No room for error in Europe

As the weeks go by, the day of reckoning moves closer in each of Europe's top leagues. Fewer and fewer sides face the distraction of continental competition, but those still involved could well be running around on heavy legs as they return to domestic duties this weekend. That is likely to be especially true in the Premier League, where the leading trio will resume their frenetic pursuit of championship honours.

Lyon and Bayern look to enjoy comfortable leads as the season heads down the final straight, but that is far from being the case for Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter - all desperate to avoid any slip-ups with their pursuers ready to pounce. surveys the scene to preview the best of the action from Europe this weekend.

Premier League: Arsenal-Liverpool, Part II
The English footballing menu is dominated by Arsenal and Liverpool this week, with the two rivals providing the starter, main course and dessert. The Reds established an advantage in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final contest by securing a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium, but the Gunners will have a chance to reassert themselves this Saturday before continental grudges are settled on Tuesday. Arsene Wenger's men need to take all three points if they hope to stay in touch at the top of the table, and victory would also give them a psychological edge that could propel them into the last four in Europe.

Elsewhere, Manchester United have looked irresistible of late and will want to continue their devastating form at Middlesbrough, who performed well in their 1-0 loss at Chelsea last time out. For their part, the Blues must put their 2-1 reverse at Fenerbahce behind them as they aim to pressure United by seeing off Manchester's other top-flight team, City. Chelsea men Nicolas Anelka and Shaun Wright-Phillips will be more desperate than most to prosper during the away trip as they will be facing former team-mates.

The question: Can Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez secure his first victory away against another of the so-called 'Big Four'? In 11 games, the Spaniard has returned to Anfield with just one draw (against Chelsea) and ten defeats.
The big match: Arsenal-Liverpool, Saturday 5 April, 12:45
The quote: "We have to win every match, but mentally it's difficult to fight for second place while Manchester United hold on to their advantage. We'd love to reduce the gap to one point and put all the pressure on them," Joe Cole, Chelsea midfielder.

Primera Division: The Yellow Submarine resurfaces
The race for the title will now come down to three sides, with Villarreal having broken Real Madrid and Barcelona's seemingly untouchable grip on the top two spots. Unbeaten since their journey to the Santiago Bernabeu on 27 January, Manuel Pellegrini's men leapfrogged Barça to move into second by completing a convincing triumph over Atletico Madrid last weekend. They will now try to cope with their raised profile for the first time when they travel to sixth-placed Sevilla.

The Yellow Submarine's resurgence ought to worry the champions, who must have assumed the title was safe following their Catalan rivals' dip in form. Instead, Los Merengues will need to be very wary of Mallorca, with their hosts having scored 15 goals in their last five games. Now third, Barcelona host 11th-placed Getafe and will be keen for revenge after losing the reverse fixture 2-0, while surprise-package Racing Santander, in fifth, will continue their pursuit of Champions League football against Deportivo. Current fourth-place incumbents Atletico will attempt to keep them at arms' length by seeing off Almeria, meanwhile.

The question: Having struck 12 times in 12 league encounters this term, will Samuel Eto'o be able to keep up his phenomenal record of a goal per game?
The big match: Sevilla-Villarreal, Sunday 6 April, 19:00
The quote: "We're enjoying a good spell at the moment and we hope to prolong it until Sunday in Seville. We'll fight for the title for as long as it remains a possibility, even if our goal is still the same as it was at the start of the season - to win a place in the Champions League," Marcos Senna, Villarreal midfielder.

Serie A: Roma in pursuit
Four points: that is all separating Inter and Roma at the top of the standings just weeks after the Milan giants had opened an 11-point gap. The difference between the two sides could even be reduced further this weekend as the Nerazzurri face a tough trip to Bergamo to take on Atalanta, while Roma host Genoa.

Victorious over AC Milan at the San Siro last Sunday, Atalanta will be hungry for their second Milanese scalp in rapid succession, but Roma would be foolish to assume their weekend will be straightforward in comparison. Having lost at home to Manchester United on Tuesday, the Giallorossi must keep Serie A top scorer Marco Borriello quiet and show a little more attacking edge than they managed at Cagliari, where they took a 1-1 draw after spurning numerous chances.

Meanwhile, third-placed Juventus return to action after the accidental death of one of their fans. They travel to lock horns with Palermo, who recently parted ways with coach Francesco Guidolin for the fourth time. Lastly, sixth-placed AC Milan are still hoping to edge past Fiorentina and Udinese to claim a UEFA Champions League berth and they welcome Cagliari, with the side in 18th having gone four games without defeat after looking destined for Serie B a few weeks back.

