European Leagues preview
Following the week’s UEFA Champions League games, the spotlight returns to Europe’s major leagues. Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen all have narrow leads to defend, while Inter Milan will aim to keep some distance between themselves and the chasing pack. As for French leaders Bordeaux, they have the weekend off.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the latest round of games across the continent.
Premier League: Further inroads for Arsenal?
Taking full advantage of Chelsea’s defeat to Everton and Manchester United’s draw at Aston Villa a fortnight ago, Arsene Wenger’s side climbed back into title contention with a narrow win over Liverpool. The Gunners will be hoping for another profitable weekend’s work when they entertain a Sunderland side in freefall, while the Blues travel to Wolverhampton, and United, who are just a point behind them, visit Everton.
In the game of the day fourth-placed Manchester City play host to a Liverpool side one rung below them in the table. A win for Roberto Mancini and his men will go a long way to helping them achieve their ambition of a top-four finish.
The question: Can Sunderland bring an end to their run of 12 games without a win at Arsenal on Saturday?
The big game: Manchester City-Liverpool, Sunday 21 February, 16.00 CET, City of Manchester Stadium
The quote: “It’s nice to hear people saying good things about me, but I try not to listen to them too much. I know what I still have to do and I just want to keep playing well,” Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.
La Liga: Barcelona out to reassert themselves
Having had their lead over Real Madrid cut to two points following last Sunday’s defeat at Atletico Madrid, title holders Barcelona are anxious to get back to winning ways at home to Racing Santander. And after slumping to defeat at Lyon in the Champions League, Los Blancos will be no less determined to see off Villarreal on Sunday.
Two of the season’s leading goalscorers go head-to-head in the Monday game when David Villa’s Valencia take on Roberto Soldado’s Getafe. Finally, Sevilla could lose fourth place to Mallorca when the two sides meet at the Ono Estadi, where the islanders have won ten out of ten this term.
The question: Do Villarreal have what it takes to cause an upset at the Bernabeu, where Madrid have won their last 11 games?
The big game: Barcelona-Racing Santander, Saturday 20 February, 20.00 CET, Camp Nou
The quote: “There are a lot of people who want to see us lose, but as a team we don’t have even the slightest concern. We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing up to now and I think we’ve got a big enough squad to cope with any injuries,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.
Serie A: Special occasion for Moratti
An Inter Milan win at home to Sampdoria on Saturday would allow club president Massimo Moratti to celebrate 15 years in charge in the best possible fashion. Jose Mourinho’s men go into the game with plenty on their mind, however, with Roma having cut their lead to seven points and in-form Samp striker Giampaolo Pazzini bidding to advance his claim to a South Africa 2010 place.
Unbeaten in 14 games and having won their last eight at home, I Giallorossi should keep their excellent form going when relegation-threatened Catania come visiting. AC Milan, who lie third with a game in hand on the top two, travel to Bari, while misfiring Juventus make the trip to Bologna. Juve’s most pressing task is to shore up their leaky defence, which has so far conceded 32 goals this term and is also giving Italy coach Marcello Lippi cause for concern.
The question: Can Sampdoria spoil Massimo Moratti’s anniversary party?
The big game: Inter Milan-Sampdoria, Saturday 20 February, 20.45 CET, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The quote: “I have high hopes for this team because, speaking objectively, we play spectacular football and our players are matchwinners. The foundations are there for us to achieve great things,” Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti.
Bundesliga: Bayern ready to pounce
A series of nine straight wins has taken Louis van Gaal’s side to within touching distance of frontrunners Bayer Leverkusen, with only goal difference separating the two. The Bavarians are in action on Saturday at Nuremberg, where a point would be enough to take them to the top of the Bundesliga for the first time since 17 May 2008, some 55 matchdays ago. Bayer will have the opportunity to return to the summit the following day when they visit Werder Breman in sixth.
The weekend’s other main attraction is the return of Felix Magath to midtable Wolfsburg, the side he steered to the championship last season. Now in charge of Schalke 04, the former international midfielder will be keen to see his side maintain their title push at the expense of his former charges.
The question: Having climbed inexorably up the table in recent weeks, can Bayern Munich complete their comeback and overtake Bayer Leverkusen at the top?
The big game: Werder Bremen-Bayer Leverkusen, Sunday 21 February, 17.30 CET, Weserstadion
The quote: “It would be lovely to move to the top of the table. The most important thing, though, is to be on top after 34 games. That’s when you become the champions,” Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal.
Ligue 1: Green light for Montpellier?
With Bordeaux taking the weekend off to prepare for their upcoming Champions League engagement, all eyes will be on second-placed Montpellier’s visit to St Etienne. After losing 3-1 to the leaders last weekend, Les Verts are in urgent need of three points against the season’s revelations, who have the incentive of pulling level with Bordeaux if they win.
Two sides hoping to make up lost ground on the leaders are fifth-placed Marseille, who are at home to Nancy, and Lyon in fourth, who are at Sochaux. Lille, the side just above them, face a testing trip to unpredictable Rennes, while PSG’s long-running crisis will intensify if they fail to beat Toulouse at home on Saturday evening.
The question: Can Marseille follow up their UEFA Europa League exploits by rekindling their championship hopes against Nancy?
The big game: St Etienne-Montpellier, Saturday 20 February, 19.00 CET, Stade Geoffroy Guichard
The quote: “The arrival of Christophe Galtier as coach gave everyone a lift. He really made us aware of the danger we are in and of the need for us to go out and save the club. He’s made us into a real unit and he’s instilled a fantastic team spirit here,” St Etienne midfielder Bakary Sako.
Porto will attempt to keep their lingering title hopes alive when they entertain Sporting Braga on Matchday 20 in the Portuguese Liga Sagres. Leaders Benfica had their game brought forward to the start of February and are not in action this weekend, which means Braga can replace them if they win at the Dragao.
It promises to be quite a Sunday in Greece, where AEK Athens take on Aris Salonika at home, with PAOK Salonika welcoming pacesetters Panathinaikos in the evening. The action should be just as intense in Turkey, with Istanbul rivals Besiktas and Galatasaray facing off.