We’re down to the wire in the European football campaign, with just a couple of rounds remaining in all domestic leagues before focus shifts to the Champions and Europa League finals, and then to Euro 2012 in June.
As always, top places and spots in Europe aren’t all that’s up for grabs as the regular season approaches the finish line. Relegation battles are hot and heavy at this time of the season as the survival of numerous clubs in the top flight is at stake.
We’ll be getting to the crucial match of the that nature in England in just a moment. First, however, there’s still all to play for at the top of Italy’s Serie A table. But if AC Milan wants to collar leader Juventus, it needs to get max points this weekend in the local derby at the San Siro vs. hated rival Inter.
A quick check of European wagering outlets notes that AC Milan, designated as the visiting side for this one vs. stadium-sharing Inter, is priced at even-money on the win, with the take-back on inter at 13/5. The draw is priced at 5/2.
Kickoff time at the San Siro on Sunday is at 2:35 p.m. (ET), with coverage in the states provided by ESPN3.
A look at the Serie A table notes how crucial this result will be for AC Milan, which sits on 77 points, one behind leader Juventus with two matches to play as the race for the scudetto likely comes down to the final round of action next week. As for Inter, it sits in sixth place at the moment on 55 points, but that’s only three points in arrears of third-place Napoli in a logjam as four sides fight for Serie A’s third and final spot in next fall’s Champions League.
The teams earlier meet on January 15 in an ill-tempered match won by Inter, 1-0, thanks to a Diego Milito goal on 54 minutes.
AC Milan, however, is making one last run at Juventus, whose propensity for draws (15 already) has somewhat negated in undefeated mark in domestic play. Another Juve draw at Cagliari on Sunday, coupled with a Milan win in the local derby vs. Inter, puts the Rossoneri on top heading into the last week of action.
On a three-match win streak, Milan has been able to locate some added offense in recent weeks from midfielder Antonio Nocerino, who has diverted some attention from top Serie A scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic (on 26 goals in league action).
Meanwhile, Inter has played some inspired football since manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked in March, replaced by youth team boss Andrea Stramaccioni. Inter’s recent six-match unbeaten run, however, was ended last week at Parma in a 3-1 defeat.
Inter, however, long ago became over-reliant on Milito (on 20 goals) for the bulk of its offense. Beyond the Argentinian and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, Inter has often struggled to find goals, and GK Julio Cesar has not enjoyed a banner campaign.
Meanwhile, with England preoccupied with the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool this Saturday, focus switches back to the domestic front later in the weekend, including an intriguing relegation battle on Monday at Ewood Park, where host Blackburn Rovers, desperate for three points, host Wigan Athletic in a drop-zone crucial.
A check of English wagering outlets notes that host Blackburn is a slight favorite, priced at 7/5 on the win, with the take-back on Wigan at 15/8. The draw is listed at 5/2. Kickoff time for the Monday relegation battle is 3:00 p.m. (ET), with TV coverage in the states provided by ESPN-Deportes.
A check of the EPL table highlights the importance of the result of this match. For Blackburn, sitting in the drop zone in 19th place on 31 points, anything less than a win likely condemns it to relegation. But with 34 points (currently QPR in 17th spot) marking the last rung of safety on the EPL ladder, Rovers keep their survival hopes very much alive with a win.
For 16th-place Wigan, it definitely guarantees safety with a win. On 37 points, Roberto Martinez’ side is three points away from the drop zone, but can cement its place in next season’s EPL with a win.
Certainly, Wigan enters Ewood Park with some confidence after last Saturday’s 4-0 rout of visiting Newcastle in what was the Latics’ best performance of the season. Martinez’ squad has a lengthy and impressive list of late-season victims that includes Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal in what has been an extraordinary sprint to apparent safety.
Wigan’s exciting 21-year-old striker Victor Moses has caught the attention of a variety of high-profile sides with a series of eye-catching performances, including a brace last weekend vs. the Magpies.
It has been quite a different run over the past two months for Blackburn, as Steve Kean’s men, once looking a good bet to stay up, have lost six of their last seven to fall into deep trouble.
Rovers continue to ship goals alarmingly, conceding a whopping 75 (only bottom-placed Wolves being worse), and the offense has stalled, blanked four times in the last six outings. Blackburn didn’t even manage a shot on goal vs. Spurs last weekend in a 2-0 loss at White Hart Lane; not since 2004 had an EPL side failed to record a shot on goal in a match.
No secondary scoring options have emerged to complement Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni, on 16 goals this term but increasingly schemed out of the offensive flow as the campaign has progressed.
Without a quick change in form, Rovers look destined to fall a flight for next fall.