European Weekend Preview: Liverpool battle Chelsea; Leverkusen host Dortmund; and more

Oscar of Chelsea battles with Glen Johnson of Liverpool

Photo by Javier Garcia / ISIPhotos.com

By JUSTIN FERGUSON

With a five-point lead with three matches left in the English Premier League race, Liverpool have one more major test standing in their way to a title.

On Sunday, first-place Liverpool host second-place Chelsea at historic Anfield for an all-important EPL clash. Liverpool have not lost since their 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and have won 11 consecutive league matches. Chelsea, on the other hand, are coming off a 2-1 road loss to last-place Sunderland last weekend, a defeat that took the Blues’ title destiny out of their own hands heading into this weekend’s potential title-decider.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has downplayed the weekend’s trip to Liverpool as his squad is between Champions League semifinal legs against La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid. The Blues will missing two veteran stars as goalkeeper Petr Cech (shoulder) and captain John Terry (foot) suffered season-ending injuries in a scoreless draw earlier this week at the Vicente Calderon. High-scoring Liverpool are fully fit for the matchup against Chelsea, in which a win could all but hand the English giant its first league title since 1990.

The league title might already be decided in Germany, but there will be a major match in the Bundesliga this weekend as second-place Borussia Dortmund visit fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen. Dortmund are on a six-match unbeaten run in the league, while Leverkusen have rebounded with back-to-back wins under new interim manager Sacha Lewandowski. With Leverkusen holding just a one-point lead for the league’s final Champions League spot, they will be fighting for another victory like their 1-0 win at the Signal Iduna Park earlier this season.

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

ENGLAND

Fifth-place Everton trail fourth-place Arsenal by one point heading into the final three weekends of the English Premier League season. Everton’s Champions League fight continues this weekend at St. Mary’s Stadium, where the Toffees take on eighth-place Southampton for an early Saturday matchup. While the midtable Saints do not really have much to play for toward the end of the season, a hungry Everton squad has won three straight matches away from home and have not lost in their last six league matches against Southampton.

In the EPL’s relegation battle, last-place Sunderland host 18th-place Cardiff City with both sides potentially a win away from escaping the drop zone. Despite their place at the bottom of the league table, Sunderland are in good form after drawing with Manchester City and defeating Chelsea last weekend. Cardiff have only won twice away from home all season, but they have also earned four points in their last two matches — a win against Southampton and a draw against Stoke City.

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

Saturday:
Southampton vs. Everton
Fulham vs. Hull City
Stoke City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Swansea City vs. Aston Villa
West Bromwich Albion vs. West Ham United
Manchester United vs. Norwich City

Sunday:
Sunderland vs. Cardiff City
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City

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SPAIN

First-place Atletico Madrid have a four-point lead against second-place Barcelona as they prepare for their road match at eighth-place Valencia. Atletico are on a 13-match unbeaten run, which they extended in their scoreless Champions League semifinal draw with Chelsea, and they cruised to a 3-0 win against Valencia in their first meeting at the Vicente Calderon. Valencia are coming off a tough 2-0 loss to Sevilla in the Europa League semifinals and need a miracle run in La Liga to make it back into European competition next season.

Second-place Barcelona are on the road this weekend against seventh-place Villarreal needing wins and some help in order to win another title in La Liga. Barcelona defeated Villarreal 2-1 at Camp Nou earlier this season thanks to a pair of goals from Neymar, who is now out with injury for the time being. Villarreal, who have a comfortable seven-point advantage in the race for a spot in next season’s Europa League, have a solid home record this season, only losing three times in 17 matches at El Madrigal.

