In many respects, scrapping down at the bottom of the league is what the game is all about.
Only one team can win the title. Only three or four can make it into the Champions League. The rest? Well, it’s a constant look over your shoulder, just hoping to get to a points total that will keep you safe, and building from there.
So this week, whilst we’ve got some massive, unmissable games involving a host of Europe’s biggest sides, we’ve thrown in a couple of games to savour where teams are battling for their lives down the bottom.
At the top end of the footballing spectrum, there’s vital championship-defining clashes in England and Spain, whilst later on in the week there’s one of the game’s biggest derby matches.
But nearer the bottom, we’ve got a game in England that sees two teams desperate to pull away from the relegation zone. In Germany too, two big names meet that have fallen on hard times this season, both desperately need a win to steer clear of the Bundesliga trap draw.
All kick off times are Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Saturday, March 22, 8:45AM, NBCSN
The race for the Premier League title is a genuine four horse race, but after Saturday’s early kick-off, it could be quickly whittled down to three.
A defeat for Arsenal at Stamford Bridge could put an end to their title ambitions as the end of the season closes in. They currently sit four points behind Chelsea—admittedly with a game in hand—but with some tough fixtures to come in the form of Manchester City and Everton, they could drop further points in the coming weeks. If they win, though, Arsenal will find themselves right in the mix.
It’s the type of game that Arsene Wenger’s side have lost in years gone by, but winning at the home of the league leaders and ending Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten domestic run would send out a real message that they can win this championship. They showcased spades of grit, resilience and raw fight at White Hart Lane last time out, and they’ll need to do the same again here.
After the shambles that was their 1-0 defeat at Villa Park, Chelsea must respond in this fixture. They were barely tested against an atrocious Galatasaray in midweek, so should be fresh heading into this massive contest. They’ll be without Brazilian midfielders Willian and Ramires agains the Gunners, but they have a plethora of options in those areas that can slot straight into the side.
It’s getting to the stage in the Premier League where any dropped points are going to be exceptionally costly. Who’ll take them away here?
VfB Stuttgart vs. Hamburger SV
Saturday, March 22, 10:30AM, MyGermanTV (on DISH Network)
Those who aren’t regular followers of the Bundesliga might see these rather illustrious names and expect a clash near the top of the table. Both teams have represented Germany in European competition in recent years, but they’ve fallen on especially hard times as of late.
Stuttgart and Hamburg sit 17th and 14th respectively in the Bundesliga. Stuttgart currently occupy one of the relegation playoff spots and have won just five games of their 25 matches all season. It means that they will be desperate for a win here, and that would see them leapfrog their opponents who sit just two points ahead.
After looking all but doomed at one point this season, Hamburg have managed to pull themselves away from the relegation zone with a few decent results. When this team gets it together they are capable of putting in some very decent performance, illustrated best perhaps by their recent 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund. But they’ve struggled to capture any kind of rhythm or cohesiveness throughout the duration of the campaign.
Being the home side, the onus will be on Stuttgart to go out and win this one. But in their last ten Bundesliga games they’ve lost eight and drawn two! One thing is for sure, whichever of these two household names loses this one will be in deep, deep trouble as the Bundesliga comes to the boil.
Norwich City vs. Sunderland
Saturday. March 22, 11:00AM, NBC’s Premier League Extra Time
After fulfilling their commitments in the two domestic cup competitions, Sunderland are playing catch-up in the Premier League. The Black Cats have slipped into the bottom three as a result, but they have three games in hand on the two teams below them and two games in hand on the two teams above them.
Next up the table is Norwich City, another team who are firmly embroiled in this extremely tight relegation scrap. Chris Houghton’s team are in dire need of points, but having failed to win in their last three outings and conceding nine goals in the process, the Canaries are in rank form.
But they have points on the board and have two teams between them and the bottom three. The pressure is definitely on Gus Poyet’s side and whilst it’s all well and good having games in hand, it’s imperative that they make them count.
One thing the Canaries can take comfort in is their home record. They’ve not been beaten at Carrow Road this calendar year and have only conceded one goal. But with the stakes high in this relegation scrap, who’ll step up and snaffle a vital three points?
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
The Santiago Bernabeu stadium will play host to the biggest contest in Spanish football as Real and Barca look horns. And there’s much more than pride at stake in this one, with Barcelona in desperate need of a victory to haul themselves back into the title race.
But that’s easier said than done, with Los Blancos looking imperious under Carlo Ancelotti. Since the turn of the year this Madrid side have fallen into an excellent winning groove, with the Italian boss fashioning a system to include Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso. In the season’s earlier meeting with Barca, Ancelotti tinkered with his system and Madrid failed to get out of first gear. But in front of the Madridistas, they’ll be expected to go for the jugular and dump Barcelona out of the title race.
But La Blaugrana will have other ideas. They whacked Osasuna 7-0 last weekend with Lionel Messi scoring a treble, and the diminutive Argentine looks to getting back to his best on the brink of the season defining clash with Madrid. Tata Martino’s side currently trail the league leaders by four points and Atletico Madrid by a point.
With nine games left after this weekend, it would be very difficult for Barca to re-establish themselves in the title race if they were to lose to Real Madrid, surrender a seven point deficit and an find themselves with an inferior head-to-head record. A win for Real would put them well on their way to yet another league title and one step closer to a much coveted trebl of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League crowns.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, this Sunday’s el Clasico is being shown exclusively on beIN SPORT, beIN SPORT Espanol and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to beIN SPORT, you can access those channels via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Read our review of DishWorld. And sign up for DishWorld via their website.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City
Tuesday, March 25, 3:45PM, NBCSN
For a few recent years the Manchester derby became a clash between the two best teams in England. United’s dominance challenged by City’s riches, with each team galvanising the other with superb attacking performances.
Unfortunately, United aren’t challenging at the very top this season, but this is still a massive occasion in the city of Manchester. This year, especially for Manchester City.
The team from the blue half of Manchester know that if they win all of their games in hand on the other teams at the top that they’ll have at least a three point buffer at the top of the Premier League. And they’ll be confident going to Old Trafford after winning there for the last two consecutive seasons.
But will they run into an inspired United team after their 3-0 win over Olympiakos? It’s certainly a result that could have injected some purpose into the Red Devils’ toiling campaign, and rocking the title ambitions of their local rivals would no doubt bring some joy to those of a red persuasion in Manchester.
What games will you be watching this weekend? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball