The Great Escape is on…

Is the great escape on? After a total of 140 days on the bottom of the Premier League, Leicester are no longer in the relegation zone.  Nigel Pearson has led this great escape on the back of 4 wins.  This has been a perfect April for them.  They have beaten West Ham, West Brom, Swansea, and this weekend, Burnley.  While there are still 5 games remaining, the fact that they are no longer in the bottom 3 at the moment is an amazing accomplishment.  Following the results of the weekend this might be the only thing left to watch as the season winds down. Nigel Pearson for manager of the year? Maybe if he completes the great escape.

Weekend Review

In the big showdown in England, Jose Mourinho continues his domination over Arsene Wenger as Chelsea inched closer towards the title.  They drew 0-0 at the Emirates.  Chelsea can now win the title next weekend.  Manchester United had a really poor performance this weekend when they lost 3-0 at Goodison Park.  It was probably the performance of Everton’s season. Man City got back into the top 3 beating Aston Villa 3-2 thanks to a late Fernandinho goal.

All of the big boys won in Spain as Barcelona beat their local rivals Espanyol 2-0 thanks to goals from Neymar and Messi.   Real Madrid beat Celta 4-2 thanks to a brace from Javier Hernandez.  Atletico Madrid won 3-0 over Elche and Sevilla beat Rayo 2-0.  Valencia plays today and needs a point to jump back into the top 4.

Bayern Munich are CHAMPIONS.  They are the first team to win a big 5 league title this season thanks to Monchengladbach beating Wolfsburg 1-0.  Bayern beat Hertha 1-0.  This just makes it official what we have know for weeks. Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen clinched their places in the Champions League spots for next year thanks to Schalke losing 2-0 to Mainz.

Juventus will have to wait another couple weeks since they lost 2-1 to their local rivals Torino.  Juventus need 5 more points to clinch the Scudetto.  The match was marred by some violence that erupted in the stands.  Lazio gained a point on the leaders since they drew 1-1 with Chievo.  Roma dropped all three points this weekend when they lost 2-1 at the San Siro.   Napoli took advantage of their rivals dropping points and moved within 2 points of the Champions League when they beat Sampdoria 4-2.

In what continues to be one of the most intriguing title races in recent times, PSG and Lyon both picked up all three points this weekend as PSG put 6 past Lille and Lyon scored 4 against Stade Reims.  A big match takes place this weekend as PSG can jump three points clear if they can beat Metz on Tuesday.  Marseille continue their slide, losing 5-3 against Lorient.  Monaco and St. Etienne will now battle it out for the last spot following their wins this weekend.

Midweek Preview

This week hosts a couple of makeup fixtures in England and France, as well as a full round of fixtures in Spain and Italy.  The semifinals of the Pokal also take place this week.

The first makeup fixture is PSG hosting Metz.  PSG is currently level on points with Lyon sitting second only on goal difference.  A win against second from the bottom Metz would send them 3 points clear at the top with just 4 games remaining.  In England, there are two fixtures this week.  The action will be focused on Leicester City hosting Chelsea.  Leicester has climbed their way out and will look to make it a perfect 5 for 5 in April.  Chelsea will look to go just 3 points from the title.  The other match is Hull City against Liverpool, who desperately need 3 points to even make it a semi race to the finish line for a top 4 place.

In Germany, the DFB-Pokal semi-finals take place.  The headlining match is Bayern Munich hosting Dortmund.  This will be Jurgen Klopp’s last match against Munich with Dortmund.    It should be a fascinating Klassiker.  The other semifinal sees third division Arminia host Wolfsburg.

Italy has a full round of fixtures in which Juventus host Fiorentina.  The big games should focus around Roma traveling to Sassuolo and Napoli traveling to Empoli.  If Roma fails to pick up points, Napoli could jump into the top 3.

Spain also has a full slate of games this weekend.  Barcelona starts the week off when they host Getafe.  Real Madrid host Almeria in the battle for the title.  Valencia travels to Rayo and Sevilla travels to Eibar in the games regarding the top 4.  Atletico Madrid plays in the best matchup of the round when they travel to Villarreal.

EPL Pick Em

Buzz extended his lead this weekend with a 4-2 win.  The score is now 225 to 214.

My Picks: Chelsea 1-1, Liverpool 1-0

Buzz’s Picks: Chelsea 2-0, Pool 2-1

And then there were Four…The Return is on…

And then there were four.  And what a four it is.  I have to say that I personally cannot remember a semi-final round that was this loaded with talent and this difficult to call before the draw was even made.  I honestly believe any of these four teams could win Europe’s biggest prize. The draw was this morning and I might need to call in sick in the coming weeks.  While it is the semifinals and both look to be really tasty semifinals, the headline has to be Bayern Munich vs Barcelona. Pep Guardiola will make his return to the Camp Nou and try to deny the team that he won this competition with as a player, and manager, a chance to win it again.  I cannot wait to see this one play out in the coming weeks.  The other semifinal is Juventus and Real Madrid.  This should be an interesting matchup with Real’s speed against the defensive shape of Juventus.

