The first major piece of silverware in the English soccer season will be distributed this weekend in the League Cup final, as two of the Premier League’s most entertaining outfits square off in what should be a fascinating tussle at Wembley Stadium.
That game is one of a selection of intriguing fixtures set to be staged on Saturday and Sunday. In Spain there is a local derby which is likely to eliminate one—or potentially two sides—from the title race, while in Germany the league leaders face a significant test.
To round things off, one of Italian football’s biggest grudge matches, and a critical one in the title race, is on the agenda.
All kick-offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games.
Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich
Saturday, February 27, 9:30AM, FOX Sports 2 and FOX Soccer 2GO
Bayern Munich’s eight-point lead atop of the Bundesliga is set to be challenged this weekend, as they travel to the Volkswagen Arena to face Wolfsburg.
Having suffered a spate of injuries recently, especially in defence, and after making a tough trip to Italy in the Champions League in midweek, Bayern may well be vulnerable here. Pep Guardiola is in possession of a tremendous squad, but even for a group as talented as this one, there’s a danger of the German champions feeling the strain.
Especially against a fine side like Wolfsburg, who seem to be getting their act together. The win over Gent in the Champions League was one of the team’s best performances of the entire season, while last time out in the Bundesliga they secured an admiral draw at high-flying Hertha Berlin. Marquee summer signing Julian Draxler is in strong form too.
Wolfsburg hammered Bayern 4-1 in this fixture last season and with their raucous fans behind them, expect a spirited performance from the hosts. If Guardiola’s men can get through this with three points, then the title race may well be over.
Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid
Both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are clinging on by their fingernails in the La Liga title race, although a win for either in this vital derby match will surely completely eradicate the chances of the other.
Barcelona’s win on Saturday at Las Palmas heaped pressure on these two, but they were unable to respond. Indeed, Los Blancos were held to a 1-1 draw away at Malaga, with Cristiano Ronaldo missing a penalty. Later in the day Atletico also faced obdurate opposition, as they were held to a 0-0 draw by an impressive Villarreal.
It’s clear how this game is likely to pan out. At the Santiago Bernabeu the onus will be on Zinedine Zidane’s players to fly out of the traps, dominate possession and commit men forward. It’ll be intriguing to see what kind of XI the Frenchman opts for, though, with both Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale injury doubts.
That approach is likely to suit Atletico, who relish soaking up pressure and springing. While they remain outstanding at the back, it’s imperative they show greater attacking incision than against Villarreal and in midweek against PSV Eindhoven. Real will leave space for them to exploit with their cavalier approach and there should be a subsequently gripping tactical battle.
Manchester United vs. Arsenal
Sunday, February 28, 9:05AM, NBCSN, Telemundo and NBC Sports Live Extra
Arsenal will be seeking to bounce back after the disappointment of losing to Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek when they face Manchester United at Old Trafford in a crucial clash at the top of the Premier League.
A loss to a wonderful Barcelona team is nothing for the Gunners to be ashamed of, even though it does render their chances of qualification almost impossible. It’s a result which will at least allow Arsenal to channel their focus for the remainder of the season and given they’re just three points back on league leaders Leicester, they still have an excellent chance of winning the title.
The same cannot be said for Manchester United, for whom a top four spot seems to be something of a fanciful proposition at this juncture. Louis van Gaal’s side can make up some critical ground on Manchester City, though, who are six points clear and playing in the League Cup final later on in the day.
On home soil it’s a huge chance for United to secure an important win over big name opposition and potentially pave the way for a prosperous end to the season. However, Arsenal know that if they’re to cling on to the likes of Leicester and Tottenham Hotspur, a victory is imperative in the north west.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Jurgen Klopp has a tremendous chance to etch his name into Liverpool’s rich history in his debut term at the club, as he leads his side out against Manchester City at Wembley in the League Cup final.
It’s a game which is vital for Manchester City, who have hit a horrid patch of form on the domestic front; additionally, they had to travel to Dynamo Kiev for their Champions League tie. After such a long trip in midweek, it’d be no surprise to see Manuel Pellegrini’s side look a little jaded when they take to the field on Sunday.
Liverpool also had a midweek clash to negotiate, as they went up against Augsburg on Thursday in a gruelling encounter. After disposing of City 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the season in what was their best performance of the campaign, they’ll be confident of a repeat result in the capital, but will be acutely aware of the potential strength of the opposition.
The League Cup may not be the priority for either of these teams, but for supporters the chance to see their team lift silverware under the iconic arch is a moment not to be missed. It’s going to be gripping to see whether Klopp’s fearless outfit or City’s team of serial winners comes out on top.
Juventus vs. Inter Milan
The Derby d’Italia is one of the most hotly contested clashes in Serie A and this one, with Juventus and Inter Milan still striving to meet their respective ambitions, should be no different.
Juventus were handed a reprieve at the top of Serie A earlier in the week, as Napoli, who would have moved to the summit of the division had they won against Milan, were only able to draw 1-1. The Bianconeri’s own winning run came to an end in their last domestic outing, drawing 0-0 with Bologna, and after a 2-2 tie with Bayern Munich, will be desperate to get back to winning ways.
Inter aren’t in contention for the title after an inconsistent run and have slipped down to fifth position as a result. If they’re to muscle their way back into the top three and grab a Champions League spot next season, then it’s imperative their form picks up and a win at the home of one their biggest rivals would be a perfect way to start.
The Juventus Stadium will be rocking for this one, as it always is for the visit of Inter. After successive draws, Massimiliano Allegri will see this as the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways and potentially start pulling away from Napoli.
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