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.
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.
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