The top of a selection of European football’s illustrious divisions this season have made for encapsulating viewing, but the tension which accompanies key relegation battles arguably makes for a much more gripping backdrop.
And in our first and second selections this weekend, teams who are hoping to steer clear of the trap door are in action. Additionally, there are two clashes involving title chasers in both Spain and England on Sunday, while rounding the weekend off will be what should be an excellent showdown in Major League Soccer.
All kick-offs are in Eastern time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy the games!
Norwich City vs. Sunderland
Saturday, April 16, 7:45AM, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra
With Newcastle United seemingly on the brink of being demoted to the second tier along with Aston Villa, one spot remains in the dreaded bottom three of the Premier League. It’ll almost certainly be filled by either Norwich City or Sunderland.
Norwich had a brilliant chance to pull clear last week when they faced Crystal Palace, who were threatened with the drop themselves at that stage. But a 1-0 win for the Eagles saw them surge up the table, leaving the Canaries looking nervously over their shoulder. This clash at Carrow Road is a superb opportunity to make amends for that display.
Sunderland battled gamely against league leaders Leicester City on Sunday and had some excellent chances to smuggle a point from the clash. However, defensive lapses continue to cost Sam Allardyce’s side, who will have a mountain to climb if they fall to defeat in this one.
That’s because Norwich, who occupy 17th coming into this one, have a four-point buffer to Sunderland in 18th. The Black Cats do have a game in hand, but even so, a seven-point gap would be extremely difficult to pull back with just five games left in the campaign. This one is absolutely vital for both sides.
Getafe vs. Real Madrid
It may not be the most illustrious capital derby, but Getafe hosting Real Madrid is always a fiery occasion. And suddenly there’s a lot to play for for both sides.
Arguably, it’s the hosts for who the points are more important. A wretched run of form has seen them slip into 18th spot in the table, two points back on Granada above them. Despite possessing some talented players, Fran Escriba’s team are without a win in their last 12 games and are in desperate need of a jolt with relegation looking like a very real possibility.
Real Madrid are probably not the ideal opponents to get something started against, admittedly. Especially when you consider that Zinedine Zidane’s team are coming into this one on the back of a brilliant turnaround in the Champions League against Wolfsburg, with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging a treble. They’ve won their last six in La Liga in succession too.
There’s a sniff of a title charge for Real. A win here would heap the pressure back onto Atletico Madrid, who would drop into third place with a Real victory, and Barcelona, who would be just a point clear should Los Blancos take three points. Getafe, it’s fair to say, are due a performance, though.
Leicester City vs. West Ham United
Sunday, April 17, 8:30AM, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra
If Leicester City are going to let a seven-point lead slip at the top of the Premier League, West Ham United are going to have to pull something out of the hat at the King Power Stadium this weekend.
Yet another professional performance from Claudio Ranieri’s side at Sunderland last weekend saw them preserve their advantage, with two brilliant breakaway goals from Jamie Vardy the difference on the day. Now the Foxes need just nine points to confirm what’d be the biggest surprise in the history of the Premier League.
West Ham arguably represent the toughest opposition the Foxes will face between now and the end of the season. Granted, Slaven Bilic’s team may be a little disappointed after their FA Cup elimination against Manchester United in midweek, but they still have slender hopes of finishing in the top four this term, provided they win here.
The Hammers have been experts on the road this season, with the likes of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini excelling the additional space which they’re afforded when teams attack. However, Ranieri has shown that this team has a plan for all occasions and you wouldn’t back against them taking a big step towards glory on Sunday.
Barcelona vs. Valencia
Barcelona’s chances of winning the treble for a second successive season were curtailed by Atletico Madrid in midweek and by the time they kick off against Valencia on Sunday, they could be level on points with Diego Simeone’s side.
A loss to Real Sociedad last weekend was backed up by a 3-2 aggregate loss to Atletico in the Champions League for Luis Enrique’s team. It means they now only have domestic honours to play for and while Barca’s fixture list does look kind on paper, this is a team that is jaded, having only won one of their last five.
Valencia, admittedly, aren’t the most formidable foe at the moment and plenty of these players will be scarred after a 7-0 loss to the Spanish champions in the Copa del Rey earlier in the season. But they picked up a morale-boosting win over Sevilla last week and with the fears of relegation seemingly gone as a result, they can make the trip to the Camp Nou with little to fear.
Barcelona fans will want to see a reaction from their illustrious front three at the weekend, particularly Lionel Messi, who is currently enduring his longest goalscoring drought for five years. With just the league, as well as a Copa del Rey final at the end of the season, to focus on, perhaps we’ll see a Blaugrana side at full throttle again on Sunday.
FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City
The top two sides in the Western Conference this season will square off on Sunday, as leaders FC Dallas seek to put some distance between themselves and Sporting Kansas City.
It’s been a super start to the 2016 season for FC Dallas, who have 14 points from their seven games to this point. Oscar Pareja has steered his players to four games without a defeat now, which is credit to him after a devastating 5-0 loss to Houston Dynamos in the Texas derby. Now, they’ve got a brilliant balance to their play and are finding the back of the net frequently.
Sporting Kansas City need to bounce back after only their second defeat of the season on Wednesday. Colorado Rapids launched a bit of a smash and grab to secure a 2-1 win against SKC, with the home side spurning a spree of chances on the night. Leapfrogging Dallas to take top spot would be the perfect response.
While two consecutive home defeats may mean Peter Vermes is happy to see his side on the road this week, Dallas don’t lose many at the Toyota Stadium. This should be a gripping 90 minutes to cap off a wonderful weekend of action.
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