European Look Ahead: Rivalries take spotlight with El Clasico, London derby

MessiRonaldoMadrid (Reuters Pictures)

By JOHN BOSCHINI

El Clasico is one of the few events in the world in which the result routinely lives up to the hype, and Saturday will see another chapter written in the storied rivalry.

With a title on the line and both teams looking to recover from surprising UEFA Champions League defeats, Real Madrid travels to Barcelona holding a four-point advantage in La Liga with five games to play. A win or draw would be a major step toward wrapping up a title for Madrid, while the match presents Barcelona's last chance at having a direct effect on Madrid's fortunes. Barcelona has won 11 league games in a row, while Real Madrid is unbeaten in the league since losing to Barcelona at the Bernabeu on Dec. 10 but does have three draws in that time.

An interesting subplot to a game already ripe with storylines is the goal-scoring battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men have scored an astounding 41 league goals this season.

Lost among the fanfare surrounding the matchup in Spain is a London derby with substantial implications. Chelsea will still be buzzing over their grueling 1-0 win over Barcelona on Wednesday but need a result at the Emirates against Arsenal if they are to make a move for fourth place. A win for Arsenal would see them all but wrap up third place with three games to play. 

Arsenal need to rebound from their mid-week loss to Wigan and will be without midfielder Mikel Arteta for this match and the rest of the season. Fatigue is Chelsea's biggest threat, and Roberto Di Matteo needs to considering resting players considering Tuesday's looming UCL semifinal second leg against Barcelona.

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

ENGLAND

Everton's form is as predictable as the seasons, and the Toffees' typical late surge could put Manchester United's title hopes in doubt. A win for United, however, would give them a cushion heading into next weekend's Manchester derby, though Tim Howard will look to prevent his former team from capturing those three points. It's unlikely Manchester City will drop points against struggling Wolves.

Newcastle could also slip into fourth place should Tottenham fail to win away to relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers.

Elsewhere in the relegation race, Bolton has two games in hand with which to get out of the drop zone, and they'll look to take a step toward doing so against Swansea City.

SATURDAY

Arsenal vs. Chelsea, 7:45 a.m.
Aston Villa vs. Sunderland, 10 a.m. 
Blackburn Rovers vs. Norwich City, 10 a.m.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Swansea City, 10 a.m.
Fulham vs. Wigan Athletic, 10 a.m.
Newcastle United vs. Stoke City, 10 a.m.
Queens Park Rangers vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 12:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Manchester United vs. Everton, 7:30 a.m.
Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion, 11 a.m.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Manchester City, 11 a.m. 

SPAIN

With the top two teams facing off, the rest of La Liga will be focused on the race for the Champions League. Valencia is in third place but are now only a point ahead of Malaga, who face off against sixth-placed Osasuna on Monday.

Levante could temporarily move into the Champions League spot with a three-goal win over Sevilla.

SATURDAY

Mallorca vs. Real Zaragoza, 12 p.m.
Sporting Gijon vs. Rayo Vallecano, 12 p.m.
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, 2 p.m.
Sevilla FC vs. Levante, 4:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Granada vs. Getafe, 6 a.m.
Real Sociedad vs. Villarreal, 6 a.m.
Racing Santander vs. Athletic Bilbao, 10 a.m.
Atletico Madrid vs. Espanyol, 12 p.m.
Valencia vs. Real Betis, 3:30 p.m.

MONDAY

Osasuna vs. Malaga, 3 p.m. 

GERMANY

There's not much drama left in the Bundesliga this season as most of the important races are essentially settled. Borussia Dortmund can wrap up the title with a win over Borussia Monchengladbach or if Bayern Munich drop points to Werder Bremen.

FRIDAY

Mainz vs. VfL Wolfsburg, 2:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

FC Cologne vs. VfB Stuttgart, 9:30 a.m.
Hertha Berlin vs. Kaiserslautern, 9:30 a.m.
Nurnberg vs. Hamburg SV, 9:30 a.m.
TSG Hoffenheim vs. Bayer Leverkusen, 9:30 a.m.
Werder Bremen vs. Bayern Munich, 9:30 a.m.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, 12:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

FC Augsburg vs. Schalke 04, 9:30 a.m.
Hannover 96 vs. SC Freiburg, 11:30 a.m. 

ITALY

Juventus take a slim, one-point lead into the final six games of the season but face one of their toughest tests with a home stand against AS Roma. Roma are still searching for a Champions League place and are four points behind third-place Lazio.

AC Milan will try to keep the pressure on Juve with a game against Bologna.

SATURDAY

Chievo Verona vs. Udinese, 12 p.m.
Parma vs. Cagliari, 12 p.m.
Catania vs. Atalanta, 2:45 p.m.
Napoli vs. Novara, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

Fiorentina vs. Inter Milan, 6:30 a.m.
AC Milan vs. Bologna, 9 a.m.
Cesena vs. Palermo, 9 a.m.
Genoa vs. Siena, 9 a.m.
Lazio vs. Lecce, 9 a.m.
Juventus vs. AS Roma, 2:45 p.m. 

FRANCE

The top three in Ligue 1 are slowly pulling away as Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain battle for the title. Montpellier holds a two-point lead and have a home game against Valenciennes while PSG welcomes Sochaux. Sochaux is in the relegation zone on goal differential but could theoretically move all the way up to 13th should they pull off the upset.

SATURDAY

Brest vs. Stade Rennes, 1 p.m.
Caen vs. St. Etienne, 1 p.m.
Dijon FCO vs. Lille, 1 p.m.
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Toulouse, 1 p.m.
Montpellier vs. Valenciennes, 1 p.m.
Nice vs. AJ Auxerre, 1 p.m.
Bordeaux vs. Marseille, 3 p.m. 

SUNDAY

AC Ajaccio vs. AS Nancy Lorraine, 11 a.m.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Sochaux, 11 a.m.
Lyon vs. Lorient, 3:15 p.m. 

NETHERLANDS

Despite the deadlock that has persisted at the top of the Eredivisie, Ajax are closing in on the title with relative ease. They hold a six-point advantage over second-place AZ Alkmaar. AZ have their Champions League spot to worry about as Feyenoord Rotterdam has pulled level on points.

FRIDAY

NAC Breda vs. Roda JC Kerkrade, 2 p.m.

SATURDAY

Heerenveen vs. Vitesse Arnhem, 12:45 p.m.
De Graafschap vs. SC Heracles Almelo, 1:45 p.m.
RKC Waalwijk vs. FC Utrecht, 1:45 p.m.
Exclesior vs. FC Twente, 2:45 p.m.

SUNDAY

ADO Den Haag vs. Feyenoord Rotterdam, 6:30 a.m.
AZ Alkmaar vs. VVV Venlo, 8:30 a.m.
PSV Eindhoven vs. NEC Nijmegen, 8:30 a.m.
Ajax Amsterdam vs. FC Groningen, 10:30 a.m. 

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What do you think of this weekend's fixtures? Excited for El Clasico? Who will win at the Emirates? Will Dortmund wrap up the Bundesliga?

Share your thoughts below.

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One Response to European Look Ahead: Rivalries take spotlight with El Clasico, London derby

  1. Dimidri says:

    Would suck if AZ blow it