European Weekend Preview: First-place Arsenal battle third-place Liverpool; AS Monaco visit Lille; and more

Steven Gerrard of Liverpool and Santi Cazorla of Arsenal

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By JUSTIN FERGUSON

Arsenal’s eight-match unbeaten run in the English Premier League will be put to its biggest test of the season this weekend, when Liverpool’s fearsome attack partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez visit Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners have not been beaten in league play since their opening day shocker against Aston Villa, but they have only faced one club in the EPL’s top eight en route to their early-season control of the top spot. Saturday’s showdown at the Emirates with Liverpool marks the second match in what will be a brutal few weeks for Arsenal, who are coming off a Capital One Cup loss to Chelsea and face back-to-back road matches against Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United next week.

For the third-place Reds, Sturridge and Suarez have combined for 14 EPL goals in nine matches, which is higher than the entire offensive output of 11 league clubs this season. The dynamic scoring duo is teamed up with a strong back line — Brendan Rodgers’s side has allowed multiple goals only twice this season. Liverpool have not beaten Arsenal in league play since August 2011, a trend they would love to end in order to reclaim the top spot in the table.

There will be another clash between a pair of top-three sides this weekend, as second-place AS Monaco visit third-place Lille in Ligue 1 competition. Star forward Radamel Falcao and Monaco trail defending French champions Paris Saint-Germain solely on goal differential heading into this weekend, and they will have to be at their best to avoid losing any more ground to their rivals.

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

ENGLAND

After a 3-1 loss at Manchester City a few weeks ago derailed their undefeated start to the season, Everton are coming off back-to-back league victories ahead of their Sunday home match against Tottenham Hotspur. Fourth-place Spurs have also recorded two straight EPL wins and a recent Capital One Cup victory that came down to a nerve-wracking set of penalty kicks. With just five goals scored in their last five league matches, Tottenham will have to find some offense heading into Goodison Park, a stadium they have not won in since February 2007.

This weekend’s EPL finale may not have the superstar names that most fans are used to seeing in a nationally televised match, but Sunday’s battle between Cardiff City and Swansea City will be another installment of one of Great Britain’s fiercest rivalries. Swansea are unbeaten in four out of their last five matches across all competitions heading into this South Wales Derby, the first one in three seasons and the first one ever in the EPL. Cardiff, on the other hand, will be looking to snap a three-match winless skid and turn their season around with a home victory against their hated rivals.

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

Saturday:
Newcastle United vs. Chelsea
Fulham vs. Manchester United
Hull City vs. Sunderland
Manchester City vs. Norwich City
Stoke City vs. Southampton
West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace
West Ham United vs. Aston Villa
Arsenal vs. Liverpool

Sunday:
Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Cardiff City vs. Swansea City

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SPAIN

Before Barcelona host AC Milan in the Champions League next week, the first-place club hosts local rivals Espanyol to kick off the weekend in Spain. Barcelona followed up their El Clasico win last weekend with a 3-0 win at Celta Vigo, while their eighth-place rivals were held to a scoreless draw. Despite their current slide down the league table, Espanyol have a real chance at shocking the defending champions — they handed Atletico Madrid their first loss of the season two weeks ago — but Barcelona are riding an incredible 20-match league winning streak at Camp Nou.

After Wednesday’s 7-3 rout of top-half Sevilla, Real Madrid hit the road this weekend to face a team that has allowed the most goals in La Liga this season. Los Blancos grabbed goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale against Sevilla, but it will be interesting to see how much playing time the star players get ahead of next week’s trip to defending Serie A champions Juventus. Rayo’s results against some of the top teams in La Liga this season have been painful blowout losses — 5-0 to Atletico Madrid, 5-0 to Malaga and 4-0 to Barcelona.

Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:

Friday:
Barcelona vs. Espanyol

Saturday:
Real Sociedad vs. Osasuna
Almeria vs. Real Valladolid
Rayo Vallecano vs. Real Madrid
Sevilla vs. Celta Vigo

Sunday:
Getafe vs. Valencia
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao
Levante vs. Granada
Malaga vs. Real Betis

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GERMANY

With the most goals scored and the most goals allowed in the league so far this season, any match featuring Hoffenheim has the potential to be a high-scoring affair. The chances of a shootout will escalate even more when ninth-place Hoffenheim face first-place Bayern Munich, who have scored 12 goals in their last three matches. After keeping clean sheets in five of their first seven league matches, the Bayern defense will try to reassert their control and become the first team this season to keep the Hoffenheim offense from finding the back of the net.

Second-place Borussia Dortmund open the Bundesliga weekend with a Friday home match against eighth-place Stuttgart. Newly re-signed manager Jurgen Klopp looks to lead his club to their sixth straight home victory against a club that has drawn in four of their last five league matches. One of Dortmund’s biggest tasks Friday will be slowing down Stuttgart forward Vedad Ibisevic, who has been in fine goalscoring form for both club and country in the last two months.

Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:

Friday:
Borussia Dortmund vs. Stuttgart

Saturday:
Hamburg vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Hertha Berlin vs. Schalke 04
Nurnberg vs. Freiburg
Hoffenheim vs. Bayern Munich
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Wolfsburg

Sunday:
Augsburg vs. Mainz
Werder Bremen vs. Hannover 96

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ITALY

With Thursday’s win 1-0 victory against Chievo Verona, Michael Bradley and first-place AS Roma have allowed only one goal in 10 straight wins to start the Serie A season. Roma have to make a quick turnaround from the midweek win and travel to bottom-half Torino this Sunday, a match that could be closer than many expect. Torino have only lost once at home this season, a tough 1-0 defeat to local rivals Juventus, and other Italian giants AC Milan and Inter Milan were held to draws in their trip to Turin’s Stadio Olimpico.

AC Milan will look to snap their three-match winless skid this weekend before their trip to Barcelona next week in Champions League play. Milan sit in 10th place ahead of Saturday’s home matchup against Fiorentina, who suffered a tough 2-1 home loss to second-place Napoli last weekend. The Rossoneri defense, which has already allowed 17 goals in Serie A play this season, will have to face the tough task of containing the league’s top scorer, Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:

Saturday:
Parma vs. Juventus
AC Milan vs. Fiorentina
Napoli vs. Catania

Sunday:
Livorno vs. Atalanta
Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari
Lazio vs. Genoa
Sampdoria vs. Sassuolo
Udinese vs. Inter Milan
Torino vs. AS Roma

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FRANCE

First-place Paris Saint-Germain opened the door for rivals Monaco to draw level on points after last weekend’s road draw with Saint Etienne, and the Parisians are eyeing a better result in their Friday home match against Lorient. Before Lorient’s 2-1 victory against fellow strugglers Sochaux last weekend, the 17th-place club allowed 13 goals in the span of four matches. PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s incredible scoring run was ended by Saint Etienne last weekend, but will the talented striker will he stay off the scoresheet against one of Ligue 1′s worst defenses?

Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:

Friday:
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lorient

Saturday:
Stade Rennes vs. Marseille
Ajaccio vs. Valenciennes
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Toulouse
Lyon vs. Guingamp
Sochaux vs. Saint Etienne
Stade de Reims vs. Bastia

Sunday:
Nice vs. Bordeaux
Montpellier vs. Nantes
Lille vs. AS Monaco

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Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Arsenal will maintain control of first place in the EPL after this weekend? Intrigued by the matchup of Monaco’s stout attack against a tough Lille defense? See any potential upsets?

Share your thoughts below.

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