Crunch time in title races
Wherever you look around Europe's biggest leagues, the contours of the title race are clearly defined ahead of the final push. The champions in England and Italy appear set to retain their crowns, but change is in the offing in both France and Germany. In Spain, results at the weekend could effectively end the race or suddenly throw it wide open. FIFA.com previews the weekend action around the continent.
Premier League: United in pole position
Manchester United's quest for an 18th domestic title has begun to look unstoppable. The Red Devils moved three points clear at the top after a midweek round of matches, and still have a game in hand. United take on ninth-placed Tottenham Hotspur looking for a 14th victory in their last 16 matches.
Runners-up Liverpool travel to struggling Hull City, and third-placed Chelsea travel across London to West Ham United, with both pursuers determined not to lose more ground to the leaders. Still basking in the afterglow of Andrei Arshavin's stunning four-goal show in the 4-4 draw away to Liverpool, Arsenal will attempt to tighten their grip on the final UEFA Champions League qualifying place with three points against 18th-placed Middlesbrough.
The question: Can champions United increase their advantage over their closest rivals from London and Liverpool?
The big game: Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday 25 April, 18.30, Old Trafford
The quote: "Let's be honest and face facts: it's over. We needed to play with more intelligence at times. I think we now need to focus on the Champions League and the FA Cup," Guus Hiddink, Chelsea coach.
La Liga: High stakes in Seville
Second-placed Real Madrid are under severe pressure. The champions are still six points adrift of leaders Barcelona, and now undertake the trip to third-placed Sevilla, themselves desperate for points in the battle for a Champions League qualifying place. However, Barça face a tough task themselves, as the Catalans meet cup holders Valencia, currently fourth.
Promoted Malaga, in sixth, and eighth-placed Deportivo go head-to-head in the fight for UEFA Europa League places. Atletico Madrid, in seventh, beaten 5-1 in midweek by Racing Santander, will seek to restore pride and confidence against fourth-bottom Sporting Gijon. The battle to avoid relegation in Spain promises to be an inordinately tight affair this term, as 12th-placed Real Betis are a mere five points clear of the first club in the drop zone; Barcelona outfit Espanyol.
The question: Which of the top four will be celebrating after a potentially decisive weekend?
The big game: Sevilla-Real Madrid, Sunday 26 April, 19.00, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
The quote: "I had my best years as a coach at Sevilla. I won trophies there. Returning to the city and the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan will bring the memories flooding back," Juande Ramos, Real Madrid coach.
Serie A: Inter close to sealing title
At ten points clear with only six games to play, it is hard to see how leaders Inter Milan can fail to retain their Serie A crown. However, should Jose Mourinho's men lose in Naples, their two remaining pursuers would clutch at a straw of hope in the title race. AC Milan and Juventus, level on points in second and third, entertain Palermo and visit bottom club Reggina respectively.
In the battle for Champions League places, Fiorentina and Roma, in fifth and sixth, face off. A draw would more than suit fourth-placed Genoa, who could pull further clear of their rivals with a win away to promoted Bologna.
The question: Can Napoli, without a win in Serie A since 11 January, reverse that trend with a victory over a formidable Inter team?
The big game: AC Milan-Palermo, Sunday 26 April, 15.00, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The quote: "I'm going to win the league this season. I haven't a clue how many foreign coaches have managed that in their first season at a club. I'm proud of what Inter have achieved," Jose Mourinho, Inter coach.
Ligue1: Marseille face test of title credentials
Regardless of the weekend results, Marseille will still lead the French top flight come Sunday evening. That is because the meeting between Stade Rennes and second-placed Bordeaux has been re-scheduled for next Wednesday, as Laurent Blanc's side meet third division Vannes on Saturday in the French League Cup final.
For their part, Marseille face a stern test of their ability to end Lyon's run of seven consecutive league titles. Erik Gerets' men travel to sixth-placed Lille, undefeated in front of their home crowd since Matchday 2. Champions Lyon have slipped to third and will urgently seek to make up lost ground, although the task is a tough one at home to Paris Saint-Germain, just a place below OL in the standings.
The question: Can Lyon avenge a 1-0 loss to PSG in the reverse fixture, pacifying their fans and beginning to make up for defeat by the same score in Bordeaux last weekend?
The big game: Lyon-Paris Saint-Germain, Friday 24 April, 20.30, Stade de Gerland
The quote: "Every one of the last six games is a final. It won't be easy. But you're always under pressure at OM. We're expected to win every week anyway," Boudewijn Zenden, Marseille midfielder.
Bundesliga: Hunting down the Wolves
In terms of excitement and tension, this year's German title race is the one to beat. Wolfsburg, apparently destined for mid-table mediocrity, in ninth just 11 games ago, now lead the table by three points. Victory away to second-from-bottom Energie Cottbus would represent another giant stride towards the title for Felix Magath's on-song side.
The main threat to a maiden championship shield for the Wolves comes from Bayern Munich and Hamburg. In the biggest game of the weekend, the champions entertain resurgent Schalke, up to sixth, while Hamburg will attempt to bounce back from a midweek cup semi-final exit when they travel to seventh-placed Borussia Dortmund.
The question: Can Wolfsburg chalk up an 11th win on the bounce, setting a new Bundesliga record in the bargain?
The big game: Bayern-Schalke, Saturday 25 April, 15.30, Allianz Arena
The quote: "We'll be top of the pile again one of these days – even if it's the last day of the season," Jurgen Klinsmann, Bayern coach.
Fans in the Netherlands, Russia, Poland and Turkey are all looking forward to decisive games this weekend. Pride is at stake for Ajax against newly-crowned champions AZ Alkmaar, as the Amsterdam giants will be determined to reduce the 12-point gap between themselves and the frontrunners. In Russia, champions and leaders Rubin Kazan meet the nation's most successful club, Spartak Moscow.
Polish leaders Legia Warsaw meet chief pursuers Lech Poznan, with Turkish pacesetters Sivasspor up against third-placed Trabzonspor. Derbies are the order of the day in Israel and Austria: Hapoel and Maccabi meet in Tel Aviv, while Rapid cross swords with Austria in Vienna.
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