The weekend is upon us once again and European football is here to wet our appetites and serve us the very best, as the Top leagues reaches the home stretch.
The last seven days saw champions emerge in several European leagues, as AFC Ajax Amsterdam won the 2021/2022 Dutch Eredivisie season for a record-extending 36th time, after beating Heerenveen 5-0. It was a fitting send-forth for manager Erik ten Hag who is set to take the reins at Premier League side Manchester United in the summer.
Also, Celtic were crowned champions of the 2021/2022 Scottish Premiership season following their 1-1 draw away at Dundee United. It was their 52nd top-flight title in their history.
The past week also saw the title race in England being pushed further by another week, though it seems that Manchester City will end up retaining their league crown. It all started on Saturday evening when Liverpool played out a 1-1 draw at Anfield to Tottenham Hotspurs, with Manchester City taking full advantage twenty-four hours later as they pummelled Newcastle United 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
The Reds in midweek earned a hard-fought 2-1 win away at Aston Villa, while the Cityzens responded by whipping Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-1 at the Molineux – with Kevin de Bruyne banging in four goals on the night to ensure that Pep Guardiola’s side remain top of the PL standings.
Still in England, the North London derby was a one-sided affair as Tottenham Hotspurs ran out 3-0 winners against their eternal rivals Arsenal at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium to narrow the points-deficit between both teams to just one, as the race for the final UEFA Champions League slot hots up in the Premier League.
Elsewhere in Italy, Inter Milan claimed the 2021/2022 Coppa Italia title in grand style by beating arch rivals Juventus 4-2 after extra-time in the Final in what was the 259th Derby d’Italia (Italian Derby) fixture which took place at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The win saw the Nerazzurri win the Italian Cup for only the eighth time in her history and a first since the 2010/2011 campaign.
This weekend, club football reaches fever-pitch mode – with the 2021/2022 German Bundesliga season coming to its conclusion with Matchday 34 action. The title chase, struggle to survive relegation and the fight for European slots will go down in Italy this weekend, same goes for the Premier League in England.
In Spain, Real Madrid thumped Levante 6-0 in a La Liga Santander fixture at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Normally, the result isn’t much of a surprise as that is very much expected from Los Blancos against the league’s basement boys. But the result saw the visitors officially relegated, following their poor form this season while the high point from the game was Vinicius Junior netting a hat-trick and star striker Karim Benzema equalling the great Raul Gonzalez’s record of 323 goals for the capital club.
But the biggest clash a lot of eyes will be fixated upon will be the 2021/2022 English FA Cup Final involving Liverpool and Chelsea at the Wembley Stadium, which will be the 150th in the tournament’s history. Here at Apex Football, we will preview the weekend’s biggest games in our usual style, with a view on how those fixtures could pan out. Let’s go!!!
CHELSEA VS LIVERPOOL:
Both teams are set to face off again in a Cup Final twice this season, but this time in the 150th edition of the English F.A. Cup on Saturday afternoon at the famous Wembley Stadium.
The Reds and the Blues return to Wembley for a high-stakes rematch as they both bid to win club football’s oldest cup competition. This is the second time that the same pair of teams have contested both English Cup Finals in a single season – with Arsenal playing Sheffield Wednesday in both Cup finale in 1992 and emerging victorious on those two occasions.
Carabao Cup (League Cup) winners Liverpool can do the double over their fellow heavyweights, provided they win on the day and that will see them draw level with the Blues on eight FA Cup titles, while also avenging a 2-1 defeat to them in the 2011/2012 Final.
Liverpool’s 3-2 semi-final victory over Manchester City contributed to Jürgen Klopp’s men remaining unbeaten in domestic competitions this year (W21, D4), with Liverpool keeping 15 clean sheets. This Final also holds a great degree of personal importance to Klopp, as the FA Cup is currently the only missing piece of silverware the German tactician has yet to win during his time at Merseyside.
But Chelsea will have other ideas, after falling agonisingly short at the Final hurdle in each of the last two seasons. Manager Tomas Tuchel’s fourth Final since his arrival at the club, will see him attempt to claim only a fourth victory in 19 managerial head-to-head meetings against fellow countryman Klopp (D5, L10), as both men attempt to become the first German manager to lift the trophy.
While they may be outsiders, Chelsea will be confident that they can break down Liverpool’s stubborn defence, having failed to score only once in the 17 games played since drawing a blank against them in the League Final. A repeat of that goalless duel appears unlikely in any case, with only one 0-0 draw across the 39 head-to-heads before it.
WEST HAM UNITED VS MANCHESTER CITY:
West Ham United face reigning Premier League champions and table-toppers Manchester City in their final home game of the season, having snapped a five-game winless streak last weekend with a ruthless 4-0 victory over Norwich City.
A superior goal difference to Wolves means a draw virtually guarantees UEFA Europa Conference League football next season, but the rejuvenated Hammers may now look to nail Europa League qualification, as they sit just three points behind sixth-placed Manchester United with a game in hand.
Yet victory against this title-chasing City side looks a herculean task, even more so as the Hammers have not beaten City in the Premier League since 2015 (D2, L10). They did manage to prevail on penalties in an EFL Cup game back in October, shutting their opponents out for the first time in ten years after 20 head-to-head games without doing so, but five straight matches without a clean sheet at the London Stadium (W1, D2, L2) coming into this clash suggests West Ham are unlikely to hold back City’s trophy charge.
As for the Cityzens, their emphatic 5-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in midweek marked the 31st time they have hit five or more goals in a Premier League game since the 2016/2017 campaign, which is more than the second and third most instances by teams combined (27). Pep Guardiola’s side need just four points from their final two games to secure a fourth league title in five seasons, although a win here coupled with rivals Liverpool failing to win their game on Tuesday would see the Cityzens declared champions before the final matchday of the campaign.
City are also unbeaten in their last 17 away PL contests (W14, D3), the longest such run in the club’s league history, which doesn’t augur well for West Ham as they face the first side in English top-flight history to win five consecutive league games by a margin of at least three goals.
AC MILAN VS ATALANTA:
AC Milan are just four points away from sealing the 2021/2022 Serie A title, after their 3-1 win away at Hellas Verona last weekend, which saw them reach the 80-point mark in a season for the first time since the 2011/2012 campaign.
Four consecutive league wins and no defeat since January 17th (W9, D5) has put the Rossoneri in the driving seat and two points ahead of city rivals Inter Milan as they welcome Atalanta, who are chasing European football. Coach Stefano Pioli will approach this match and their final fixture of the season like two cup finals. Infact even a draw here, coupled with Inter losing their game on Sunday evening, would hand Milan the title.
Atalanta have their own ambitions though and are one of four teams battling for the three remaining undecided UEFA Europa League/Europa Conference League places but need to make up ground on Lazio, Roma and Fiorentina – though they are all stuck on 59 points each bar Lazio. They must do so by building on their four-match unbeaten run (W2, D2) that has produced an average of 4.5 goals per game!
The Bergamo outfit will have fond memories of a 3-0 win here back in January 2021 and have coincidentally struck three goals in each of their last two league away fixtures too, winning both via a 3-1 scoreline. Their ability to score on the road clearly is not in doubt, but one clean sheet from their last six away outings (W3, L3) suggests they may need to step up defensively if they are to get a positive result here.