European Look Ahead: High-stakes Manchester derby, races intensify & more

Balotelli reuters


By JOHN BOSCHINI

The Manchester derby is always a tense affair, but when the Premier League title is on the line it becomes one of the must-see games of the season.

Manchester United have seen their eight-point lead from two weeks ago shrink to a mere three points, and Manchester City now control their own destiny because of their superior goal differential. Mario Balotelli led City to a stunning 6-1 victory at Old Trafford back in October and gave them a five-point lead over United at the time. An inconsistent City followed in the early part of 2012, but the return of an in-form Carlos Tevez and Vincent Kompany's return from injury has them looking like title winners again.

Should United rediscover their form and dispatch City at Etihad Stadium, they will need only one point from their final two games to clinch a record 20th English title. City boss Roberto Mancini gets Balotelli back from suspension, but the Italian manager has been critical of the striker since his sending off and may leave him out of the starting lineup.

Here is a look ahead to the rest of the action around Europe:


ENGLAND

With Chelsea through to the Champions League final, the race for third place just got a whole lot more important. Newcastle have a firm hold on fourth place but need to chase down Arsenal by the May 13th finale to feel safe. Newcastle face a Wigan side that is fighting relegation but has shown a recent penchant for knocking off the top sides. Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, has been hit with the absence of Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott in Arsenal's away trip to Stoke City. Tottenham are rapidly disappearing from the Champions League conversation and need a win against Blackburn.

The final round of the English Championship is on tap as well, with Southampton looking to wrap up automatic promotion. A draw against Coventry City should be enough, but West Ham can take advantage and move back into second with a win and a Southampton loss. 

SATURDAY

Everton vs. Fulham, 10 a.m.
Stoke City vs. Arsenal, 10 a.m. 
Sunderland vs. Bolton Wanderers, 10 a.m. 
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers, 10 a.m. 
West Bromwich Albion vs. Aston Villa, 10 a.m. 
Wigan Athletic vs. Newcastle United, 10 a.m. 
Norwich City vs. Liverpool, 12:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers, 8:30 a.m.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Blackburn Rovers, 11 a.m.

MONDAY

Manchester City vs. Manchester United, 3 p.m.

SPAIN

Real Madrid all but wrapped up the La Liga title but need a couple of more victories to make it official. It could come as early as this weekend but that would require both a Real Madrid win against Sevilla and a Barcelona loss to Rayo Vallecano. It will be interesting to see how Pep Guardiola's announcement of his departure from Barca will affect a team riding an unfamiliar three-game winless streak.

SATURDAY

Espanyol vs. Sporting Gijon, 12 p.m.
Getafe vs. Mallorca, 12 p.m.
Levante vs. Granada, 12 p.m.
Real Sociedad vs. Racing Santander, 12 p.m.
Villarreal vs. Osasuna, 4 p.m.

SUNDAY

Real Madrid vs. Sevilla FC, 6 a.m.
Real Zaragoza vs. Athletic Bilbao, 10 a.m.
Malaga vs. Valencia, 12 p.m.
Real Betis vs. Atletico Madrid, 1:45 p.m.
Rayo Vallecano vs. Barcelona, 3:30 p.m. 

GERMANY

Borussia Dortmund have already wrapped up the title, but Borussia Monchengladbach can put to rest the last race in the Bundesliga with a result on Saturday. Monchengladbach need only a point at home against FC Augsburg to clinch fourth place. Stuttgart need to win against UCL finalist Bayern Munich, who have nothing to play for after clinching second place, in order to keep their Champions League hopes alive.

Should FC Cologne lose to SC Freiburg, a place in the relegation playoffs is the best result they can achieve and Augsburg will be safe.

Both this week and in next week's final round, all 20 teams will play simultaneously.

SATURDAY

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hannover 96, 9:30 a.m.
Bayern Munich vs. VfB Stuttgart, 9:30 a.m.
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. FC Augsburg, 9:30 a.m.
Hamburg SV vs. Mainz, 9:30 a.m.
Kaiserslautern vs. Borussia Dortmund, 9:30 a.m.
SC Freiburg vs. FC Cologne, 9:30 a.m.
Schalke 04 vs. Hertha Berlin, 9:30 a.m.
TSG Hoffenheim vs. Nurnberg, 9:30 a.m.
VfL Wolfsburg vs. Werder Bremen, 9:30 a.m. 

ITALY

While Juventus and AC Milan battle for the Scudetto, the race for the final Italian Champions League spot has become one of the more exciting left in Europe. Five teams are within five points of third place with four games left to play. Third-placed Lazio takes on fifth-placed Udinese on Sunday. Udinese has a stellar home record and a superior goal difference and could move into third with a win. Napoli are in fourth and could claim third place but are struggling to get back on track after a disappointing exit from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea.

