It’s the post-Easter bank holiday in England, so there’s a full slate of Premier League games today. But we choose just the late game in London, and from further south on the Continent another derby from another great European footballing capital. Both featuring Champions League sides (the London one having beat the Lisbon one just recently, in fact) against local rivals that are a bit further down in the table:
Fulham vs Chelsea (3pmET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com): Fulham, in their usual mid-table inconsistency (#11), host local rivals Chelsea (#6). Story at Fulham has been American Clint Dempsey, who by all accounts is having the best season of any American soccer player ever. But as we’ve said before, Fulham is more than the Deuce–we like Costa Rican playmaker Bryan Ruiz as well as young Belgian Moussa Dembele. For Chelsea, the storyline of the season has twisted close to 180˚ (π radians, if you will), with the sacking of Andre-Villas Boas and their resurgence–at least in the Champions League–under iterim Italian Roberto di Matteo. That said, their chances of requalifying for the Champions League are growing hanging by a thread. They’re on 56 points, 3 behind both Newcastle and Spurs–so with a win here, they’d merely pull even in a tie for 4th. It could very well come down to goal differential between these three, with Arsenal seemingly consolidating their claim on 3rd following yesterday’s stunning memorable win over Man City (more on that match to come).
Sporting CP Lisbon vs Benfica (3:15pmET): The heated and long-standing (dating to 1907) the Derby de Lisboa—“also known as Derby Eterno, Derby da Segunda Circular or Derby da Capital”: Sporting Clube de Portugal versus Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Leões contra Águias. Unlike the London derby, this one actually matters for the domestic title race–Benfica is 2nd in Liga Sagres with 59 points, and needs to win to keep pace with 1st place Porto (their other big domestic rivals), who beat 3rd place Braga on Saturday to go up to 63 points (leaving Braga stuck on 58). Benfica’s got a fun squad to watch, and they very well could have pulled off the upset at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League. From our preview for that matchday:
Ben Shave‘s list of 5 Benfica players to watch, published prior to the 1st leg, consisted of a Brazilian (goalkeeper Artur), a Uruguayan (defender Maxi Pereira), a Spaniard (holding midfielder Javi Garcia), an Argentine (aging semi-legendary playmaker Pablo Aimar), and a Paraguayan (striker Oscar Cardozo). You can add to that list two more young Benfica players we’ve been hearing a lot about: Argentine Nicolás Gaitán and afro’ed Belgian Axel Witsel (attacking midfielders both).