By JUSTIN FERGUSON
While the top leagues in Europe each have a considerable gap between their top two teams, the drama towards the end of this season can be found in the races for spots in next year’s Champions League.
On Sunday, AC Milan will travel to Tuscany in hopes of putting some more distance between themselves and fourth-place Fiorentina. Milan, undefeated in their last 12 Serie A matches, will look to tighten their grip on Italy’s final Champions League spot with a good road result. The third-place club has not allowed a goal since Ezequiel Schelotto equalized for Inter during February’s Milan Derby, and their opponents will be without star forward Stevan Jovetic. The Fiorentina vice-captain, who leads the Viola with 12 goals this season, suffered a thigh injury during their 2-1 loss at Cagliari last weekend.
Fiorentina, six points behind Milan, took the two sides’ first league meeting of the season with a 3-1 win at San Siro. The loss turned out to be the end of one of the worst season starts in Milan history—Milan have posted a 13-1-4 league record since the November defeat. Milan’s lone shot on goal in the first meeting came from Giampaolo Pazzini, who will return to the lineup this weekend after a month-long absence due to an ankle injury. “The Madman” played four seasons at Fiorentina, scoring 25 goals during his time for the Viola.
In Spain, Real Sociedad and Malaga will go head-to-head for fourth place in La Liga. With Barcelona and the Madrid clubs far ahead of the rest in the league table, these two clubs are currently leading the race for the final Champions League spot. Real Sociedad, the 2-1 winners of the first meeting, currently hold a one-point lead over Malaga and have not lost since their wild 4-3 loss at Real Madrid to kick off 2013.
Malaga are coming off of a scoreless draw in the Champions League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund and their high-powered offense. The club bounced back from a bad run of La Liga form last weekend with a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano. With a return trip to Germany in the near future, manager Manuel Pellegrini may elect to rest several starters for Saturday’s match. A draw with little drama would be a good result for Malaga, but Real Sociedad will be a rested side fully looking to grab a win that could push them into the biggest club competition in the world.
Here is a closer look at the rest of this weekend’s action from Europe’s top leagues:
Everton are still very much in the hunt for a spot in Europe next season, and they will be looking to replicate their dramatic victory over Tottenham from earlier this season. The Toffees erased a late Clint Dempsey goal with two goals after the 90th minute at Goodison Park in December. Although they have not been able to maintain the fourth-place position they gained in the win, Everton enter Sunday’s match at White Hart Lane just two points behind Arsenal for the Premiership’s Europa League spot. Tottenham, who reclaimed third place last weekend with a win over Swansea, will be without star winger Gareth Bale for Sunday’s match. The Welshman’s worth to the Tottenham offense is extraordinary—Spurs have not won a match without Bale scoring since January 1′s win over Reading.
Two clubs locked in the Premier League relegation battle will meet Sunday at Loftus Road. Queens Park Rangers are seven points below the relegation line in the league table, and opponents Wigan Athletic currently hold the treasured 17th-place position. QPR came close to breaking their season-opening drought of 16 matches without a win during the two sides’ first meeting, but James McCarthy’s second goal of the match at The DW Stadium sealed a 2-2 draw. With only seven matches left in the campaign, Harry Redknapp’s side need wins to keep hope of survival alive. Can the West London club grab the three points and bring Wigan back into the drop zone?
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Premier League matches:
Reading vs. Southampton
Norwich City vs. Swansea City
Stoke City vs. Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal
Liverpool vs. West Ham United
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton
Chelsea vs. Sunderland
Newcastle United vs. Fulham
QPR vs. Wigan Athletic
With Barcelona 13 points ahead of Real Madrid in the league table, the two El Clasico rivals will most likely be using their weekend matches to rest starters before next week’s return legs in the Champions League. Barcelona will be without Lionel Messi for their match against Mallorca, and the superstar’s teammates are itching to prove that they can perform at a high level without him. Madrid, who opened up a three-goal lead over Galatasaray in their first leg earlier this week, hold a one-point lead over city rival Atletico heading into Saturday’s match with Levante.
If Real Madrid fail to record three points against Levante on Sunday, Atletico could jump to second place with a win at Getafe. Atletico had a chance last weekend to take advantage of a Real Madrid draw, but the club once again slipped at the Vicente Calderon after winning 13 straight home matches to start the season. Getafe still have a shot at qualifying for European competition next season, and a fifth straight shutout could go a long way to a top six finish.