The only place to start with a recap is Munich, where Bayern answered all of their critics and reminded the world why they were everyone’s favorite to win the trophy.  They absolutely battered Porto.  At halftime it was 5-0.   Each team traded goals in the second half.  Bayern advanced winning 7-4 on aggregate.  Barcelona also made it to the final four with an easy 2-0 win with a brace from Neymar.  Check out their first goal, as that was a world class run from San Andres!  Juventus and Monaco played to a 0-0 draw, so Juventus advanced to the semis.  In the last quarterfinal match, the two Madrid clubs battled for the last spot.  The hero of the match was an unlikely Javier Hernandez, who finished off a nice move to give Los Blancos the win.  Ronaldo made a fantastic run and really set up the finish for Hernandez.  What a final four teams we have left.  Two teams that have already won their league titles, and the big two in Spain that will battle to the end for their title.

Europa League Recap

The holders Sevilla needed another late goal to secure their place in the semifinals.  They scored early on a 6th minute penalty from Bacca.  This put them up 3-1 and level on road goals.  Zenit then scored two goals in the second half.  The tie was poised for extra time until Gameiro scored in the 85th minute to send the holders to the semifinals.  Their opponent in the semis will be Fiorentina after they defeated Dynamo Kyiv 2-0.  The other semifinal sees Napoli face Dnipro.  Napoli drew their second leg 2-2 but easily advanced 6-3 on aggregate.  Dnipro scored the only goal of the two legged tie as Shakhov scored in the 82nd minute.  With a spot in next year’s Champions League on the line, will it be a repeat for Sevilla?

Weekend Preview

This weekend in Spain is headlined by the Catalan Derby.  Espanyol will host Barcelona in what is sure to be a closer game than it should be on paper.  The local rivals will play on Saturday with a lot of points on the line.  Real Madrid will travel to Celta Vigo on Sunday.  They will be hoping that they can take top spot in the table if they can get the win.  After the midweek results, it will be interesting to see how Atleti push on in their bid to hold onto 3rd place.  Valencia and Sevilla are hot on their heels.  Atleti host Elche on Saturday.  Sevilla can jump into the top 4 momentarily when they host Rayo on Sunday.  Valencia are the last team to play when they host Granada on Monday.

At the top end of the German table, Monchengladbach will host Wolfsburg in the match of the round.  There is a battle going on in the table for the third spot in the table right now.  If you land the third spot, then you start in the group stage and do not have to play those early season qualifiers for the Champions League.  Right now Bayer and Monchengladbach are locked at 54 points.  Bayer has to travel to Koln.  Bayern Munich can win the league this weekend if they win and Wolfsburg drop points.  A win for Munich will all but guarantee them the title since they are just 4 points from a lock.  Wolfsburg is already guaranteed Champions league football and 4 points is all that is needed for Bayer and Monchengladbach to clinch their spots. This weekend in Italy, Juventus can clinch a Champions League spot with a win this weekend.  They travel to Torino.  They are currently in need of 7 points to win the league, so they could be clinching in the next couple weeks.  Lazio and Roma are sitting 5 points clear, but there is still a lot of football to play.  Roma travel to the San Siro to face Inter Milan.  Lazio host Chievo.  Napoli are right on their tails and they have a home game against Lazio on the last day of the season,  Sampdoria and Fiorentina are right behind them but have fallen off the pace a little bit.

In England, there are only 5 more matchday weekends left in the season.  A couple of the big teams have 6 games left, mainly Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool.  But for the rest of the teams only 15 points are available the rest of the way.  The good news for Chelsea is they will play in the Champions League next year.  However, they are just 8 points from the title and could be even closer this weekend as they face their closest rivals, Arsenal.  A win for Chelsea and they will be one week away from clinching the title.  Only one more week till Buzz and Sasha can bust out the champagne.  An Arsenal win means that the teams will just be separated by 7 points and that Buzz and Sasha will have to wait an extra week to celebrate.  PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT HOW THIS IS STILL A TITLE RACE!  Manchester City do find themselves with a little more breathing room, but they might play the most in-form team in the country when they face Aston Villa.  Liverpool will likely bounce back with a trip to West Brom.  The battle for 6th and 7th is on as Tottenham travels to Southampton.  United travels to Everton, as they look to secure their place in the Champions League for next year.

In France, the title race is still very much on as PSG and Lyon will most likely battle it out to the very end.  The Paris club has a game in hand, as they have 6 remaining games while Lyon only has 5.  PSG can take the top spot with their match on Saturday as they host Lille.  Lyon travel to Stade Reims on Sunday.  Next Tuesday, is PSG’s game in hand when they host Metz.  The race for the third and final Champions League spot is really heating up as St. Etienne has jumped back into the race.  They sit level on points with Marseille and are two points behind Monaco who is in third.  Marseille play first with their game tonight.  St. Etienne host Montpellier on Sunday as Monaco travels to Lens.

