BY JUSTIN FERGUSON
After stunning the soccer world by defeating Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, AC Milan turns its attention to another monumental match.
The Rossoneri will face hated city rivals Inter in Sunday’s late Serie A match, one that could have massive implications in the race for the final spot in next season’s Champions League.
Milan has risen from the worst season start in club history all the way to third place in the Serie A standings. October’s 1-0 loss to Inter was the club’s fourth loss in its first seven matches. Now Milan is playing like a different team, winning 10 out of its last 12 matches in league competition.
Fifth-place Inter will be looking to win its fourth straight match against Milan, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1974. Last weekend’s humbling 4-1 loss at Fiorentina caused the Nerazzurri to fall below their city rival, but Andrea Stramaccioni’s squad knows that it could take Milan’s third-place spot with a win on Sunday. Inter is also coming off of a win in European competition as the club dispatched CFR Cluj 3-0 on Thursday.
But the attention surrounding this weekend’s Milan Derby will not just be on league position and the usual bragging rights. Sunday’s clash will be new Milan forward Mario Balotelli’s first league match against former club Inter. Balotelli was the subject of racist chants from Inter fans two weeks ago, adding more fuel to an already fiery derby.
In England, the Premier League is back in full swing after last weekend’s FA Cup break. The spotlight will be on second-place Manchester City’s home match with third-place Chelsea. City, winless in its last three league matches, must shift its focus from chasing rival United to holding off surging Chelsea. The Blues are coming off of a dramatic victory over Sparta Prague in the Europa League and sit four points back from City. However, Chelsea’s involvement in continental competition may haunt them on Sunday—while the club just gets 48 hours to prepare for the league match, City is coming off of a full week of rest.
Here’s a closer look at all of the action in Europe this weekend:
Eighth-place Swansea City will travel from its home in Wales to England’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday for the Capital One Cup final. The Swans’ opponents are the Bantams of Bradford City, a League Two side that has eliminated three straight Premier League opponents on its way to the final. Swansea manager Michael Laudrup elected to rest most of his starters in last week’s 5-0 loss at Liverpool, telling reporters that he is taking his fourth-tier opponent very seriously. The Welsh club has never won a major trophy in its 100-year history.
The top of the Premier League table will travel to face the very bottom on Saturday when Manchester United visits QPR. United begins its four-match stretch against bottom half clubs, a perfect opportunity to effectively clinch the league title before April’s Manchester Derby. With four days of rest and over a week before their next match, look for the Red Devils to field a full strength side against last-place QPR.
If Chelsea fails to record a win at the Ethiad on Sunday, Tottenham can jump to third with a win at West Ham United on Monday. Spurs are unbeaten in their last 10 league matches and are coming off of a 3-2 aggregate win over Lyon in Europa League play. Meanwhile, Arsenal will look to end its rough stretch of results and stay in the race for a Champions League spot with a home win over 17th-place Aston Villa on Saturday.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend’s Premier League action:
Fulham vs. Stoke City
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
Norwich City vs. Everton
QPR vs. Manchester United
Reading vs. Wigan Athletic
West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland
Manchester City vs. Chelsea
Newcastle United vs. Southampton
Bradford City vs. Swansea City (Capital One Cup Final)
West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur
With that tough 2-0 loss to AC Milan in the rearview mirror and back-to-back matches with Real Madrid in the headlights, Barcelona hosts 10th-place Sevilla on Saturday. The Catalans will face rivals Real in a winner-take-all Copa del Rey semifinal on Wednesday and in La Liga action next Saturday. Sevilla enters Camp Nou with one of the league’s worst road records: one win in a dozen matches away from home. Will Barcelona be able to take advantage of this favorable matchup with a win, or will the club head into the cup semifinal feeling disappointed?
Second-place Atletico Madrid, who was denied of a Europa League repeat Thursday against Rubin Kazan, will face a tougher matchup at home this weekend. Los Colchoneros host 12th-place Espanyol, who has won five out of its last six matches in La Liga action. Diego Simeone will face some tough lineup decisions for Sunday’s clash as Atletico prepares for Wednesday’s match with Sevilla, the other semifinal in Copa del Rey.
