAY

Heerenveen vs. NAC Breda, 2:00

SATURDAY

Feyenoord Rotterdam vs. RKC Waalwijk, 12:45 p.m.
ADO Den Haag vs. Excelsior, 1:45 p.m.
De Graafschap vs. VVV Venlo, 1:45 p.m.
SC Heracles Almelo vs. Roda JC Kerkrade, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

FC Groningen vs. PSV Eindhoven, 6:30 a.m.
Ajax Amsterdam vs. NEC Nijmegan, 8:30 a.m.
FC Utrecht vs. AZ Alkmaar, 8:30 a.m.
Vitesse Arnhem vs. FC Twente, 10:30 a.m.

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What do you think of this weekend's games? Will Barcelona continue their dominant home form? Who do you see advancing in the FA Cup?

Share your thoughts below.

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2 Responses to European Look Ahead: Barcelona tries to keep up, FA Cup resumes and more

  1. alabamafutbol says:

    This is really good stuff. Like the weekly overview.

  2. Soccer says:

    Messi is KING of soccer