March viewing guide: Champions League, Premier League, LaLiga, Copa América qualifying and more

Published on: 01 March 2024

Open Extended ReactionsCan Arsenal deliver a comeback at home in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 after losing at Porto 1-0? (Photo by Diego Souto/Getty Images)

March is generally a vital month in the European soccer calendar. The title races -- at least, the ones that weren't decided the moment the season kicked off -- are entering the stretch run, the jockeying for top-four finishes gets a little more focused, the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League all whittle their way down to eight teams, the women's Champions League narrows down to four, and we get the last international break of the club season.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

When you factor in the gravity of this international break -- which will give away the final three spots in the summer's Euros (from a pool of 12) and final two spots in Copa América (from a pool of four) -- and the fact that Manchester City plays both of its Premier League title rivals (Liverpool on March 10 and Arsenal on March 31), this is a hell of a March.

Let's set the table. Competition by competition, here are the five (or so) biggest matches of this delightful month.

UEFA competitions

    March 5: Lazio at Bayern Munich (first leg: Lazio 1-0)

    March 7 and 14: Liverpool vs. Sparta Prague

    March 12: Porto at Arsenal (first leg: Porto 1-0)

    March 12: Napoli at Barcelona (first leg: 1-1)

    March 13: PSV Eindhoven at Borussia Dortmund (first leg: 1-1)

It's OK to admit it: The first leg of the Champions League round of 16 ... wasn't great. Four matches ended with just one goal scored, only one match featured more than two goals, and it felt like almost all 16 teams were basically playing for the second leg. First legs are known to be cagey, but this was, well, whatever is two steps beyond cagey.

No worries, though! The second legs start next week, and for all the dreariness we just endured, six of eight ties are within one goal. There should be plenty of "Team A is going for it, and Team B is looking to counter" action, and things should be pretty wide open.

You should watch at least five of the eight (probably don't worry about PSG vs. Real Sociedad or Manchester City vs. Copenhagen, and I'm not optimistic that Real Madrid vs. RB Leipzig will stay within one goal for long), but let's focus on the three most interesting.

Two teams that started out as pretty heavy favorites -- Arsenal and Bayern Munich -- both head home with one-goal deficits, and both have work to do. Odds are pretty good that they will both cruise eventually, but until they're safe, it's worth watching. So, too, is Napoli vs. Barcelona.

The first leg of this one, between two teams that used to employ Diego Maradona and played in the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, was an odd one. Barcelona mostly controlled the action and eventually went up 1-0 in the 60th minute, and Napoli didn't seem to have any attacking ideas beyond "hoof it to Victor Osimhen and hope he scores 1-on-6" ... until that very approach worked for a tying goal in the 75th minute. And despite salvaging loads of LaLiga points with late goals this season, Barca looked completely out of gas down the stretch.

Barcelona's been the better team this season and will play the return leg at home, but this match left a confusing enough impression that I really have no idea what to expect.

We've got a Europa League tie highlighted on this list, too. The Thursday action is chaotic enough that you should just sit back and absorb as much as possible, but Liverpool's chase for a unique quadruple -- League Cup (check), FA Cup (they're into the quarterfinals), Premier League title (they're currently in first) and Europa League (they're into the round of 16) -- in Jurgen Klopp's final season in charge rolls on despite just about the largest injury list you'll ever see.

Liverpool are going to hand Bayer Leverkusen their first loss of the season in the Europa League final, and they're going to do it with eight 18-year-olds on the pitch.


    March 3: Manchester United at Manchester City

    March 10: Manchester City at Liverpool

    March 16: Liverpool at Manchester United (FA Cup quarterfinals, Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 31: Arsenal at Manchester City

We're conditioned to assume that Manchester City will eventually pull away and win another Premier League title in about three more months, and maybe that's what will happen. But the oddsmakers don't see it as a sure thing -- Opta's power ratings basically say it's 50-50 between City and the combination of Liverpool and Arsenal, and Twenty First Group gives City only about a 42% chance.

This race is up in the air and could remain so if either or both of Liverpool and Arsenal are able to take points off the Sky Blues in the coming weeks. (And if they don't ... well ... you can probably piece together what that means.) City easily have the healthiest roster of the three teams at the moment, but they were stuck in lowest-common-denominator land (doing the bare minimum and scoring one goal per match) until Tuesday's 6-2 blowout of Luton Town. Was that a sign of them shifting into gear?

Elsewhere, the FA Cup has been a delight, and you should absolutely soak that in in mid-month, but the biggest club matches of the month are on March 10 in Liverpool and March 31 in Manchester.


    March 1: Bayern Munich at Freiburg (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 17: Bayer Leverkusen at Freiburg (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 17: Eintracht Frankfurt at Borussia Dortmund (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 30 (approximately): Borussia Dortmund at Bayern Munich

    March 30 (approximately): Hoffenheim at Bayer Leverkusen

On a call with media this week, Borussia Dortmund chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke sent out a warning of sorts: "Don't be sure that Bayern Munich is dead." He should know. With about five minutes left in the 2022-23 Bundesliga season, Borussia Dortmund was in line to end Bayern's 10-year league title streak. But then Jamal Musiala scored a gorgeous goal in the 89th minute at Cologne, and Bayern extended the streak to 11 years. You cannot count them out until the race is mathematically over.

However, they're very much on the ropes. Bayer Leverkusen, unbeaten for the entire season in all competitions, lead Bayern by eight points with 11 matches remaining, and their title odds are currently 89%, per Opta's power ratings. This month doesn't provide any huge league matchups for Leverkusen -- they do have a Europa League matchup with Qarabag, but their big stretch in the title race comes in late April. Then, they play Borussia Dortmund, Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt consecutively -- but with both Leverkusen and Bayern having to make tricky trips to Freiburg, it's possible that one or the other will drop points. Oh, and Bayern has Der Klassiker at the end of the month as well.


    March 3: Barcelona at Athletic Club (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 3: Real Betis at Atletico Madrid (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 17: Barcelona at Atletico Madrid

    March 31 (approximately): Athletic Club at Real Madrid

    March 31 (approximately): Real Betis at Girona

It's hard to find drama within the LaLiga table at the moment. According to Opta's power ratings, Real Madrid have a 98% chance of winning the title, Girona (98%) and Barcelona (96%) are nearly guaranteed to finish in the top four -- obviously Girona, in rarefied air near the top, could collapse at some point (and might already be starting to, with two wins in their last six matches), but we won't root for that -- and even at the bottom, Almeria (99.5%) and Granada (93%) are all but guaranteed to go down.

We might still see a race between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Club for the last spot in the top four, though. Atletico currently lead by three points and have an 83% chance of landing that spot, per Opta, but Athletic are still at 22% and before Sunday's disappointing 10-man performance against Real Betis, they'd lost only once in their past 21 games in all competition.

Athletic are always Athletic -- defensively tenacious, willing to suffer -- but their upside is a bit higher than normal this season. If they can take points off of either Barcelona or Real Madrid this month, and if Atletico falters against Barca mid-month, that could change the race quite a bit.


    March 3: Bologna at Atalanta

    March 3: Juventus at Napoli

    March 9: Inter Milan at Bologna

    March 10: Atalanta at Juventus

    March 17: Napoli at Inter Milan

Inter have lost twice all season. They're on pace for 100 points in league play -- the Serie A record is Juventus' 102 from 2013-14 -- and they might be the best non-English team in Europe at the moment. Juventus are on a torrid pace itself, but Inter still lead by nine points with a game in hand. Both teams have a couple of interesting matches this month, but as with LaLiga, the most intrigue might come in the race for the top four. Atalanta (62% chance at a top-four finish, per Opta) and Bologna (28%) play in Bergamo to start the month, and both play top-two teams later in the month.

The race for fourth place might turn out to be a formality, as Serie A is well-positioned to earn a fifth Champions League bid for 2024-25; that's good because both Atalanta and Bologna are interesting and deserving stories. Atalanta played in the Champions League for three straight years before falling down the table a bit in 2021-22; manager Gian Piero Gasperini continues to work magic there.

Thiago Motta and Bologna, however, are working even more. The Rossoblu haven't played in Europe since 1999-2000, but after a winter stumble (two points in four matches), they've rebounded to win five consecutive league matches by a combined 14-3.

