The Top World Football Games to Watch This Weekend
There is no shortage of big games across Europe's top leagues this weekend.
Manchester City's clash with Chelsea stands out in the Premier League, while PSG vs. Marseille is about as big as it gets in French Ligue 1.
Bayern Munich are always worth a look in the Bundesliga, while Barcelona's meeting with Sevilla will be monitored closely for a Barca reaction after their 2-0 loss in the Champions League to AC Milan.
Milan, meanwhile, are involved the match of the weekend. They face Inter in a Milan derby that could have big implications for which team qualifies for Europe's premier club competition next season.
Here are my picks for the games to watch, along with predictions for the outcomes.
6. Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
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When: Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Fox Soccer Plus)
Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
It's crisis time at Arsenal (again) after the Gunners were completely outclassed by Bayern Munich in midweek.
Barring a miraculous comeback at the Allianz Arena, the Gunners' season now hinges on whether Arsene Wenger can achieve a top-four finish and ensure his team maintain their consistent presence in the Champions League. If that's going to happen, winning games like Saturday's home fixture against Aston Villa is essential.
Villa have shown some fight of late and drawn their last three Premier League away games—at Swansea, West Brom and Everton.
Christian Benteke is on fire, and his involvement in Villa's offense (eight percent of his team's average touches, per WhoScored) has helped them find a way to goal, which is just as well because Paul Lambert's team have allowed the second-most goals in the Premier League.
That said, when these teams met at Villa Park in November 2012, the match finished 0-0.
I don't expect a stalemate this time around.
Arsenal are playing for their pride, and Wenger's team, for all their frailties, remain a potent attacking force in the right state of mind. Provided they don't concede an early goal, I predict Arsenal will win this one at a canter.
5. Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen
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When: Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET (GolTV USA)
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-1 Werder Bremen
As illustrated by their consummate victory against Arsenal, Bayern are in ominous form.
They have won their last five in a row, are 15 points clear atop the Bundesliga and haven't lost in the league since October.
It's hard to see anything but a comfortable home victory against Werder Bremen on Saturday—especially when you reference Bremen's 5-0 loss at home to Borussia Dortmund in January.
Bremen are a wildly unpredictable mid-table outfit that have scored goals nearly as freely as they have conceded them this season (38 scored, 41 allowed). They lost 3-2 at home to Freiburg last time out but beat Stuttgart and Hannover in the two prior league matches.
Their top scorer, Nils Petersen, is on loan from Bayern, so he should have plenty of motivation to prove a point at the Allianz Arena.
I expect Bayern to cruise, but I also expect Bremen to come upon a goal at some stage of the match.
4. Barcelona vs. Sevilla
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When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (beIN Sport USA)
Prediction: Barcelona 4-1 Sevilla
Barcelona have shipped an unusual number of goals in recent months. They've gone 10 matches without a clean sheet, and even their heaviest victories have been undermined by handing opponents a consolation or two.
I expect that trend to continue at Camp Nou on Saturday, where they'll take on a Sevilla side whose last five matches in La Liga have generated 17 goals (10 for, seven against). In their last serious test, Sevilla were swept aside 4-1 by Real Madrid—victim to a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick.
After being locked out by Milan's defensive operation, Barca will be motivated to put on an attacking exhibition on Saturday. Their prolific goal-scoring in Spain this season (80 goals, 20 more than any other club) suggests a mauling is in store for Sevilla, with Lionel Messi likely to collect a predictable haul of two, three or four for himself.
I'm going 4-1 for Barca.
3. Manchester City vs. Chelsea
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When: Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET (Fox Soccer)
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea
Manchester City's flailing title defence has been blighted by inconsistency.
Roberto Mancini's team are 12 points behind Manchester United with 12 games to go and have fallen below the standards they set last season on their drive to the title. Chelsea are now threatening their position in second.
City remain a force at home, however. United are the only team to have won at the Etihad in the Premier League this season, and City have kept five clean sheets in their last six home matches in all competitions.
Last Sunday's 4-0 FA Cup win against Leeds was emphatic. Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez both scored (Aguero twice), while David Silva was hailed for a creative performance that hinted at the kind of form he showed during the 2011-12 campaign.
Like City, Chelsea are in the midst of a drawn-out anticlimax. In recent weeks, the European champions have been held by Reading and Southampton and beaten by Newcastle.
I expect this one to be tight, but City's superior physicality and mental toughness will play out in a 2-1 home win.
2. Paris Saint-Germain vs. Marseille
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When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (beIN Sport USA)
Prediction: PSG 1-1 Marseille
PSG's 3-2 loss at Sochaux last week has kept things interesting at the top of Ligue 1. If Marseille beat them on Sunday, they'll be just two points back. Lyon could already be level on points with PSG by the time the game kicks off.
For Carlo Ancelotti, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Co., the pressure that comes with spending millions and millions of Qatari dollars is most definitely on.
David Beckham's potential PSG debut will be the sideshow cast as a main event in Paris, but don't let that distract you from the coming together known as Le Classique. French club football doesn't get any bigger or more intense, and we should expect a fiery encounter.
PSG have conceded just once in their last six home matches in Ligue 1, but Marseille have only twice failed to score on the road this season in the division.
This one is going to end in a draw.
1. Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
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When: Sunday, 2:45 p.m. ET (beIN Sport en Espanol, RAI Internazionale)
Prediction: Inter Milan 0-1 AC Milan
Milan are riding high after beating Champions League favorites Barcelona with a defensive master class in midweek. Moreover, Massimiliano Allegri's team are unbeaten in their last seven Serie A games and up to third in the table. Optimism is rife.
This will be Mario Balotelli's first Milan derby for the Rossoneri, so we can expect him to receive a hostile reception from the Inter fans who once called him their own. Balotelli, scorer of four goals in three appearances for Milan, will be fired up, and I fully expect him to score the solitary goal in this game. If he doesn't, he could just as easily be sent off.
Inter are smarting from a 4-1 loss at Fiorentina but have not lost at the San Siro since September. This game could have a huge bearing on the race for Champions League spots in Serie A, and Inter will take confidence from their 1-0 win against Milan early in the season.
Inter have won the last three Milan derbies, but this is where their run will end. Milan are going to edge this one.
Balotelli is going to be the hero.