Last-place Deportivo La Coruna will look to continue their surprise late-season surge on Saturday as they host Real Zaragoza. Deportivo have won back-to-back matches to move them four points behind Zaragoza, who are hanging just above the relegation line in the league table. Zaragoza have not won in 2013, so Deportivo have emerged as unlikely favorites for Saturday’s six-pointer at the Riazor.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s La Liga matches:
Granada vs. Real Betis
Real Sociedad vs. Malaga
Real Madrid vs. Levante
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Zaragoza
Barcelona vs. Mallorca
Celta Vigo vs. Rayo Vallecano
Osasuna vs. Espanyol
Getafe vs. Atletico Madrid
Valencia vs. Real Valladolid
No matter the result of the Dortmund-Augsburg match, Bayern Munich can clinch the Bundesliga title with a win at Eintracht Frankfurt. Bayern have won 10 straight league matches heading into Saturday’s match at their nearest Bundesliga rivals, who are still in the hunt for a Champions League spot of their own. The league leaders are also coming off of a 2-0 first leg victory over Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals, so it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup Jupp Heynckes puts out against Eintracht on Saturday. Will Bayern push to wrap up the title race on Saturday, or will the club rest the majority of their starters before next week’s trip to Turin?
Schalke will be hoping that Bayern Munich clinches the title this weekend, because a loss for Eintracht Frankfurt would give Schalke a chance to take full control of fourth place in the league. Schalke currently are tied with Eintracht in points and goal differential, but Schalke holds the advantage in away goals. The current fourth-place squad travel to Werder Bremen on Saturday, a side that it defeated 2-1 in November. Manager Jens Keller will especially want a win over Werder Bremen this weekend—Schalke president Clemens Tonnies told reporters this week that Keller could be made a permanent manager if the club secures a top-four finish.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Bundesliga matches:
Hoffenheim vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Wolfsburg
Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Bayern Munich
Werder Bremen vs. Schalke 04
Hamburg vs. Freiburg
Nurnberg vs. Mainz
Hannover 96 vs. Stuttgart
Juventus will welcome last-place US Pescara to Turin this Saturday as the club prepares to overcome a 2-0 deficit to Bayern Munich next week. The defending champions, currently nine points ahead of Napoli with eight matches to play, will fondly remember their 6-1 thrashing of Pescara earlier this season. US Pescara are six points away from the safety, but the Delfini will have a much better chance of getting points next weekend when they face relegation candidate Siena.
Inter Milan will look to get revenge and stay in the hunt for a Champions League spot Sunday in their home match against Atalanta. Inter’s seven-match winning streak earlier in the season was snapped during a visit to Bergamo earlier this season. The Nerazzurri never were able to catch back up with Juventus following the loss at Atalanta, and now they sit seven points behind third-place Milan. Inter got back to their winning ways against Sampdoria on Wednesday after a two-goal performance from Rodrigo Palacio, who has scored in Inter’s last three matches.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Serie A matches:
Juventus vs. US Pescara
Bologna vs. Torino
Fiorentina vs. AC Milan
Catania vs. Cagliari
Sampdoria vs. Palermo
Siena vs. Parma
Udinese vs. Chievo Verona
Inter Milan vs. Atalanta
Napoli vs. Genoa
PSG fought to get a controversial 2-2 draw with Barcelona in Champions League action on Tuesday and will face a trip to Camp Nou next week. But before the Parisians can turn its full attention to the second leg of the quarterfinal, they must take care of business on Saturday in Rennes. PSG still hold a seven-point lead over Marseille entering this weekend’s action in Ligue 1. Marseille will have a chance to put some pressure on the busy capital club with a match against Bordeaux on Friday.
Here is the full list of this weekend’s Ligue 1 matches:
Marseille vs. Bordeaux
Stade Rennes vs. PSG
Nancy vs. Troyes
Bastia vs. Brest
Montpellier vs. Valenciennes
Sochaux vs. Ajaccio
Toulouse vs. Nice
St-Etienne vs. Evian Thonon
Stade de Reims vs. Lyon
Lille vs. Lorient
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Do you think AC Milan gets the victory over Fiorentina? Who do you see taking control of third place in La Liga? How do you think the other clubs between Champions League quarterfinal matches will do this weekend?
Share your comments below.