World Football: 10 Games to Watch This Weekend
This weekend brings with it another packed schedule of big games all across the globe.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester, Juventus, and Bayern Munich are just some of the major clubs in action over the next two days.
From the West Coast to the edge of the Baltic Sea, we have some matches which kick off new campaigns and others which are at the business end of their respective seasons.
Here are 10 fixtures which should keep us all entertained over the next 48 hours or so.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
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The MLS 2012 campaign kicks off this weekend, and the standout fixture is a rematch of last season's Western Conference final.
Champions LA Galaxy begin the campaign having retained the services of star-trio David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, something which the odds were against at the end of last year.
Real Salt Lake are looking to build on their third-place finish in the conference last season, and there is no better place to lay down a marker than at the Home Depot Center.
Zenit St Petersburg vs. Kuban Krasnodar
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The Russian Premier League resumed following its three-month winter break last weekend. The division has now split in two, with the top half fighting it out for the championship and European places while the bottom half battle to avoid relegation.
Reigning champions and league leaders Zenit play host to Kuban Krasnodar as they look to retain their title in this extended 18-month season, done so in order to move the Russian season in line with the rest of Europe.
This match is their first of the new year back at the Petrovsky Stadium, and the home fans will be treated to the return of their former hero Andrei Arshavin, back in his hometown on loan from Arsenal.
With the European Championships just around the corner, this would be the perfect time for Arshavin to recapture the form which led to Zenit winning the UEFA Cup in 2008 and saw him become one of the talked about players in world football.
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid
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Real Betis were humbled 4-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu when they visited Real Madrid back in October. Considering some of the beatings that have been handed out by Jose Mourinho's side this season, some would say they got off lightly.
The Seville club are the only side currently playing in La Liga that Cristiano Ronaldo has never scored against. Given that the Portuguese has scored an incredible 30 goals in just 25 league appearances this season, to shut him out for second game this term would be an achievement in itself, regardless of the score.
Watching Real has rarely been a chore this season, and if they turn on the style again at the Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday, then they will go 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Racing Santander vs. Barcelona
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On Sunday, defending La Liga champions Barcelona will then get their chance to either pull the gap between them and Real back to 10 points or, on the off chance of an upset, close it to seven.
It's not really a good time to face Barca at the moment, what with Lionel Messi scoring five goals in the European champions' 7-1 mauling of Bayer Leverkusen in midweek and all. Added to that, Racing are in the relegation zone and are without a manager after a run of seven games without a win got Juan Jose Gonzalez the sack.
The odds are certainly stacked against the Cantabrian side, but the fact that Barca have only kept one clean sheet in their last eight away league games means that they may at least add a bit of jeopardy to the seemingly inevitable result.
Genoa vs. Juventus
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On the face of it, Juventus are going great guns this season. They are, after all, the only side in any of Europe's top five leagues who are still unbeaten, and they are well on course for a return to the Champions League if not win the title.
However, they have hit something of a sticky patch recently. They have been held to a draw in five of their last six league games, including each of the last three.
Genoa may be a mid-table side, but they have done the double over high-flying Lazio this season as well as claim wins against Roma, Udinese and Roma.
As such, the clash at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris will be a real test of Juve's mettle, and should be well worth a watch on Sunday.
Swansea City vs. Manchester City
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Swansea have come a long way since their first ever Premier League fixture, when they lost 4-0 at Manchester City.
Since that drubbing at the Etihad Stadium—in which City registered a total of 15 shots on target which has yet to be beaten in the league this season—the Welsh side have gone on to be one of the surprise packages of the campaign.
They have lost just two games and conceded only 10 goals at the Liberty Stadium this season, and their highly-tuned brand of possession football could give the Premier League leaders a frustrating afternoon on Sunday.
City are missing their captain and key defender Vincent Kompany, but the biggest attraction of all could be the return to their squad of the once-exiled Carlos Tevez.
Lille vs. Lyon
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Lyon really are at a low ebb at the moment. Not so long ago they went seven straight years as champions of France and were Champions League semifinalists.
This season, however, they are currently seventh in Ligue 1 and are are reeling from their European exit at the hands of Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia.
Lille, the reigning French champions, beat Les Gones 3-1 at the Stade Metropole back in October, and a second victory of them would greatly bolster their bid to return to the Champions League next season.
Bayern Munich vs. Hoffenheim
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Bayern Munich may be one of Europe's biggest clubs, but they are enduring a torrid time of it at the moment.
A goal down in their Champions League last-16 tie against Basel—the second leg is next week—they dropped seven points of the top of the Bundesliga table after losing 2-0 at Bayer Leverkusen last time out.
However, they have got a habit of bouncing back from a defeat in emphatic style. When they lost their first game of the season at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach, they responded by going on a six-game winning streak in which they scored 21 goals. After losing at Hanover, they hit back with a 4-0 victory over Nurnberg.
While the wheels do appear to be coming off the Bayern wagon of late—with this week's rumours that coach Jupp Heynckes's job is under threat not helping matters—a home match against middling Hoffenheim is likely to either see them put their visitors to the sword or see them stumble yet further against unfenced opposition.
Either way, it should make for compulsive viewing.
Reading vs. Leicester City
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Whilst Southampton and West Ham have been jostling for supremacy at the top of the Championship all season, the pack below them have let those two open up a gap by continually dropping points against each other.
That was until Reading put together a run of seven straight wins that has seen them soar up to third in the table, just three points behind current leaders Southampton.
The Royals face a Leicester side full of quality and experience but which has not managed to click this season. Despite that, the Foxes are still a side to treat with caution.
A win at the Madejski for Brian McDermott's side would not only bolster their promotion hopes but, if other results go their way, could even have them joint-top of the table.
Porto vs. Academica
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Reigning Super Liga champions Porto have only lost one league game all season, but their lead at the top of the table is a pretty slender three points.
They may have lost striker Radamel Falcao in the summer to Atletico Madrid, but they still have striker Hulk in their ranks as well as James Rodriguez. The Brazilian attacking midfielder has come to prominence this season having scored 11 goals for Porto in just 17 league appearances.
This weekend sees a visit to the Estadio do Dragao of Academica, and as such is a reunion of sorts. These are the two clubs which Andre Villas-Boas managed before his ill-fated move to Chelsea.