Following on from winter breaks, domestic cup competitions and even Club World Cups, a sense of normality returns to European soccer again this weekend.
The Bundesliga is back after their hiatus, with two eye-catching contests on the schedule. Elsewhere, in the Premier League the runaway leaders face what promises to be their most difficult challenge of the campaign, while another tussle will have big connotations at both ends of the table.
Elsewhere, in Spain the struggling champions will be desperate to get back to winning ways after a disappointing term.
All kick offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Although Bayern Munich are once again disappearing over the horizon in the Bundesliga, the race for second spot should be fascinating. It’s a race Bayer Leverkusen find themselves in.
Heiko Herrlich’s side have been excellent this term and currently find themselves in fourth place in the table after a 12-game unbeaten run. They’re just two points back on Schalke in second spot, but they’re also one of four teams on 28 points that’ll all fancy their chances of securing a Champions League berth.
They’ve been playing some brilliant football too. In the final third Herrlich has stumbled on a formula that is seeing attacking stars like Julian Brandt, Karim Bellarabi and Leon Bailey blossom. The latter of that trio, in particular, has been sensational this campaign.
Bayern will provide a test of their mettle on Friday, as Jupp Heynckes’ side, 11 points clear at the top, tend to relish these types of occasions. The BayArena will be bouncing for the visit of the champions and an absorbing 90 minutes is in store.
With Barcelona 16 points ahead of them, the La Liga title appears to be out of reach for Real Madrid. Against Villarreal, they’ll be seeking to preserve their place in the division’s top four.
Los Blancos slipped up again in their first match of the new year, as Celta Vigo earned a 2-2 draw at Balaidos. In the end, Zinedine Zidane’s side were fortunate to pick up a point, as the home side dominated much of the second period and Madrid struggled to get their best players into the action.
One positive from that fixture was the display of Gareth Bale. The Welshman has endured another frustrating season punctured by injury issues, although he served a reminder of what he can do on Sunday with an excellent brace. He’s someone capable of pulling Madrid out of this lull.
Villarreal are never an easy proposition and the Santiago Bernabeu has been a hotbed of anxiety this season. If they were able to beat the Spanish champions at their home, then Villarreal would move to within one point of them.
With the title race sewn up for Bayern, the battle for second spot will capture attentions for the remainder of the season. Leipzig and Schalke are currently two of the best candidates to finish as runners-up.
It was a spot occupied by Leipzig last term and after a testing start to the season, they’ve been able to recover to get within two points of Schalke. However, some of the stars of 2017-18—Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg in particular—have failed to hit the heights they did last year. It’s imperative they improve.
Schalke are currently the best of the rest, as they’ve nudged ahead of a mass of sides in the top half of the Bundesliga table. They’re currently on an 11-game unbeaten run, with manager Domenico Tedesco injecting an identity and purpose into this side.
Both sides have struggled to convert draws into wins lately and doing so will be crucial in 2018 if they’re the remain in touch with Bayern. This encounter feels like it could set up either side for an exciting finish to the campaign.
This meeting on the south coast has major connotations at both ends of the table, as Arsenal look to keep their hopes of a top-four finish alive and Bournemouth try to pull clear of the relegation fight.
Arsenal have had another peculiar week. Their appalling collapse at Nottingham Forest plunged the club into crisis mode, although against Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final they showcased plenty of cohesion to emerge with a 0-0 draw. It’s tough to know what to expect from them here as a result.
In the Premier League there’s a danger of Arsenal losing touch with the top four, as they’re currently five points behind Liverpool, who occupy fourth spot. It means they can’t afford to slip up against a Bournemouth side that can’t quite get themselves out of trouble.
Eddie Howe’s team sit in 16th, just a point above the drop zone, and are struggling to grasp any sort of impetus this season. They’ll feel as though they can get at the Gunners here, although busting the match open will suit the skilled attacking players the visitors have on their books.
If Manchester City are to suffer defeat in this Premier League season, then this showdown with Liverpool feels like the most likely stumbling block.
Liverpool, after all, have found a groove as of late under Jurgen Klopp, showing that they can battle to victories as well as take teams apart. City have an appalling record at Anfield too, having failed to win at the Merseyside venue in their last 15 attempts. The Reds will know that and will sense blood as such.
This is a very different City side, though. Like Liverpool, they’ve showed that they can battle with the best of them, grinding out some results when the situation demands. But when Pep Guardiola’s side are on song, they’re as good as any team in European football; their record of 20 wins, two draws and no defeats in the Premier League so far illustrates that.
Neither side will be ready to take a backwards step here and given the attacking class that’ll be on the pitch, the goals should flow at Anfield. It’s a match that may mean little in terms of the title race, but it should be a bewitching 90 minutes.