European Weekend Preview: El Clasico takes center stage; Chelsea host Arsenal; and more

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By JUSTIN FERGUSON

With only four points separating Spain’s two biggest rivals heading into the final 10 matches of the La Liga season, El Clasico will be must-see drama for soccer fans all over the world this weekend.

First-place Real Madrid’s last defeat across all competitions came in the first El Clasico of the season, a 2-1 victory for Barcelona at Camp Nou. More than 30 matches later, Real have claimed the top spot in La Liga from the defending champions and are still fighting for the Champions League trophy. Los Blancos have lost only once at the Santiago Bernabeu this season, a 1-0 defeat to crosstown rivals Atletico, and they will be itching to repeat their home performance against Barcelona last season, which finished 2-1 in favor of Real.

Despite their dominance at home this season, third-place Barcelona are winless in their last three league matches away from Camp Nou. With Real Madrid currently on a blistering run through Spain and the rest of Europe, star forward Lionel Messi and Barcelona most likely will not be able to afford a loss in Sunday’s El Clasico if they are to keep their domestic league hopes alive. The two sides will meet again in April for the Copa del Rey, but the overall story of the long La Liga season could come down to this one matchup between powerhouse rivals.

In England, two more rivals — also sitting first and third in their respective league table — will collide this weekend for an important match in their respective title hopes.

Third-place Arsenal have a match in hand on hosts Chelsea, who will enter Saturday’s clash at Stamford Bridge with a four-point lead atop the English Premier League. Chelsea’s unbeaten home league record under manager Jose Mourinho will be put to the test as they will try to rebound from last weekend’s shock loss at Aston Villa, which featured red cards for midfielders Willian and Ramires. Arsenal will try to keep their momentum going with a road win, but they will also have their own depth issues as they continue the late season grind without several injured midfielders.

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

ENGLAND

After first-place Arsenal battles third-place Chelsea, second-place Liverpool will look to keep up their winning ways in the EPL with a road match at 19th-place Cardiff City. The Reds have won five straight league matches and have scored an impressive 18 goals during their current streak. Cardiff have picked up the pace on offense after three consecutive scoreless performances last month, but they will have to step it up in a big way if they are to get a much-needed point against high-scoring Liverpool.

Before Manchester City face prepare for their city derby match at Old Trafford and a crucial home match against Arsenal, they will host last-place Fulham at the Ethiad Stadium this Saturday. The Citizens’ high-octane offense has cooled off in recent weeks, and their defense will be without captain Vincent Kompany, who is serving a suspension from his quick red card in last weekend’s 2-0 victory against Hull City. Fulham, who are four points from safety in the EPL relegation battle, are coming off an important victory against Newcastle United, but they have only earned two points in five away matches since New Year’s Day.

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

Saturday:
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Cardiff City vs. Liverpool
Everton vs. Swansea City
Hull City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace
Norwich City vs. Sunderland
West Ham United vs. Manchester United

Sunday:
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton
Aston Villa vs. Stoke City

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SPAIN

Last-place Real Betis’ dreadful season reached another low earlier this week when city rivals Sevilla knocked them out of Europa League in a penalty kick shootout. Things will not get any easier for Betis this weekend, though, as they host second-place Atletico Madrid while staring down a seven-point deficit to 19th-place Almeria. Atletico have posted back-to-back shutouts in league play after their dip in form, and they will be favored to get another one against the lowest-scoring team in La Liga this Sunday.

Following back-to-back 1-1 draws away from home, fourth-place Athletic Bilbao return to the new San Mames Stadium on Saturday for a match against 17th-place Getafe. Bilbao have only lost once this season at the San Mames, a 2-1 decision to Espanyol, but they rebounded with a commanding 4-0 victory a few weekends ago against Granada. Getafe dangerously sit just three points ahead of the drop zone in La Liga as they slump through their 13-match winless streak — and the relegation-threatened side has only scored one goal in their last seven matches away from home.

Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:

Friday:
Celta Vigo vs. Malaga

Saturday:
Granada vs. Elche
Espanyol vs. Levante
Real Valladolid vs. Rayo Vallecano
Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe

Sunday:
Osasuna vs. Sevilla
Real Betis vs. Atletico Madrid
Valencia vs. Villarreal
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

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GERMANY

First-place Bayern Munich started their current 17-match winning streak against Mainz back in October, and the defending champions will look to keep it going with a return trip to face the carnival club this weekend. Mainz are currently on a five-match unbeaten run and sit just three points behind fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen for the Bundesliga’s final spot in next season’s Champions League. While Bayern have been dominant at home this season, they have outscored opponents 16-2 in their last five road matches and will be looking for a repeat of their 4-1 victory against Mainz.

Second-place Borussia Dortmund are through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League after a tense second leg with Zenit St. Petersburg. This weekend, Dortmund will look to rebound from back-to-back losses in a road match against 11th-place Hannover 96. Hannover are coming off a 3-0 victory against Hertha Berlin, which will give them some much-needed momentum heading into their first match following the retirement of veteran American defender and club mainstay Steve Cherundolo.

Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:

Friday:
Freiburg vs. Werder Bremen

Saturday:
Hannover vs. Borussia Dortmund
Mainz vs. Bayern Munich
Schalke vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Stuttgart vs. Hamburg
Wolfsburg vs. Augsburg
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Hertha Berlin

Sunday:
Nurnberg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hoffenheim

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ITALY

There will be a matchup of first vs. worst in Serie A this weekend as first-place Juventus carry their five-match league winning streak into last-place Catania. Juve are through to the final eight of the Europa League thanks to another stunning free kick from midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo, and they will shift their focus to maintaining 14-point lead in the Serie A table. Catania are four points from escaping the drop zone in a crowded bottom fifth of the league table, but they are on a modest three-match unbeaten run at the Angelo Massimino.

After their elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Juventus, fourth-place Fiorentina will move on to protecting their own spot in next year’s continental competition when they travel to third-place Napoli, who also exited Europa this week. Napoli won the two sides’ first meeting by a score of 2-1, and the third-place side will bring more momentum in the midst of its six-match unbeaten league run. The Viola, winless in three straight Serie A matches away from home, hold just a one-point lead over Inter Milan and a two-point lead over Parma in the race for the league’s European spots.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:

Saturday:
Torino vs. Livorno
Chievo Verona vs. AS Roma

Sunday:
Parma vs. Genoa
Bologna vs. Cagliari
Inter Milan vs. Atalanta
Sampdoria vs. Hellas Verona
Udinese vs. Sassuolo
Napoli vs. Fiorentina
Catania vs. Juventus
Lazio vs. AC Milan

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FRANCE

First-place Paris Saint-Germain will try to make it six consecutive wins in Ligue 1 when they open the French weekend action against 12th-place Lorient, who they blew out 4-0 at the Parc des Princes earlier this season. PSG have posted three consecutive clean sheets in league play and have also scored multiple goals in each victory of their current winning streak. On the other side, Lorient have only lost once in their last 10 Ligue 1 home matches, drawing with second-place AS Monaco and defeating fourth-place Saint Etienne two weekends ago.

The weekend’s biggest Ligue 1 matchup will pit second-place AS Monaco against third-place Lille at the Stade Louis II on Sunday. Lille defeated Monaco 2-0 at home earlier this season, but they have only won once in their last six matches away from the Stade Lille Metropole. Monaco recently posted back-to-back victories after their tough loss to Saint Etienne, and they will look to stay in the hunt for a league championship with a victory against their fellow Champions League contenders.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:

Friday:
Lorient vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Saturday:
Marseille vs. Stade Rennes
Bastia vs. Stade de Reims
Bordeaux vs. Nice
Nantes vs. Montpellier
Toulouse vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard
Valenciennes vs. Ajaccio

Sunday:
Saint Etienne vs. Sochaux
Guingamp vs. Lyon
AS Monaco vs. Lille

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Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Who do you see winning the second Clasico of the season? Think Arsenal can pull off the road win at Stamford Bridge? See any potential upsets in the other leagues?

Share your thoughts below.

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