There have been a host of burgeoning sides in European soccer this season and a lot will face difficult litmus tests this weekend.
In Spain, England and Italy, various emerging outfits have come to the fore in the second half of the campaign and they each tackle a clash at the home of their respective division’s league leaders. In addition, there’s a hugely important encounter to savor in the second tier of English soccer and what’ll surely be an intriguing FA Cup semi-final.
If none of those clashes are enough to sate your soccer appetite, there are a couple of honorable mentions too.
All kickoff times are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy your football!
Arsenal vs. Reading, Saturday April 18, 12:20PM, FOX network and FOX Sports Go
The first FA Cup semi-final of the weekend will see an in-form Arsenal looking to progress to their second successive Wembley final. But Reading have sprung plenty of shocks on their way to the last four and will relish their mantle as underdogs.
PSV Eindhoven vs. SC Heerenveen, Saturday April 18, 1:45PM, NGSN (free 90 day trial)
This enthralling young PSV team can seal the Eredivisie title this weekend with a win over Heerenveen. As such, the Philips Stadion will be a cauldron of noise and a colorful backdrop to the action’ but don’t expect a walkover, with the visitors chasing European qualification themselves.
Norwich City vs. Middlesbrough
Friday, April 17, 2:45PM, beIN SPORTS Connect
The summit of English football’s second tier has been one of the most closely fought in European football so far this season and as we move into the final weeks of the campaign, Norwich City and Middlesbrough will both still fancy their chances of securing a Premier League place.
Under Aitor Karanka, Boro have been the most cohesive team in the division. The Spaniard ensures that his side are phenomenally difficult to break down and as such, they will feel they have a fine chance of securing promotion in the final weeks of the season. Indeed, they are currently just two points behind long-time leaders Bournemouth.
But sandwiched between the aforementioned sides are Norwich, who have enjoyed a remarkable renaissance under the tutelage of Alex Neil. They’ve won five in a row coming into this one and with the former Hamilton boss at the helm, the Canaries have struck an excellent balance between purpose and panache.
Remarkably, Boro are in fourth place at the moment behind the Carrow Road club and Watford, who occupy third spot. If the team from the North-East are to preserve hopes of automatic promotion, they can’t afford to get beat here, but that’s a difficult ask against this vibrant Canaries team.
Barcelona vs. Valencia
Saturday, April 18, 10:00AM, beIN SPORTS, beIN SPORTS Espańol and fuboTV
Despite surrendering a two-goal lead to Sevilla in their previous encounter, Barcelona still have a two-point lead at the top of La Liga. But the Blaugrana face a huge test of their title credentials as they get set to welcome Nuno Santo’s enthralling Valencia team to the Camp Nou.
Los Che have been wonderful to watch this season and will head to Barcelona on the back of a 10-game unbeaten run. Under Santo, Valencia are brilliant to watch, mixing intensity and ingenuity superbly. They also boast a clutch of quality individuals, including rumbustious defender Nicolas Otamendi, intricate midfielder Andre Gomes and forensic finisher Paco Alcacer.
Barca could potentially be there to be gotten at in this one too. After a draining encounter with Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, it’ll be intriguing to see whether or not Luis Enrique does tinker with the personnel in his team. Nonetheless, provided the magnificent attacking triumvirate of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi are in situ, they’ll have a fine chance.
This is a massively important game for both sides. Barcelona need to stave off Real Madrid’s recent upturn in form with a win, while Valencia—despite being on an excellent run—have surrendered some ground to Sevilla in the race for Champions League football. A win for Los Che would potentially bust the title race wide open.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Saturday, April 18, 12:30PM, NBC network and NBC Sports Live Extra
The renaissance undertaken by Manchester United as of late will be given the most thorough examination possible this weekend, as they go to Stamford Bridge looking to end Chelsea’s unbeaten Premier League home record.
Louis van Gaal’s side have been superb in recent weeks, swatting away Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City with tremendous performances. The most recent—a 4-2 win over their city rivals—was arguably the most impressive of the lot, as the Red Devils were fabulous in all facets of their play.
Even if they win at the Bridge, it’s probably too late for the Old Trafford outfit to overhaul Chelsea at the top of the pile. The Blues have built up a substantial lead over the chasing pack and while they aren’t quite galloping to the finishing line, there’s an underpinning steeliness about Jose Mourinho’s men that makes them lifting the title a mere inevitability.
For United this is a chance to lay down a big marker with a potential title charge in mind next season. Mourinho will surely have a plan to try and deal with this replenished Red Devils outfit though and as such, we should be in for an intriguing tactical tussle between two of the Premier League’s longstanding juggernauts.
Juventus vs. Lazio
Saturday, April 18, 2:45PM, beIN SPORTS Connect
Although Juventus look poised to sample Scudetto success for the the fourth successive year, when they face Lazio on home soil this weekend, we should be set for an enthralling game between the top two sides in the country.
The Bianconeri have been formidable once again in Serie A this season. Massimiliano Allegri has ensured that there has been a seamless transition from the reign of Antonio Conte to his own in Turin and a 12-point lead speaks for itself. The team in closest proximity to Juventus is something of a surprise though.
Lazio have enjoyed a simply astonishing second half of the season. Stefano Pioli’s team have been playing a daring brand of football, spearheading by the phenomenal attacking contributions of Brazilian winger Felipe Anderson. Having won eight games on the spin coming into this clash with Juventus, they’ll be confident of continuing their run and securing second spot.
Indeed, Roma—the side that looked set to challenge Juve in the early part of the season—have now been overhauled by their local rivals. As such the Biancocelesti will be desperate to cling on to their spot behind Juve and although the champions have yet to lose a game at home all season in Serie A, it’s not a feat you would put past this incomparably confident Lazio outfit.
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Sunday, April 19, 10:00AM, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports Go
A spot in the final of the world’s most prestigious cup competition beckons for these two historic clubs, as Aston Villa and Liverpool get set to square off under the Wembley arch in the second of two FA Cup semi-finals.
After a sensational beginning to 2015, the Reds have slowed down in recent weeks. Losses to Manchester United and Arsenal have sapped some momentum from their campaign and with Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely, an FA Cup victory can save Liverpool’s season.
But there is some impetus behind their Wembley opponents. Aston Villa have turned a corner under Tim Sherwood and after beating Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane last weekend, they proved they have the quality to nick a result here. In Christian Benteke, they have a striker who is in prolific goalscoring form too.
These two have shared a win each against each other in the Premier League this season, but there has been massive changes in the set-up of both sides. The onus will be on Liverpool to go out and win the game, but Villa are extremely dangerous on the counter-attack and in Benteke, have a player that can rough up the Reds’ flimsy back-line.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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