Some days are just made for soccer, aren’t they? This Sunday is one.
There’s a cup final, a big rivalry on the field and a feud poised to be ignited off it too in this week’s selections. Additionally, there are battles between big names in Germany and Italy, as the race to secure UEFA Champions League football for next season hots up.
All kick-offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games.
How long have we all been looking forward to this one then? Manchester United vs. Chelsea. At Old Trafford. With Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte on the sidelines.
The two men were embroiled in a bitter war of words this season, with Conte calling Mourinho a “little man” after the United boss brought up match-fixing charges that were previously levelled against the Chelsea boss. You sense there will be tension in the air when they stand aside one another on Sunday.
On the pitch it’s important too. After losing to Newcastle United the Red Devils are just two points ahead of Liverpool in second and four points clear of Spurs in fifth. Settled in in fourth, three points behind United, are Chelsea.
While this game will be given the big buildup and the comments from the coaches will be analysed in forensic detail, we’re unlikely to get an entertaining tussle to match, as you can envisage both managers being cautious here. Still, there are so many factors that make this an unmissable encounter.
The battle to finish in second in Germany this season is looking like it may a be a five-team tussle. Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke are among that pack.
While the runners-up berth would be brilliant for either of these sides, there’s also the matter of Champions League football to consider for next season, with the top four qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition. Leverkusen currently sit in the last of those spots, with Schalke, in sixth, just a point behind them.
There have been times this season when both of these teams have made their case for being the second best side in Germany, although lately they have struggled for consistency. However, they each have attacking players adept at altering the course of a contest and the contrasting styles of the two teams should marry well here.
Leverkusen will seek to push forward and unpick their opponents, while Schalke have shown throughout this season they can be dangerous when given the opportunity to counter. Both teams will be desperate to avoid defeat and ensure they don’t fall out of touch with a top-heavy German top flight.
MANCHESTER CITY VS. ARSENAL
Sunday, February 25, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and Sling Orange
For all the talk about Arsenal’s underachievement this season, manager Arsene Wenger has got the team within touching distance of yet another trophy. Manchester City represent a massive obstacle in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, though.
The Gunners’ season appears as though it’ll be defined by cup matches, as they’re a long way off the pace in the race for a top-four finish. This final and a potential run in the Europa League may be just enough to salvage the campaign, but they are the underdogs against Pep Guardiola’s sky blue juggernaut.
City did take a knock ahead of this game, as they were shocked by Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup in midweek. Those heading from Manchester to Wembley on Sunday will hope any complacency that may have been festering in the squad after a stunning season has been knocked out of them following that defeat.
Guardiola’s men are almost certain to win the Premier League title, although the coach will be desperate to get his first piece of silverware secured as City coach. With the Champions League to play for, that injection of confidence could be crucial to the team challenging for three prizes this season.
Although the top two in Italy have disappeared from the rest of the pack, there’s an intriguing battle for third position developing. Roma and AC Milan are in it and in form.
Roma endured a disappointing spell early in the new year and any hopes of a league title challenge were shelved as a result. Eusebio Di Francesco has gathered his side again recently and after three wins in a row in the league, are now ahead of rivals Lazio and Inter Milan in third.
At this stage in the campaign few would’ve anticipated AC Milan being in this fight and fewer expected Gennaro Gattuso to be a successful coach. The Rossonerri have rallied under his guidance and now, outside of the top two, are performing as well as anyone in the Italian top flight.
Going to Roma will be the stiffest test of their revival so far and a win would put them within six points of the capital club. Meanwhile, the Giallorossi will know they can end effectively end Milan’s push for a Champions League spot if they can vanquish them at the Stadio Olimpico.
In terms of the Ligue 1 title, the result of Paris Saint-Germain’s scrap with Marseille on Sunday is likely to be insignifIcant. But the Classique tends to live up to its name.
It’s a bigger game for Marseille in the context of the season, as they face serious competition for a second place finish this term. Monaco are a point clear of Marseille as things stand, though the latter won’t want to see the gap get any bigger, especially given their involvement in the Europa League.
This Marseille side are blessed with the talent to cause problems for PSG too. Florian Thauvin, Dimitri Payet and Morgan Sanson have all thrilled at times this term with their attacking flair; Rudi Garcia has added some robustness to their play to, with no defeat in their last 12 matches in all competitions.
But PSG are a force to be reckoned with at home and have made the visits of capable opponents frequently look like routine outings. If Marseille take anything back to the south after this one, it’ll represent an exceptional result.