By JUSTIN FERGUSON
The final eight in this season’s FA Cup competition will take center stage this weekend as most of Europe’s top teams begin the home stretch of their domestic league campaigns.
The marquee match this weekend is Manchester United vs. Chelsea, the league leaders vs. the defending FA Cup champions. The Red Devils will be five days removed from their heartbreaking exit from the Champions League when the Blues visit Sunday. It will be interesting to see how United bounces back from the tough Real Madrid loss. While the dreams of a famous treble are now gone, a domestic double is still in reach. Once again, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad will have to face top-flight competition– each of United’s FA Cup opponents have been fellow Premier League sides.
Chelsea will also come into Sunday’s fixture off of a disappointing European loss. The 2012 FA Cup champions fell 1-0 at Romania’s Steaua Bucharest on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 matchup. The loss, in which the only goal was a first half penalty conversion, was only Chelsea’s second in its last eight matches across all competitions. In addition to the desire to repeat as Cup champions and secure a bounce-back win, the Blues will be looking to exact a measure of revenge on their opponents Sunday. Manchester United won a controversial 3-2 EPL match at Stamford Bridge in October that included two Chelsea red cards and a winner from an offside Javier Hernandez.
The best match outside of England this weekend can be found in France. Sunday’s Choc des Olympiques, or “Clash of the Olympics”, will have huge implications in the Ligue 1 race. Second-place host Lyon, which is three points ahead of third-place Marseille in the league table, dominated its similarly named rival 4-1 in their earlier Ligue 1 clash. Lyon had a chance to share the league lead with PSG last week, but the club was held to a draw at bottom-half Brest.
Marseille bounced back from back-to-back losses to PSG with a dramatic 2-1 win over Troyes. Depending on the league leaders’ result with relegation-zoned Nancy– PSG has had trouble with lowly clubs recently– Lyon could inch closer to reclaiming the top spot in France. If Marseille pull out the victory, the two Olympiques would be level in what is the closest title race in Europe.
Here is a closer look at all of the weekend’s European action:
The only other matchup between two Premier League clubs in the FA Cup quarterfinals is Everton vs. Wigan Athletic. The Toffees cruised past giant-killing Oldham Athletic in their Round of 16 replay, drawing a favorable matchup in the final eight on Saturday. Wigan will take a break from their tough relegation battle and attempt to make club history. The 17th-placed club has never reached the semifinals, having matched 1987′s quarterfinal showing with a 4-1 win over Huddersfield Town two weeks ago. The fifth Premier League side left in the competition, Manchester City, continues its quest for silverware this weekend with a match against the Championship’s Barnsley.
The top match in league play this weekend will be at Anfield on Sunday as Liverpool host Tottenham. The Reds, who have won their last two Premier League matches by a combined score of 9-0, could make a late push for a Europa League spot with a win over a hot Tottenham side. After last weekend’s North London Derby victory, and a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in Europa League action, Spurs are now undefeated in their last eight matches across all competitions and winners of five straight. Liverpool will have to find an answer for Gareth Bale, who has scored 11 goals in the first three months of 2013. Bale caused problems from Liverpool in the clubs’ first meeting, recording a goal, assist and an own goal in Tottenham’s 2-1 October win.
Here are the FA Cup quarterfinal matches:
Everton vs. Wigan Athletic
Manchester City vs. Barnsley
Millwall vs. Blackburn Rovers
Manchester United vs. Chelsea
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Norwich City vs. Southampton
QPR vs. Sunderland
Reading vs. Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion vs. Swansea City
Newcastle United vs. Stoke City
Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur
The top of La Liga will host the very bottom this weekend as Barcelona seeks to end its troublesome run of bad form with a win over Deportivo La Coruna. The Catalans, who lost twice last week to Real Madrid, could get some of their frustrations out on the last-place visitors. The club will face the tall task of overcoming a 2-0 Champions League deficit to AC Milan in just a few days. But do not let this “first vs. worst” matchup fool you– Deportivo made Barcelona sweat for a 5-4 road win earlier this season and forced Real Madrid to find a late winner in a match two weeks ago.
