It seems like England's been getting all the attention lately, what with their preeminence in the Champions League, but it'll be an interesting weekend in all three leagues.
Sevilla (6th) vs. Villareal (2nd). Last weekend, Villareal launched themselves into second and made a huge statement by smashing Atletico Madrid 3-0. Now, this game will signal to Real Madrid whether or not they should be legitimately concerned or just leetle scared. Conversely, Sevilla have had the absolute worst run-in over the past few weeks; first losing to Atletico, and then to los Blancos. Now they face a test against a red hot Villareal side with legitimate title ambitions. If Real Madrid slip up against Mallorca (a real possibility if Guiza shows up), then things could get very interesting.
The verdict: Even though Sevilla are at home, they haven't looked very threatening since their crushing exit from the Champions League at the hands of Fenerbahce. They're on a nice little losing streak to the top teams, and Villareal have shown themselves to be just that. They did a good job handling Atletico's potent front two, and they'll have a real test trying to mark Fabiano, Kanoute, and speedy right back Dani Alves, but I think they can do it. Villareal have shown they can play attractive attacking football under any circumstances, and hey, defending is less of an issue when you dominate possession like them. Where's Juande? 1 - 3 Spanish Arsenal.
Atalanta (9th) vs. Internazionale (1st). Inter will have mixed feelings about Roma's 2-0 defeat in the Champions League this week. On the one hand, it demonstrates vulnerability and the potential for a collapse. On the other hand, it may mean that Roma will commit all energy toward pulling themselves out of their four point deficit in the league. Either way, Inter need to focus on themselves, as they remain in the driver's seat. This week, they'll be playing an inconsistent Atalanta side. The other Nerazzuri (prepare for this game to appear confusing; Atalanta and Inter have identical home uniforms) beat AC Milan handily at the San Siro in their last Serie A outing, but are floundering around down in 9th. Doni and Floccari were excellent for them then, but must be considered streaky players at best. They've also got the other (lesser) Inzaghi coming off their bench, but that shouldn't concern Inter too much.
The verdict: I can't shake the ease with which Atalanta's attack broke down Milan's defense last week. I know that Inter aren't Milan, and are far better organized at the back, but they've been in a bad spell. Draw with Genoa, defeated by Juve, draw with Lazio... I think Atalanta can take something from this match. I see a game with Inter dominating possession and scoring but getting hit on the break by the Doni-Floccari combo for an equalizer. 1-1.
FISH AND CHIPS
Arsenal (3rd) vs. Liverpool (4th). For the original Star Wars trilogy and even for The Godfather, there are many who would argue that the second installment shines through as the finest. However, I'm predicting this match will be more like the second Indiana Jones movie: ugly, filled with bit players, and kind of a letdown. That's not to say it won't be interesting, though. The game means a lot more to Arsenal, who refuse to concede the title when there's still mathematical hope. What this means is that Liverpool will likely rest key players before the epic Part 3 of this series, and that Arsenal will be forced to play their increasingly worn-out starters.
The verdict: Arsenal distinctly had the better of play in the last two matchups between these giants of English football, but have had to settle for 1-1 results on both occasions. With Benitez keeping his eye on the big European prize, and rivals for the fourth spot Everton facing a tough run-in, one can expect to see a lot of rotating (his trademark) for this one. I foresee a relatively cagey affair, with Tuesday's showdown at Anfield looming, but Arsenal want and need this result more. Red-and-Whites 1 - 0 Reds.
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.