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

Jadon Sancho, Frank Lampard, Danny Ings

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Another weekend, another batch of intriguing, exciting and high-stakes football games for us to sink our teeth into. 

This weekend sees the return of the most prestigious domestic cup competition in football history, the FA Cup, as well as finals in Scotland and Portugal. 

But there's plenty of regular league action going on as well, so where exactly should you be focusing your attentions this weekend?

To ensure your viewing time is being used as effectively as possible, we've picked out six clashes from across Europe well worthy of checking out and used Fotmob to take a look at some of the statistics behind them.

Borussia Monchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund's Julian Brandt and Marco Reus

Competition: Bundesliga
Kickoff: Friday, 7.30pm GMT

The battle of the Borussias seems like as fine a way as any to kick off an exciting weekend of football, with both Gladbach and Dortmund currently separated by just six goals, three places and one point in the Bundesliga table. 

That makes Friday night's encounter something of a six-pointer - a home win would see Gladbach overtake the Black-Yellows and push them out of the top four, only compounding what has thus far been a season of recurring frustration for Dortmund. 

Recent form is on Gladbach's side, having won four of their last five including a massive 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich. Dortmund, meanwhile, could only manage a draw with second-bottom Mainz recently and last time out lost to Bayer Leverkusen. 

But the big challenge for Gladbach in this encounter is overcoming the psychological stranglehold Dortmund seem to have on them; the last six meetings have all been Dortmund wins, to an aggregate scoreline of 12-3. 

Southampton vs Arsenal

Rob Holding challenges Danny Ings

Competition: FA Cup
Kickoff: Saturday, 12.15pm GMT

It's been a difficult season for Arsenal. Even a recent run of four wins in their last five Premier League games has only been enough to take them up to tenth in the top flight, and it wasn't long ago that the media were speculating over Mikel Arteta's job security. 

Nonetheless, the Gunners are the reigning FA Cup holders and their underwhelming league position actually plays into their hands here - Arteta has legitimate grounds to prioritise other competitions with Champions League qualification already almost out of sight. 

However, the same can be said for a very talented Southampton side who managed to hold Arsenal to a draw at the Emirates back in December - they're already well clear of any relegation bother but with 29 points only taking them to ninth place, the sheer congestion around the Premier League's summit still renders European football an optimistic ambition rather than a likely reality. 

So with both teams playing each other in the Premier League again just three days later, it will be interesting to see which manager devotes greater resources to the FA Cup on Saturday in search of silverware. If Arteta and Hasenhuttl both decide to field strong teams, it should make for an incredibly exciting watch - especially with Saints' star striker Danny Ings expected to be available again after a recent illness. 

AC Milan vs Atalanta

AC Milan's Diogo Dalot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Competition: Serie A
Kickoff: Saturday, 5pm GMT

Atalanta have emerged from relative obscurity to become Serie A's resident dark horses and the division's greatest entertainers in recent years - 2019/20 saw them net a staggering 98 in the top flight, while also making the quarter-finals of the Champions League. 

Currently ranking second for goals this season, everybody else involved in the title race will be hoping Atalanta's firepower is enough to slow down an AC Milan side that are three points ahead of the pack at the top of the table and have only been beaten so far this season by reigning champions Juventus. 

Of course, the Serie A leaders aren't exactly short of goals themselves and now have star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in full flow after an injury layoff in December - he netted twice last time out against Cagliari, taking his total for the season to 12 goals in just eight games. 

AC Milan also have one of the healthiest goals conceded records in the division, so if anybody can counteract Atalanta's attacking threat while netting a few times themselves, it's surely the San Siro outfit. Nonetheless, with the last six meetings producing three draws and a whopping 19 goals, it should be a close-knit, exciting encounter. 

Sporting Lisbon vs Braga

Sporting Lisbon midfielder Pedro Goncalves

Competition: Taca da Liga
Kickoff: Saturday, 7.45pm GMT

There's nothing quite like a cup final and even though Portuguese football isn't exactly revered for being one of the most entertaining products around, it has a knack of producing elite players that go on to great things elsewhere, whether they're sourced domestically or from South America.

So if you fancy scouting the next big thing while watching a high-stakes encounter, Saturday's Taca de Liga showdown between Sporting Lisbon and Braga is well worth tuning in for. Much of the attention will be on 22-year-old Pedro Goncalves, who has emerged as Bruno Fernandes' successor at Sporting with 12 league goals from midfield this season. 

Speaking of the Primeira Liga, Sporting are yet to lose a game this term and they beat Braga in the competition earlier this month to make it four wins from their last six encounters, so all signs point to the Lisbon outfit as the favourites. 

That being said, Braga haven't drawn a single league game this season and that boom-bust trend might work in their favour in a one-off, all or nothing game. 

Chelsea vs Luton

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard on the touchline

Competition: FA Cup
Kickoff: Sunday, 12pm

Liverpool vs Manchester United is the obvious big draw in the FA Cup this weekend, but why watch a half-measured, diet-coke-equivalent of last Sunday's Northwest derby featuring two heavily rotated sides when you could instead witness the final nails being hammered into Frank Lampard's coffin.

The Chelsea manager's position is already so precarious after his side's midweek defeat to Leicester, making it just two wins in eight Premier League games, that he might not even last until Sunday. 

But if he does and the Blues lose to Championship side Luton, you can bet your bottom dollar that he'll be gone before the weekend is out. 

So, what are the chances of Luton causing an upset? Well, although things can change incredibly quickly in the Championship, they're currently enjoying the relative comfort of mid-table, some 13 points clear of relegation, so Nathan Jones can afford to field a strong line-up. 

More pertinently, perhaps, Luton rarely draw (just six of their 25 Championship games have ended level) and they have a curious knack of beating teams that are theoretically superior to them - their last four wins have come against Bournemouth, Reading, Bristol City and Preston who are all higher than the Hatters in the table. 

Of course, Chelsea have more than enough talent to dispense of Luton with a second-string line-up. But the danger lays in that potential for complacency, combined with the context of Lampard's lack of job security and Luton having very little to lose. The makings are certainly there for an FA Cup shocker. 

Rennes vs Lille

Lille striker Burak Yilmaz

Competition: Ligue 1
Kickoff: Sunday, 4pm GMT

Having re-emerged as one of French football's top sides under Christophe Galtier, Lille find themselves level on points with PSG before the next round of fixtures, although the French champions have the advantage of being allowed to pull away from them by at least a point if they get something against Montpellier on Friday night. 

Lille, though, will have the opportunity to respond on Sunday when they travel to Rennes to face a team that have bounced back from an appalling run of nine defeats in eleven games across all competitions to win five and draw two of their last seven, in that time keeping four clean sheets.

Accordingly, Rennes find themselves in fifth place and will see beating Lille as key to matching or improving upon last season's third-place finish.

Lille front man Burak Yilmaz might have something to say about that, however, as the fifth-top goalscorer in Ligue 1. Rennes, meanwhile, have a much more even spread of goals with 13 different players netting for them this season but none doing so more than four times. 

Interestingly, the last six encounters have resulted in two wins apiece and two draws, although Rennes' last victory came a while back in May 2019. The most recent meeting, meanwhile, saw two red cards before half time. 

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