Football Forensic: Previewing the top five games to watch across Europe this weekend

Haaland, Guardiola, Simeone

After a crazy twelve months in European football, things are starting to feel a bit more normal. That's the old normal by the way, not the 'new normal' which is in fact very, very unnormal. 

The weather's picking up, fans are on course to return to stadiums before the season is out and then there's the European championships to look forward to in the summer, which might well be the biggest collective expression of relief, joy and togetherness in the history of the continent. 

Before we can get too preoccupied with what might or might not unfold in the coming months, however, there's the not-so-small matter of this weekend's domestic action to think about. 

With massive derbies involving table-topping clubs across various top flights, it's a big weekend for European football. Using statistics provided by our good friends at Fotmob, we've previewed the five key games to watch...

Schalke vs Mainz

Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Competition: Bundesliga
Kickoff: Friday 7.30pm GMT

Start the weekend with a match to watch for all the wrong reasons, and this week's answer to car-crash television in the Bundesliga - you know you shouldn't, but for whatever reason you just can't stop looking at it. 

Schalke and Mainz are both in the automatic drop zone and while a point for the latter club would take them into the relegation playoff place (at least temporarily), Schalke are so far adrift that even a win wouldn't stop them being rock-bottom of the table. 

Their situation has got so bad that the club recently sacked manager Christian Gross, his assistant, their team manager, their head of performance and their sporting director in a complete cull of the club's leadership. 

Understandably so: Schalke have won just one Bundesliga game all season and conceded 61 goals, at an average of almost two per match. Things have improved for Mainz since appointing Bo Svensson in January, however - he's taken eleven points from nine Bundesliga matches in charge, including three wins from the last six. 

Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund

Competition: Bundesliga
Kickoff: Saturday 5.30pm GMT

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland

Another Bundesliga clash. This one would traditionally involve the two sides fighting it out for the title. Der Klassiker is the biggest fixture in German football, pitting its two biggest clubs - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund - against each other. 

Unfortunately though, Dortmund are having a difficult season. Despite boasting one of the most coveted young players around in 17-goal strike sensation Erling Haaland, the Black-Yellows are so far off the pace (13 points from top) that their season has basically boiled down to beating Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt to a place in the top four. 

Dortmund would no doubt love to have some say in the title race though, and Saturday's clash gives them that chance. Bayern are still the Bundesliga's most dominant force, currently sitting top of the table with a staggering 67 goals scored in 23 games, but RB Leipzig are only two points behind them.

Bayern hammered Koln last time out 5-1 but drew and lost their previous two Bundesliga clashes, so they certainly aren't infallible right now. The last six meetings between the German giants, however, have resulted in five wins for the reigning champions. 

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone

Competition: LaLiga
Kickoff: Sunday 3.15pm GMT

The Madrid derby is always a massive fixture but this one comes with a bit of a difference. Real Madrid enter Sunday's game as the theoretical underdogs, currently laying five points off their table-topping inter-city rivals despite playing one match more. 

Indeed, Atletico are in a fantastic position to clinch a first top-flight crown since 2013/14, although they have slowed up somewhat of late with only three wins in their last six games, albeit in that period still producing almost two goals per match, which deviates from the more historic Diego Simeone approach of clean sheets at all costs.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, have improved after a wobbly start to the season, now only losing one match since November. Nonetheless, if they really want to open up the title race for the final run-in, a win is a must on Sunday.

Expect a feisty and aggressive encounter: the last six meetings have involved four red cards, with even a pre-season friendly in summer 2019 seeing two players sent off. Goals have been much harder to come by, however, with the last four encounters providing just as many clean sheets and a mere three goals, all scored by Los Blancos. 

Man City vs Man United

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Similar to the Madrid derby, historically Manchester United have been the dominant member of the city-spanning rivalry but things are very different these days.

Indeed, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to work out why the Red Devils haven't scored a goal in their last four meetings with Big Six opposition in the Premier League, albeit not conceding any either, Pep Guardiola's Citizens have won 15 top flight matches in a row. 

Accordingly, the title race is well and truly over but psychologically this is a really important game for the Red Devils. Not only do they desperately require a more effective game-plan against top teams, but United also need to prove they aren't so far behind City that a legitimate title bid next term is out of the question. 

For all the criticism United have received this season, they are still second, having scored the second-most goals of any team in the league. Nonetheless, City are a cut above - they've scored the most, conceded the fewest, won the most and lost the least.

Pretty conclusive but from the last six meetings, United have actually produced better results - three wins and a draw.

West Ham vs Leeds

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa

Forget title races, relegation battles and all that jazz and finish off the footballing weekend by watching a game of football that should, in theory anyway, just be a pretty enjoyable ninety minutes. 

West Ham and Leeds are the overachievers in the Premier League this season but have gone about it in very different ways.

While Marcelo Bielsa's side are as crazy as a box of frogs, determined to live or die by their gung-ho, mano-e-mano style of football, West Ham have made themselves genuine top four contenders through David Moyes's ability to provide much-needed structure to the most disorganised club in English football.

That contrast in styles, combined with the clear confidence both teams are enjoying this season, should make for an intriguing encounter - just as it did in December's reverse fixture which saw 32 efforts at goal as the Irons managed to pick off Leeds on the counter to win 2-1.

Bielsa might be a little wiser to it this time though and he'll need to be. Monday's hosts have the second-best home record in the Premier League this season.

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