The destination of the first piece of domestic silverware in English soccer will be decided this weekend with the League Cup final set to be played at Wembley on Sunday. That clash between two local rivals is just one of a surfeit of cracking games to savor this weekend.
In Italy, the top two sides go head-to-head, while in Spain the league leaders face a tricky task on home soil. Elsewhere, the standout tie in the Premier League is a repeat of one of the games of the season from the previous campaign and in Germany two of the division’s fiercest rivals get set to do battle.
All kickoff times are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke
The recent renaissance from Borussia Dortmund was brought to an abrupt end in midweek when they lost out to Juventus in the Champions League. But signs have been encouraging recently for Jurgen Klopp’s men and they’ll be hoping to continue their recent upturn in form when they tackle local rivals Schalke in the Revierderby.
After a campaign during which relegation was considered to be a real possibility for this Dortmund team, they’ve really turned things around as of late in the Bundesliga. Three successive wins have pushed BVB clear of the bottom two spots in the division and while it may be somewhat premature, there are many tipping them to make a late run for the European places.
Schalke are one of the teams currently occupying those Champions League berths however and they will be the best side BVB have faced for a while in domestic action. Roberto di Matteo’s men will be well aware they need a victory here too, with Augsburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim all within striking distance behind them in fourth place.
The atmosphere in the stands for these matches are often something to behold. The Westfalenstadion typically rocks for and run of the mill encounter, but when it’s the Ruhr derby there are few venues in European football that can replicate the thunderous din conjured by the yellow wall.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Sunday, March 1, 7:00AM, NBCSN & NBC Sports Live Extra
Manchester City will be looking flex their title muscles this weekend when they travel to Anfield to take on an in-form Liverpool team. Last season this fixture was one of the most enthralling matches of the season and expect a similarly engrossing encounter given the form of both sides on the cusp of this one.
Liverpool come into this enticing game with little pressure on. Their win at Southampton thrust the Reds back into the picture for the top four spaces and since the turn of the year they’ve played with an underpinning fortitude scarcely seen under Brendan Rodgers. They’ll feel as though they have the requisite attacking talent to cause a ropey City back-line problems too.
For the reigning champions, this could well be make or break for their entire season. A loss to Barcelona at home in midweek in the Champions League gives them a mountain to climb in that particular competition and another defeat on Merseyside this weekend would surely surrender an unretrievable initiative to Chelsea in the title race.
But the incentive is definitely there for Manuel Pellegrini’s team. A win at Anfield would push them to within two points of the league leaders and a look at their recent domestic form—City have scored nine in their last two Premier League games—suggests they are capable of getting the job done. Here’s hoping it’s half as good as last season’s encounter.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham (Capital One Cup Final)
The Capital One Cup final is a wonderful opportunity to bag some early silverware and represents a major incentive for both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at they get set for what should be a fantastic tussle at Wembley.
Controversy has engulfed this Chelsea team in the build-up to the competition. Jose Mourinho’s impromptu appearance on Goals on Sunday has been the hot topic of discussion in England this week, as has the subsequent reduction in ban for midfielder Nemanja Matic after his red card against Burnley. But the Blues will have to do without the Serbian at Wembley in what will be a really difficult test.
When the two recently met in the Premier League, Spurs embarrassed Chelsea 5-3 at White Hart Lane. Mourinho’s men were unable to cope with the energy showcased by Mauricio Pochettino’s team that night and having drawn their last two matches—including a 1-1 draw at home to Burnley—it’d be fair to say Chelsea aren’t in their best run of form coming into this one.
Tottenham have a tough Europa League tie away in Florence to negotiate just three days before this final and subsequently, it’ll be interesting to see if they can preserve similar levels of intensity to that cornerstone 5-3 win. If they do, the likes of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen have the class to cause this Chelsea team major problems.
Real Madrid vs. Villarreal
After Barcelona’s shock loss at home to Malaga last weekend in La Liga, Real Madrid extended their lead at the top of the table to four points. But they’ll face a stern test of their credentials this weekend as they go up against an effervescent Villarreal team.
Carlo Ancelotti will be delighted with his team’s standing in the division after a slow start to the new year. The humbling 4-0 loss against Atletico Madrid aside, Los Blancos have been forced to grind out results so far in 2015, unable to reach the astounding levels that saw them scythe through teams with a swagger not too long ago.
Against Elche they were frustrated for long periods, but eventually goals from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo hauled them over the line. The latter of that duo has been off color as of late compared to his own immaculate standards, but two goals in two matches suggest the Portuguese is beginning to settle back into a devastating groove.
Villarreal’s hunt for a top four spot has hit the mockers a little as of late, but a strong performance at the Santiago Bernabeu would breath some fresh impetus into their charge. Marcelino’s side will definitely look to attack their more illustrious opponents too and that should make for a gripping 90 minutes of action.
Roma vs. Juventus
If Roma are going to preserve any lingering hopes of mounting a run for the Scudetto this season, this match against league leaders Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico is simply must win for Rudi Garcia and his side.
For large portions of the campaign the Giallorossi seemed ready to mount a serious challenge for the title, but as of late their star has faded significantly in Serie A. They’ve drawn six of their last seven matches in the Italian top flight and a lack of incision in dangerous areas has allowed the Bianconeri to establish a sizeable lead at the top of the table.
Coming into this match, the gap stands at nine points and Massimiliano Allegri’s side will know if they come away from the Stadio Olimipico with a positive result then the title race is over. Juventus have been churning out results while Roma have toiled and while their home form is often lauded, the Bianconeri has only been beaten once on the road all season.
When the two sides met earlier on in the campaign it was a five-goal thriller, with Juventus taking all three points thanks to some controversial refereeing decisions. With Roma knowing a win is imperative, expect them to come out and attack the reigning champions in front of a raucous Stadio Olimpico crowd.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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