Real Madrid has the most favorable matchup of the the top three clubs this weekend. Los Blancos will travel to last-place Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend’s La Liga action:
Athletic Bilbao vs. Osasuna
Mallorca vs. Getafe
Real Zaragoza vs. Valencia
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Madrid
Barcelona vs. Sevilla
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Valladolid
Celta Vigo vs. Granada
Atletico Madrid vs. Espanyol
Real Betis vs. Malaga
Levante vs. Osasuna
Werder Bremen has lost in all of its matches against the top four clubs in the Bundesliga. On Saturday, the 11th-place club will travel to face the toughest one of them all, league-leading Bayern Munich. Bayern has not lost a match since October and has not failed to secure all three points in its last five league matches. With a 15-point lead in the Bundesliga and an upcoming DFB-Pokal match with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see who Jupp Heynckes picks to start Saturday’s match.
The fight for second place in the league will continue on Sunday as both Dortmund and Leverkusen are in action. Dortmund will hit the road to face rival Borussia Monchengladbach in what will be Marco Reus’s first match at his former home of Stadion im Borussia-Park. Reus recorded two goals and an assist against his old club in a 5-0 Dortmund win in September. Leverkusen will visit last-place Greuther Furth, who fired its manager Mike Buskens earlier in the week.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend’s Bundesliga action:
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim
Hannover 96 vs. Hamburg
Mainz vs. Wolfsburg
Stuttgart vs. Nurnberg
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Borussia Dortmund
Greuther Furth vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Serie A leader Juventus will be involved in an intriguing match this weekend. Juve, still stinging from last weekend’s 1-0 loss to Roma, host 18th-place Siena, a side that has had a February to remember. The club has upset both Inter Milan and Lazio this month, and another big result could push them out of the drop zone.
Second-place Napoli, who will host Juventus next weekend in a major clash, needs a bounce back win Monday against Udinese. The club was trounced 5-0 in two matches with Czech club Viktoria Plzen in Europa League and were held to a scoreless draw with Fiorentina last weekend. Manager Walter Mazzarri kept several starters out of the second leg with Plzen, placing a higher priority on Monday’s Serie A match.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend’s Serie A action:
Palermo vs. Genoa
Sampdoria vs. Chievo Verona
Atalanta vs. AS Roma
Bologna vs. Fiorentina
Cagliari vs. Torino
Juventus vs. Siena
Parma vs. Catania
Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
Udinese vs. Napoli
Lazio vs. US Pescara
David Beckham is expected to make his PSG debut Sunday when the league leaders host third-place Marseille. The two rivals, who drew their first match 2-2 in October, will also face each other Wednesday in a Round of 16 Coupe de France match. PSG will be looking to bounce back from last week’s shock loss at Sochaux, which allowed both Marseille and second-place Lyon to gain ground in the tight Ligue 1 race.
Beckham’s potential debut has sparked some interesting comments from Marseille players in the pre-match build up. Former Premier League foe and current OM defender Joey Barton called Beckham “a big star off the pitch” but “not a big worry” on it. Forward Andre Ayew told reporters that he admired Beckham’s work in fashion more than his football.
While most of the attention on Sunday will be on the intense Le Clasique, Lyon will look to put pressure on the league leaders in its match against seventh-place Lorient. The second-place club will have to make a quick turnaround from Thursday’s heartbreaking Europa League defeat to Tottenham. Lyon stopped its three-match losing streak in Ligue 1 last weekend with a 4-0 win over Bordeaux.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend’s Ligue 1 action:
Nice vs. Stade de Reims
Stade Rennes vs. Sochaux
Ajaccio vs. Lille
Nancy vs. Etienne
Evian Thonon vs. Montpellier
Troyes vs. Bastia
Valenciennes vs. Toulouse
Lyon vs. Lorient
Bordeaux vs. Brest
PSG vs. Marseille
Which European matches are you looking forward to this weekend? How do you think Balotelli will do in his first Milan derby since his return to Italy? Who is your pick for Sunday’s Manchester City-Chelsea match? Do you think Bradford City has one more Capital One Cup upset left in them?
Share your comments below.