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It’s always the same: as the Champions League action becomes more gripping and exciting, so too does the race to make sure teams are in it next season become ever-more critical.
This weekend there will be key matches in the top flights of Germany, Italy and France in particular which could affect who gets those much-coveted slots, but also further afield in the Eredivisie and beyond.
Meanwhile, some of Europe’s top sides will also be focused on the twin prospect of silverware; with domestic titles still on the line, several teams can’t afford to split attentions or rotate too heavily between weekend action and midweek knock-out games.
Our focus this time is on several of those teams fighting on multiple fronts in the coming days, as well as the games which could have not just a big impact on next season’s Champions League contenders, but also the summer transfer sagas to watch out for.
Here’s everything you need to keep an eye on around Europe’s top leagues this weekend.
Critical week for Milan
Just how vital might Simon Kjaer’s late, late header prove? Not just in the tie, but in AC Milan’s season.
They are under-strength and dealing with several injury absences right now, but Stefano Pioli’s team found a way to eke out a draw which was the least they deserved against Manchester United in the Europa League in midweek.
The home leg takes place on Thursday, but there’s no prospect of Milan being able to rotate and rest players even if they weren’t facing something of a fitness crisis in the squad; Napoli come to town on Sunday having taken seven points from the last three league games, the same as Milan have, and the hunt for a top-four spot remains on.
The Rossoneri have been impressive, at times excellent, for most of the season.
It would feel a terrible waste if they ended the campaign empty-handed, which makes Kjaer’s equaliser at Old Trafford all the more important, but any hopes of the Serie A title still being on the line are fading fast thanks to Inter’s relentlessness.
Two wins in the next five days would make the world of difference at the San Siro – less than that and their campaign is hanging by a thread, despite months of positivity.
A return for left-back Theo Hernandez couldn’t come at a more opportune moment, but they’ll still be relying on the excellent Franck Kessie and need more, much more, from the talented but inconsistent stand-in striker Rafael Leao.
Top-four turnaround in Germany?
The title chase in the Bundesliga appears now to be between Bayern Munich, top, and RB Leipzig, two points behind but on a six-game win streak in the league.
Leipzig were knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool in midweek so it’s full focus on domestic matters for them from now on – starting against fourth-place Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
If that single-mindedness should leave Die Roten Bullen favourites for the points, it should also clear the way for Borussia Dortmund to restart their own push for the Champions League spots for next season, having bulldozed their way past Sevilla in midweek with the help of Erling Haaland.
READ MORE: Champions League knock-out fixtures by date and time
There’s no sense beating around the bush: with a top-four finish, BVB could keep hold of their stars, including Haaland and Sancho. Without it, several may depart.
Dortmund face the unexpectedly woeful Hertha Berlin on Saturday and must put the pressure on those above them with three points, as they remain far too porous in defence to put all their Champions League hopes in a Haaland-shaped basket, by asking the Norwegian goal-addict to fire them to winning the tournament itself.
Best of the rest
In Ligue 1, fourth-place Monaco play top spot Lille, so either a title tilt or a top-three push is going to suffer a crushing blow this weekend.
With PSG looking ominously consistent and machine-like once more, there’s very little margin for error if LOSC want to be surprise title-winners – their lead is just two points, with 10 games to play.
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Elsewhere, Champions League and Europa League spots are also on the line as PSV host Feyenoord on Sunday in the Dutch Eredivisie, Dinamo host Spartak in a fifth-versus-third Moscow derby in Russia and all the top four in Ukraine face off, third-place Zorya hosting leaders Dynamo Kyiv.
Those looking to LaLiga will see routine-looking fixtures, with each of Atletico, Barcelona and Real Madrid playing teams in the bottom six, though surprise results have been a feature of the season.
Even so, it would be a huge surprise not to see Barca respond with a big win over bottom club Huesca on Monday night.