EPL Pick ‘Em

The score is now 221-212 as we both earned just 3 points last week.  With just 5 remaining weekends, the points are going to be hard to come by for me.

My Picks: Saints 1-0, Stoke 0-0, Burnley 2-1, Palace 3-1, Swans 2-1, Pool 2-1, West Ham 3-1, City 1-1, United 2-1, Chelsea 1-0

Buzz’s Picks: Saints 1-1, Newcastle 2-1, Palace 2-0, QPR 2-2, Pool 2-0, Burnley 2-2, Stoke 1-0, City 3-1, Chelsea 2-2, Man United 2-1

Jurgen Calls It Quits?!?!?!?!

Last week Jurgen Klopp announced that he would be leaving Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season.  It will bring the end to what was one of Dortmund’s best periods.  Jurgen was in charge for 7 seasons.  From the start of his Dortmund career, you knew he would be a thorn in the side of Bayern Munich.  In 2008, he led his side to victory in the T-Home Supercup over the then champions Bayern Munich.  Slowly he moved the team up the table and eventually in 2010-2011 he won his first of two back to back Bundesliga titles.  He had knocked off Bayern Munich.  In 2011-12 he won both the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal.  He added two DFL-Supercups.  In 2012-13 he had an amazing season that unfortunately ended in defeat, as he led Dortmund to the Champions League final.  This year has been difficult, as many of his best players have moved on to other clubs, many of which went to Bayern Munich.  Dortmund has been a force under Klopp.  It will be interesting to see how they can move on as a club, but more interestingly will be where Klopp will end up.  Klopp will be one of the most sought after people during the summer window. Who do you think will get him?

Champions League Preview

This week is the second leg of the quarterfinals.  On Tuesday, we will find out if Bayern Munich can pull the great escape and overturn their 3-1 defeat in Porto.  PSG are in the same boat as Bayern, except they have to travel to Barcelona.  Wednesday is the Madrid derby where it is all to play for.  The first leg finished scoreless.  It will be interesting to see how the two teams play.  Gareth Bale is set to miss the tie with an injury.  The other game is Monaco host Juventus.  It should be interesting to see if Monaco can score two goals or keep a clean sheet.

Weekend Review

In Barcelona, Valencia probably deserved more than 0 points, but they could not find the net and had a penalty saved.  Suarez opened the scoring early on after a great movement that ended with a brilliant pass from Messi to Suarez to put it in.  Messi did end up getting his 400th goal for Barcelona when he was played in all by himself in the final minute of the game.  The 2-0 win for Barcelona means that they remain on top of the table with just 6 games remaining.  Real Madrid kept pace as they won 3-1 over Malaga.  Atletico gained some distance on Valencia with their 2-1 win over Deportivo.  Finally, Sevilla failed to capitalize on Valencia’s defeat, as they could only draw 1-1 with Granada.

In Germany, Bayer Leverkusen jumped into third following their victory over Hannover.  Monchengladbach were held to a 0-0 draw at Eintracht.  It was not a good weekend for the bottom half of the table, as the bottom 5 teams all lost this weekend.  Dortmund is finally in a single digit place on the table as they beat Paderborn.  Bayern Munich extended their lead when they beat Hoffenheim 2-0 and Wolfsburg drew 1-1 with Schalke.  The lead is now 12 points.

In a battle of the top two in Italy, Juventus showed why they have been the best team in Italy, beating Lazio 2-0.  They now have a 15 point lead on Lazio and Roma.  Roma drew level on points with Lazio when they drew 1-1 with Atalanta.  Napoli also closed the gap on the top 3, as they beat Cagliari 3-0.  They are now just 5 points from the Champions League.

In France, PSG and Lyon are level on points after this weekend.  PSG does have a game in hand right now that will be played Tuesday April 28th.  This past weekend, PSG beat Nice 3-1 to put them one point ahead of Lyon.  Lyon then drew 2-2 with St. Etienne.  It should be a really interesting run to the finish with just 5 games left for Lyon and 6 for PSG.  Marseille continue their slide, as they lost 1-0 to Nantes.  St. Etienne is now level on points with them and they are both 2 points behind Monaco for the last Champions League spot.

In England, I think we can finally say that the title race is over.  Chelsea will win the title this year as they are now 10 points ahead of Arsenal.  Both teams have 6 games remaining, but it is all but over.  Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 over the weekend in a typical Jose Mourinho game.  Manchester City got back to winning ways as they beat West Ham 2-0.  Tottenham also responded to their defeat last weekend with a 3-1 win over lowly Newcastle.  Southampton’s dream of the Champions League is most likely over following their 2-1 loss to Stoke.

