By JUSTIN FERGUSON
The Bundesliga will return from a month-long break with a bang this weekend as Germany’s defending champions visit one of the hottest teams in the league.
First-place Bayern Munich are on track for a successful defense as they hold a seven-point lead heading into the second half of the league campaign. Bayern will put their undefeated record in Bundesliga play on the line this weekend against third-place Borussia Monchengladbach, who are unbeaten in their last eight matches.
Bayern were rolling through league action in dominating fashion before the break, outscoring their previous five opponents by a combined score of 18-1. Their last domestic match away from the Allianz Arena was a 7-0 smashing of Werder Bremen, but it will not be as easy for Pep Guardiola’s side in their trip to Borussia Park on Friday. Monchengladbach, who fell 3-1 at Bayern on opening day back in August, are unbeaten this season at home, registering eight wins and only one draw in the Bundesliga.
In England, the FA Cup continues with Fourth Round action from this season’s edition of the sport’s longest-running tournament. There is only one matchup of English Premier League clubs in this Round of 32, Stoke City’s trip to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. While Chelsea have had more success their Sunday opponents in recent weeks, Stoke City have already beaten the Blues once this season — the Potters won a wild 3-2 match at the Britannia last month, which was Chelsea’s last loss in EPL play.
Here is a closer look at the weekend’s action from the top leagues in Europe:
After a disappointing 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in their last match, Liverpool hit the road this weekend to face AFC Bournemouth, who are currently sitting midtable in the English Championship. Bournemouth have only lost once in their last seven matches across all competitions and advanced to the Fourth Round with an impressive 4-1 against Burton Albion. Liverpool have a quick turnaround from Saturday’s FA Cup match to an important local derby against Everton next week, so it will be interesting to see how Brendan Rodgers’ men lineup for their trip to Dean Court Ground.
Sunderland will look to follow up their dramatic penalty kick shootout victory against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup with their home match against Kidderminster Harriers, a non-league side fresh off an upset of Peterborough United in the last round. Sunderland, who have seemed to turn the corner with a five-match unbeaten run across all competitions, will look to end the Cinderella run of the Harriers on Saturday at the Stadium of Light.Kidderminster has been a high-scoring squad through its first three rounds of action in the FA Cup, scoring 11 goals in three of its matches.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the FA Cup Fourth Round:
Arsenal vs. Coventry City
Nottingham Forest vs. Preston North End
AFC Bournemouth vs. Liverpool
Birmingham City vs. Swansea City
Bolton Wanderers vs. Cardiff City
Huddersfield Town vs. Charlton Athletic
Manchester City vs. Watford
Port Vale vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Rochdale vs. Sheffield Wednesday
Southampton vs. Yeovil Town
Southend United vs. Hull City
Sunderland vs. Kidderminster Harriers
Wigan Athletic vs. Crystal Palace
Stevenage vs. Everton
Sheffield United vs. Fulham
Chelsea vs. Stoke City
With turmoil swirling off the field in regards to the summer signing of Neymar, first-place Barcelona will take the field at Camp Nou this Sunday to face Malaga. The visitors have fallen to 14th place this season, but they give up a low amount of goals for a bottom-half team — Malaga have only allowed three goals in their last six matches. However, Malaga have not scored themselves in their last three, a streak they will have to break in order to get any kind of a positive result against the defending champions.
After winning nine of their last 10 matches, third-place Real Madrid have fought back into the thick of the La Liga title race. Los Blancos trail rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by one point heading into Saturday’s match with 10th-place Granada at the Bernabeu. Granada have fared much better on the road than in their home stadium this season, but they will be looking to avoid a repeat of their last trip to face a major title contender — a 4-0 rout at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:
Celta Vigo vs. Real Betis
Real Madrid vs. Granada
Real Valladolid vs. Villarreal
Valencia vs. Espanyol
Sevilla vs. Levante
Almeria vs. Getafe
Osasuna vs. Athletic Bilbao
Rayo Vallecano vs. Atletico Madrid
Barcelona vs. Malaga
Second-place Bayer Leverkusen open the second half their season at home against Freiburg, a club that has fallen far from their fifth-place finish last season. Freiburg are currently in 16th place, the league’s relegation playoff spot, but they did end the first half on a positive note — they defeated Hannover 96 by a score of 2-1. Leverkusen dropped back-to-back matches by a score of 1-0 before the break, so it will be interesting to see what kind of effect the month off had for a side trying to book a return trip to the Champions League.
Borussia Dortmund have fallen to fourth place in the Bundesliga and will return from the long break with just one victory in their last six league matches. Jurgen Klopp’s side will try to turn things around in the league this weekend against eighth-place Augsburg, who come into Signal Iduna Park with much more confidence than the team that lost 4-0 at home to Dortmund to open the season. Augsburg are unbeaten in their last five Bundesliga matches and have only allowed two goals during their run, which could prove problematic for what has been an inconsistent Dortmund attack.
Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg
Nurnberg vs. Hoffenheim
Freiburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Stuttgart vs. Mainz
Wolfsburg vs. Hannover 96
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Hamburg vs. Schalke 04
Following their 1-0 Coppa Italia loss to AS Roma earlier this week, first-place Juventus will look to bounce back this weekend against Roma’s city rivals Lazio. Juventus beat Lazio 4-1 at their home stadium earlier this season, and they will be the favorites to grab their 13th consecutive victory in Serie A play. Lazio, unbeaten in their last three matches, are starting to turn things around thanks to solid play at the Stadio Olimpico and can get back into the race for a Europa League spot with an upset victory Saturday.
AS Roma, still eight points back from Juventus in second place, have not allowed a goal in their last four matches across all competitions. Rudi Garcia’s men will put that streak on the line this weekend against Hellas Verona, who are sliding down the league table after falling to Napoli and AC Milan in consecutive weeks. Roma easily dispatched Hellas 3-0 in the capital earlier this season and will be favored to grab all three points in their hopes to close the gap between themselves and the two-time defending champions.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:
Napoli vs. Chievo Verona
Lazio vs. Juventus
Hellas Verona vs. AS Roma
Cagliari vs. AC Milan
Inter Milan vs. Catania
Livorno vs. Sassuolo
Parma vs. Udinese
Sampdoria vs. Bologna
Torino vs. Atalanta
Fiorentina vs. Genoa
Paris Saint-Germain’s 32-match unbeaten streak at the Parc des Princes came to an end in Coupe de France earlier this week, but the defending champions will have a great chance at a bounceback victory this weekend at 14th-place Guingamp. PSG have won four of their last five Ligue 1 matches, while Guingamp have not recorded a league win since late November. The visitors do not have a track record of giving up many goals this season, but the third-worst scoring offense in Ligue 1 will have a lot of work to do in hopes of a point against the league leaders.
Second-place AS Monaco have a tough test ahead of them this weekend following the news of superstar striker Radamel Falcao’s torn ACL. Monaco host fifth-place Marseille, who gave Monaco a tough contest in their earlier matchup this season, a 2-1 Monaco victory at Stade Velodrome. Monaco’s last league home match was a shocking 2-1 loss to Valenciennes, so the second-place club will be looking to set the record straight in their return to Stade Louis II.
Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:
Lille vs. Stade Rennes
Guingamp vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Ajaccio vs. Sochaux
Montpellier vs. Nice
Nantes vs. Stade de Reims
Toulouse vs. Bastia
Valenciennes vs. Lorient
Lyon vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Bordeaux vs. Saint Etienne
AS Monaco vs. Marseille
Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Monchengladbach will hand Bayern their first loss of the Bundesliga season? See Chelsea taking care of business in their rematch with Stoke City? Do you have any FA Cup upset picks?
Share your thoughts below.