Five hot matches

A weekend look at what to watch in the world of soccer

Balotelli 5 matches

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It’s another feast of football around the world this weekend.

While the regular MLS season hurtles towards a fascinating conclusion, teams in Europe are looking to set the early pace as they settle into the marathon of league campaigns which have only just begun.

With a number of games featuring on American television across Saturday and Sunday, philadephiaunion.com picked top five of matches you simply won’t want to miss.

On Saturday morning, we cast our eyes on England and Premier League champions Manchester City at home to the only team they couldn’t beat last season – Sunderland, while we head back over the Atlantic for New York Red Bulls’ intriguing clash with Chicago Fire and the implications for the Eastern Conference.

It’s a day for big rivalries on Sunday, with all three games – Newcastle United vs. Manchester United, El Clasico featuring Barcelona vs. Real Madrid and a Cascadia Cup derby between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers – promising to keep you entertained.

We also give an honorable mention to Sunday’s Italian Serie A derby between AC Milan and Inter, with the Rossoneri and Nerazzurri doing battle at the San Siro – a ground they have shared since 1947 – on Sunday at 2:45 p.m. ET.

SATURDAY

Manchester City vs. Sunderland, Barclays Premier League (England)

7:45 a.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes

Two of the three unbeaten teams in England’s top division meet at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Chelsea are the other), with this clash given extra spice by virtue of the fact that Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland were the only Premier League side to avoid defeat at the home of the current champions last season.

The sides battled to an engrossing 3-3 draw in Manchester in March 2012; the visiting Black Cats going 3-1 up before two late, late goals rescued City’s unbeaten home record. The result meant Sunderland would be the only team to avoid defeat to City in the entire season after they had won 1-0 in the corresponding fixture at the Stadium of Light in January.

With Adam Johnson returning to the North West to face his former club for the first time after leaving City for Sunderland in the summer, it’s well worth a watch.

New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire, Major League Soccer

3:30 p.m. ET, NBC / TSN2 / RDS2

The Red Bulls and the Fire are poised delicately behind Sporting Kansas City at the summit of the Eastern Conference going into the weekend and this encounter could prove pivotal as they look to close the gap.

Win, and it could be game on for one of them. Draw, and SKC can seal the Eastern Conference crown in Columbus on Sunday. For the loser, and not only will they be mathematically eliminate from Supporters Shield contention, they’ll be looking over their shoulder at the chasing playoff pack as the season rises to a crescendo.

SUNDAY

Newcastle United vs. Manchester United, Barclays Premier League (England)

11 a.m. ET, Fox Soccer

Despite not being rivals in terms of league positions or trophies – Manchester United having  dominated both in recent years while Newcastle are trophy-less in 43 years and counting – clashes between these two sides still remaining as engrossing and intense as any.

With a hostile atmosphere a given at Newcastle United’s Sports Direct Arena, it translates into fantastic television and promises to be another fiery encounter as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side chase down a return to the top of the league by atoning for last season’s 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Alan Pardew’s Toon on Tyneside.

FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, La Liga (Spain)

1:50 p.m. ET, beIN Sport 1 USA

One of the most watched and talked-about games in club football, El Clasico is a behemoth of a fixture between two of the game’s true giants. A derby of all derbies.

Messi. Ronaldo. Xavi. Modrić. Iniesta. Xabi Alonso. Sergio Busquets. Kaka. This one has them all.

Taking place twice a year in the Spanish La Liga calendar – once at Barcelona’s Nou Camp and once at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, the game between Barça and Real is also never shy of entertainment or controversy. And with charismatic Jose Mourinho facing-off against newcomer Tito Vilanova in the dugout, that’s just on the touchline.

With six wins from six this season, Barcelona could extend their lead over their bitterest rivals and last season’s La Liga champions Real to a whopping eleven points with a win on Sunday. Don’t miss it.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers, Major League Soccer

9 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes / TSN2

A derby clash between local rivals, this fixture was given the "Cascadia Cup" title back in 2004 to reward the best team from the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Portland and – since 2009 – Vancouver Whitecaps.

While there doesn’t appear to be much to play for on paper (the Sounders have guaranteed their post-season berth while the Timbers sit second bottom in the Western Conference standings), this remains one of the greatest showpieces in MLS as two rival clubs – and perhaps more importantly, two huge rival fansbases – converge for 90 minutes of frenetic action from which the winners can claim both pride and the bragging rights.