Now that we've gotten past all that boring Champions League stuff, it's back to the daily grind. Let's see what's on tap in the Big Three leagues.
Real Madrid (1st) vs. Getafe (13th). None of the matchups this week are particularly intriguing, but this one has to be the most interesting in terms of the title. Madrid have fallen 2-1 in two consecutive matches, revealing a vulnerability that hadn't been seen for awhile. Though the most recent one came against an explosive Roma team in the Champions League, they lost to lowly Real Betis over the weekend. Now what once appeared to be an insurmountable lead has fallen back to five points, and Barcelona are looking very dangerous at the moment. Now that they're back home, Madrid need to bounce back in a big way and demonstrate that the title is still firmly in their grasp. Getafe, meanwhile, need a win to separate themselves from the crowd of mediocre/bad teams sitting on 28 or 29 points, which is only a heartbeat away from relegation. Yet it's clear that they're capable of much better than their league record, as they've now advanced to the final 16 of the UEFA Cup with a resounding win over AEK Athens and are in the semis of the Copa del Rey. They're also the last team that took a point from the Bernabeu and have a history of giving Los Blancos trouble.
The verdict: Getafe may be performing well in their cup competitions and love to play spoiler against Los Merengues, but Madrid's league dominance at home is just too much to overcome. This year they're 11-0-0 at the Bernabeu. That's a pretty amazing statistic. I see Getafe making it interesting, and Madrid remembering who they are a la Simba in the Lion King. 100% Home Record 2 - 1 Pesky Visitors.
Roma (2nd) vs. Fiorentina (4th). This is a premiere matchup that I can't wait to see. Roma are coming off a great comeback win against the Spanish giants in the CL, and though the league is now probably firmly in the hands of Inter, the battle for second place and CL spots is on. Fiorentina are figuring prominently in that battle, currently sitting in fourth and keeping out giants AC Milan, much like Everton and Liverpool. Adrian Mutu has been huge for La Viola in the absence of Luca Toni (currently enjoying himself in the Bundesliga), and scored a massive winner for them last weekend. Make no mistake, they're a very good team.
The verdict: But Roma are better, and they'll be playing at home. Totti seemed to find his feet in their Champions League match, and that's not a good sign for Fiorentina. Neither team will want to open themselves up to attack very much, and that'll make for a tense, tight match. Expect Roma to win the midfield battle and the match. Biggest City in Italy 1 - 0 Hippest City in Italy.
Newcastle United (13th) vs. Manchester United (2nd). Ah, the Kevin Keegan era. Since the Geordie Messiah took the reins at his old club (again), they've got a record of 0-2-3 in all competitions and have scored TWO GOALS in that period. That is horrendous, and particularly so for a club that had such (absurdly) high expectations and a storied history. To be fair, they had to play Arsenal away twice and got thrashed 3-0 on both occasions. Nevertheless, it's pretty bad. Now, Keegan has to play against the team he most despised as both a player and manager: the Red Devils. Since falling to City, United have been on a good run of form, smashing Arsenal out of the FA Cup and grinding out a gritty draw and away goal against a good Lyon side. It also doesn't hurt that the last time they saw Newcastle, they scored SIX GOALS in the second half in a terrifying display.
The verdict: Poor Kevin Keegan. It almost makes you wonder if Newcastle will have three managers this season. Newcastle couldn't find the net if they had a google maps printout, Man U are capable of running rampant on any occasion, and when it comes to managers, Keegan famously broke down under the pressure of Alex Ferguson's mind games during the 1995-1996 season. You can't like his chances in this one, even with the Toon Army* behind him at Tyneside. Mighty Mouse 0 - 2 The Hairdryer.
*I'd just like to quickly say something about Newcastle fans. They're delusional when it comes to their team and always have unreasonable expectations. At the same time, they care far too much about flash and flare, especially in their strikers, when they should care more about results. Yet, they're the most loyal, passionate fans I've ever come across. At Nevada's, I've watched them as their team has lost horrendously on several occasions. Instead of doing what I (and most fans) usually do, which is groan, mope, and eventually leave, they stand and sing "we'll support you evermore." Which they will. Mad respect for the Toon Army.
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.