The FA Cup semifinals took place over the weekend.  With a spot in the finals on the line, Arsenal needed extra time to beat Reading 2-1.  However, the result of the round was Aston Villa 2, Liverpool 1.  The Villans will advance to the final in what was a poor showing by Liverpool.  Will another trophyless season and possibly no Champions League next year spell the end for Brendan?

Champions League Recap…Are Munich in trouble?

Was it the shock result of the Champions League on Wednesday? In what certainly will not be a forgotten night in Porto, the Portuguese side came out of the gate storming and jumped to an early 2-0 lead.  Before people’s tea had time to set, the game looked over and the world was shocked.  Within 10 minutes, Quaresma scored two goals one from the spot and one from a terrible play from Dante.  Thiago gave Bayern a lifeline when he scored later in the first half.  A 2-1 score line would have not been the worst result, but then Jackson Martinez scored a third goal to make the final 3-1.  The tie is not over yet, as a 2-0 win at home will send Bayern to the semifinals.  They have work to do, but I think this will be a great comeback and Bayern will barely survive.

In Paris, it was a night to forget for David Luis.  He came on for the injured Thiago Silve after 21 minutes with his team down 1-0.  Neymar scored the first goal of the game after a series of beautiful passes.  Then Suarez started his personal embarrassment of David Luiz in the second half.  Suarez added a brace to what should all but end the tie.  En route to scoring both of his goals, he nutmegged David Luiz.  There was a late lifeline of sorts for PSG, as Van der Wiel’s shot deflected massively off Mathieu and into the net.  The tie ended 3-1.  PSG will need to score 3 goals in Barcelona next week to advance.  It looks all but done and dusted for Barcelona, but nothing is set in stone.

The Tuesday games combined for just 1 goal scored by Vidal from the penalty spot.  This goal was all Juventus could score at home against Monaco.  It will be all to play for in Monaco with Juventus favorites to advance, but if Monaco can score an early goal it could get nervy for Juve.  In the Madrid Derby, it is truly all to play for as the match in the Vicente Calderon finished 0-0.  With the next leg in the Bernabeu, you would expect Real to advance to the semifinals, but any goal scored for Atleti will carry extra weight as it will be a road goal.

I expect the 4 big boys: Juventus, Bayern, Barcelona, and Real Madrid to advance which would set up a tasty semifinals.  However, I would not be shocked to see Porto or Atletico Madrid advance.

Europa League Recap

The quarterfinals of the Europa League took place on Thursday.  In what I described on Monday as the tie of the round, Napoli did not disappoint.  They took the early lead and never looked back, scoring 4 goals in the match.  Nicklas Bendtner scored a late goal to give Wolfsburg some hope, but the tie looks over with Napoli coming home next Thursday.  Sevilla needed another late comeback to take the lead in their tie after giving up the early goal.  Denis Suarez scored the winner on an incredible volley.  Club Brugge and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk played to a 0-0 draw in Bruges.  The last match was a 1-1 draw between Dynamo Kyiv and Fiorentina that needed a extra time goal for Fiorentina to earn the draw.  It was also a vital away goal.  These matches look much more difficult to predict but here goes nothing.  I think Sevilla and Napoli should advance fairly easily.  In the other two games, I can see it go either way, but I will say Dnipro and Fiorentina will advance next week.

Weekend Preview

This weekend Spain has some big matches.  The weekend starts with 1st place Barcelona hosting 4th place Valencia.  Then Real Madrid host Malaga.  Can Real Madrid have a chance to take top spot when they play?  The lead is just 2 points now and these two matches will go a long way in deciding the Champion.  In the race for fourth, Atletico Madrid travel to Deportivo and Sevilla will make the short journey to Granada.   Madrid in third is just 4 points ahead of Sevilla and just 1 point ahead of Valencia.

In Germany, the races at the top look all but done with just 6 games left and the distance between 4th and 5th is 10 points.  Bayern Munich will be crowned champions shortly with Wolfsburg, Monchengladbach, and Bayer getting the Champions League places.  The attention in Germany should probably turn to the bottom of the table as the bottom five teams are separated by just 4 points.  Hamburg sits on the bottom with a big away game against Werder.  Stuttgart have slowly climbed off the bottom spot and will to continue this climb when they travel to Augsburg.  Paderborn will attempt to get out of the 16th place with a win at Dortmund.  Freiburg and Mainz play each other in what will be a big 6 pointer at the bottom of the table.

In France, the race for the title is back on as Lyon jumped back to the top of the table with their win on Wednesday over Bastia.  This week they host St. Etienne on Sunday.  They would love to be on the top of the table when their game starts since PSG travels to Nice on Saturday.  PSG will need to respond to their defeat to the Catalana side during the week.  A win can send them 1 point ahead of Lyon.  At the end of the weekend they will still have a game in hand.  Monaco has jumped Marseille in the table.  Marseille plays tonight as they will look to jump back into top 3.  This should be a fascinating race for the third and final Champions League spot.  Monaco host Rennes on Saturday.

