Qualification for the Champions League has become so vital for the biggest clubs in Europe. The glitz and glamor of the continent’s premier club competition is envied by supporters around the world, but it is the prestige and the financial windfall that’s become so important in the fast-moving, modern game.
For teams that are regulars in the competition, dropping out can be a disaster. For those qualifying achieving qualification for the first time in years, it can act as a springboard on to bigger and better things.
So even though the focus at this late stage in the European season is typically on the battles at the very top and the very bottom, there are plenty of other things to be settled across the continent, especially when it comes to qualification for this wonderful competition.
This weekend, the Champions League fate of a host of teams could be decided. Fifth takes on fourth in the Premier League on Sunday, one of the form teams in Germany looks to cement their Champions League credentials and in Spain, the fifth placed side welcomes one of the three title challengers.
Elsewhere, there’s a real litmus test for the Premier League leaders and a city derby of epic proportions.
All kick off times are Eastern Time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Real Sociedad vs. Real Madrid
Will Real Madrid’s title challenge be extinguished at the Anoeta on Saturday? A tough game certainly lies in wait, as Real Sociedad have their eyes set on Champions League qualification for the second consecutive campaign.
The Erreala know that keeping pace with Athletic Bilbao is so, so important for them. They have some fine young players at the club, but if they are playing second tier European football next season, then the big boys will be honing in on some of that stellar talent. Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann in particular have enjoyed excellent seasons and both will be in high demand this summer.
As for Madrid, this game is a tricky one for Carlo Ancelotti. The play Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Tuesday evening, and the pursuit of the decima looks to have taken priority over a faltering title campaign. So despite their handsome win in the first leg, Ancelotti may just alter the team selection a little against Sociedad.
It’ll be a dangerous tactic, especially when you consider some of the performances Sociedad have put in at home this campaign. They saw off Barcelona 3-1 back in February, and have only tasted defeat twice all season in front of their own supporters. Trailing Athletic by six points, Sociedad simply must win if they are to challenge the Champions League chasers in the final weeks of the campaign.