Elsewhere in Europe

    March 3: Feyenoord at PSV Eindhoven (Stream LIVE on ESPN+)

    March 3: Benfica at Porto

    March 17: Lille at Brest

    March 17: Union Saint-Gilloise at Royal Antwerp

    March 31: PSG at Marseille

PSG lead Ligue 1 by 11 points. PSV lead the Eredivisie by 10. It's difficult to find too many white-knuckle title races this season, but Portugal's got one -- Benfica leads Sporting by two points, with Porto laboring nine points back -- and the "Is this the year Union Saint-Gilloise finally does it??" story is kicking into gear again in Belgium.

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2 Related

The upstarts from Brussels have suffered title heartbreakers for two straight seasons since their promotion to the Belgian top division in 2021. After leading for most of the year, they fell four points short of the title in 2021-22; then, they led the league on the final matchday last season before allowing three goals after the 88th minute to lose to Club Brugge and drop the title race by one point to Royal Antwerp.

This year, they're trying to leave nothing to chance. They lead Anderlecht by eight points and everyone else by at least 20 with three matches remaining in the regular season. (They'll then enter a playoff with the top four teams, where everyone's points are halved and they play a round robin.) The Belgian Pro League is a delightful mix of goals and hostility, so you should be watching as much as you can already, but the USG story is particularly interesting, once again.

The most interesting story in France, by the way? Brest. They've never won Ligue 1, they battled bankruptcy in the 1990s, and they've spent most of their history in the second and third divisions, but they're currently second in the league, two points ahead of Monaco, and Opta gives them a 66% chance of earning an automatic Champions League bid with a top-three finish (plus a 15% chance of finishing fourth and landing in a qualification playoff).

This is rarefied air for the team from the western tip of France.

Women's club soccer

    March 17: Arsenal at Chelsea

    March 20 and 28: PSG vs. Hacken

    March 19 and 27: Chelsea vs. Ajax

    March 24: Manchester United at Manchester City

    March 24: Bayern Munich at Wolfsburg

At the women's club level, Lyon is trying to run away with the title in France (they lead PSG by seven points), and Barcelona is of course dominating in Spain again. But we've got exactly the title races we would want in Germany -- Bayern leads Wolfsburg by one point, and they play near the end of the month -- and, especially, in England. Chelsea and Manchester City are tied in both points and goal differential, while Arsenal trail by only three points with eight matches to go.

The biggest story of March, however, is in the Champions League. We got an oddly lopsided set of groups in the group stage -- PSG, Bayern, Roma and Ajax in Group C; Chelsea, Hacken, Paris FC and Real Madrid in Group D and only three combined teams from the top four leagues (Barcelona, Lyon, Eintracht Frankfurt) in Groups A and B -- and it has produced some unique quarterfinal matches: the two above, plus Barcelona vs. Norway's Brann and Lyon vs. a delightful Benfica.

It's an interesting mix of upstarts and big brands.

Men's international soccer

    March 21: Euro qualification semifinals

    March 21: Concacaf Nations League semifinals

    March 23: Copa America qualification finals

    March 24: Concacaf Nations League finals

    March 26: Euro qualification finals

What makes this March particularly interesting is the mix of big club matches with really big matches during the international break. The semis and finals of the Concacaf Nations League could give us an always-important U.S. vs. Mexico final (if the former beats Jamaica and the latter beats Panama, anyway), and between those rounds, the Nations League quarterfinal losers will vie for the final two spots in the summer's Copa América in the U.S. -- Canada vs. Trinidad & Tobago for a spot in Group A (with Argentina, Chile and Peru) and Costa Rica vs. Honduras for a spot in Group D (with Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay).

In Europe, meanwhile, the stakes are even higher: 12 teams are fighting for the final three spots in the summer's Euro field: The winner of Wales/Finland vs. Poland/Estonia will join a loaded Group D (with Austria, France and Netherlands), the winner of Bosnia & Herzegovina/Ukraine vs. Israel/Iceland will join Group E (with Belgium, Slovakia and Romania), and the winner of Georgia/Luxembourg vs. Greece/Kazakhstan will join Group F (with Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey).

In all, these two competitions will give us 14 matches with either qualification or Nations League title stakes. It's hard to ask for more than that.


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