After returning to action in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League midweek, the elite of European football will again have to turn their attention to their domestic commitments this weekend as the respective leagues and competitions around the continent enter the final stretch of the season.
In England, several Premiership teams face lower league opposition in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with teams looking to seal their place in the quarter finals of the competition. Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus face a crucial game against a struggling Roma side in Rome, but this being a historically important game, Juve will have to be on top of their game to keep the pressure on the chasing pack. In Spain, Barcelona will be looking to consolidate their position at the top of the league this weekend.
FA Cup Fifth Round
Only seven Premier League sides remain in this year’s edition of the FA Cup as several shock results have robbed the competition of some of English football’s biggest names. Most surprising of all was Oldham’s fairy tale victory against Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. This weekend, Oldham (+800) take on the blue half of Merseyside, Everton (-300), and many expect that another miracle performance will be required from the League One side in order to progress to the quarters. Chelsea (-700) will have to avoid a potential banana peel when facing Brentford (+1600) in a replay after Brentford did well to push last year’s Champions League winners to a 2-2 draw in the first encounter. The remaining top Premier League sides will be expected to sail through after receiving favourable home draws: Arsenal (-350) play Championship side Blackburn Rovers (+900), Manchester United (-450) host Reading (+1000) in the only all-Premiership clash in the round, and Manchester City (-600) will be confident of progressing through to the quarters after being drawn at home to Leeds (+1400), despite the fact the Leeds beat Tottenham Hotspurs in the Fourth Round.
Italian Serie A
Following Juventus’ (+120) confidence building 3-0 away victory in Scotland in the Champions League, their focus now turns to a difficult game in Rome, against a Roma (+220) side in a terrible run of form, but with a new coach and with something to prove to their disgruntled fans. After scoring in the last three games, Matri (+163 anytime, +600 first goal scorer) will be confident of continuing his run against the worst defence in the league on Saturday. The draw pays at (+240). Mario Balotelli (+333 first goal scorer) has scored three in his first two outings with his new side and looks a good bet to continue his run when Milan (-200) host Parma (+600) on Friday night. Second placed Napoli (-275) host a resurgent Sampdoria side (+700) who will look to continue punching above their weight after defeats of Juventus and Roma in recent weeks. Our tip of the week is Catania (+100), who have been impressive at home this season and look good at home against struggling Bologna (+280).
Spanish La Liga
Barcelona (-400) are sailing away with the league this season, and with Champions League commitments next week, are likely to rest a few players for their trip to Granada (+900) on Saturday. Irrespective, it is always difficult to see the Catalans dropping points. The draw pays out at +500 for any brave punters. Atletico Madrid (+100), who have lost two of the last three, face a tricky away tie to Valladolid (+275) in what could prove to be an important time of the season for them. Following their Champions League exploits on Wednesday, Real Madrid (-550) will be looking to claw back their city rivals when they host Rayo Vallecano (+1100) on Sunday night.