By JUSTIN FERGUSON
While most of Europe’s top leagues do not have a true marquee match this weekend, France’s Ligue 1 will have one as its high-scoring defending champions take on a defensive-minded club that has been a constant title threat in recent years.
First-place Paris Saint-Germain will wrap up the first half of their potential title-defending season against third-place Lille, who boast one of the best goals against records in all of Europe. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and the rest of the PSG offense have scored a dozen more goals than second-place AS Monaco, but they will face a tough test against goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and a Lille defense that has allowed only six goals in 18 Ligue 1 matches.
PSG and Lille, which finished first and second respectively in last season’s final table, have played out some tight matches in recent years as their last six league meetings have either been draws or one-goal victories. Lille, who trail PSG by four points in the current league standings, are aiming for their first victory at the Parc des Princes since 1996. The site for Sunday’s highly anticipated matchup has been a fortress for the defending champions this season as PSG have outscored opponents 26-3 at home.
In Italy, the high-profile matchup will feature two traditional powerhouses that find themselves a good ways out of the title race but looking for precious city bragging rights. Fifth-place Inter Milan will be looking for their fourth win in five matches against 10th-place AC Milan, who are slowly turning their season around with their five-match unbeaten run.
While Inter will be the favorites to grab all three points, AC Milan will be boosted by their 2-2 draw with second-place AS Roma and a fan advantage. Inter’s Curva Nord stand will be closed for the derby match after the Italian FA issued a two-match supporter suspension for chants during the Nerazzurri’s 4-2 road loss at Napoli last weekend.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
With first-place Arsenal playing third-place Chelsea on Monday, second-place Liverpool can put pressure on their fellow title contenders with a Saturday home victory against Cardiff City. Liverpool have beaten three straight opponents by a combined score of 14-2 since their shocking road loss to Hull City, and eight of those goals have been scored by one man — Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan striker will have a good chance to add to that remarkable tally this weekend at Anfield, as Cardiff City are on a five-match winless road streak in which they have been outscored 8-1.
Two clubs eyeing an end to their slides down the league table will square off at St. James’ Park this Sunday, when Southampton host Tottenham Hotspur. After a red-hot start to the season that placed them in the thick of the Champions League places, ninth-place Southampton are in the middle of a five-match winless skid. Seventh-place Tottenham, who have not defeated a club currently in the top half of the league since the second weekend of the season, will take the field in their first league match since the firing of manager Andre Villas-Boas and their late Capital One Cup loss to West Ham United earlier in the week.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the English Premier League:
Liverpool vs. Cardiff City
Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle United
Fulham vs. Manchester City
Manchester United vs. West Ham United
Stoke City vs. Aston Villa
Sunderland vs. Norwich City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Hull City
Southampton vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Swansea City vs. Everton
First-place Barcelona are now tied with second-place Atletico Madrid in points and goal differential, making for an interesting storyline heading into the final La Liga matchday of the 2013 calendar. While Atletico host 11th-place Levante, a club that has struggled away from home in recent weeks, Barcelona hit the road to face eighth-place Getafe. The defending champions’ last road match was a stinging 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao, and they will look to start a league winning streak against a side that has been tough to score on at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.
After falling 3-0 on the road to Atletico Madrid last weekend, things are not going to get any easier for ninth-place Valencia, who host third-place Real Madrid in the Sunday late match. Real had to rally to draw at Osasuna in their last league match as they have not been impressive away from home against top-half sides this season. But Los Blancos, who have outscored league opponents 26-5 since their El Clasico loss, will have good memories of their last visit to Valencia — Real were 5-0 victors in last season’s league meeting at the Mestalla.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Elche vs. Malaga
Villarreal vs. Sevilla
Real Betis vs. Almeria
Atletico Madrid vs. Levante
Granada vs. Real Sociedad
Espanyol vs. Real Valladolid
Getafe vs. Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao vs. Rayo Vallecano
Celta Vigo vs. Osasuna
Valencia vs. Real Madrid
With first-place Bayern Munich at the Club World Cup, the spotlight in Germany this weekend will be on second-place Bayer Leverkusen, who will try to rebound from their stunning 1-0 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend. Leverkusen trail Bayern by seven points just before the Bundesliga’s winter break, and they can put a bit of pressure on the league leaders with a victory against struggling Werder Bremen. Leverkusen’s 14th-place hosts have lost four out of their last five matches, with their last home match being a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Bayern.
Third-place Borussia Dortmund have a much tougher test this weekend in the form of seventh-place Hertha Berlin, who are just two points behind Schalke 04 for the league’s final Europa League-qualifying position. Hertha have only lost twice in seven road matches this season, and they gave defending champions Bayern a scare in their October match at the Allianz Arena. On the other side, Dortmund have only won once in their last five league matches and have been shutout in back-to-back matches at the Signal Iduna Park.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Augsburg
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hertha Berlin
Hamburg vs. Mainz
Freiburg vs. Hannover 96
Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Hoffenheim
Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Nurnberg vs. Schalke 04
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Wolfsburg
First-place Juventus, who have outscored league opponents 19-0 in their last eight matches, are five points ahead of second-place AS Roma heading into this weekend, which will be the final matchday of the 2013 calendar for Serie A. Juve travel to 13th-place Atalanta, who have had some Jekyll and Hyde form when it comes to home and away matches this season in league play. While Atalanta have only won once in nine road matches this season, they have only lost once at their home of Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, where they currently hold a five-match unbeaten run.
Unbeaten AS Roma have drawn five of their last six Serie A matches, but they will have a picture-perfect opportunity to get all three points this weekend in their home match against last-place Catania. Roma have outscored opponents 16-2 at the Stadio Olimpico this season, and their opponents will head to the capital Sunday with one of the worst road marks in Europe. Catania have lost eight times in eight tries away from home this season and have allowed a league-worst 21 road goals, which is 14 more than Roma have allowed in this campaign so far.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Livorno vs. Udinese
Cagliari vs. Napoli
Bologna vs. Genoa
AS Roma vs. Catania
Atalanta vs. Juventus
Hellas Verona vs. Lazio
Sampdoria vs. Parma
Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina
Torino vs. Chievo Verona
Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
Second-place AS Monaco will kick off the Ligue 1 weekend with a Friday home match against 18th-place Valenciennes, who will arrive at the Stade Louis II on a six-match winless skid. With the Monaco defense playing excellently at the current moment — the defending Ligue 2 champions have posted five straight shutout victories — the Monaco offense could get a much-needed boost with the return of superstar forward Radamel Falcao. The Colombian has not been in action in Monaco’s last four Ligue 1 matches with a thigh injury, but he returned to full training earlier this week, according to manager Claudio Ranieri.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
AS Monaco vs. Valenciennes
Saint Etienne vs. Nantes
Bastia vs. Montpellier
Nice vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Sochaux vs. Stade Rennes
Stade de Reims vs. Ajaccio
Toulouse vs. Guingamp
Marseille vs. Bordeaux
Lorient vs. Lyon
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lille
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Lille can get a rare road win at Paris Saint-Germain? Who do you see winning the first Milan Derby of the season? See any potential upsets?
Share your thoughts below.