European Football Tips: Pivotal weekend in Spain and Italy

Simeone's hunting down Barca
Simeone's hunting down Barca
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A top of the table clash at the Camp Nou and a battle royale between the top eight in Serie A. Buckle up, says James Horncastle...

"Atleti have strung together eight consecutive wins in all competitions. Antoine Griezmann has scored seven in his last two appearances."

Atleti's big chance

Are Barcelona beginning to wobble?

It feels like a slightly ridiculous statement to make about a team that is still undefeated in La Liga. But over the last month the Catalans have started to look tired. Atleti have gained six points on them and maybe the title race isn't a foregone conclusion after all.

Thursday's draw against Las Palmas was Barcelona's fourth in eight games in all competitions and means the gap is now down to just five points ahead of Atleti's visit to the Camp Nou on Sunday. It has the feel of a genuine title decider.

Atleti have strung together eight consecutive wins in all competitions. Antoine Griezmann has scored seven in his last two appearances and although Atleti's squad is down to the bare bones after the recent exits of Carrasco, Gaitan, Moya and Vietto, this team smells blood.

The momentum is with them. Atleti look like the 2014 vintage again and not just because Diego Costa is back. The defence has kept 24 clean sheets this season and gives the impression it could play all day and still not concede a goal.

You can understand the concern in Barcelona. Thursday night in the Canary Islands was their worst performance of the season. It could not have been more badly timed. Barca appear short of energy. Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic were the only ones to get a rest at the Estadio Gran Canaria.

The exchange has Atleti priced @ 5.04/1 to become the first team to beat Barcelona in La Liga this season. If those odds seem a little long in light of the Colchoneros' recent form that's because Atleti's last win at the Camp Nou was in 2006.

It's still worth taking Diego Simeone's side on Double Chance though. Atleti are currently trading @ 2.265/4 to get something in Catalonia. As belief gathers around their title bid, it's worth remembering El Cholo's crew are 13.5 to be crowned champions.

Lights out Leipzig

It's a delicate moment in RB Leipzig's season. Three straight defeats in all competitions is a first in Ralph Hasenhüttl's time at the club. But nothing is compromised. Not yet anyway.

Leipzig are still in the Europa League where they have been drawn against Zenit. And Champions League qualification remains well within reach. Three points are all that separate sixth place Leipzig from second place Dortmund who, as fate would have it, they entertain this Saturday evening at the RB Arena.

Leipzig should benefit immensely from having a week off and the expectation is that that period of rest will see them in good stead this weekend.

Dortmund are unbeaten in the Bundesliga under Peter Stöger and very much where they want to be in the table. The Black and Yellows have climbed five positions since December but they haven't always convinced and have drawn five of their last nine games in all competitions, including Monday's encounter with Augsburg at the Signal Iduna Park.

A very even game lies in store. Take the draw @ 3.65.

The Madonnina

Honestly it's hard to know which game to pick from Serie A this weekend. The top eight all face each other in what promises to be a pivotal matchday for teams dreaming of winning the Scudetto and hoping to qualify for Europe.

It'll be interesting to see what effect Wednesday's Coppa Italia semi-finals have on Lazio-Juve and the Derby della Madonnina. Lazio have already beaten the champions twice this season and can do the double over them in the league for the first time since 1943.

Reason enough to pick them @ 3.65 on Saturday evening perhaps? But what toll will playing 120 minutes in midweek have taken? The same goes for Milan. However, the psychology is different in their case.

For one, winning on penalties and reaching a second Coppa Italia final in three years has generated great enthusiasm. It also maintained the momentum Milan have gathered over the last 13 games in all competitions. Second, it's the derby which never fails to get the adrenaline pumping.

Oddly Milan look fitter and fresher than Inter at the moment and that's despite having a much more congested schedule. Part of it comes down to enjoying their football under Rino Gattuso and it really shows.

Inter should have Mauro Icardi back, the hat-trick hero from the reverse fixture and have won their last two games at San Siro. The context here though is that those wins came against relegation threatened Benevento and Crotone, both of whom outplayed them for an hour.

Can Inter snap out of their malaise? Well, it's true this fixture does strange things to teams. The turning point in Milan's season was the derby in the cup back in December. No one expected them to prevail on that occasion and yet they did. Inter are hoping something similar happens to them on Sunday night. But it's hard to see past Milan at the moment. Back them @ 2.568/5.

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