The question: Given that Atalanta have failed to beat Inter since 7 April 2002, will the Milan heavyweights be able to make it ten games without defeat against the Bergamo club?
The big match: Atalanta-Inter, Sunday 6 April, 15:00
The quote: "As far as I'm concerned, the title is not gone yet. It's true that our fixture list is difficult but that's how it is for Inter and Roma as well. At Juve, we're used to battling right to the end, so I believe we can do it. It doesn't cost anything to dream." Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus defender

Ligue 1: Olympic showdown
The French title appears to belong to Lyon, with Bordeaux looking safe in second thanks to a six-point lead over Nancy. As a result, the race for third and the jostling at the foot of the table are the real points of interest in Ligue 1, with Olympique de Marseille incredibly vying for Europe after their catastrophic start to the season. Eric Gerets's men can bring that dream closer when they come up against serial champions Olympique Lyonnais, and the belief ought to be there in spades after a Mamadou Niang brace earned them triumph at the Stade Gerland earlier this term.

Should Marseille come out on top, Nancy will require at least a point at home to 17th-placed Paris Saint-Germain to stay in third. The capital club are struggling to stave off relegation but they are at least assured of UEFA Cup competition next year after lifting the French League Cup and returned to winning ways in the league by seeing off fellow strugglers Strasbourg in midweek. Monaco find themselves in the relegation mix too, despite having flirted with the European places, and they will also be looking for a boost away against Strasbourg.

The question: Will Marseille be able to end a sequence of nine matches without a win against Lyon at the Stade Velodrome? The Mediterranean outfit's last success was a 1-0 win on 4 September 1998.
The big match: Olympique de Marseille-Olympique Lyonnais, Sunday 6 April, 20:55
The quote: "The most important thing is not to make tactical mistakes because when you play Lyon it's like playing Manchester United or any big team: you suffer immediately. We'll have to be extremely concentrated and disciplined. If we can do that, we're capable of beating them," Eric Gerets, Marseille coach.

Bundesliga: Werder need to bounce back
Barring a minor miracle, Bayern Munich look to have wrapped things up in Germany, where they enjoy a seven-point cushion with seven matches left to contest. Next up for Franck Ribery and Co are 11th-placed Bochum, who have nothing left to fear or hope for and are unlikely to give Bayern too much to worry about.

There is intrigue further back, though, with Stuttgart and Hamburg coming face to face this weekend in the tussle for European places. Reigning champions Stuttgart have brought themselves back into contention courtesy of a seven game run without defeat, but their next opponents boast an even better record. In fact, HSV's last reverse dates back to their failure against Werder Bremen on 1 December last year.

That match painted Werder as a serious threat to Bayern's pursuit of a 21st Bundesliga crown, but since then Thomas Schaaf's troops have lost their rhythm. Now as low as fifth, they have collected a solitary point from their last four outings and will be hoping the league's most prolific attack (53 goals) can get going again away to 12th-placed Hertha Berlin.

At the foot of the table, meanwhile, 16th-placed Duisburg host the team one spot above them, Cottbus, with both teams anxious to take all three points in their bids to maintain top-flight status. Basement outfit Nurnberg could be in for another tough excursion, however, as they test themselves against a team with serious European ambitions in seventh-placed Eintracht Frankfurt.

The question: Having lost four of their last six Bundesliga encounters, will Werder be able to reanimate their hopes of taking a Champions League spot against Hertha?
The big match: VfB Stuttgart-Hamburger SV, Saturday 5 April, 15:30
The quote: "We're not going to adjust our targets for the season just because we're experiencing a bad patch. We need to get back to playing as a team and we'll be able to change the situation," Per Mertesacker, Werder Bremen defender.


After English club Derby County became the first team to be relegated this season, this weekend could see the first champions crowned. FC Porto can clinch their 23rd Portuguese title on Saturday providing they overcome Estrela Amadora at home.

The debates ought to be settles fairly soon in Belgium and Scotland too. Standard de Liege remain unbeaten in 28 games and could increase their advantage when they entertain modest 11th-placed side Excelsior Mouscron, while pursuers Anderlecht will be up against it at seventh-placed Westerlo.

As for Scottish pacesetters Rangers, they practically ended all suspense by winning the Old Firm derby last time out, leaving eternal rivals Celtic six points back and having played a game more. There is still room for excitement, though, with this weekend pitting Rangers against third-placed Dundee United and the Bhoys hosting fourth-placed Motherwell.