It’s hard to believe just how quickly this season has gone. It only seems a matter of days ago that we were preparing for the opening weekend of the campaign, and here we stand more than two thirds of the way through. In the Premier League, there are just 11 games to go and we’re on the brink of seeing this season’s first piece of silverware awarded!
Naturally, games take on added significance at this juncture. And with the resumption of European competition in the past couple of weeks, we often get performances at both ends of the spectrum and some freakish results to boot. Hopefully they’ll take place in our five selections, which include the League Cup final and a game of current or historical from Europe’s four best leagues.
All kick off times are Eastern Time. Enjoy the weekend and enjoy the games!
Southampton vs. Liverpool
Saturday, March 1, 12:30PM, NBCSN and mun2
Having moved to within four points of the top of the Premier League in recent weeks, many have singled out this particular clash as a litmus test for Liverpool’s title ambitions.
That’s because a trip to St Mary’s is a great test for any side. Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton team have played with aggression, dynamism and flair this season, and they will certainly make things difficult for Brendan Rodgers and his players. But they’ve been wholly inconsistent as of late, following up excellent performances like their 3-0 win at Fulham with extremely poor efforts such as their 3-1 defeat to West Ham.
With Saints currently loitering in midtable and all but nothing to play for, Rodgers will be hoping that Pochettino’s side take their foot off the gas a little. But in truth, if Liverpool play to their potential then they should be confident of taking the points back to Merseyside anyway. They’ve been in sensational goalscoring form as of late and there are no signs of this stopping as we head into this weekend’s clash.
It’s worth noting that Southampton are the only team to have beaten Liverpool at Anfield this season, when Dejan Lovren scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Saints. Granted, Liverpool have come a long way since then, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can cope with Southampton’s patented pressing this time round.
Bayern Munich vs. FC Schalke 04
Saturday, March 1, 12:30PM, GolTV
Whilst Bayern are storming clear at the top of the Bundesliga, the race for the remaining three Champions League spots is really beginning to heat up. There are four teams battling it out for those places and it’s a scrap that Schalke find themselves very much involved in.
They travel to the Bundesliga leaders on the back of a humiliating 6-1 defeat at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League, and you can bet their supporters will be looking for an immediate response. And they should take some comfort to the Allianz Arena having won five and drawn two of their last seven domestic games.
But Bayern look unstoppable at the moment and they have won all of the previous six meetings between the two sides. They’ve been able to rest and recuperate this week, and with no European commitments until a couple of weeks time, they’ll be at full strength here.
Can they take advantage of Schalke’s defensive woes in a manner comparable to Real Madrid’s blistering showing? Or will we see a response from Schalke in the pursuit of a UEFA Champions League spot?
Sunderland vs Manchester City (League Cup Final)
After their heroics at Old Trafford in the semifinal, Sunderland take on another Manchester outfit in the League Cup final at Wembley. City are the overwhelming favourites to triumph here, but Sunderland’s domestic record against their opponents will be cause for concern for those of a sky blue persuasion.
The game gives Manuel Pellegrini the chance to pick up his first piece of silverware as Manchester City boss and victory here could give his side added impetus as they continue to challenge on four fronts. They’ve struggled for rhythm in recent weeks but some early-season silverware could act as a catalyst to them rediscovering their sparkling best form.
But they’ll be going up against a team who have saved their own best form for the cup competitions this season. Under Gus Poyet, Sunderland find themselves in this Sunday’s final as well as the FA Cup quarterfinal. Focusing on the League Cup, they’ve already knocked out Manchester United and Chelsea in this year’s competition, so why not City?
Especially when you consider Sunderland’s superb record against City in the Premier League, in which they’ve won the last three meetings at the Stadium of Light and lost just one of their last five games home or away. Can they upset the odds against City again? Or will Pellegrini’s men just be too strong?
Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid
Things are getting a little tight atop of La Liga, and after Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have led the way for large parts of this campaign, it’s Real Madrid who now sit three points clear at the top of the league after some shock results last weekend.
This game at their city rivals holds enormous significance for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, and you suspect a win at the Vicente Calderon would all but end Atletico’s surprise title tilt.
Real look in peak condition heading into this one after the 6-1 demolition of Schalke in the Champions League. Ancelotti’s fashioned a system to include a wealth of Madrid’s stunning attacking talent and they’ve been imperious since its implementation. Gareth Bale is beginning to click into gear after a stuttering start to his Real Madrid career he and Cristiano Ronaldo give Los Blancos the two most dynamic attacking threats on the planet.
But it would be foolish to discount Atletico. Many have done so throughout the course of this campaign and in the main, they’ve proved the doubters wrong. They’ve already beaten Real Madrid in the league this campaign and a win for Diego Simeone’s men would put them back level with the league leaders.
Expect a raucous atmosphere and a cracking game to boot at the Vicente Calderon.
AC Milan vs. Juventus
This fixture is typically one of the most hotly anticipated on the Italian football calendar, and whilst Milan may be loitering down in the lower reaches of Serie A, it still maintains a certain sense of grandeur.
The San Siro will play host to this one, as Clarence Seedorf faces his first “big” home game as AC Milan boss in Serie A. Since his appointment, the mood about AC Milan has become much more positive. As for the results? They’ve gone from downright awful to pretty inconsistent, with Milan having won two, drawn one and lost two of their last five games.
“Awful” and “inconsistent” are not words you could use to describe their opponents, though. Antonio Conte’s side are a runaway train atop of Serie A and will be coming into this one fresh off the back of a win in the Turin derby last weekend and a midweek victory in the Europa League.
Juve will be without their talismanic midfielder Arturo Vidal for this one, but in Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, they have a wealth of midfield riches to call upon.
Whilst the result of this one looks unlikely to have little bearing on the respective finishing position of either side, the Milan fans should create a marvellous atmosphere. If their team can respond accordingly, we’ll be set for a cracking contest.
What games will you be watching this weekend? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball