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What to watch in the leading soccer competitions in Europe

March 14, 2019
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Newly appointed Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane smiles, during a press conference in Madrid, Monday March 11, 2019. Real Madrid picked one of its most successful coaches to try to end one of its worst crises. Zinedine Zidane is returning to coach Real Madrid, the club he led to three straight Champions League titles. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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Newly appointed Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane smiles, during a press conference in Madrid, Monday March 11, 2019. Real Madrid picked one of its most successful coaches to try to end one of its worst crises. Zinedine Zidane is returning to coach Real Madrid, the club he led to three straight Champions League titles. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

What to watch in the leading soccer competitions in Europe this weekend:

SPAIN

Zinedine Zidane’s second stint as Real Madrid coach begins on Saturday with a home match against a Celta Vigo team which has dropped into the relegation zone after nine losses in its last 11 matches.

Zidane is back at the helm nine months after he led Madrid to a third straight Champions League title. The former player returned this week to replace Santiago Solari, who was released after the team was eliminated from the Copa del Rey and the Champions League and saw its Spanish league title hopes virtually end.

Madrid is 12 points behind league leader Barcelona and five points behind second-place Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona, the only Spanish team to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals, visits Real Betis on Sunday. Atletico, trying to regroup from its loss to Juventus in the European competition, plays at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. Atletico’s only shot at a trophy is in the league, a competition it last won in 2014.

Celta, 18th in the standings and one point from safety, has two draws and a win in its last 12 league matches. The game against Real Madrid will be the team’s second under coach Fran Escriba.

Surprising Getafe will keep fourth place — and its hold on the final Champions League spot — even if it loses at seventh-place Valencia on Sunday. It has a four-point gap to fifth-place Alaves, which visits last-place Huesca on Saturday.

— By Tales Azzoni in Madrid.

ENGLAND

Manchester City looks to keep alive its bid for an unprecedented quadruple by beating second-tier Swansea in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.

Manchester United looks to be City’s biggest threat in the competition, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team is away at Wolverhampton Wanderers later in the day in an all-Premier League meeting.

In the other last-eight matches, Crystal Palace travels to Watford on Saturday and second-tier Millwall hosts Brighton.

There are five Premier League games — one of which sees Liverpool visit Fulham on Sunday with the aim of returning to the top of the standings, above City. Liverpool is a point behind in second place.

Chelsea is away to Everton in Sunday’s other game. On Saturday, it’s: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle, Burnley vs. Leicester; and West Ham vs. Huddersfield.

— By Steve Douglas in Manchester.

FRANCE

After crashing out of the Champions League last week, perennial European underachiever Paris Saint-Germain hosts Marseille, the only French club to win Europe’s top tournament.

With a 17-point lead atop the French league, PSG has no real rival on the domestic stage and is poised to seal a sixth Ligue 1 title in seven years. But despite the huge amount of money invested by its Qatari owners, the Parisian side has never been able to match its southern rival’s European record.

While Marseille won the Champions League in 1993, PSG’s best finish in the competition was in the semifinals 24 years ago.

Known as “Le Classique,” the match between PSG and Marseille became popular during the 1990s when the arrival of foreign stars such as Rai, Rudi Voeller and George Weah started a strong rivalry heavily promoted by the clubs’ respective owners — Bernard Tapie at Marseille and pay TV Canal Plus at PSG.

With Marseille no longer among the favorites for the title, that matchup has lost most of its interest in recent years. But with PSG still reeling from its shock elimination at the hands of Manchester United and Mario Balotelli back to his best, Sunday’s night match at the Parc des Princes has more spice.

Balotelli has scored five goals in seven games to help Marseille get back in contention for the European places.

“As far as I’m concerned, Marseille is the biggest club in France,” Balotelli said.

In other matches, Monaco travels to second-place Lille and third-place Lyon hosts Montpellier in the wake of its 5-1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League.

— By Samuel Petrequin in Paris.

GERMANY

Borussia Dortmund visits Hertha Berlin on Saturday hoping to reclaim the Bundesliga lead — temporarily at least — before Bayern Munich hosts Mainz on Sunday.

Bayern, which finally caught Lucien Favre’s side last weekend and currently leads on goal difference, will be keen to atone for its Champions League exit to Liverpool in front of its own fans by bouncing back to form in the Bundesliga, where the side has 18 goals in its past five games and has won 12 of its last 13 games.

Mainz does not have any great expectations after losing five of its last six games. But the club did win in Munich in March 2016, one of only three defeats Bayern suffered in its last 64 games at home.

Dortmund, which labored to beat Stuttgart last weekend, cannot afford any more slip-ups if it is to maintain its challenge before a potentially league-deciding clash in Munich on April 6.

Hertha, which ended Dortmund’s winning start to the season in October, is unbeaten in four meetings between the sides.

Fourth-place Borussia Moenchengladbach begins the 26th round with a visit from Freiburg on Friday.

— By Ciaran Fahey in Berlin.

ITALY

The two Milan clubs haven’t been in the Champions League together for seven years. The chances of that happening for the first time since the 2011-12 season would be boosted if Inter Milan beats its city rival in Sunday’s Derby Della Madonnina.

AC Milan’s five-match winning run has seen it move up to third, a point above Inter, which has won one of its past three league matches.

Mauro Icardi scored a stoppage-time winner when Inter beat Milan 1-0 back in October but there is little chance he will repeat that feat on Sunday.

Icardi has not played in more than a month, since being stripped of his captaincy amid protracted contract negotiations. The 26-year-old Icardi has said he has a knee injury, although the club has said that tests have not revealed any particular problem.

A loss for Inter on Sunday, coupled with a victory for Roma at relegation-threatened Spal earlier in the day, would leave the two teams level on points, closely followed by Atalanta and Torino.

Those two sides are six points behind Inter and both have home matches against teams in the bottom three.

Juventus can extend its lead to 21 points with a victory over Genoa on Sunday, with second-place Napoli not playing Udinese until the evening.

— By Daniella Matar in Milan.

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