In Italy, there is a heavy weight clash on Saturday when Juventus host Lazio.  While a defeat will not do much in terms of the title, it is 1st versus 2nd.  The lead for Juventus is currently 12 points.  Roma is in third and is 7 points clear of Napoli.  Roma hosts Atalanta this weekend.  Napoli travels to Cagliari.  The race for third seems to have cooled as Napoli, Sampdoria, and Fiorentina have all fallen off the pace.  It looks set for the top 3, but Roma will need to pick up some points this weekend.

Lastly in England, the winners of 8 out of the last 10 EPL titles face off when Chelsea plays Manchester United.  Chelsea look set to win the title this week as they have a 7 point lead on Arsenal.  A win this weekend will end any thoughts of the title race not being over.  The other big matches this weekend are the FA Cup semifinals.  The matches will take place in Wembley.  Saturday sees Reading play Arsenal while Liverpool against Aston Villa is on Sunday.  In the EPL, Manchester City will look to respond to their derby defeat when they host West Ham.  Southampton will look to close the gap on City when they travel to Stoke.

EPL Pick Em

The score is now 218 to 209.  Buzz came up with a 8-5 win last week to extend his lead to 9 points.

My Picks – Saints 2-0, Swans 1-1, Everton 2-2, Palace 2-0, Chelsea 2-1, City 2-1, Spurs 2-1

Buzz’s Picks – Everton 2-1, Leicester 1-1, Palace 1-0, saints 2-1, Chelsea 2-1, City 3-1, Spurs 2-2

Is it time for a change in Manchester?

It is time for Manuel Pellegrini to go.  After what was another dismal performance from his club, Manchester City are now in a race for fourth place.  Looking at his squad and the talent that he has, City should be contending for the title.  After Round 20, on January 1st, Manchester City was in first place.  Since the turn of the New Year, the club has won just 5 games with 4 of those in the EPL.  Been knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and the FA Cup by Middlesbrough.  To say this year has been going poorly for Pellegrini is an understatement.  Now I am not sure there is someone better out there but a new voice is needed in the dressing room.  If Liverpool wins their game tonight, they will sit just 4 points behind City for fourth and Southampton sits just 5 points back.  City is in danger of getting dragged into a race for a spot that should never be in doubt for a club with their players.  Reports are that Patrick Vieira will take over in the summer so I guess we will have to wait and see.

Weekend Recap

In Spain, the lead is now 2 points as Sevilla came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Barcelona.  The rojiblancos played tough and got a well deserved point.  Real Madrid easily took care of Eibar with a 3-0 win.  Valencia is now level on points with Sevilla in what will be a great race for the fourth Champions League spot however, Valencia does play today with the chance to move 3 points clear.

In Germany, the biggest result might be Stuttgart winning 3-2 over Werder.  This is a much needed 3 points for them.  Monchengladbach beat Dortmund 3-1.  Bayer beat Mainz 3-2.  Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich both kept clean sheets on their way to victory.  Not much will change the rest of the season as Bayer has now opened a 10 point lead on Schalke in fourth.

In France, the top two teams had the weekend off from Ligue 1 play as PSGG went on to win their first trophy of the season in the Coupe de la Ligue.  They beat Bastia 4-0 in the finale.  Marseille did not take advantage as they lost 1-0 to Bordeaux.  Monaco beat Caen 3-0.  These results mean that Monaco is now in third place, one point above Marseille.

In Italy, the result of the round has to be Parma winning 1-0 at home against Juventus.  The club that is in finical turmoil somehow found a way to win the game.  Napoli jumped ahead of Fiorentina since they beat them 3-0.  Napoli are now 7 points behind Roma for the third and final Champions League spot.  Lazio won big with a 4-0 win over Empoli.  Roma and Torino shared the points with a 1-1 draw.

In England, Manchester United got the result of the weekend as they dominated their nearest rivals Manchester City 4-2.  This means United are now firmly in third place and almost assured Champions League football next year.  Chelsea left it to late before they beat QPR 1-0.  Arsenal also could only score 1 goal but it was all they needed against Burnely.  Southampton beat Hull 2-0.  Lastly, Tim Sherwood got some revenge on his former employer as his Aston Villa side beat Tottenham 1-0 at White Hart Lane.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREVIEW

The Champions League returns this week.   The first legs of the quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The week starts with Juventus v. Monaco and the Madrid Derby.  The eyes of the world will be on the Vicente Calderon as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid square off.  These two teams have played 6 times this year and Real has not won a game yet.  Will Tuesday be the first?  Juventus host Monaco in the other game and this should be an easy win for the Old Lady.  Juventus are clear favorites to advance.  On Wednesday, Porto hosts Bayern Munich and PSG hosts Barcelona.  PSG will be without some key players for this match and that could cost them.  Both home teams will need a good result if they are going to advance.  I for one cannot wait to see who is able to grab the lead before the second legs next week.

