No Premier League? No problem.
What you should watch this weekend instead of the Premier League as England takes a cup break
By Daniel Rubens
There’s no Premier League football this weekend thanks to the FA Cup, which is obviously problematic, especially coupled with the fact that there’s no (meaningful) NFL football either.
Thankfully, the scheduling Gods smiled upon us by giving soccer fans quite a few nice matchups throughout Europe, even if not in England. A whole bunch of countries have games filled with intrigue and implications, with most occurring on Sunday.
We’ll start with the worst slate amongst Europe’s biggest footballing nations this weekend and work our way up. While the FA Cup can always spring a surprise or two, the first two rounds that include Premier League teams frankly aren’t that interesting. This weekend, there are only two matchups between a pair of top flight clubs on Saturday at 7 a.m. PT, with Spurs hosting Leicester and Crystal Palace visiting Southampton. Aside from that, there’s not much. Find better football elsewhere.
Fortunately this weekend, that’s not difficult. There are terrific matchups in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and France, and all are important games with consequences on Champions League positions.
In Spain, each of the top three are playing winnable games, with Barcelona and Real Madrid visiting lower-half sides and Atletico hosting 10th-place Rayo Vallecano. However, there’s a huge game taking place between the next two teams trying to unseat one, as fifth-place Valencia host fourth-place Sevilla. The winner of this one will take hold of La Liga’s final Champions League spot, and it could be huge for Sevilla, who already are ahead by a point and have a game in hand.
That’s just the beginning of the fantastic Sunday morning set of games around Europe. It continues in the tight Ligue 1 as there’s a good one going on in France. Saint-Etienne continue their unlikely push for a Champions League berth in the second half with a game against the team holding the final position for Europe’s top competition, Paris Saint-Germain. Like the similar game in Spain, this contest kicks off at 11 a.m. Sunday, and the team ahead (PSG) leads the one behind by just one point.
Heading south-east from France, there’s a few enticing matchups in Italy, with the most interesting ones top-half clashes between teams with European aspirations. On Saturday at 10:45 a.m., fifth-place Lazio host struggling Inter Milan, mired in ninth in Serie A. The following day features fourth-place Sampdoria going at it with Palermo before the real show, second-place Roma at sixth-place Fiorentina. The Florence-based club are in a battle, sitting just three points out of third, while Roma desperately need help in the form of Juventus losses to make a run at the title.
Each of these three leagues have a few important matchups between talented teams this weekend. A few of these games are extremely intriguing, but not all are. However, there is real intrigue in one league this weekend, though not one that normally draws a lot of attention in the US (except as Jozy Altidore’s one-time home).
In the Netherlands’ Eredivisie, there are three games involving six of the top seven teams this weekend, making the league that only has two Champions League spots to give away the one to watch this weekend. It begins Saturday, with leaders PSV visiting seventh-place Cambuur at 9:30 a.m. Seventy-five minutes later, fourth and fifth place kick off, with PEC Zwolle hosting AZ Alkmaar, who are just one point behind Zwolle.
But the game of the weekend — in all of Europe — is early Sunday morning in the Netherlands. It begins at 2:30 a.m., so it’s one for the diehards, but if you’re awake, turn on the game between Ajax and Feyenoord in Amsterdam. It’s known as De Klassieker in Holland, The Classic, the game between the two most successful teams in the country. Always a spectacle to behold, be it for the insane fan support of the clubs or the often-spectacular play on the pitch.
Currently, Ajax sit four points behind PSV in second, eight ahead of their Rotterdam rivals. If Feyenoord are to unseat Ajax — who have won five straight in the rivalry — in the league, it needs to start with a win Sunday. There really isn’t another option. That alone makes this battle one to watch; the hatred these teams feel for each other makes it appointment viewing.