Inter Milan, against all odds, have quietly crawled back into the Champions League race. They sit only three points back of third place and have a home stand with already-relegated Cesena this weekend.

At the top of the table, Juventus head to 19th-placed Novara looking to keep their three-point lead over AC Milan intact. Juventus have extended their unbeaten run to 34 games in the league and are on a six-game winning streak since their 2-2 draw with Milan, which is also on the road at Siena.

SATURDAY

Cagliari vs. Chievo Verona, 12 p.m.
Palermo vs. Catania, 12 p.m.
AS Roma vs. Napoli, 2:45 p.m. 

SUNDAY

Bologna vs. Genoa, 6:30 a.m.
Atalanta vs. Fiorentina, 9 a.m. 
Inter Milan vs. Cesena, 9 a.m. 
Lecce vs. Parma, 9 a.m. 
Novara vs. Juventus, 9 a.m. 
Siena vs. AC Milan, 9 a.m. 
Udinese vs. Lazio, 2:45 p.m. 

FRANCE

The biggest story in France this weekend has nothing to do with Ligue 1. Instead, all eyes will be focused on Saturday's French Cup Final between Lyon and third-tiered Quevilly, a semi-pro team from France's third division. It's one of the more remarkable cup runs in recent memory, but a tough Lyon team will want to win a trophy after possibly finishing outside the Champions League this season.

First-place Montpellier will need to get all three points in a tough away game against Toulouse while second-place Paris Saint-Germain, just two points off the pace, face an equally tough test against third-placed Lille.

FRIDAY

Toulouse vs. Montpellier, 1 p.m.
Lorient vs. Marseille, 3 p.m. 

SATURDAY

Lyon vs. Quevilly, 2:45 p.m. (French Cup Final)

SUNDAY

AJ Auxerre vs. Brest, 11 a.m.
AS Nancy Lorraine vs. Caen, 11 a.m.
Sochaux vs. Bordeaux, 11 a.m.
St Etienne vs. Dijon FCO, 11 a.m.
Stade Rennes vs. AC Ajaccio, 11 a.m.
Valenciennes vs. Nice, 11 a.m.
Lille vs. Paris Saint-Germain, 3 p.m. 

NETHERLANDS

With a win on Sunday, Ajax will all but wrap up the Eredivisie title. While they can't technically eliminate AZ Alkmaar or Feyenoord Rotterdam from competition with a win over FC Twente, they would only need to maintain a goal differential advantage of more than 20 goals in their last two games. The more interesting race is between AZ and Feyenoord for second place and the final Champions League spot.

The two teams square off on Sunday with the winner taking a dominating position in the race for second. AZ scored late to notch a 2-1 victory back in September but must now replicate that result on the road.

FRIDAY

FC Groningen vs. De Graafschap, 2 p.m.

SATURDAY

SC Heracles Almelo vs. Heerenveen, 12:45 p.m.
FC Utrecht vs. NAC Breda, 1:45 p.m.
Vitesse Arnhem vs. Excelsior, 1:45 p.m.
VVV Venlo vs. ADO Den Haag, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

Roda JC Kerkrade vs. PSV Eindhoven, 6:30 a.m.
Feyenoord Rotterdam vs. AZ Alkmaar, 8:30 a.m.
FC Twente vs. Ajax, 8:30 a.m.
NEC Nijmegen vs. RKC Waalwijk, 10:30 a.m. 

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What do you think of this weekend's fixtures? Can United wrap up the Premier League title or will City make it a race to the final week? Can Lazio hold on to third place in Italy? Pulling for Quevilly?

Share your thoughts below.

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4 Responses to European Look Ahead: High-stakes Manchester derby, races intensify & more

  1. Ferris says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve taken a close look at the European preview/lookahead, but digging the format and the overviews, especially of leagues you don’t hear as much about.

  2. Mig22 says:

    Agreed. Liking the format.

  3. K Bone says:

    It’s really a shame United dropped those five points, very disappointed to blow that lead. This is almost exactly the same situation as last season when Chelsea were only three points behind United going into their game against each other with three games left. Of course that game was at United. Can’t wait to see it, I’ll be interested to see if City go balls out, but if they do that could be trouble for them with United on the counter. A lot of critics are “forgetting” that City have to play Newcastle away the very next game, which may actually be harder for them, so it’s not like this game will decide the title anyway, but obviously it’ll be huge for whoever wins (or ties)…

  4. marco says:

    This is United’s weakest side to be on top. If SAF wins the title, it would be a great time to retire and turn the team over to Jose.