Copa del Rey final and Der Klassiker headline Europe’s top games as Serie A sees double title fight

While the Premier League indulges in a Merseyside derby and a couple of big battles for European spots, there’s plenty on the line around Europe too this weekend.

It’s not only the continental giants under the spotlight either, as we start in Spain where a trophyless run lasting 17 years might be coming to an end.

These days, the Spanish Super Cup is a four-team competition, pretty much guaranteeing that two, if not three, names each time will be wildly predictable. After all, only twice since 2010 has a team other than Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid won the Copa del Rey, and it’s twice in 22 years in La Liga itself.

Which makes this year’s final, taking place on Saturday night at the Estadio Olimpico in Sevilla, all the more intriguing, open and very unpredictable to call.

Real Betis face Valencia, the teams currently fifth and 10th respectively in the top flight, neither one in impressive form and yet both sensing the opportunity for glory.

For the Andalucians, it’s just three wins in 12 across all competitions coming into this game, but also only one defeat in seven – a Tuesday night loss to Elche when they rotated ahead of the final. As for Valencia, they’ve won four of 13, slightly better, but have lost the last two, so slightly worse.

You figure it out.

Of course, the primary figure here is none other than veteran winger Joaquin, the 40-year-old legend who has played more games for Betis than any player in history and is in his second spell at the club. In between those two stints came five years at Valencia, of course.

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The last time Betis won the Copa del Rey, back in 2005, Joaquin was in the starting line-up as a lightning-quick youngster. Three years later he was an unused sub for Los Che as they also lifted the trophy-the only two pieces of silverware in his long and iconic career.

Few would bet against one final chapter being written before he retires this summer.

Bayern, Dortmund and another Klassiker sidestory

Usually when we get to this stage of the season, the title is almost wrapped up and the two biggest clubs in Germany meet, if there is a player who has already wrapped up a summer transfer there’s a high probability they are swapping BVB for FCB.

Not so this time, with Niklas Sule set to start in defense for the Bavarians, but having already announced a free transfer switch to Signal Iduna Park come the end of the campaign, as he looks to rediscover his best form and fitness which has somewhat deserted him since a long-term 2020 knee injury.

Though a fairly regular performer under Julian Nagelsmann, he isn’t a guaranteed starter for Bayern and has even featured out of position at right-back at times – the move to Dortmund, who are also expected to confirm the signing of Freiburg centre-back Nico Schlotterbeck soon, could give him a new lease of life and a lot of motivation to wrest the title away from the Allianz Arena, after five years of trying to keep it there.

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With nine points between the teams and only four games left to play, Bayern can seal a 10th straight title against their biggest rivals if they take victory here, while Dortmund can at least make them sweat a little longer if they instead triumph on enemy soil.

And, of course, there’s the on-rumbling Erling Haaland rumors to navigate, a minor one of which suggests he’ll be the replacement for Robert Lewandowski – if the 32-goal top scorer makes this one his last in Germany.

Rome pair set to affect title fight, if not lead it

Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma and their city rivals Lazio aren’t involved in the title race in Italy this year in a direct way, but this weekend they’ll have a huge say in who goes on to lift the trophy.

A Champions League spot isn’t yet out of reach for Roma if they have a great end to the campaign, but it’s a big ask to go to reigning champions Inter Milan and win, especially when the slightest slip-up from Simone Inzaghi’s men might mean losing their status as the league’s finest – to their own city rivals, no less.

Inzaghi’s old side Lazio are the next obstacle for AC Milan, however, and after a couple of recent draws they can ill-afford any more mistakes.

With five matches to play it’s the Rossoneri who lead the way, two points clear of Inter and two further back to Napoli, but Inter have played a game fewer and can take top spot back if they win it in midweek…assuming they haven’t ‘t already fallen off the pace against Mourinho and Co, of course.

The tightest title race in mainland Europe this season no doubt still has a twist or two to come.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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