Trophy engravers are still readying their tools across Europe as the continent’s leading championships draw closer to a conclusion. The teams battling for honours can nonetheless expect a whole host of symptoms before the title prizes are handed out, with Barcelona fearing a European hangover and both Marseille and Bayern Munich wary of euphoria, while Chelsea and Inter Milan hope they are now in the clear. FIFA.com looks ahead to this weekend's action.
Premier League: Headache for Liverpool
Liverpool fans face a genuine dilemma ahead of their team’s home encounter with pacesetters Chelsea on Sunday. While victory is clearly imperative to keep alive their fading dreams of a UEFA Champions League qualifying slot, it would also open the door for eternal rivals Manchester United to move into pole position and close in on a record 19th title – one more than the Anfield giants' tally. For that to happen, of course, the Red Devils would have to triumph away to a Sunderland side that held them to a 2-2 stalemate at Old Trafford earlier this season.
Elsewhere, the race for fourth could take yet another twist as sixth-placed Manchester City host Aston Villa, who lie one place above them but have contested one game more. The result of that encounter could well play into the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, the team currently in line for a tilt at Europe’s premier club competition, who host a Bolton Wanderers outfit with nothing left to play for.
The question: Almost mathematically assured of going down ahead of their visit to Wigan Athletic, will Hull City’s fate finally be sealed?
The big game: Liverpool-Chelsea, Sunday 14:30, Anfield
The quote: "If United want to be champions, they’ll have to beat us. They obviously have the ability to do it, but I promise you it won’t be easy. It would be a mistake to think that Chelsea are the only team who have a difficult match this weekend,” Lorik Cana, Sunderland midfielder.
La Liga: Barça licking their wounds
Sent packing in the Champions League on Wednesday and dumped out of the Copa del Rey earlier this year, Barcelona need to avoid letting their heads drop as they target the one trophy they can still defend this year. One point clear of Real Madrid in the standings, Pep Guardiola's side can nonetheless expect a stern challenge away to sixth-placed Villarreal, who still harbour top-four ambitions. Should Barça slip up, Real will look to pounce at home to Osasuna.
In the lower half of the table, Xerez may look doomed to relegation, but no fewer than five clubs face an end-of-season tussle to avoid being stuck with the two remaining tickets to the second tier. Of those sides, second-bottom Tenerife will entertain 15th-placed Racing Santander.
The question: Who will prevail in the game between out-of-form duo Malaga, who will be pursing a first win in eight matches, and Sporting Gijon, beaten in their last four fixtures?
The big game: Villarreal-Barcelona, Saturday 22:00, El Madrigal
The quote: "Both teams are playing for their lives. They’re going for La Liga and we’re aiming for Europe. Barça are a great team and the best possible side to come up against if you want to enjoy the game and play a great match,” Diego Lopez, Villarreal goalkeeper.
Ligue 1: Top two sqare off
It would take a special kind of thermometer to test the temperature in Marseille as OM head into a match that could catapult them towards their first Ligue 1 crown in 18 years. Didier Deschamps’s troops travel for what is sure to be a telling encounter with second-placed Auxerre, and while victory would not end the suspense, it would give the frontrunners a daunting eight-point lead with three fixtures remaining. Meanwhile, their hosts are hoping to throw the race wide open again and will draw confidence from their 2-1 success at the Stade Velodrome earlier this term, not to mention last Sunday’s 4-0 triumph at Toulouse.
The other major question mark concerns third place and France's final Champions League qualifying berth, with Lille the current occupants ahead of their meeting with Nancy. Fifth-placed Lyon and sixth-placed Bordeaux know they must seize maximum points if they wish to return to Europe’s top table next term, and that will mean carving out respective wins at Montpellier, in fourth, and at home to Toulouse.
The question: Can Bordeaux bring a halt to their recent run of poor form, having taken just one point from their last six outings?
The big game: Auxerre-Marseille, Friday 21:00, Stade Abbe-Deschamps
The quote: "Marseille aren’t a flamboyant team in open play, but they’re fearsome from set-pieces. I’m going to start feeling a fever coming on every time they get a corner,” Jean Fernandez, Auxerre coach.
Bundesliga: Bayern keen to avoid a relapse
Having followed up the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Lyon by drawing with Borussia Monchengladbach, leaders Bayern Munich will be anxious that their second-leg success does not precede a similar slip-up. They host third-bottom Bochum, while Schalke – level on points at the summit – are set for a testing home meeting with third-placed Werder Bremen, who boast the most prolific attack in the division.
Slightly further back, Bayer Leverkusen, in fourth, and fifth-placed Borussia Dortmund have serious designs on Bremen’s third spot but will both need to beware their visitors this weekend. The former host a Hertha Berlin team floundering at the bottom of the table but desperate to delay relegation for as long as possible, while the latter must lock horns with outgoing champions Wolfsburg.
The question: Will the midweek dismissal of coach Bruno Labbadia and the appointment of Ricardo Moritz have the desired psychological effect on Hamburg’s players?
The big game: Schalke-Werder Bremen, Saturday 15:30, Veltins-Arena
The quote: "If Schalke become champions, there’ll be a party like the Bundesliga has never seen. But we need a victory too: this is a match with huge stakes and we’ll go into it with the intention of taking all three points,” Sebastian Boenisch, Werder Bremen's former Schalke player.
Serie A: Inter in prime condition
Fresh from securing their place in the Champions League final, Inter are soaring with confidence and raring to sweep aside anyone that now stands between them and the treble. Their next opponents in Serie A are 16th-placed Lazio, who could do with a win to lift themselves further from danger, even if it means helping city rivals Roma take over at the top. For their part, Inter’s closest pursuers need to bounce back at mid-table Parma after succumbing to Sampdoria last time out.
The tussle for fourth spot and Italy’s last Champions League berth is likely to occupy plenty of attention too, with present incumbents Sampdoria gearing up to entertain already-relegated Livorno. Hoping they do not prevail will be fifth-placed Palermo and Juventus, in sixth, who are scheduled to meet second-bottom Siena and 15th-placed Catania respectively. In third, the mission for AC Milan will be to consolidate their current position against a Fiorentina side with nothing left to play for.
The question: Scorer of five goals in his last four matches for Catania, will Argentinian forward Maxi Lopez be able to find the net against Juventus?
The big game: Lazio-Inter Milan, Sunday 20:45, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: “We’re only thinking about the Milan match and playing with dignity and determination. It’s a failed season for us, the European dream is now impossible and we’ve already taken responsibility for that. Now, however, we want to win our last three games,” Alberto Gilardino, Fiorentina striker.
In Portugal, the historic rivalry between Porto and Benfica will take on another dimension on Sunday, when the capital side go in search of the point that would secure them the league crown guarded by Os Dragões over the last four seasons. Six points clear at the summit, Os Águias could even afford to lose if second-placed Braga fail to emerge winners at ninth-placed Pacos de Ferreira.
Lastly, in Croatia, another meeting between traditional rivals could end with leaders Dinamo Zagreb celebrating their fifth consecutive league crown. Up against closest challengers Hajduk Split, a draw would suffice to secure Dinamo their 12th Croatian title, in addition to the four they collected in the former Yugoslavia.