European Weekend Preview: Barcelona and PSG look to clinch league titles; Benfica battle rival Porto; and more

BarcelonaPSG (AP)

By JUSTIN FERGUSON

During the first two weeks of April, FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain squared off in what turned out to be a thrilling UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.

One month later, both sides are out of the continental competition and their respective domestic cups. Although their tournament runs came to disappointing endings, both Barcelona and PSG can clinch their league titles outright with road wins this weekend.

Barcelona, fresh off a Lionel Messi-inspired comeback win over Real Betis last weekend, travel to the famed Vicente Calderon for a battle with third-place Atletico Madrid. After starting out with a perfect 13-0-0 home record, Atletico have dropped points in three out of their last four matches in Madrid. The third-place club rebounded last week with back-to-back wins that secured a top-three finish.

The Catalans could have the title sealed up before Sunday’s match against Atletico. If rival Real Madrid drop points at Espanyol on Saturday, La Liga will be Barcelona’s before the Sunday evening kickoff. If it comes down to Sunday’s match with Atletico, Barcelona should feel good about their chances—they defeated Atletico 4-1 in the much-anticipated Messi vs. Radamel Falcao showdown at Camp Nou.

PSG will also travel to face the third-place club in their league. Lyon are undefeated in their last four matches and have a three-point advantage over the rest in the race for the final Champions League spot from Ligue 1. Although PSG have an undefeated league streak twice as long as Lyon’s, they have not been at their best in recent weeks. The Parisians have had four red cards and only two goals in their last two matches. PSG could have virtually sealed the league title last week with a win over bottom-half Valenciennes, but a first-half red card for Thiago Silva made the hosts battle for a 1-1 draw at home.

Perhaps the biggest match in Europe this weekend will be in a league that does not get as much worldwide attention as the ones in England, Spain, Germany, Italy or France.

On Saturday, first-place Benfica host second-place Porto in a bitter rivalry match that could determine the winner of the Portuguese Liga. The two famous rivals, who have been the only title winners since 2002, are undefeated in league play this season. But Benfica have one more win than defending champions Porto, giving them a two-point advantage in the league table.

If Benfica get their first O Clássico road win since 2005, they will bring the league title back to Lisbon. If Porto get another home win, they will be on the verge of capturing their seventh league title in eight years. A draw, which was the result of their meeting in December, would be beneficial for Benfica—the league leaders end the season next weekend against last-place Moreirense.

Here is a closer look at all of the weekend’s action in Europe’s top leagues:

 

ENGLAND

On paper, Manchester City look like heavy favorites for Saturday’s FA Cup Final against Wigan Athletic. City have won seven straight matches against the Latics, who suffered a tough loss during the midweek against Swansea City. While Man City had the luxury of resting most of their starters ahead of the final, Wigan fielded a full side in hopes of boosting their position in the relegation battle. And even though City have been a bit unlucky in front of goal in their last few matches, Wigan have a defense that has been prone to costly errors. However, as we saw on Wednesday, Roberto Martinez’s side always comes out swinging during this part of the season. The dream of a huge upset in the club’s first FA Cup Final could inspire the Latics to victory over a team looking for their second Cup in three years.

While Arsenal have to wait until Tuesday to face Cup finalist Wigan, Chelsea and Tottenham both get a chance to move up in the three-way race for Champions League qualification. Chelsea play the only other match in England on Saturday, a trip to face Aston Villa. The Blues know a win would almost guarantee a spot in the top four, but the reverse fixture against Villa promises to be closer than the 8-0 beatdown at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. Paul Lambert’s squad, now five points ahead of the drop zone, has recorded back-to-back wins that seem to have secured survival for Villa. Look for both sides to go for all three points in the final match of the season at Villa Park.

Tottenham will also visit a hot side that has seemingly secured their safety this weekend. After a dip in form, Stoke City are undefeated in their last three matches and are six points clear from the drop zone. Tottenham will be desperate for help after Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, but they must win out to keep their UCL hopes intact. Spurs are winless in their last four meetings with the Potters and played out a frustrating scoreless draw at home earlier this season. Tottenham will have to rely on their high profile offense this weekend—while they have scored two or more goals in their last five road matches, Stoke have not netted multiple goals at home since February.

Here are this weekend’s matches in the Premier League:

Saturday:
Aston Villa vs. Chelsea

FA CUP FINAL: Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic

Sunday:
Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Everton vs. West Ham United
Fulham vs. Liverpool
Norwich City vs. West Bromwich Albion
QPR vs. Newcastle United
Sunderland vs. Southampton
Manchester United vs. Swansea City

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SPAIN

After Getafe’s 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad earlier in the week, Valencia are right back in the hunt for a Champions League spot. While Sociedad have to wait until Monday to play their next match, Valencia can grab fourth in La Liga with a win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday. With the exception to their 4-2 loss to Sociedad two weekends ago, Valencia have scored three or more goals since the beginning of April. Rayo are winless in six of their last seven matches, taking them from Champions League contenders to an outside shot at Europa. Valencia lost to the midtable side 1-0 in their meeting earlier this season off a penalty kick from former player Chori Dominguez. With key road matches against Getafe and Levante in the near future, Valencia will need as many points as they can against struggling Rayo to maintain pressure on Sociedad.

Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:

Friday:
Levante vs. Real Zaragoza

Saturday:
Athletic Bilbao vs. Mallorca
Real Valladolid vs. Deportivo La Coruna
Osasuna vs. Getafe
Espanyol vs. Real Madrid

Sunday:
Rayo Vallecano vs. Valencia
Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
Malaga vs. Sevilla

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GERMANY

Since the top three places in the Bundesliga have been confirmed, the spotlight in Germany continues to be on the race for the final Champions League spot. Schalke could clinch this weekend with a win over Stuttgart if Eintracht Frankfurt drop points at Werder Bremen. Stuttgart added to Schalke’s misery during their woeful midseason slide with a 3-1 win back in December. Because Stuttgart’s place in the Bundesliga and Europa League have been confirmed, Schalke will be entering this match with more of a burden on their shoulders. Frankfurt had no problem with Bremen earlier this season, smacking the bottom-half side 4-1 during the midst of their meteoric rise to the top spots in Germany. Hosts Bremen still are not safe from a possible relegation playoff finish, so both sides will be going for it all on Saturday.

Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:

Saturday:
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hannover 96
Bayern Munich vs. Augsburg
Fortuna Dusseldorf vs. Nurnberg
Mainz vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Schalke 04 vs. Stuttgart
Greuther Furth vs. Freiburg
Hoffenheim vs. Hamburg
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund
Werder Bremen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

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ITALY

AC Milan are one win away from securing a spot in next season’s Champions League, but their opponents this weekend will be looking for three points to keep them in the race for a Europa League spot. Tuesday’s shock 1-0 loss to Chievo Verona caused AS Roma to slip down to seventh place in Serie A, behind Udinese and rival Lazio. Roma could make up the two point deficit to Udinese, but they cannot afford to stay level on points with Lazio—first tiebreaker in Serie A is head to head record, which was a draw and a Lazio win. While their fellow Europa League chasers face bottom-half sides this weekend, Roma must travel to San Siro for a meeting with Milan. Roma will look to recreate the hot start from their first meeting with Milan, when the capital club scored four goals in the first hour en route to a 4-2 win.

Milan’s closest foe in the race for third, Fiorentina, will host Palermo this weekend. Both teams will be in need of all three points—while Fiorentina try to keep their slim UCL hopes alive, Palermo are four points away from safety at the bottom of the table. Palermo appeared to be making an unlikely after a 1-0 win over Inter Milan, but back-to-back losses against champions Juventus and European hopeful Udinese have kept them in fear of relegation back to Serie B. If Milan drop points and Fiorentina take care of business in their final home match, the last Champions League spot in Italy will be settled on the last day of the season.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:

Saturday:
Juventus vs. Cagliari
Catania vs. US Pescara

Sunday:
Chievo Verona vs. Torino
Fiorentina vs. Palermo
Genoa vs. Inter Milan
Lazio vs. Sampdoria
Napoli vs. Siena
Udinese vs. Atalanta
Parma vs. Bologna
AC Milan vs. AS Roma

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FRANCE

Nice and Saint Etienne need victories this weekend to stay alive in their fight for a Champions League spot. Saint Etienne, who are still undefeated in the league in 2013, once had a firm grip on the third position. Etienne have drawn nine of their 16 matches since the calendar flipped, and teams like Nice and Lyon have taken advantage with more wins. With tough matches against Marseille and Lille coming up, Etienne need to get a victory this weekend at eighth-place Lorient to stay alive. Nice, on the other hand, get a match with relegation-threatened Evian Thonon before next weekend’s home finale against Lyon. Saint Etienne trail Nice by one point and Lyon by four in the race for the final UCL place.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:

Friday:
Lille vs. Stade de Reims

Saturday:
Marseille vs. Toulouse
Ajaccio vs. Troyes
Bastia vs. Montpellier
Bordeaux vs. Nancy
Brest vs. Sochaux
Valenciennes vs. Stade Rennes

Sunday:
Lorient vs. Saint Etienne
Evian Thonon vs. Nice
Lyon vs. PSG

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Which matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Barcelona and PSG will clinch their titles? Excited for the rivalry showdown with massive title implications in Portugal? See Wigan possibly pulling off the upset at Wembley? Thoughts on any possible shakeups in the race for the last Champions League spots in Europe?

Share your comments below.

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