European Leagues preview
English and German football fans have two spicy top-of-the-table games to look forward to this weekend, while Real Madrid and Barcelona face dress rehearsals for next Saturday’s eagerly anticipated clásico.
In Italy, Inter Milan have the chance to bounce back after last week’s defeat to Roma, and Ligue 1 leaders Bordeaux face a similar task after back-to-back losses in the French League Cup final and UEFA Champions League.
FIFA.com previews these games and more in Europe’s major leagues.
Premier League: All eyes on Old Trafford
Champions for the last three seasons, Manchester United will take a huge stride towards a fourth consecutive title if they can see off Chelsea on Saturday. That will be no easy assignment against the Londoners, who have struck 12 goals in their last two games, thanks in the main to the superb form of Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda. United will also be hampered by the absence of their goalscorer-in-chief, Wayne Rooney, who picked up an ankle injury against Bayern Munich in the week. Third-placed Arsenal have injury problems of their own but have the chance to close the gap again on the leading duo when they take on Wolves at the Emirates.
The battle for fourth and the final UEFA Champions League place is no less intense. Tottenham, who travel to Sunderland, are in the driving seat at the moment, closely followed by Manchester City and Liverpool, who face respective trips to Burnley and Birmingham.
The question: West Ham United are in deep trouble after six straight defeats. Can Gianfranco Zola’s men arrest their slide at Everton?
The big game: Manchester United-Chelsea, Saturday 3 April, 13.45 CET, Old Trafford
The quote: “We all want to play in the Champions League and we know that to do that we need to stay focused. The next game is always the most important one, and ours is against Sunderland,” Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Niko Kranjcar.
La Liga: The calm before the storm
Real Madrid’s crucial meeting with Barcelona is now just a week away. Los Blancos, leaders on goal difference from their old foes, warm up with an away day at Racing Santander, where they will come up against their recent signing Sergio Canales. Barça have the opportunity to exert some pressure on them when they welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Camp Nou 24 hours earlier.
Well in the hunt for the much-coveted fourth place, the Basques will be monitoring their nearest rivals Mallorca and Sevilla, who are away at Almeria and at home to Tenerife respectively.
The question: Winless since 20 February will Sevilla finally meet with success against Tenerife?
The big game: Barcelona-Athletic Bilbao, Saturday 3 April, 20.00 CET, Camp Nou
The quote: “The aim is to play well and bring an end to this run of three consecutive losses. It’s never an easy game against Atletico but we can’t be scared. If we start playing to our full potential again, then the results will come,” Deportivo La Coruna midfielder Juan Carlos Valeron.
Serie A: Roma poised to pounce
Roma have been nibbling away at Inter’s lead in recent weeks and took a sizeable chunk out of it in beating Jose Mourinho’s charges at the Stadio Olimpico last week. Their cushion now down to a single point, I Nerazzurri will hope to get back on track at home to lowly Bologna, who are not yet safe from the drop. Meanwhile Roma are on the road at mid-table Bari and third-placed Milan, still well in Scudetto contention, are away at Cagliari.
Struggling Juventus, who are not yet out of the running for a Champions League place, are at Udinese, while Palermo in fourth face a Sicilian derby at Catania and Napoli, the side just below them, make the trip to Lazio.
The question: Who will win the potentially decisive relegation six-pointer between Atalanta and Siena?
The big game: Inter Milan-Bologna, Saturday 3 April, 15.00 CET, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The quote: “I can understand the fans’ disappointment but they should know that we give our all for the jersey every time we go out on the pitch. We want to finish the season as well as we possibly can and we know we can’t afford any more mistakes,” Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio.
Bundesliga: Time is right for Schalke
New leaders Schalke 04 are the form side in Germany, having beaten Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt, stolen a point from Hamburg and taken all three from championship rivals Bayer Leverkusen. The men from Gelsenkirchen, who have not won the title in 52 years, will face the stiffest test yet of their title aspirations when Bayern Munich come visiting on Saturday. Only two points behind Felix Magath’s side, the Bavarians will go into the game in confident mood after edging out Schalke in the German Cup semi-finals last weekend.
Leverkusen can rekindle their dwindling hopes if they win at Eintracht, where Bayern recently fell to defeat. Resurgent Borussia Dortmund entertain Werder Bremen with just one point separating the sides and an intriguing tussle in prospect between Borussia’s Argentinian striker Lucas Barios and Werder’s Peruvian marksman Claudio Pizzarro.
The question: Pointless in their last four outings, can Bochum pick up a valuable win at fellow strugglers Freiburg?
The big game: Schalke-Bayern Munich, Saturday 3 April, 15.30 CET, Veltins-Arena
The quote: “We watched their game against Manchester United. Bayern are a super side but we also have what it takes to beat the very best. You can’t compare the cup game with the league. This will be totally different,” Schalke midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Ligue 1: Crisis management for Blanc
Bordeaux’s once-promising season seems to be gradually unravelling before their very eyes. Out of the French Cup, beaten in last weekend’s League Cup final by Marseille and with much to do in their Champions League quarter-final against Lyon, Laurent Blanc’s side could well end up empty-handed, especially with an exciting conclusion in prospect in the league. Still with two games in hand over their nearest pursuers, the leaders are at home to Nancy. Tied on 56 points with them are Montpellier, who face an awkward assignment at home to Monaco, and Auxerre, who play host to Paris St Germain on Sunday.
Sixth-placed Marseille are three points behind Bordeaux but have played the same number of games. Having won their first trophy of the season, Marseille are hoping to use that triumph as the springboard for a successful title push, starting with a home date with Lens (15). Buoyed by their midweek win over Bordeaux, Lyon face a stern challenge at Rennes, who have designs on Europe after four straight victories.
The question: Nice have enjoyed three wins on the trot since Eric Roy took charge. Can Les Aiglons keep their momentum going at Sochaux?
The big game: Rennes-Lyon, Saturday 3 April, 19.00 CET, Stade de la Route de Lorient
The quote: “I’m ashamed for the fans and for everything this club represents. Saturday’s match against Le Mans is even more important now, and after our terrible performance at Lorient [a 4-0 defeat] we need to come up with a big response against one of our direct rivals,” St Etienne midfielder Gelson Fernandes.
Panathinaikos fans have the champagne on ice in Greece. The league leaders need just a point at home to Iraklis to end the five-year reign of rivals Olympiakos.
In Serbia the country’s big two will continue their private duel. Frontrunners Crvena Zvezda travel to OFK, while unbeaten Partizan Belgrade, two points adrift in second, entertain third-placed Spartak Subotica, who are fully 17 points behind them.