By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Even though the titles in Europe’s top leagues have already been clinched, that does not mean there will not be any drama on the final days of the season.
The race for Champions League spots in England, Germany and Italy will end this weekend as three of the world’s elite leagues close their seasons with one final matchday.
On Sunday, London rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur finish their fight for the last two Premier League spots in next season’s edition of the UCL.
Arsenal, who are coming off a strong finish to their midweek win against FA Cup champions Wigan Athletic, head to Newcastle with a one-point advantage over fifth-place North London neighbor Tottenham. The Gunners will remember their seven-goal bonanza against Newcastle to finish off the 2012 calendar, and they will certainly go after as many goals as they can at St. James Park on Sunday.
If Arsenal win, they are guaranteed a Champions League spot. If newly crowned Europa League champions and top four locks Chelsea draw with sixth-place Everton and Arsenal win by one goal, a playoff will be held at a later date to decide who gets third place in the final league table. If Chelsea draw and Arsenal win by two or more goals, Arsenal will finish in third place. While both teams will be involved UCL action next year, third place goes automatically to the group stage of the tournament, and fourth place must go through an extra round of qualifying.
If Arsenal drop points against Newcastle, who ended their awful slump with a 2-1 win at QPR last weekend, Chelsea grab third place and the Gunners could be in danger of missing out on the Champions League. A Tottenham win over Sunderland would put Spurs into the UCL, a competition they missed last season because of sixth-place Chelsea’s win in the 2012 Final. Although Sunderland are now safe, manager Paolo Di Canio says he wants his side to give it all in their final match of the season and shake up the top four.
Here is a closer look at the rest of the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
All three of the Premier League’s relegation spots have already been confirmed, so all of the drama in England on Survival Sunday will be focused on Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. But another noteworthy match on the final day of the EPL season will take place at The Hawthorns, the home ground of West Bromwich Albion. Sir Alex Ferguson will end his 26-year reign at Manchester United there in his final match in charge of the Red Devils. It will be an emotional day for the league champions, who now prepare for the David Moyes Era. United will have a solid chance to send Sir Alex out as a winner—West Brom have lost all three of their matches in the month of May.
Another team of Reds will say farewell to a club legend of their own on the final day of the season. Jamie Carragher will play his 737th and final match of his career on Sunday as seventh-place Liverpool host last-place Queens Park Rangers. The veteran defender has been a first team player at Liverpool for 16 years and a member of the club since he was nine years old. Carragher, who has won a dozen trophies with the Reds, will retire with the second-most appearances in Liverpool’s storied history.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Premier League:
Chelsea vs. Everton
Liverpool vs. QPR
Manchester City vs. Norwich City
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Southampton vs. Stoke City
Swansea City vs. Fulham
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sunderland
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester United
West Ham United vs. Reading
Wigan Athletic vs. Aston Villa
While the Copa del Rey final between the Madrid rivals will be the highlight of the weekend in Spain, there are still a few La Liga matches worth watching on Saturday and Sunday. First, Valencia and Real Sociedad head into their final trio of matches in their ongoing battle for fourth place in the league. Sociedad pulled level with Valencia in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Granada, and they currently lead the two sides in goal differential. Sevilla, who are still in the hunt for a Europa League spot, host Sociedad on Saturday. Meanwhile, Valencia travel to Getafe fresh off of back-to-back 4-0 wins in league play. Los Che also scored four goals in their December meeting with Getafe, and that high-powered offense will be looking to bag many goals in hopes of shrinking that gap in goal differential.
League champions Barcelona may be done with trophy-winning this season, but they could still chase down a record in their final three matches. Last season’s Real Madrid squad tallied a league record 100 points in La Liga, and the Catalans could share that distinction with three straight wins to end the season. Barcelona will start their run of matches with midtable Real Valladolid but without star striker Lionel Messi. The Argentinian goal scoring machine will miss the rest of the season after re-aggravating his hamstring injury during last week’s win at Atletico Madrid. Valladolid gave Real Madrid a scare two weekends ago in a 4-3 thriller, so Barcelona will not be able to sleepwalk their way to victory this Sunday at Camp Nou.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Getafe vs. Valencia
Granada vs. Osasuna
Sevilla vs. Real Sociedad
Levante vs. Rayo Vallecano
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Espanyol
Real Zaragoza vs. Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona vs. Real Valladolid
The final Champions League spot in Germany will be decided in a more direct way than the final two in England. Jermaine Jones and Schalke will visit Freiburg on Saturday with a one-point lead over their opponents for fourth place in the Bundesliga table. It has been a wild season for Schalke, who overcame a miserable midseason slide to get back into contention for a spot in Europe’s biggest competition. Schalke could have sealed fourth place last week, but a poor performance against Stuttgart has Freiburg within reach of the UCL, something that very few would have predicted for the club earlier this season. Freiburg scored three unanswered goals to beat Schalke earlier this campaign, and the hosts will be looking for that offense once more in hopes of a historic victory.
