Looking ahead to the biggest matchups in La Liga, Serie A, and the FA Cup, respectively.
Real Madrid (1st) vs. Villareal (3rd). Los Merengues passed their first test of the second half with flying colors, edging a strong Atletico side 2-nil last weekend. Atletico's front partnership of Forlan and Aguero got a lot of the headlines going in, but it was Real's aging-like-fine-wine strikeforce of Raul and van Nistelrooy that decided the match. Oh, and Iker Casillas made two or three incredible saves (yawn) to run his clean sheet record to six matches straight in La Liga. Villareal, meanwhile, are quietly having a great season. They've been injury-free all year (oh snap, there's a jinx waiting to happen), and are putting a strong challenge in to regain Champions League football, something they've gone without for two seasons. Nihat has been in fine form up front, Pires is showing he's got something left in the tank, and the most talented young American (er, Italian... what kind of crap is this) in world soccer has 8 goals in La Liga competition.
The verdict: Sorry, Villareal. Real Madrid have been completely dominant at the Bernabeu, scoring 23, conceding 7, and winning all 9 games played. Count on them to sink el Submarino Amarillo, but Iker really can't keep this up, can he? Real Madrid 2 - 1 Villareal.
Udinese (5th) vs. Inter Milan (1st). Poor Udinese. Playing well all season, they're now faced by the second of two Milan juggernauts in two weeks. But just because they've become Job for the scheduling gods, doesn't mean there's not hope. Last week, Inter struggled mightily against a mediocre (that's charitable) Parma side. In fact, they had no business DRAWING that game, let alone winning it. Instead, a harsh 88th minute penalty for handball was converted by Ibrahimovic, who then won it with an excellently controlled ball in injury time. Udinese were also extremely unlucky to lose last week, defending well, but falling victim to poor refereeing decisions and then Gilardino's extra time strike.
The verdict: Things probably won't get any better for Udinese. Fiorentina is sitting in what was their fourth place spot, and look like a sheed to defeat lowly Empoli. Inter can't afford to drop points with Roma churning out results, and they won't. Udinese 0 - 1 Inter.
Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup 4th Round). Tottenham dismantled (there's no other word for it) the old enemy on Tuesday in front of a giddy White Hart Lane. To get to this fixture, new manager Juande Ramos took them past a solid Reading side without conceding a goal (!). It's for good reason, then, that many Spurs fans are proclaiming the corner turned. Not so fast, though. Their next three fixtures, including this one, are: away to Man U, away to Everton, and home to Man U. That's brutal. If they get out of that stretch with one win, I'll be convinced they're finally on track.
The verdict: Scoring is never a problem for Spurs; they're only two behind (44) leaders Man U and Arsenal (46) in the league. However, they can't stop conceding. On Tuesday, even when playing near-perfectly, they couldn't keep a clean sheet. Ronaldo, Rooney, and Tevez aren't going to let them, either. Man U 3 - 1 Spurs.
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.