European Leagues preview
In both England and Germany, the title races will be decided once and for all this weekend, while some of the biggest names in Italian and Spanish football will also be making a final push for their respective crowns. Over in France, the champagne corks have already popped for Marseille. On the eve of the climax to the season, FIFA.com brings you up to speed on the state of play in Europe’s top leagues, just 35 days ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
Premier League: Chelsea on the brink
Sir Alex Ferguson is the key figure in the most exciting title denouement in the English Premier League for years. The veteran boss could lead Manchester United to their 19th domestic triumph, which would see them overtake Liverpool as the nation’s most successful club. However, Sir Alex is up against stiff odds, as leaders Chelsea can finish top of the pile with a win at home to Wigan Athletic, defeated in 13 of their 18 away fixtures so far this term. The Red Devils must beat Stoke City at home, and hope for a minor miracle at Stamford Bridge.
Only one other issue remains to be settled in the Premier League, the question of who finishes third and qualifies directly for the UEFA Champions League. Bitter north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are the contenders. The Gunners are two points clear and entertain Fulham, while Spurs are away to relegated Burnley.
The question: Manchester United have been involved in Premier League title races which went to the last round of fixtures four times before, claiming the crown on three occasions. Can they do it again?
The big game: Chelsea-Wigan Athletic, Sunday, 17:00, Stamford Bridge
The quote: "At the start of the season, if we’d been offered a win at home on the last day to become champions, I think every one of us would have taken it!" Petr Cech, Chelsea keeper
La Liga: Big two in race to the wire
With the finishing line in sight, the two biggest clubs in Spain are in good shape. Champions and leaders Barcelona, with Lionel Messi in inspirational form, head Real Madrid and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo by a single point. Both are on long winning runs, but the men from the capital appear to have the easier task on the penultimate matchday: Real face eighth-placed Bilbao, while the Catalans travel to fourth-placed Sevilla.
However, the race could still be decided this weekend: should Barcelona win and Real only draw, Pep Guardiola’s men would win the league on the basis of a 100 per cent record in their head-to-heads with Los Merengues this term. Elsewhere, the programme offers many win-or-bust battles for places in Europe, and for struggling clubs to retain top flight status. At El Madrigal, seventh-placed Villarreal hope to bolster their UEFA Europa League ambitions in the derby against confirmed Champions League qualifiers Valencia.
The question: Barcelona have already beaten Real’s record of 92 points, set in 1996/97. Can the men from Madrid emulate that feat?
The big game: Sevilla-Barcelona, Saturday, 21:00, Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
The quote: "Our duty is to end the season on 98 points. Let’s wait and see whether Barcelona manage 99." Manuel Pellegrini, Real Madrid coach
Serie A: Inter eye second helping of champagne
The Serie A season still has two games to go, but Inter could be celebrating again come Sunday. After progressing to the Champions League final and winning the cup at Roma’s expense, Jose Mourinho’s side could once again best the men from the capital and claim a fifth successive scudetto. For that to happen, Inter would have to beat Chievo Verona at home, and Cagliari would have to avoid defeat away to Roma.
Plenty of attention will be paid to goings on in Sicily, where a great deal of money and prestige rests on the visit of fourth-placed Sampdoria to the team directly behind them, Palermo. With a two-point advantage over their pursuers, the Genoa outfit will be looking to secure their berth in next season's Champions League and keep the pressure on third-placed AC Milan, who are four points clear but travel to face Genoa. At the wrong end of the table, Atalanta must win away to Napoli to retain any hope of avoiding the drop.
The question: Claudio Ranieri has coached big-name clubs for some 20 years, but he has yet to win a league title. Will the Roma boss have to live with the disappointment of the runners-up berth yet again?
The big game: Palermo-Sampdoria, Sunday, 15:00, Stadio Renzo Barbera
The quote: "We’re the team of the moment!" Jose Mourinho, Inter coach
Ligue 1: OM in ecstasy, OL in determined mood
Olympique Marseille’s fans have been dancing in the streets to mark the club’s first Ligue 1 title in 18 years, while former serial champions Olympique Lyon have opted for a show of grit and determination ahead of their end-of-season fixtures. OL have publicly announced their intention of winning their last three games, with the aim of qualifying for the Champions League for the 11th time in a row. Claude Puel’s side are fourth, two points off Lille and Auxerre, but have a game in hand.
Lyon travel to Valenciennes and Auxerre entertain Lens, but Lille take on the freshly-crowned champions. Long-time leaders Girondins Bordeaux have tumbled to sixth and badly need all three points at home to Sochaux if are not to miss out on a UEFA Europa League spot.
The question: Lille last featured in the Champions League back in 2006-7 under Puel. Can they return to those heady heights?
The big game: Lille-Olympique Marseille, Saturday, 21:00, Stadium Nord Lille Metropole
The quote: "Mental strength is what’ll make the difference now. My players are doing a fantastic job, despite the fact they’re tired." Claude Puel, Olympique Lyon coach
Bundesliga: Northern foes face off
Bayern Munich lead the standings by three points from Schalke, and boast a massively superior goal difference of +17, so only an unthinkable calamity can deny the Bavarians a 22nd national title. The nation’s most successful club play a last day fixture away to relegated Hertha Berlin, but are in all truth more focused on the Champions League final against Inter and the German Cup final against Werder Bremen. For their part, Thomas Schaaf’s side cannot afford to take it easy on Saturday, as they face bitter northern rivals Hamburg and need a win to seal third spot and a qualifying berth in the Champions League.
Down in the basement, three clubs are still fighting for their lives. Second-from-bottom Bochum (28 points) meet Hannover, fourth from last on 30 points, in a classic do-or die thriller. Third-from-bottom Nuremberg, also on 28 points, meet mid-table Cologne.
The question: Last term, Werder spoiled Hamburg’s chances in the league, the cup and the UEFA Cup in four meetings in the space of just a few weeks. Will Hamburg take revenge?
The big game: Bremen-Hamburg, Saturday, 15.30, Weserstadion
The quote: "Louis van Gaal is the best thing to happen to Bayern for years. I’ve now spent 19 years in my second career at Bayern, and in all that time, I’ve never seen a coach who works so professionally." Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern chairman
The title races are tight as can be in both Serbia and Turkey. In Belgrade, Partizan meet Crvena Zvezda on Saturday evening in the third-to-last round of matches. The bitter rivals are separated by a single point. Over in Ankara, the Turkish title could be settled on the penultimate day, as leaders Fenerbahce are away to Ankaragucu, with Bursaspor, a point behind in second, also on the road to Ankaraspor.