Photo by Matt West/ISIPhotos.com
By JUSTIN FERGUSON
After a scoreless home draw and a tough 2-0 road loss earlier this season, Chelsea will get one more chance at knocking off Manchester City when the two English giants meet this Sunday.
Although the Blues will not be able to cut into City’s seven-point advantage in the race for second place in the Premier League table, this weekend clash at Wembley Stadium is of utmost importance as the winner will return next month for the FA Cup Final. While Chelsea are still in the running for the Europa League title, this is the last shot that defending EPL champions City have at grabbing silverware this season.
Chelsea, who are coming off of a narrow Europa League quarterfinal win at Rubin Kazan, have posted a 6-1-2 domestic record since their loss to Man City in late February. The Blues have not beaten City since their 2-1 home win in December 2011, which was sealed by a late penalty conversion from Frank Lampard. The veteran Chelsea midfielder missed a penalty try in the February match that would have given his side the lead.
Manchester City, seemingly out of contention for a Premier League repeat, see Sunday’s trip to Wembley as one of their last big matches of the season. City are riding high after Monday’s 2-1 road win over first-place Manchester United, but they could be without one of their key players for the semifinal. David Silva is doubtful for the match after suffering a hamstring injury against United. Roberto Mancini will reportedly give the midfielder until Saturday before making any official decision on his status for Sunday.
Meetings between these last two FA Cup champions are rare in this competition—Sunday’s semifinal will be the first cup match between Chelsea and Manchester City since 1971.
Two other clubs currently in second and third place in their league will also meet on Sunday, and their match will have an effect on the standings.
Third-place AC Milan will welcome second-place Napoli to San Siro in hopes of cutting down the four-point difference between the two clubs. Milan have not suffered defeat in Serie A play since the calendar flipped to 2013, and they will have fond memories of November’s second half comeback to draw 2-2 at San Paolo earlier this season. Leading scorer Stephan El Shaarawy scored both of Milan’s goals in the draw, which moved the Rossoneri back to the top half of the league table.
Napoli have scored 10 goals in three straight wins heading into the match in Milan. The second-place club defeated struggling Genoa 2-0 in a weekend where several top Italian clubs stumbled in league play. Napoli extended their lead over Milan from two to four points after Sunday’s hosts blew a late two-goal lead to Fiorentina.
Here is a closer look at the rest of this weekend’s action from Europe:
Arsenal have a chance to jump to a Champions League-qualifying third place this Saturday with a win over struggling Norwich City. While their top London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea have a weekend off from Premier League action, the Gunners could move one point ahead of the pack by getting revenge on the Canaries. Norwich defended Carrow Road successfully in a 1-0 win over Arsenal in October, which was manager Chris Hughton’s first victory for the club. Arsenal should get a boost over Norwich this weekend in the form of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. Arsene Wenger told reporters that the two young English stars have a 90 percent chance of playing in Saturday’s match. Walcott and Wilshere, who have been out for several weeks with nagging injuries, also missed October’s loss at Norwich.
Wigan Athletic will take a break from their fight to avoid relegation this weekend with a FA Cup semifinal trip to Millwall. Saturday’s match at Wembley will be the Latics’ first semifinal match in their 81-year history. Wigan are undefeated in their last four matches, which included a shocking 3-0 win at Everton in the quarterfinal. Millwall, who are in a relegation fight of their own in the Championship, have failed to record a win in their last three matches. The Lions will surely have a home field advantage heading into neutral Wembley on Sunday—while Wigan failed to sell out their ticket allotment, the London club have played in several league playoff finals there in recent years.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s matches in the Premier League:
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Aston Villa vs. Fulham
Everton vs. QPR
Reading vs. Liverpool
Southampton vs. West Ham United
Newcastle United vs. Sunderland
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
Here are this weekend’s FA Cup semifinals:
Millwall vs. Wigan Athletic
Chelsea vs. Manchester City
Four of the top six teams in La Liga hit the road this weekend in search of tightening their grips on European qualification. Fourth-place Real Sociedad will have the toughest trip this weekend as they put their 12-match unbeaten streak on the line at ninth-place Rayo Vallecano. Sociedad, fresh off of a 4-2 win over Champions League quarterfinalist Malaga, now sit two points ahead of Valencia for control of the final UCL qualification spot in Spain. Sociedad beat Rayo 4-0 in their first meeting, a win that pushed the club into the top-half of the table. Another win over Rayo would be very important for the Champions League hopefuls—Sociedad still have to play Valencia, Sevilla, Getafe and Real Madrid this season.
The La Liga action will kick off with a Sevilla Derby that could have a major effect on European qualification. Seventh-place Real Betis, who are behind sixth-place Malaga on goal difference, host tenth-place Sevilla on Friday. Sevilla dominated Betis 5-1 in their first meeting, giving Betis an extra incentive to score as many goals as possible on their city rivals. Betis scored three goals in the span of five minutes en route to a 5-1 win of their own last weekend, a road victory at Granada.