EUROPA LEAGUE PREVIEW

The quarterfinals of the Europa League will also take place on Thursday.  The holders Sevilla will host Zenit Saint Petersburg.  Club Brugge will host Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.  Dynamo Kyiv will host Fiorentina.  The heavyweight clash of the round has to be Wolfsburg host Napoli.  Both teams will feel they can win the title.  This is the first year that the winner of the Europa League will qualify for next year’s Champions League so many of the teams that are still playing will be looking to win this competition in case they cannot qualify via their league place.  Maybe some teams from a certain county, England I am talking about you should pay more attention to this competition.

What is the most intriguing race to watch?

What is more interesting to follow during the season, the title race, the races for Champions League places, or the relegation dog fight?  This is an interesting question to consider.  Many of the podcasts that I frequently listen to have been debating this question.  Personally, nothing beats a great title race.  The action that is taking place in France or in Spain right now is the most interesting to me.  In France, you have three teams that are truly fighting for the title and have been jostling for position each week.  In Spain, the top teams cannot afford to drop any points, or they will see their hopes of a title quickly dashed.  To me the answer is simple, a great title race is the best.  However, when you look at Italy, Germany, and England, the races have been over for some time now.  Juventus, Bayern, and Chelsea will all cruise to their respective titles.  So then what end of the table is more interesting in those three leagues?  In Italy it is a simple answer, there are 6 teams racing for 2 spots in the Champions League so that has to be the best race to watch.  However in England, staying up in the top flight is worth so much money that it is getting more and more exciting to see who will stay up.  I think the answer is simple, after a good title race, the race for Champions League is what keeps people interested.  People want to watch the best teams in the world and those teams are not fighting for their lives, they are striving to play in the greatest competition in the world.

Cup Competitions

As the year runs down, it is time to look at the other games the teams we love play.  With Champions League and Europa League to return next week, we see some of the major cup competitions get closer to their finals.

In England, there are two major cup competitions.  The League Cup, or Capitol One Cup, has already concluded with Chelsea beating Tottenham in the final.  The FA Cup finally has its semi-final matchups set since Liverpool beat Blackburn on the back of Phillippe Coutinho’s goal.  This sets up a show down at Wembley with Aston Villa.  The other semi-final has Reading face Arsenal.  These games will take place the weekend of April 18th with the final set for Friday May 29th.

In Italy, the major cup competition is the Coppa Italia.  This week saw the second legs of the semi-finals.  Juventus defeated Fiorentina  3-0 to advance to the final 4-2 on aggregate.  Lazio also pulled off the win on the road with a 1-0 win to advance 2-1 on aggregate.  This sets up a Lazio vs. Juventus finale in Rome.  The final will be played on June 7th.

In France, there are also two major cup competitions.  The premier knockout competition is the Coupe de France.  The semifinals of this competition took place during the week and saw Auxerre end Guingamp’s bid to repeat as champions.  In the other semi-final, Zlatan scored 3 goals to give PSG a 4-1 win over Saint-Etienne.  The final is set for May 30th between Auxerre and PSG.  Auxerre is currently playing in Ligue 2, while PSG leads Ligue 1.  The other cup competition is the Coupe de la Ligue.  The final is already set as PSG look to win this over Bastia tomorrow.  Both of the finals will take place in the Stade de France.  This could be the first of 4 trophies for PSG this season.

In Germany, the major cup competition is the DFB-Pokal.  The quarterfinals took place this week.  In the first match, Wolfsburg won 1-0 over Freiburg on a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty.   Borussia Dortmund also advanced to the semis after extra time when Sebastian Kehl scored an amazing goal.  Third division side Arminia Bielefeld upset Borussia Monchengladbach 5-4 on penalties.  Bayern Munich also needed penalties to advance as they beat at Bayer Leverkusen 5-3.  The semifinals are set to take place the week of April 27th.  Bayern Munich will host Borussia Dortmund and Arminia Bielefeld host Wolfsburg.  The final will be held in Berlin on May 30th.

Lastly, Spain has one major cup competition in the Copa del Rey.  The final is already set to see Barcelona play Atheltic Bilbao.  The final will take place in the Camp Nou on May 29th.  It seems a bit strange to play the match in the home of one of the teams, but that is Spain for you.

Weekend Preview

This week in Spain, the big two both won their games.  Atletico Madrid extended their hold on third place.  Sevilla drew closer to fourth place with their win, and Valencia drew at Athletic.  This weekend sees a big match in Sevilla, as Sevilla hosts Barcelona.  This game will go a long way in deciding who makes the top four and who wins the title.  Real Madrid open the weekend when they host Eibar.  Valencia will look to stay in fourth place with a win over Levante on Monday.  Lastly,  Atletico Madrid travel to the Costa del Sol to face Malaga.

In Serie A, Napoli host Fiorentina in this weekend’s matchup of top 6 teams.  While Roma and Lazio have a comfortable lead of 6 points on the other three teams, a win for either one of those teams will give them hope with games to come.  Roma travel to Torino this weekend while Lazio host Empoli as they both look to hold onto their top 3 spot.  Sampdoria travel to Milan in hopes of getting them closer to the top 3.

