In Italy and Spain, things seem to have settled back into the status quo, but the Premier League is set for a photo finish. Let's take a look at the key matchups for all three.
KING JUAN CARLOS I
Almeria (8th) vs. Barcelona (2nd). Barca, Barca, Barca. Sigh. I personally think they've blown it at this stage, but there's still plenty of football left to be played. After closing the gap to two points with Real Madrid, they promptly lost to Villareal (no shame there, but you'd hope for at least a draw at home) and are now chasing from eight points back. The safe money says that if they want any shot whatsoever, they'll need a convincing win against Almeria because Madrid has a cupcake game against Coruna. That won't be the easiest of tasks, however. Aside from the injury to NM1 (New Maradona #1) and some dissent in the ranks, they'll be facing a decent Almeria side that has made shockingly good progress since being promoted last season and which plays well at home. Of course, that has been tempered as of late as they've failed to win since February 17th.
The verdict: Almeria don't score very many goals, but they don't concede many, either. And especially not at home, where they're allowing something close to a goal every two games. Not bad for a team that was playing in the Segunda Division last season. However, I think Barca will put their poor performance against the Yellow Submarine behind them and someone (probably Eto'o) will find the net. Almeria 0 - 1 Barcelona.
PRESIDENT GIORGIO NAPOLITANO
Roma (2nd) vs. AC Milan (5th). Easy pick for best game of the week. Here we have two teams going in opposite directions: Roma fresh off their dismantling of Real Madrid in the Champions League, and Milan still bruised from the one they received at the hands of Arsenal. Over the weekend, however, Milan bounced back with a 3-1 smackdown of Empoli as Kaka and Ambrosini contributed two late goals. Roma continued their good form by cruising to victory at Napoli. Both teams have everything to play for here; Roma can really apply the pressure if a very vulnerable looking Inter slip up, and Milan are desperate to reach that fourth Champions League spot.
The verdict: Roma are a very, very good home team. They've only lost once, and that was early in the season when they had to play 10 men against a rampant Inter side (the result was a 4-1 statement game for the champs). Since then, they've been near-perfect at the Stadio Olimpico. However, Milan have been distinctly stronger on the road this year, getting a result 11 of 14 times. Add to that fact that this is their only remaining competition, and you have to believe that their motivation will be greater. But despite this, I think they're too tired and out of sorts at the moment. It took two moments of brilliance to get a win in their last game, and meanwhile, Totti, Taddei, Mancini and Vucinic have all been in sparkling form. There are some good goals in this one, I reckon. Roma 3 - 1 AC Milan.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Arsenal (1st) vs. Middlesbrough (12th). I was considering spotlighting Villa vs. Pompey, but since the title race is so close, it just made sense to profile this one. This is a dangerous weekend for Arsenal. They're up by two points, but one can expect that to become a one point deficit as soon as United are done thrashing Derby County. Meanwhile, Chelsea are favorites to gain ground at Sunderland. The Gunners have had three straight draws against opponents they should have beaten. Now, they're up against the only team to defeat them in the league this year. Of course, Boro are having troubles of their own. This month, they've lost to Reading, squandered a great chance to win the FA Cup now that the giants are gone by collapsing against Cardiff, and snatched a draw from the jaws of victory by surrendering a (pretty harsh) penalty to Villa.
The verdict: Van Persie returns. All season long, Gunners fans have been able to turn away criticism and stem despair by pointing to the missing Dutchman (and Rosicky too, but that's another story). That won't be the case anymore, as he is apparently fit and ready for action. If he's the savior everyone has been clamoring for, now would be the chance to prove it. Boro are in a run of bad form and the game is at Fortress Emirates. Expect to hear the old song. Arsenal 1 - 0 Boro.
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.