Here is full list of this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Real Betis vs. Sevilla
Real Valladolid vs. Getafe
Levante vs. Deportivo La Coruna
Espanyol vs. Valencia
Malaga vs. Osasuna
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Sociedad
Atletico Madrid vs. Granada
Real Zaragoza vs. Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid
After Tuesday’s dramatic Champions League comeback over Malaga, Borussia Dortmund travel to last-place Greuther Furth this weekend. Saturday’s match is a great opportunity to put some more distance between themselves and Bayer Leverkusen in the battle for second place in the Bundesliga, which was clinched by Bayern Munich last weekend. Leverkusen face the tough test of traveling to Veltins Arena for a Saturday match at Schalke, who are three points ahead of Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt for the coveted fourth-place spot in the league table. Leverkusen defeated a struggling Schalke side in November, but the Die Königsblauen have turned it around to contend for a third Champions League spot in their last four seasons.
This weekend in the Bundesliga will kick off with a match between two teams fighting for European spots of their own. Fifth-place Freiburg, who have kept back-to-back clean sheets in league play, host ninth-place Hannover 96 on Friday. Freiburg will welcome the early match this weekend—the club travel to Stuttgart next Wednesday for a semifinal match in the DFB-Pokal. Hannover, four points back from Freiburg for a Europa League spot, will be missing five players to injury for Friday’s match. If Hannover want to qualify for Europe next season, they will have to start to pick up points away from home. The club is tied with relegation candidate Hoffenheim for the worst road record in the league with ten road losses.
Here is full list of this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Freiburg vs. Hannover 96
Bayern Munich vs. Nurnberg
Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Werder Bremen
Mainz vs. Hamburg
Greuther Furth vs. Borussia Dortmund
Wolfsburg vs. Hoffenheim
Schalke 04 vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Stuttgart vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Augsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Fourth-place Fiorentina will try to avoid the same fate of fellow European hopeful Inter Milan when they travel to 13th-place Atalanta. Inter blew a three-goal lead over Atalanta in the second half as leading scorer German Denis netted a hat trick in the span of 12 minutes. Fiorentina had a comeback of their own against a Milan club last weekend, but the Viola failed to grab all three points in their quest to qualify for the Champions League. They had no problem at all with Atalanta in their first meeting of the season, a 4-1 win that capped off a four-match winning streak. The Viola will most likely be without leading scorer and highly touted transfer target Stevan Jovetic, who had to be subbed off in the first half of the Milan draw last weekend.
Saturday features a battle between two relegation candidates desperately needing a win to boost their survival chances. Last-place US Pescara have not won in their last dozen matches, but they are coming off of a strong finish at Juventus last weekend. Pescara made the Serie A leaders sweat for the final 10 minutes last week, firing several late shots on Marco Stoari’s goal in the 2-1 loss. The home side, six points behind the relegation line with seven matches left, need to avoid a draw with Siena. The 17th-place visitors have drawn in their last three matches to stay atop drop-zoned Palermo, who have won their last two league matches. Siena defeated nine-man Pescara 1-0 during their first match of the season.
Here is full list of this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
US Pescara vs. Siena
Atalanta vs. Fiorentina
Palermo vs. Bologna
Cagliari vs. Inter Milan
Chievo Verona vs. Catania
Genoa vs. Sampdoria
Parma vs. Udinese
Torino vs. AS Roma
AC Milan vs. Napoli
Now that they are out of the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain will now focus on wrapping up the Ligue 1 title race. The Parisians are seven points ahead of second-place Marseille with seven matches left to play, and they should have no problem in their first match of the league home stretch. PSG visit last-place Troyes this weekend, a side that drew with third-place Saint Etienne two weeks ago. The league leaders defeated Troyes 4-0 earlier this season, a win that featured two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Saint Etienne will hope to hold onto their Champions League-qualifying spot with a positive result on Friday at 13th-place Valenciennes. The new third-place club in Ligue 1 have not lost yet in 2013 while Valenciennes are currently on a seven-match winless streak. Saint Etienne defeated Valenciennes 1-0 earlier this season in a match where either side could have taken the top spot in the league with a win. Unfortunately for Saint Etienne, the league lead lasted less than a week as the club went on a six-match skid following the home win over Valenciennes. The 13th-place squad will be missing eight different players due to injury this weekend, including leading scorer Gregory Puyol. Double-digit goalscorer Brandao will be unavailable for Friday’s match as serves his suspension for a violent tackle during a match against PSG.
Here is full list of this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Valenciennes vs. Saint Etienne
Troyes vs. PSG
Ajaccio vs. Nancy
Bordeaux vs. Montpellier
Brest vs. Stade de Reims
Evian Thonon vs. Stade Rennes
Lorient vs. Bastia
Nice vs. Sochaux
Lyon vs. Toulouse
Lille vs. Marseille
Which European matches will you be watching this weekend? Who do you think will win in the battle between the last two FA Cup champions? See AC Milan gaining ground on Napoli this weekend?
Share your comments below.