“Watch it or not to watch it? That is the question!”. This sentence mostly sounds like the opening phrase of a soliloquy spoken by Prince Hamlet in the so-called “nunnery scene” of William Shakespeare. But what we are mainly going to talk about doesn’t have anything to deal with comedies or soliloquies: what this modified famous quote wants to describe, indeed, is a pattern of the most important games played this upcoming weekend in Europe’s leagues and concentrate on which ones we should keep an eye on.
Barca on the verge of La Liga victory
Let’s start off by highlighting the importance of Barcelona’s game: if they take home one point against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, they will ensure a domestic double of Copa del Rey and La Liga for the third time in four years. So a draw is needed, even though the trophy could even be theirs before they kick off if Real Madrid fail to beat Leganes on Saturday and Atletico Madrid are unable to win at Alaves four hours before Barca’s game starts.
The Catalans have led from the front this season, topping the table in Week 2, and from that moment on no-one could no longer reach: the title seemed to remain theirs as they beat Real Madrid 3-0 on Dec. 23, marching 14 points clear of their rivals, and nine ahead of Atletico.
Andres Iniesta will be at the centre of any celebrations, with the Spaniard announcing his Barca departure on Friday. It would be Iniesta’s ninth league title won with Barca, 13 years after his first, and his last might yet prove his finest, given Barca also stand five unbeaten games from becoming La Liga’s only ever invincible team. “The love and respect that people have for me is something I feel deep inside,” Iniesta said. “My aim now is to try to add the league to the Cup.
While Barca are setting for a title party at Riazor on one side, Deportivo might end up feeling like they are at a funeral on the other, as the Galicians will be relegated back to Spain’s second tier for the first time since 2014 if they do not beat Barca and Levante win at Sevilla on Friday. “We are going to play to death to win it,” Deportivo striker Adrian Lopez said. “We know that we face a Barca that are practically champions and I hope they come a little calmer than usual. I hope they have their heads on the World Cup.”
Marseille to replicate Europa League performance in Ligue 1
Who swims in troubled waters and still have to struggle before celebrating is Olympique de Marseille in French Ligue 1, which will seek to ride the momentum gained in European competition to secure a win at Angers SCO on Sunday that could push them closer to next season’s UEFA Champions League. OM head to Angers with Europe on their mind: indeed, they have one foot in the UEFA Europa League final after Thursday’s 2-0 semi-final first leg win over Red Bull Salzburg in front of a record crowd at the Stade Orange Vélodrome.
With AS Monaco faltering, Rudi Garcia’s side are in fourth position, behind Olympique Lyonnais, however counting on the fact they are France’s in-form team right now. “We now have to finish things off, but there are also things to finish off in the league,” Bouna Sarr said. “We’re going to Angers on Sunday, we have to go and get the win. But nothing is done, there’s still a return leg against Salzburg. We have to be careful, and the best way to prepare for it would be to win at Angers.”
Wenger’s last visit to Old Trafford?
On the other side of Channel Tunnel, Manchester United face Arsenal at Old Trafford: Sunday’s showdown is set to be the final time, we will see Arsene Wenger in the away bench at Old Trafford as Arsenal boss, with the Frenchman due to step down at the end of the season after 22 years in the role.
But that’s not all: a potential reunion of three players who could come up against former clubs on Sunday is possible. Alexis Sanchez will face the Gunners for the first time since switching the North London team for Manchester in January. Meanwhile, on the opposing side, Henrikh Mkhitaryan left the Reds three months ago but is reportedly set to lose out on an Old Trafford return on the pitch with a knee injury. And lastly Danny Welbeck, who could lead the line for the Gunners, and is looking to score for the third time at Old Trafford since making the switch from United to Arsenal in 2014.
A major point of Sunday’s clash deals with Champions League race: as expected, ensuring UEFA Champions League football for next season is on the agenda for both teams. On one side, Jose Mourinho’s men will be hoping to secure the three points required to guarantee a top-four finish on Sunday; on the other, Arsenal risk to miss out on a top-four finish for the second successive season, having previously qualified for the Champions League for 20 years in a row under Wenger. The Gunners are 11 points below of their north London rivals Spurs, who currently occupy fourth spot: with just four games left, their chances of returning to Europe’s elite competition now depend on winning the Europa League competition.
Napoli-Juve in Serie A jostle
And finally, last but not least, the exciting Serie A title race that is taking place between Napoli and Juventus. The former beat the latter last Sunday match and they are now 1 point below; however, they can be considered the favoured ones, according to their match schedule and the encouraging emotional boost given by their fans.
Fiorentina won’t be a pushover for Napoli: the Viola still have a shot of qualifying for the Europa League and held Napoli to a frustrating stalemate in December; plus Sarri has never won in Florence since taking over Napoli, and the Artemio Franchi is never an easy place to visit but now seems as good a time as ever.
On the other side of the coin, Juventus seemingly unstoppable march to a record-extending seventh straight league title has hit a bump in the road. They visit their old rivals in one of the most important matches of the year: the Derby d’Italia. If Juventus is struggling to keep energies and concentration on track and is looking for calm ahead of this decisive derby, Inter also have their own concerns as they are attempting to end a six-season absence from the Champions League and are one point and one place outside the top four: for this reason, there is probably nothing Inter fans would enjoy more than seeing their team help derail Juve’s bid for a seventh successive Serie A title at San Siro on Saturday.
“The match against Inter is decisive, but the games that follow against Bologna, Roma and Hellas Verona will also be so,” Buffon said on one side. “And there’s also the Italian Cup final. I hope Inter fans flock to the stadium to urge us on to a victory we need for our own objectives, and not just to hope for Juve’s downfall,” said Inter coach Luciano Spalletti on the other.
The next two weekends will see Juve play on the Saturday and Napoli on the Sunday. Napoli, however, have asked Serie A organisers for the two contenders to play simultaneously in the final two rounds of matches. Media reports said on Thursday that airport authorities were studying an emergency plan in case Napoli went top on Sunday, as their plane would return before midnight, causing potential chaos for other passengers.
The final race for these two teams is about to begin, and none of them wants to say “arriverderci” to the title after everything they have been through throughout the year. The same concept applies to other European teams above mentioned: if “only time will tell who you really are” is true, then enjoy the end of this movie, because it will be worth the effort.
By Michele Calamaio
The writer is an intern with TV3 Sports