After a week of semi-final action in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, the focus is poised to return to the drama at the top and bottom of the continent’s top leagues. In England, Italy and Spain, the teams in first and second are separated by just a point. In Germany the gap is two points and in France five, but even there the race is far from over. FIFA.com previews the action.
Premier League: United aim to lay down the gauntlet
The opening game in the 36th round of matches is also the biggest game of the weekend, as second-placed Manchester United entertain fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur. Both teams urgently need a win at Old Trafford: the Red Devils cannot afford a slip-up in the battle for the title, while Spurs are under intense pressure in the race for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot.
Tottenham’s cause may yet be aided by bitter north London rivals Arsenal, who face Manchester City in a meeting between third and fifth. Leaders Chelsea round off the weekend programme on Sunday afternoon, and will expect maximum points against mid-table Stoke City. Relegated Portsmouth kick off their farewell tour of the Premier League away to Bolton Wanderers.
The question: Will Manchester United hold their nerve in the big game against Tottenham?
The big game: Manchester United–Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday, 13.45, Old Trafford
The quote: "What happened on Saturday was disappointing, especially with Manchester United's result. When they scored in the last minute [to beat City] it was hard. If they had drawn the game it would have left us in a very healthy position, but now it's tighter," Chelsea defender John Terry.
Bundesliga: Contenders jostle for position
Three days after beating Lyon in their Champions League semi-final, first leg, leaders Bayern Munich visit mid-table Borussia Monchengladbach. Chief pursuers Schalke travel to bottom club Hertha Berlin, who must win to avoid the drop.
All three contenders for the third and final UEFA Champions League qualifying place face lowly opposition. Werder Bremen take on Cologne, Bayer Leverkusen entertain Hannover, and Borussia Dortmund travel to Nuremberg. However, the teams at the bottom have conjured up a couple of remarkable wins of late, so nothing can be taken for granted.
The question: Will Hertha Berlin drop back into the second division this weekend?
The big game: Borussia Monchengladbach–Bayern Munich, Saturday, 15.30, Borussia Park
The quote: "It’s Berlin’s last chance. They have to win to retain any chance of staying in the top flight, so they’ll give it everything. They’ve actually been outstanding away from home recently," Schalke coach Felix Magath.
La Liga: Pressure mounts on Barça
Is Barcelona’s season in danger of unravelling? The 3-1 Champions League defeat to Inter was a blow to prestige and doubtless to the Catalans’ self-esteem, so a convincing performance against tailenders Xerez is a must. Second-placed Real Madrid made up ground on the leaders last week and will look to increase the pressure with a win against 16th-placed Real Zaragoza.
Valencia, who face Deportivo, remain best-placed of the contenders for third. Los Che lead Mallorca, who host Malaga, and Sevilla, who visit Getafe, by four and five points respectively.
The question: Can Barcelona return to winning ways after failing to win their last two matches?
The big game: Valencia-Deportivo, Saturday, 22.00, Estadio Mestalla
The quote: "We’re in a much better position than we were a week ago. We’re only a point behind Barcelona, and anything can happen in football," Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ligue 1: Marseille close in
Just a few weeks ago, the French title race was the most open and unpredictable on the continent, but Marseille now hold all the aces after a rousing charge. OM lead Auxerre by five points and will expect a maximum return from their meeting with 17th-placed Saint-Etienne. Should Auxerre slip up away to 12th-placed Toulouse, the gap could widen to fully eight points.
Lyon’s meeting with Monaco has been postponed to allow the former breathing space ahead of Tuesday’s decider with Bayern, but champions Bordeaux, in sixth, visit eighth-placed Lorient desperate to remain in touch with the European qualifying places.
The question: Can Bordeaux keep alive their slim chances of retaining the Ligue 1 title?
The big game: Lorient-Bordeaux, Saturday, 19.00, Stade du Moustoir
The quote: "No-one’s uncatchable. We were 12 points adrift a few months back, but now we’re leading. You never know what might happen," Marseille midfielder Stephane M'Bia.
Serie A: Neck-and-neck race to the line
Roma’s dream of a first Scudetto in nine years is tantalisingly close to reality. However, the leaders cannot afford a single mistake, as champions Inter Milan are breathing down their necks. Roma face a tough task at the weekend with the visit of fourth-placed Sampdoria. By contrast, Inter are overwhelming favourites against relegation candidates Atalanta.
Third-placed AC Milan travel to Palermo knowing they are all but out of the race at seven points off the lead. Juventus and Napoli, seventh and sixth respectively, will seek to cement Europa League places against bottom-half sides Bari and Cagliari. Defeat for Sampdoria might even reignite the pair’s hopes of the Champions League.
The question: Can Roma defend top spot?
The big game: Roma–Sampdoria, Sunday, 20.45, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: "I don’t know if the Champions League will have any influence on the Italian title race. That’s Inter’s problem anyway. We’re just concentrating on ourselves," Roma coach Claudio Ranieri.
In Portugal, Benfica could be putting the champagne on ice this weekend. If the Liga Sagres leaders beat mid-table Olhanense, they would be all but mathematically certain of the title. Second-placed Sporting Braga must win away to Naval de Maio and hope their Lisbon rivals blow it.
In Turkey, Super Lig leaders Bursaspor have kept the Istanbul trio at bay for weeks now. However, defeat away to third-placed Galatasaray could open the door for chief pursuers Fenerbahce. Fener travel to 12th-placed Kasimpasa hoping to recover top spot for the first time since early February.