Weekend Wanderings: high stakes in the Bundesliga and La Liga, an early Premier League relegation battle, and the FA Cup returns

Alasdair Hooper gives us his top picks ahead of this weekend’s fixtures.

As league action is joined by the FA Cup, another dramatic week of football is set to continue this weekend.

With vital clashes at the bottom of the table, as well as places in the third round of the FA Cup at stake, here are the games you should be keeping an eye on.

Southampton v Watford (Saturday, 5.30pm)

The Premier League’s bottom two clubs go head-to-head on Saturday evening in a game that could prove vital in determining who stays up and who suffers relegation.

At the season’s start, not many would have predicted these two clubs to be propping up the table. But thanks to various disasters, that’s where they both find themselves.

Yet while some Southampton fans may still be waking in cold sweats to the memory of that 9-0 defeat to Leicester, the team has lifted its performance of late.

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Their 2-2 draw last time out against an (albeit poor) Arsenal side was proof of that, and manager Ralph Hasenhüttl seems to still have credit in the bank as manager.

For Watford, things are looking bleaker. Their first league win against Norwich brought short-lived joy as they were then beaten 3-0 by Burnley last weekend.

This all raises question marks around their new/old boss Quique Sánchez Flores, and whether he is able to drag the side out of this slump.

With the murmurings of discontent starting to show, a second managerial change this season wouldn’t come as a huge surprise at Watford.

Maldon & Tiptree v Newport County (Friday, 7.55pm)

While this game strictly isn’t the weekend, I’m employing the age-old excuse that the weekend begins as soon as you leave work on a Friday.

What better way to spend your Friday evening than watching this game, as Essex part-time side Maldon & Tiptree host League Two’s Newport County.

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The Jammers (so-named because of the Tiptree jam factory) have had an incredible season thus far – they’ve won 22 of their 25 games in all competitions.

The part-time side play in the eighth tier Isthmian League North, but pulled off the shock of the last round when they knocked Leyton Orient out of the FA Cup.

While Newport County will undoubtedly be the favourites on the night, they know they will have to be at their best against this buoyant non-league side.

Everton Women v Chelsea Women (Sunday, 12.30pm)

Chelsea are flying high in the WSL, but the same could be said for their opponents this Sunday.

Willie Kirk’s Everton team have won their last three WSL games on the spin, which has lifted them up to fourth place.

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They are just four points behind Chelsea and suddenly have a real chance of being this season’s surprise package.

Of course, they face a massive test this Sunday as Emma Hayes’ Chelsea team remain unbeaten in the league and have a bench that would consider themselves starters in most other teams.

It’s hard to look past the Londoners, but if Everton perform to their maximum, who knows how this game could turn out.

Bayern Munich v Bayer Leverkusen (Saturday, 5.30pm)

What a difference a managerial change can make, as Bayern Munich look a totally different prospect under the leadership of interim boss Hansi Flick.

Since Niko Kovac left, Bayern have beaten Olympiacos 2-0, Dortmund 4-0, Düsseldorf 4-0, and Red Star Belgrade 6-0.

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The scorelines themselves are impressive, but their all-round play has also improved remarkably.

All that makes the match a daunting prospect for Peter Bosz’s Bayer Leverkusen. As exciting as the team can be, they are very unpredictable – five wins and four losses in 12 Bundesliga games leaves them ninth in the table.

However, the Bundesliga is still incredibly close, and if any team in the top half – Leverkusen included – can get their act together then all is to play for.

At the Allianz Arena, however, we might just be seeing Bayern getting back to their invincible best.

Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (Sunday, 8pm)

The big game in Spain on Sunday night sees two giants go head-to-head.

Despite the fact Barcelona are top, there are still question marks about the team. They’ve already lost three times in the league and are incredibly reliant on a certain Lionel Messi.

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Atletico, in fourth, are also far from the complete package and have scored just 16 goals this season.

Compare that to Barcelona’s 35 goals scored and the difference is stark – Atletico, simply, have drawn far too many games this season (seven of their 14 league matches).

That said, Diego Simeone’s side are only three points behind both Barcelona and Real Madrid. If they can find that attacking touch, you wonder just what this team could be capable of.

This game could prove to be a very interesting tussle at the top of the table.

You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992

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