Predicting the Biggest EPL, Liga, Serie A Matches: All Eyes on Spanish Capital
With less than two months of the league season left to play across the continent, each round of matches carries with it more and more significance, and none more so than this weekend in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.
Here we preview some of the biggest fixtures that are taking place throughout Europe, including Sunday night’s standout game at the Santiago Bernabeu...
Premier League: Chelsea V Arsenal
Where: Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday, March 23, 12:45 p.m.
The action kicks off this weekend with an eye-catching contest from the English top flight as leaders Chelsea entertain arch-rivals Arsenal in an encounter that is normally guaranteed to produce a plethora of talking points, drama and controversy.
The West London club will be desperate to bounce back from their surprise loss at Aston Villa last Saturday in which the visitors not only had both Brazilian midfielders Ramires and Willian sent off, but manager Jose Mourinho too.
As a result, the first two will be suspended for this London derby, while the Special One will be forced to watch the match from the stands. With an unbeaten head-to-head record against Gunners manager Arsene Wenger in their previous 10 meetings, Mourinho will be confident of maintaining his hold over the Frenchman, while temporarily extending the Blues’ lead at the top with victory.
One note of caution, however, for the home side is that the North Londoners have won at Stamford Bridge on seven previous occasions, more than any other team in Premier League history.
Premier League: Cardiff City V Liverpool
Where: Cardiff City Stadium
When: Saturday, March 23, 3 p.m.
This is a fixture of massive importance at both ends of the Premier League table as second from bottom play host to second from top on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides could not be entering this clash, however, in much more contrasting form, with the Bluebirds having won just two league matches since the turn of the year, while their opponents in South Wales this weekend are unbeaten in the top flight in 2014.
However, the one ray of hope as far as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Co are concerned is that those two Premier League wins this year have both been at home since the start of February, against Norwich City and Fulham, while Cardiff are also unbeaten in their last five contests against the Reds in the Principality.
At the same time though, the home defence know they face a tough task trying to keep quiet the visitors’ in-form striker Luis Suarez, who on Sunday became just the second Liverpool player after Robbie Fowler to score 25 league goals in a season with his strike against Manchester United.
La Liga: Real Madrid V FC Barcelona
Where: Santiago Bernabeu
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m.
Every Gran Clasico always seems to be bigger than the last, however, Sunday’s league meeting between Real Madrid and Barcelona really is a match-up of monumental significance to both outfits, although perhaps more so for the Catalans.
That is because the visitors arrive in the Spanish capital having somehow seen their previously sizeable lead at the top of the table whittled down by Los Blancos since the sides last met in La Liga at Camp Nou back in October, when Barca enjoyed a 2-1 win.
However, since that setback in Catalonia, Carlo Ancelotti’s men have been unbeaten in the league to now open up a significant four-point lead at the top over the third-in-the-table champions, with just 10 matches left in the season.
As a result, a win for the home team this weekend will surely put an end to Gerard Martino and Co’s hopes of retaining their title come May, and with an in-form forward line boasting the devastating attacking threat of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema it is hard to see anything other than victory for Madrid.
La Liga: Real Betis V Atletico De Madrid
Where: Estadio Benito Villamarin
When: Sunday, March 24, 4 p.m.
On paper, this should be a comfortable three points for Diego Simeone’s title-chasing outfit against La Liga’s bottom side. However, as we all know, football is played on grass and not paper and the strugglers from southern Spain have managed to string together some impressive results of late.
In fact, since losing 4-2 at Celta de Vigo on Jan 24, Gabriel Calderon’s side have lost just three times in 10 matches in all competitions, while they are also unbeaten in their last five contests going into their weekend showdown with second-placed Atleti.
The visitors themselves endured their own poor run of form for the first time in this campaign when losing three games on the bounce in league and cup last month, although two of those were against Real Madrid.
But since the last of those reverses, Atletico have not lost in seven in either the league or the UEFA Champions League, and they know that with Madrid hosting third-in-the-table Barcelona later on Sunday night, a win at Betis would move them level on points with their city rivals, if only for a few hours.
Serie A: Catania V Juventus
Where: Stadio Angelo Massimino
When: Sunday, March 24, 7:45 p.m.
The Old Lady of Italian Football are seemingly strolling their way towards a third successive Serie A title this season under inspirational head coach Antonio Conte, and it would take a brave man to bet against the champions taking all three points again at bottom-of-the-table Catania this weekend.
Juve have lost on just the one occasion in the league so far in this campaign, but not since their return to action at the start of January after the mid-winter break. While they do face a draining trip to face arch-rivals Fiorentina in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 clash on Thursday night, this is a team with oodles of energy and drive.
Despite Rolando Maran’s men being hard to beat at times at home this season, you do feel that as at Genoa last Sunday night, all it will take is one moment of class to separate these two sides and move the visitors one step closer to retaining the championship.
Serie A: Napoli V Fiorentina
Where: Stadio San Paolo
When: Sunday, March 24, 5:30 p.m.
If Vincenzo Montella’s side have any hope whatsoever of catching third-placed Napoli, then they must leave the Stadio San Paolo with a win this weekend. This will be no easy task against hosts who have not lost at home in any competition since November.
Meanwhile, both outfits also face crucial second-leg ties at home in their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 ties on Thursday night which may affect how they enter this particular contest, although there is also plenty riding on the result for Rafael Benitez’s team in Naples.
The southern Italians themselves are just three points behind second-in-the-table Roma in Serie A, albeit having played a game more than their rivals, meaning that as we enter the closing stretch of the season, these two giants still have much to play for between now and May.