The Big Seven Matches This Weekend

The Premier League may be taking a week off but there is still plenty of football action taking place across the globe to keep fans occupied over the coming days.

From derbies in Turin, Birmingham, East Anglia and deep within the Pyrenees mountains, to knockout cup ties and grudge fixtures aplenty – this is set to be another gripping weekend.

The playoff picture is heating up in the EFL Championship and more than just bragging rights are at stake in Turin on Sunday morning, while in Spain and Germany numerous teams have their eyes focused on European prizes.

Here, we round up the biggest, best and most important fixtures from all corners of the globe.

Torino vs. Juventus
Sunday, 12.30pm

The longest-running city derby in Italian football is contested for a 198th time this weekend as second-placed Juventus make the 25-minute commute south to the home of their hated rivals.

No love is lost between the two clubs and the Turin derby, or Derby della Mole to give it its original title, takes on added significance for the visitors as they cannot afford to slip up.

A run of eight successive victories and only one goal conceded would suggest that Juve are in control of Serie A, but Napoli – seeking a first title since 1990 – lead the way by one point after also passing each test as it comes.

The way things are panning out April’s meeting between Juventus and Napoli at the Allianz Stadium could well determine the destination of the title, with neither side looking likely to drop points at their current rate.

While Napoli have a favourable home fixture against 18th-placed SPAL to navigate this weekend, a fatigued Bianconeri must head to European-chasers Torino in a repeat of last month’s Coppa Italia quarter-final.

Il Toro were second best that day, as they so often are in this fixture, but a first win in eight against their rivals – and just a second since 1995 – will be celebrated just as loudly in Naples as it is in the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

Norwich City vs. Ipswich Town
Sunday, 1pm

If either of these rivals needed added incentive to pick up victory, a quick glance at the Championship playoff picture shows just how important all three points could prove to be in the grand scheme of things.

With top-six sides Derby County, Fulham and Bristol City all stuttering this week, a win for Norwich or Ipswich – both locked on 44 points ahead of this East Anglian showdown – would take them back into the promotion mix.

Bristol City occupy the final of the playoff positions, but a poor run of form has left the door open for as many as seven teams to pounce, with 45 points still left to play for between now and the beginning of May.

Norwich have been going quietly about their business over the last two months, finally starting to settle under boss Daniel Farke and losing just one of their last eight matches, while Ipswich’s form over the same timeframe has been less impressive.

Two wins from eight was enough to keep large swathes of supporters away from Portman Road for their goalless draw with bottom-placed Burton Albion last weekend, and a second defeat of the campaign to Norwich will only increase the calls for boss Mick McCarthy to walk.

Fulham vs. Aston Villa
Saturday, 4pm

Fulham and Villa are two teams under less pressure to collect points this weekend, having both put together hugely impressive runs of late, though this could well turn out to be a decisive fixture when it comes to settling the playoff picture.

Following a run of seven wins across a nine-game unbeaten streak in the second tier, the Cottagers have shot up the division into their current standing of fifth place, seven points adrift of this weekend’s opponents.

Villa are the only team in the league able to boast better form than Fulham over the last seven games, in fact, having won each of those and kept five clean sheets in the process, while netting 16 goals at the other end of the field.

The Villans battled past arch rivals Birmingham City in their most recent outing, a day after Fulham were being held to a surprise 1-1 draw by strugglers Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium, and therefore have momentum on their side.

Despite their storming January and February, however, Steve Bruce’s men still sit just one point ahead of Cardiff City in fourth place, and dropped points this weekend could see them slide back down the division.

Eibar vs. Barcelona
Saturday, 4.15pm

Snatching the La Liga crown back from Real Madrid may appear a formality at this stage for a dominant Barcelona side, but they have not quite fully shaken off a determined Atletico Madrid and still have some work to do.

Atleti were at their efficient best against Malaga last weekend, earning back-to-back wins by that narrow scoreline thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s goal inside the opening minute of the contest at La Rosaleda.

That victory, combined with Barca’s goalless home draw with Getafe – the first time they have failed to net this campaign – leaves the gap at the top standing at seven points with 15 games still to tick off.

Dropping points twice in the space of three games gives Ernesto Valverde a little food for thought, and attention may well be on the first leg of a huge Champions League double-header against Chelsea, beginning with the first leg in West London on Tuesday evening.

This clash at Ipurua is not all about Barcelona, though, as Eibar also have plenty to play for, finding themselves just a point outside the European spots.

Battering Sevilla 5-1 a fortnight ago only added to the sense that the minnows could produce a minor miracle – their outgoings on players since promotion in 2014 stands at £16m – and another positive result this weekend may well get supporters seriously believing that they could just pull it off.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Southampton
Saturday, 4pm

An FA Cup quarter-final spot is on the line at The Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon, though this may also turn out to be a straight shootout between two managers at risk of losing their job.

If a run of one win in 13 Premier League games since taking over in late November did not have Alan Pardew concerned, then the sackings of chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman on Tuesday morning certainly would have.

Reports in the British press suggest that Pardew’s job is not under immediate risk, with Albion chiefs likely to stick with him for the remainder of the campaign, but patience is wearing thin in the stands and certain players are also said to be growing restless.

Pardew’s opposite number Mauricio Pellegrino appears to be the man more at threat of losing his job, again seeing his side booed off following last weekend’s 2-0 loss at home to Liverpool that leaves them camped inside the bottom three of the division.

The future may look bleak for both teams and managers at this moment in time, then, but extending their cup run to the last-eight stage would earn a welcome reprieve and give supporters a little something to cheers about.

Whether full-strength sides are named in the West Midlands is another story, though in a country where each match could prove to be the last for a manager, it would surely be wise for Pardew and Pellegrino to go all out for a much-needed win.

Dinamo Zagreb vs. Hajduk Split
Sunday, 3pm

A top-two showdown in the Croatian top flight this may be but, after opening up a 12-point advantage at the summit, Dinamo do not appear to be at any risk of finishing anywhere other than top come the end of the season.

The Blues have won 16 and lost none of their 21 matches to date – a run that includes four wins in succession either side of the mid-season break, with their last dropped points coming in November against Rudes.

Hajduk, six-time winners of the Croatian First Football League, are proving to be the best of the rest and know that victory this weekend – as unlikely as it may be against such a dominant force – will at least give their opponents something to think about.

The sides played out a 2-2 draw when they met in the reverse fixture four months ago, Hajduk netting a 94th-minute leveller through Ante Erceg after their opponents scored two goals in two minutes moments beforehand.

Having seen their 11-year stronghold come to an end last season, when Rijeka came out on top, Dinamo will be baying for blood in the Eternal derby as Croatia’s two most successful sides once again lock horns.

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Borussia Dortmund
Sunday, 6pm

A strange season for Dortmund in many ways appears to be gathering pace at just the right time, having won their last two games to move to within a point of second place.

The arrival of Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea is proving to be some shrewd business, even if they did lose Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, as the Belgian striker has made his presence felt thanks to five goals in three games thus far.

Seeing off FC Koln and Hamburger SV over the past fortnight has given BVB some momentum, coming after a run of three successive draws to begin the second half of the Bundesliga campaign.

With games against Leipzig and Frankfurt on the horizon, sitting either side of BVB in the current standings, this will be seen by Peter Stoger as another chance to put maximum points on the board in what is a tight race for second.

Standing in their way is a Gladbach side struggling down in 10th place on the back of three losses in a row, yet due to the tight nature of Germany’s top flight they still have plenty to play for – just three points being the gap on sixth-placed Schalke 04 in the final European berth.