In Germany, the biggest match is the battles of the Borussias when Monchengladbach hosts Dortmund.  Monchengladbach will look to hold onto third place.  Bayer travel to Mainz looking to jump up the table.  Bayern Munich could score a boat load as they prepare for their Champions League match next week with a game against Eintracht.

Lyon and PSG do not play this weekend.  PSG faces Bastia in the Coupe de la Ligue, so they will have their game postponed.  Lyon will face Bastia on April 15th and PSG will host Metz on April 28th.  Meanwhile, Marseille and Monaco will look to close the gap on the top two.  Monaco host Caen on Friday.  Marseille will travel to Bordeaux this Sunday.

This weekend features the Manchester Derby on Sunday.  When the two Manchester clubs face off this weekend United is currently 1 point above City.  A win for United will almost guarantee them a place in the Champions League next season.  A loss for City will open the door for Liverpool and Tottenham to close the gap to four points.  Tottenham can do this on Saturday when they host Aston Villa.  Liverpool will have to wait until Monday when they host Newcastle.  Chelsea travel across London to face QPR.  The hottest team in the country, Arsenal, travel to Burnley as they look to close the gap on Chelsea.

EPL Pick Em

After a big win last round for me the score is now 210 to 204.  I have slowly been closing the gap.  Hope it continues.

My Picks – Everton 2-1, Palace 1-0, West Ham 2-1, West Brom 1-1, Saints 1-0, Spurs 2-0, Arsenal 3-1, Chelsea 2-1, United 3-2, Pool 1-1

Buzz’s Picks – Everton 2-0, Saints 2-1, palace 1-0, spurs 2-0, W Ham 1-1, WBA 2-2, Arsenal 3-0, Chelsea 2-1, City 2-1, pool 2-1

Weekend Recap

Is PSG going to win another title this year?  They certainly made a nice statement this past weekend in front of a packed stadium in Marseille.  Marseille took a 2-1 lead into half time on the back of a brace from Gignac.  Shortly after the start of the second half, Marquinhos leveled the score.  Morel then unfortunately turned the ball into his own net giving PSG all three points and putting themselves on top of the table.  Lyon had temporarily jumped to the top of the table and now only remains one point behind Paris.  It should be a great race to the finish line.  Marseille now sit 5 points from the top.  They maintain a 3 point lead on Monaco, but it could get interesting if Monaco strings some wins together.

Juventus continued to stroll towards the Serie A title as they beat Empoli 2-0.  In the games featuring teams in the top 6, Fiorentina and Roma got all 3 points while Sampdoria and Napoli lost out respectively.  Lazio also beat Cagliari 3-1.  Roma and Lazio have given themselves some breathing room in the race for Champions League.  Fiorentina now sit just 6 points behind Lazio.

Der Klassiker took place this weekend in Dortmund.  As if it was written, Robert Lewandowski scored the only goal in the game to give Munich the 1-0 win over Dortmund.  The win sees Bayern maintain their 10 point lead at the top.  Wolfsburg kept pace, as they beat bottom club Stuttgart 3-1.  Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen both scored 4 goals en route to easy wins over Hoffenheim and Hamburg.  They both remain in the Champions League places.  Schalke and Augsburg played out to a 0-0 draw which sees both teams fall further behind in the race for Champions League.

In Spain, all the talk centers around Cristiano Ronaldo and his stunning 5 goal performance as Real Madrid beat Granada 9-1.  For a little while, this closed the gap on Barcelona.  Barcelona took their time, but eventually Matheiu put the blaugrana ahead and Barcelona won 1-0 over Celta Vigo.  Atletico climbed back into third as they beat Cordoba 2-0.  Valencia dropped to fourth as they were held to a 0-0 draw against Villarreal.

Lastly in England, Arsenal made a giant statement.  They scored 3 goals in the last 10 minutes of the first half against Liverpool en route to a 4-1 victory.  They now sit in second place seven points behind Chelsea.  Chelsea got another 3 points to bring them even closer to the title.  However, probably the goal of the season took place when Charlie Adam scored from 66 yards out in a stunning strike.  Manchester United jumped up to third as they beat Aston Villa 3-1.  Manchester City is yet to play and can retake second place with a win today.  Sunderland won the Tyne-wear derby on another stunning strike from Jermaine Defoe.

Midweek games

England hosts two matches this week.  One is a bottom half of the table match while the other is an FA Cup replay.  Aston Villa host Queens Park Rangers tomorrow. Blackburn Rovers host Liverpool with a trip to Wembley on the line.

In Germany, the quarter finals take place this week.  There are two matches on Tuesday.  The first sees Wolfsburg host Freiburg while the second had Dortmund hosting Hoffenheim.  The other two matches are on Wednesday.  The lowest ranked team in the quarterfinals, Arminia Bielefeld, host Borussia Monchengladbach.  In the other match Bayer Leverkusen hosts Bayern Munich.  Munich looks to retain their title.

