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Alright, then. With two of the three league leaders in turmoil (Inter's midweek draw against Roma has them virtually locked up), things have gotten really interesting in the big leagues of Europe. Let's see what fresh disturbances this weekend can bring...
REINO DE ESPAÑA
Atletico Madrid (4th) vs. Barcelona (2nd). In the span of two weeks, the La Liga race has been almost completely turned on its head. Everyone (including me) was calling this one over as Real Madrid opened up a massive lead over a seemingly disinterested Barca. Now, that lead has been cut to two points. Los Blancos can't seem to win a game, even losing at home to Getafe (see Juan's hilarious post) and are now without master poacher van Nistelrooy. Barca, meanwhile, are really feeling it. They're on a good winning streak now, putting 5 past Levante over the weekend and beating Celtic in the CL, a notoriously difficult side to break down at Parkside. However, this weekend their job gets a little harder. The other Madrid side are certainly no pushovers, and wunderkind Sergio Aguero (Juan loves Quaresma like I love Aguero... I think he's my favorite relatively unknown superstar*) should return to partner Forlan up front.
The verdict: Now is Barca's time. Everyone is back healthy and seems to be finding their form. Even on the road, I think we'll see a strong performance from them. Atletico's major weakness is in the midfield, and they may have to start unproven seventeen year old Ignacio Camacho at CM thanks to poor performances from their regulars. With potent attackers all over the field, Barca should be able to net a couple before Atletico break through for a consolation. Los Indios 1 - 2 Los Awesome-O's.
Juventus (3rd) vs. Fiorentina (4th). Fiorentina were lucky to have lowly Livorno sandwiched between this game and their heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Roma (keeper Sebastien Frey's face at 0:38 says it all). A get-healthy win against Livorno put them in the fourth spot, but AC Milan were running them down like a San Francisco tiger before being held by Catania. Now, they'll be very hard pressed to stay up there with a trip to the Stadio Olimpico to play Juventus. What will give them hope is that the Bianconeri haven't really been in great form lately. After beating Roma at home, they lost at Reggina, one of the league's worst sides, and then were unable to break down a stubborn Torino defense despite several good chances.
The verdict: What gives Juventus the edge in this match, and AC Milan hope for fourth, is the absence of star striker Adrian Mutu, who twisted his knee in the match against Roma. His goals to league games ratio was 2 to 3 (!), so without him, where will Fiorentina find the net? The answer is "not against Buffon." People are expecting a thriller, but I see a tight contest with a defensive error perhaps making the difference. Italy's Girlfriend 1 - 0 Italy's Purple-Clad, Frenchy-Symbol-Wearing Boyfriend.
Arsenal (1st) vs. Aston Villa (6th). It's been a rough couple weeks for the Gunners. It all started with the spanking at the hands of Man U in the FA Cup, and culminated with a draw snatched from the jaws of victory against Birmingham. Along the way, they teased their London supporters with a dominant yet goalless display against AC Milan, and lost their "fox in the box" to a horrendous season-ending injury. United are now three points back, and the margin of error is razor thin. Meanwhile, Villa, since losing to Fulham at the beginning of the month, have gotten back on track. They easily dispatched horrendous Newcastle (England's new points ATM) and then went to work with a businesslike win over Reading. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor remain a quick and deadly threat on the wings, especially when allowed to send in crosses for increasingly dangerous striker John Carew.
The verdict: Oh man, this is a tough one. Villa have been very solid all season and are currently level on points with Liverpool, which gives one an idea of their competitiveness. In their last meeting at Villa Park, Arsenal surrendered an early goal before scoring two and absolutely tearing their competition apart... for the remainder of the first half. In the second, they had to fight for their lives not to lose the lead. Of course, they're at home this time around, but can they turn the emotional experiences of last week to their advantage? Mathieu Flamini thinks they can, and the last time he played Villa, he scored a screamer. Since he's the new Gattuso, I'll set aside my fears of a draw for now. Gooners 2 - 1 Villans.
*Aguero, being short of stature, quick, Argentinian, and possessed of an eye for goal, has often been called the next Maradona. Thus making him one of at least three "next Maradona's" currently tearing it up in Europe.
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.