Europe’s lesser lights could well make a name for themselves this weekend. There are a clutch of relegation-threatened sides taking on title-chasing opposition in England and Germany, while unfancied Montpellier will continue their unlikely assault on the French top-flight crown at leaders Bordeaux.
In the big game in Spain, Real Madrid will hope to edge past Sevilla and continue their pursuit of pacesetters Barcelona, who are at Almeria. And there is a mouth-watering card in Italy, too, with three high-profile meetings in prospect. FIFA.com previews the pick of the forthcoming action.
Premier League: Opportunity knocks for United and Arsenal
With Chelsea involved in FA Cup quarter-final action on Sunday, fellow title contenders Manchester United and Arsenal have the chance to usurp them at the summit. The Red Devils travel to lowly Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Arsene Wenger’s men entertain a Burnley side languishing in the drop zone despite a promising start to the season.
Across the capital, West Ham United take on Bolton Wanderers in another match with a direct bearing on the relegation dogfight. Two more sides in desperate need of points are Hull City, who visit Everton on Sunday, and Wigan Athletic, who are at home to Liverpool the following day.
The question: Burnley have picked up just one point away from home all season. Can they improve on that record when they face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium?
The big game: West Ham-Bolton Wanderers, Saturday 6 March, 16.00 CET, Upton Park
The quote: “You find yourself up against top teams and top teams every week in this division. Of course Manchester United is a very tough game but it’s one we are all looking forward to. If we play as we know we can then we’ve got a chance,” Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Matthew Jarvis.
La Liga: Potential pitfalls for top two
This weekend could mark a turning point in the private duel between Real Madrid and holders Barcelona. The Catalans visit mid-table Almeria in what looks to be a comfortable assignment but may prove anything but, given the unfashionable Andalusians’ recent record of five games without defeat. Waiting to pounce on a Barça slip-up are a rampant Real Madrid side who have hit 22 goals in their last six league games. Even so, Los Merengues can afford to take nothing for granted at home to the ever-dangerous Sevilla.
One side who would no doubt welcome a Real win are Valencia, who have a golden opportunity to consolidate their third place at home to struggling Racing Santander, winless in five. Fifth-placed Mallorca will be out to further their UEFA Champions League ambitions and collect their 11th home win in 12 attempts when they take on Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
The question: With 17 goals apiece this season, David Villa and Lionel Messi are running neck and neck in the race to become the top scorer in Spain. Will the free-scoring duo be among the goals again this weekend?
The big game: Real Madrid-Sevilla, Saturday 6 March, 22.00 CET, Santiago Bernabeu
The quote: “We’ve improved over the last month. We’re playing as a team and we’re better organised, and the good results we’ve had have restored everyone’s morale and confidence,” Atletico Madrid defender Tomas Ujfalusi.
Serie A: Inter looking over their shoulder
Seemingly out of the hunt a few weeks ago, AC Milan and Roma have revived the scudetto race by pulling to within four and seven points respectively of frontrunners Inter Milan. Yet, something has to give on Saturday evening when I Giallorossi receive a visit from I Rossoneri. That meeting that could directly benefit the leaders, who are at home the following day to a Genoa side featuring in-form Honduran forward David Suazo, currently on loan from Inter.
Long since out of championship contention, and still licking their wounds after last week’s damaging home defeat to Palermo, fifth-placed Juventus need points from their trip to Fiorentina to stay in touch with the surprising Sicilians. The men in pink will be confident of tightening their grip on the final Champions League slot at home to Livorno, who lie two places off the bottom.
The question: Roma are unbeaten in 16 league games. Can Milan put an end to that impressive run?
The big game: Roma-AC Milan, Saturday 6 March, 20.45 CET, Stadio Olimpico
The quote: “How can I motivate my players against Livorno when they’ve just gone to Turin and won? By telling them that it’s games like this that make all the difference in the end. This could be our toughest match of the season,” Palermo coach Delio Rossi.
Bundesliga: Bayern poised to pull away
In the driving seat for so long, Bayer Leverkusen finally relinquished top spot to Bayern Munich last weekend. The Bavarians have been in ominously good form of late and are intent on putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the field, starting with their trip to Cologne. Jupp Heynckes’s faltering side have the chance to respond 24 hours later at Nuremberg, while third-placed Schalke can climb above them temporarily if they win at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
Holders Wolfsburg and 2008 champions Stuttgart have belatedly hit form since appointing new coaches and will seek to maintain their late bids for European places at home to Bochum and away to Werder Bremen respectively. Seemingly condemned to the second division only a few short weeks ago, Hertha Berlin have engineered something of a revival of late, pulling to within just five points of Freiburg in 15th. The Bundesliga stragglers face a tough assignment at fourth-placed Hamburg, however.
The question: Hannover have suffered nine defeats in a row. Can they avoid a tenth when they visit Freiburg?
The big game: Werder Bremen-Stuttgart, Saturday 6 March, 15.30 CET, Weserstadion
The quote: “I’m convinced we can win at Freiburg, provided we go out and show the same desire we had against Wolfsburg. That would be important for our next few games and for our supporters,” Hannover coach Mirko Slomka.
Ligue 1: Montpellier continue mission impossible
Montpellier’s unlikely title quest takes them to leaders Bordeaux on Sunday evening. A victory for the southerners will take them top, although the defending champions do have two games in hand. Boulogne, one of the sides promoted with Montpellier last season, are engaged in an altogether different battle at the other end of the table. The struggling northerners cannot expect any charity from Saturday’s visitors Lyon, who need the points themselves to keep the pressure on the leading duo.
Having revived their championship challenge with a fine run, Marseille will need to be wary when they welcome Lorient, unexpected winners at the Stade Velodrome last term. Down at the bottom, doomed Grenoble are at home to Le Mans, two places above them in the standings. Nice, who lie one place and six points above the relegation zone, play host to a Nancy side suddenly in danger after collecting two points in four games.
The question: Soundly beaten by Marseille in last weekend’s big game, can Paris Saint-Germain pick themselves up at Lens?
The big game: Bordeaux-Montpellier, Sunday 7 March, 21.00 CET, Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas
The quote: “I’m not like Pierre de Coubertin. You won’t hear me saying 'It’s the taking part that counts’. We’re going to Bordeaux with the idea of taking over at the top of the table and imposing ourselves,” Montpellier coach Rene Girard.
It is no surprise to see Dinamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk occupying the top two places in Ukraine once more. Dinamo, who hold a two-point lead over their closest challengers, travel to mid-table Mariupil this weekend and will be hoping fourth-placed Metalurg can do them a favour in the Donetsk derby against Shakhtar.
It is a similar situation in Serbia, where bitter Belgrade adversaries Crvena Zvezda and Partizan are dominating proceedings. Unbeaten in 14 games so far this term, Partizan are at home to Javor this weekend, while the 1991 European champions, who stand three points clear of their city rivals, are at RAD Belgrade.