The semi-finals of the Coupe de France take place this week.  The headline matchup is PSG against Saint-Etienne.  Auxerre is the only team not in the top flight and they host Guingamp.  Guingamp will look to return to the final and win back to back Coupe de France titles.

The semi-finals of the Coppa Italia also take place this weekend.  In the first match, Fiorentina get a chance to knock out the Serie A leaders Juventus.  In the other semi-final, Napoli faces Lazio.  Fiorentina will look to get back to the finals where they lost last year.  Napoli will look to defend their title and get back to the final.

Lastly, a round of La Liga matches take place this week.  Barcelona host Almeria while Real Madrid travel to Vallecano.  Valencia will travel to Bilbao as they look to get back into the top 3.  Atletico de Madrid host David Moyes and Real Sociedad.

EPL Pick Em

My Pick – Villa 1-1

Buzz’s Pick – QPR 2-1

It’s Back!!

The international break is over and it is time for the final stretch of the season.  Between now and June 6th, all of the league competitions will end.  This is the fast and furious race to the finish.  Who will win the league title? Who will win the cup competitions?  Who will qualify for the Champions League next year?  Who will win the Europa league?  Most importantly, who will win the Champions League?  It will be a great two month race, and I cannot wait to see who wins them all.

With just two months left in the season, let’s take a look at where we stand in each league and what is on tap for this weekend.

In Germany, Bayern Munich looks set to win their 25th German League title.  It will be their third in a row.  Wolfsburg looks set to qualify for the Champions League coming in second place.  Monchengladbach and Bayer are in third and fourth place.  Schalke and Augsburg are chasing them for a spot in Champions League.  Stuttgart, Paderborn, and Hamburger all sit in the relegation spots with Freiburg, Hannover, Hertha, and Koln still fighting for safety.  This weekend, the big match up sees Monchengladbach hosting Augsburg.  This game will go a long way in deciding those last couple Champions League places.  The other match to watch is Paderborn hosting Stuttgart as both of them will try to get out of the relegation zone.

In France, PSG have finally taken the top spot as they look to defend their title.  Lyon are hot on their tail with Marseille just behind them.  Monaco and St. Etienne are catching up on Marseille in the race for the last Champions League spot.  Metz and Lens seem set to be relegated but Toulouse, Lorient, Evian, Stade Reims, and Caen will all fight for the right to stay up.  Monaco hosted St. Etienne today.  The result was a 1-1 draw.  Marseille host PSG this weekend in what is the first of a string of games that will decided the title.  Lyon travel to Guingamp this weekend.

In Italy, Juventus are set to win their fourth title in a row and 31st overall.  Roma, Lazio, Sampdoria, and Napoli, and Fiorentina will all battle for the final two Champions League places.  Parma is certain to be playing in Serie B next year.  Cesena and Cagliari are in the other two relegation spots and will need points in a hurry to catch Atalanta.  In what is the first of many games between the five teams in the race for the Champions League places, Roma hosts Napoli and Fiorentina host Sampdoria.  It should be a great run-in for the last two places in the Champions League.

In Spain, Barcelona are on top of the table.  They will look to hold off Real Madrid for the La Liga title.  Valencia have been on a remarkable run of form and are now in 3rd place.  Atletico Madrid is in fourth.   Cordoba, Granada, and Levante are currently in the relegation zone, but Almeria, Deportivo, Elche, and Eibar are not far from safety.  This weekend features Valencia against Villarreal, Real Madrid hosting Granada, and Celta Vigo hosts Barcelona.  It will be a good run-in since the big two will most likely win most of their remaining games so each win is vital.

In England, Chelsea look set to win their first title since Jose Mourinho’s return and their fifth English top flight title.  Manchester City and Arsenal look set to qualify for the Champions League.  The race for fourth looks to be less exciting after the last round when Manchester United beat Liverpool.  Can Liverpool, Southampton, or Tottenham catch United?  Leicester City, QPR, and Burnley are in the relegation zone but Sunderland, Aston Villa, and Hull City are not safe just yet.  This weekend sees Arsenal host Liverpool as the big matchup.  Everton hosts Southampton as well.  Manchester United meanwhile will host Aston Villa.

EPL Pick Em.

Last round Buzz and I both got 8 points so the score is now 207 to 195.

Buzz’s Picks – Liverpool 2-2, Saints 1-1, WHU 2-1, Man U 2-0, WBA 1-0, Swans 2-0, Chelsea 3-1, spurs 2-1, Newcastle 2-1, City 3-1

My Picks – Arsenal 2-1, Swans 1-1, WHU 2-1, Man U 3-1, WBA 2-1, Saints 1-0, Chelsea 2-1, Spurs 1-1, Toon 2-2, City 2-0