While Schalke and Freiburg fight it out for the final Champions League spot, a club that seemed like a lock to be in the top four earlier this season will try to hang onto a Europa League berth. Eintracht Frankfurt were the story of the Bundesliga earlier this season as last year’s second-division runners-up fought to be a part of Europe’s elite. Times have been tough for Frankfurt in 2013, and they need a result Saturday against a Wolfsburg side that is undefeated in their last nine league matches. If Frankfurt lose, their Europa spot could be snatched away by Hamburg. Captain Rafael van der Vaart and his squad have had a roller coaster of a season, but a road win over third-place Bayer Leverkusen would put them in position for a continental place.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hoffenheim
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Wolfsburg
Augsburg vs. Greuther Furth
Hamburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Hannover 96 vs. Werder Bremen
Freiburg vs. Schalke 04
Stuttgart vs. Mainz
The two clubs battling for the final Champions League spot in Italy will both take a trip to face an already relegated side on Sunday. Third-place AC Milan, undefeated in all but one of their matches in 2013, look to cap off a second-half surge with a win at 19th-place Siena, who have lost five straight matches. The Rossoneri cannot afford to drop points against Siena as fourth-place Fiorentina, who trail Milan by two points in the Serie A table, are visiting last-place US Pescara. If Fiorentina defeat Pescara and Milan are held to a draw at Siena, Fiorentina will be in the Champions League next season. The first tiebreaker in Serie A is head-to-head record, and the Viola boast one win and one draw with Milan this season. However, victory for Fiorentina on Sunday might not come as easy as predicted—Pescara, who are also on a four-match losing streak, stunned Fiorentina 2-0 back in January.
The final Europa League spot in Italy will be decided in a similar fashion on Sunday. Fifth-place Udinese, one of the hottest teams in Europe, will look to replicate their winning performance from their first meeting with struggling Inter Milan. Udinese have a two-point lead on Lazio, who visit 12th-place Cagliari. If Udinese wins, they are into Europa. If Lazio wins and Udinese is held to a draw by a frustrated Inter squad, Lazio gets the qualification spot. Although the two sides split their season series, Lazio won by more goals, which is the second tiebreaker in Serie A.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Sampdoria vs. Juventus
Atalanta vs. Chievo Verona
Bolgona vs. Genoa
AS Roma vs. Napoli
Cagliari vs. Lazio
Inter Milan vs. Udinese
Palermo vs. Parma
Siena vs. AC Milan
Torino vs. Catania
US Pescara vs. Fiorentina
Lyon have a chance to knock out one of their direct competitors to the last Champions League spot in France on Saturday. Third-place OL travel to Nice, who were blown out last weekend by relegation fighters Evian Thonon. The visitors lead their hosts and fourth-place Lille by three points with two match days remaining in Ligue 1. While Lille have a chance to get an advantage over OL in goal differential, Nice’s final shot at a European spot comes down to Saturday’s showdown. Lyon, who are coming off of a loss that resulted in a title for PSG, dominated Nice in a 3-0 victory earlier this season.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Nancy vs. Bastia
Evian Thonon vs. Valenciennes
Montpellier vs. Lille
Nice vs. Lyon
PSG vs. Brest
Sochaux vs. Toulouse
Saint Etienne vs. Marseille
Stade de Reims vs. Lorient
Stade Rennes vs. Ajaccio
Troyes vs. Bordeaux
What European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Which North London club do you think will claim the final Champions League spot from the Premier League? Excited about the prospect of a playoff for third place? Will you be watching the big match in Germany this Saturday? See AC Milan slipping on Sunday?
Share your comments below.