Predicting the Biggest EPL, La Liga, Serie A Matches: All Eyes on Madrid
As we enter the month of March, the leagues across Europe are now entering their respective home straights.
There is still much to be decided at the both ends of the table in what was once famously referred to by a former Manchester United manager as “squeaky-bum time.”
And so here we preview some of the biggest matches that are taking place throughout the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A this weekend...
La Liga: Atletico de Madrid vs. Real Madrid
Where: The Vicente Calderon
When: Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m.
This is without doubt the biggest match taking place throughout the continent this weekend and perhaps the most important Madrid derby since Atletico de Madrid last won the title back in 1996, with both teams still locked in a fierce battle for La Liga.
However, following last weekend’s results, the advantage now lies with Carlo Ancelotti’s side. They hold a slender three-point lead at the top of the table over both arch-rivals FC Barcelona and city-rivals Atleti after 25 games of the season.
And with los Blancos now unbeaten in the league since they lost 2-1 at Camp Nou back in October, they will be favourites to extend their advantage when they travel to the Vicente Calderon on Sunday afternoon. They recently beat Diego Simeone’s side by an aggregate score of 5-0 over two legs in their two Copa del Rey semi-final clashes.
However, one key factor that may just assist the home team is that while Madrid had to travel to take on Schalke 04 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie on Wednesday night, Atletico had a whole week in which to prepare for a fixture that they dare not lose in front of their own fans in the Spanish capital.
Cristiano Ronaldo's three-match ban ended, so he will be able to play in the Madrid derby.
La Liga: Sevilla vs. Real Sociedad
Where: Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
When: Sunday, March 2, 6 p.m.
The race is now very much on for that one remaining qualifying spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League, with fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao currently the team in possession with just 13 games of the season remaining.
However, hot on Athletic’s heels are Real Sociedad, who trail their Basque rivals by just four points after Saturday’s stunning 3-1 home win over champions FC Barcelona. It's a result that should act as a huge confidence boost for Jagoba Arrasate’s men as they now enter the most crucial phase of the campaign.
And if Sociedad want to stand any chance whatsoever of repeating their remarkable achievement last season of finishing fourth in La Liga, they are going to have to keep on winning, starting with Sunday evening’s tricky-looking trip to southern Spain.
But if ever there was a time to be playing eighth-in-the-table Sevilla, then it is now. Unai Emery’s off-colour outfit are not only still currently involved in European competition, with a UEFA Europa League round-of-32 second-leg clash with Maribor to play on Thursday night, but they are also without a league win at home since Jan 5.
WhoScored.com provided an interesting tweet: "Carlos Vela: MotM vs Barcelona, Rating 8.8, Key passes 1, Assists 1, Dribbles 5."
Serie A: As Roma vs. Internazionale
Where: Stadio Olimpico
When: Saturday, March 1, 7.45 p.m.
AS Roma have a wonderful opportunity to really increase the pressure on champions Juventus. They can close the gap on the leaders to just six points with a game in hand on their rivals by beating Internazionale at home on Saturday night before Antonio Conte’s side travel to AC Milan 24 hours later.
As a result, Rudi Garcia and co. could feasibly be within touching distance of the Old Lady of Italian Football by Sunday evening in this increasingly fascinating race for the Serie A title, although Roma must first take care of business themselves in the Italian capital.
And that means getting the better of an Inter Milan side who have only lost on five occasions in the league so far this season. That's despite the Nerazzurri currently sitting in fifth place in the table, a massive 17 points behind their opponents this weekend.
However, it would still represent something of a surprise were the Romans, who have only lost once in Serie A all campaign long, not to emerge with all three points against Walter Mazzarri’s men. They strolled to a Francesco Totti-inspired 3-0 win the last time the two teams met at San Siro back in October.
Serie A: AC Milan vs. Juventus
Where: San Siro
When: Sunday, March 2, 7.45 p.m.
Recently appointed AC Milan head coach Clarence Seedorf has made a highly encouraging start to his reign in charge of the Rossoneri. The Dutchman could really endear himself to the Milanese faithful by engineering a surprise victory over arch-rivals Juventus at San Siro on Sunday night.
The home side may have little but pride to play for against the champions, while Milan will also have their minds fixed firmly on the second leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie at Atletico de Madrid the week after next. Still, make no mistake about it: Juve will face a fierce examination of their title credentials this weekend.
But equally, you do not lose just one match in the league all season long if your side is not made of pretty stern stuff, as the Old Lady of Italian Football most definitely are.
And while Antonio Conte’s men do face a tough visit to Turkey to take on Trabzonspor in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-32 tie on Thursday night, having managed a 2-0 win in Turin last week, Milan would be making a big mistake were they to think that this is an ideal time to play the Bianconeri.
Premier League: Stoke City vs. Arsenal
Where: The Britannia Stadium
When: Saturday, March 1, 3 p.m.
You get the feeling that this particular match may go a long way to defining the outcome of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign, with the Britannia not a stadium that holds particularly fond memories for Arsene Wenger’s side in the past.
And with the Potters, despite their current lowly position in the table, having already got the better of both league leaders Chelsea and champions Manchester United—as well as drawn with the likes of Manchester City and Everton at home so far this season—the North London club will know full well that they are in for a stern challenge come Saturday afternoon.
But it is a test that the Gunners must surely overcome if they want to maintain their title challenge. Last weekend’s impressive 4-1 destruction of struggling Sunderland at the Emirates put the visitors in good heart for their trip to take on a Stoke side who are currently just three points above the drop zone.
Speaking ahead of the game, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger told reporters, via the Daily Mail's Thom Drake and Sami Mokbel:
Stoke is a big game for us. We have to focus on our results because we are in a period where we have to push on.
We've had two days off and sometimes it's not only physical but mental tiredness.
We had some bad memories from Stoke but we had some good memories as well, it's just down to our performance on the day.
Premier League: Southampton vs. Liverpool
Where: St Mary’s
When: Saturday, March 1, 5.30 p.m.
This fixture on the south coast has the potential to be an absolute classic as free-scoring Liverpool look to stay in touch with the likes of both Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
Brendan Rodgers’ easy-on-the-eye outfit are now the top scorers in the league after their four strikes against Swansea City at Anfield last Sunday took their total for the season to an incredible 70 goals, more than even City have managed.
Squawka Football made note of another impressive record, tweeting, "Liverpool set a new Premier League record this weekend for first half goals scored in a season (46). Previous record: Arsenal (45) in 02/03."
However, it is at the other end that the Northern Irishman will be more concerned, with only Newcastle United among teams in the top half of the table having let in more than the 35 goals the Reds have shipped to date.
And so coming face to face with one of the top flight’s most attacking and adventurous outfits at St Mary’s this Saturday evening is sure to provide the Merseysiders with a huge test of their title challenge, albeit against a Saints side who have not won at home in the league since they beat West Bromwich Albion on Jan 11.