Here are this weekend’s matches in La Liga:

Friday:
Elche vs. Levante

Saturday:
Granada vs. Rayo Vallecano
Getafe vs. Malaga
Real Madrid vs. Osasuna
Real Betis vs. Real Sociedad

Sunday:
Espanyol vs. Almeria
Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid
Athletic Bilbao vs. Sevilla
Villarreal vs. Barcelona

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GERMANY

With the Bundesliga title already clinched and a 1-0 deficit in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has some interesting lineup decisions to make ahead of the champions’ home match against Werder Bremen. Bayern destroyed Werder Bremen 7-0 in their first meeting this season, but they will not need such a dominant performance this weekend. Werder Bremen are locked in the midtable of the Bundesliga without any fears of relegation or hopes of making European competition next season.

On Sunday, third-place Schalke 04 take on sixth-place Borussia Monchengladbach in an important match in the European qualification picture. Schalke have a four-point cushion in the Champions League qualification race, and Borussia Monchengladbach are five points away from snagging the last Champions League spot in the Bundesliga. Monchengladbach defeated Schalke 2-1 earlier this season at home, but Schalke are also unbeaten in their last 10 league matches at the Veltins Arena.

Here are this weekend’s matches in the Bundesliga:

Friday:
Hannover vs. Stuttgart

Saturday:
Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen
Hertha Berlin vs. Eintracht Braunschweig
Mainz vs. Nurnberg
Hoffenheim vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Wolfsburg vs. Freiburg
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Borussia Dortmund

Sunday:
Augsburg vs. Hamburg
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach

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ITALY

Second-place AS Roma are on an eight-match winning streak in Serie A and have not lost this season at Stadio Olimpico, where they will host seventh-place AC Milan this weekend. Milan are tied in points and goal differential with Parma, who occupy the last Europa League spot in Serie A with four matches left to go in the league campaign. The two sides drew 2-2 earlier this season, but Roma will enter the match with more momentum as they hope to mathematically stay in the race for the league title with Juventus, who play Monday.

Third-place Napoli are almost completely locked into a Champions League spot for next season as they take a 10-point lead on fourth-place Fiorentina into this weekend’s match against Inter Milan. After three consecutive draws, fifth-place Inter have won back-to-back road matches ahead of their return home to face Napoli, who have been up-and-down in form recently. Napoli have a big Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina this weekend, so they will be looking to grab any momentum from this weekend’s clash at the San Siro.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Serie A:

Friday:
AS Roma vs. AC Milan

Saturday:
Bologna vs. Fiorentina
Inter Milan vs. Napoli

Sunday:
Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari
Cagliari vs. Parma
Livorno vs. Lazio
Sampdoria vs. Chievo Verona
Torino vs. Udinese
Atalanta vs. Genoa

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FRANCE

First-place Paris Saint-Germain could clinch their second consecutive Ligue 1 title this weekend with a positive result at relegation-zoned Sochaux. Depending on the result of Saturday’s Ajaccio-Monaco match, PSG could already be league champions by the time they kick off at Sochaux, who have the momentum in the fight to avoid the drop thanks to a six-match unbeaten run at their home stadium. The capital club will still be without star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it has recorded clean-sheet victories in seven of its last eight matches.

Second-place AS Monaco could punch their ticket to next season’s Champions Leaguegroup stages with a road victory against doomed AC Ajaccio this Saturday. Monaco are on a three-match winning streak heading into their match against last-place Ajaccio, who have no hope of escaping relegation this season. Monaco could mathematically keep themselves in the Ligue 1 title race for at least one more day with a victory, but they will be focused on nailing down second place in their trip away from home.

Here are this weekend’s matches in Ligue 1:

Friday:
Nantes vs. Marseille

Saturday:
AC Ajaccio vs. AS Monaco
Evian Thonon Gaillard vs. Saint Etienne
Guingamp vs. Valenciennes
Montpellier vs. Toulouse
Nice vs. Stade de Reims
Stade Rennes vs. Lorient

Sunday:
Sochaux vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Lyon vs. Bastia
Lille vs. Bordeaux

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Which European matches are you looking forward to the most this weekend? Think Liverpool defeat Chelsea this weekend? See Bayer Leverkusen staying in the hunt for a Champions League spot with a win against Borussia Dortmund? Have any upset picks?

Share your thoughts below.

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