Third-place Real Madrid have shrunk the gap between themselves and city rival Atletico to just two points. Real also faces a relegation-threatened side this weekend, 18th-place Celta Vigo. The club has won its last six matches across all competitions and will be fresh off of Tuesday’s 2-1 victory at Manchester United. Real could have a chance to hop into second place on Sunday as Atletico hosts sixth-place Real Sociedad, which is undefeated in its last eight matches. However, Atletico has yet to drop a point at home this season, boasting a perfect 13-0-0 record at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s La Liga fixtures:
Real Betis vs. Osasuna
Rayo Vallecano vs. Espanyol
Real Valladolid vs. Malaga
Barcelona vs. Deportivo La Coruna
Mallorca vs. Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao vs. Valencia
Levante vs. Getafe
Celta Vigo vs. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Sociedad
With Bayern Munich currently holding a 17-point Bundesliga lead and facing midtable Fortuna Dusseldorf this weekend, all eyes in Germany will be on the struggle for second place between Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen.
Second-place Dortmund, which is one point ahead of Leverkusen, travels to face sixth-place Schalke on Saturday. Schalke is out of its Bundesliga slump with back-to-back wins over Dusseldorf and Wolfsburg and back in the hunt for the league’s final Champions League spot for next season. The club will turn around and host Galatasaray in this season’s Champions League competition, but first it must get past a determined Dortmund squad. The defending champions cruised past Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League tie earlier in the week.
Leverkusen will also hit the road to face a European hopeful on Saturday. Although eighth-place Mainz’s form has taken a dip over the past few Bundesliga matches, the club is only four points off of fourth-place Eintracht Frankfurt’s UCL spot. Leverkusen got a much-needed 2-1 win last week over Stuttgart to keep pace with Dortmund. The two clubs played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in their earlier meeting this season.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Bundesliga fixtures:
Augsburg vs. Nurnberg
Bayern Munich vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
Mainz vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg vs. Wolfsburg
Schalke vs. Borussia Dortmund
Greuther Furth vs. Hoffenheim
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Werder Bremen
Hannover 96 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Stuttgart vs. Hamburg
Last week’s 1-1 draw with second-place Napoli kept Juventus’s six-point league lead intact. After finishing their Champions League rout of Celtic earlier in the week, Juve turns its attention to eighth-place Catania on Sunday. The league leaders took advantage of a disallowed Catania goal in the two sides’ match earlier this season, winning 1-0 in the coastal city. Napoli will try to shake off its bad run of form this Sunday with a visit to 16th-place Chievo Verona.
AC Milan will benefit from an extra day of rest ahead of the second leg with Barcelona, but the red-hot club has to take care of business against Genoa on Friday. Milan dominated Lazio 3-0 last weekend to take full control of third place in Serie A. With a small lead on the final Italian Champions League spot and a big match with Barcelona on Tuesday, it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup changes will we see from Massimiliano Allegri on Friday.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Serie A fixtures:
Genoa vs. AC Milan
Udinese vs. AS Roma
Atalanta vs. US Pescara
Cagliari vs. Sampdoria
Chievo Verona vs. Napoli
Juventus vs. Catania
Palermo vs. Siena
Parma vs. Torino
Inter Milan vs. Bologna
Lazio vs. Fiorentina
Paris Saint-Germain is through to the final eight in this year’s Champions League, but the club’s control of its domestic league is starting to slip away. PSG was upset by 15th-place Stade de Reims last weekend, marking the club’s second straight loss against bottom-half sides. On Saturday the Parisians will host 19th-place Nancy, a club that PSG had to squeak by 1-0 earlier this season. The result of Saturday’s match at the Parc des Princes will have a sizable impact on Sunday’s Clash of the Olympiques, so Ligue 1 fans will be extra sure to keep an eye on what would be a rather pedestrian matchup on paper.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Ligue 1 fixtures:
Stade Rennes vs. St Etienne
PSG vs. Nancy
Ajaccio vs. Lorient
Brest vs. Toulouse
Evian Thonon vs. Sochaux
Troyes vs. Stade de Reims
Valenciennes vs. Lille
Nice vs. Montpellier
Bordeaux vs. Bastia
Lyon vs. Marseille
What matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? How do you think Manchester United will play after Tuesday’s UCL exit? Which clubs make up your “final four” in the FA Cup? Think Barcelona takes care of business this weekend? How do you see the race for Ligue 1 shaking out?
Share your comments below.