European Soccer Weekend: What to watch in main competitions
What to watch in the leading football competitions in Europe this weekend:
Thanks to a five-game winning streak, Real Madrid has closed the gap on Barcelona from 10 to six points in recent weeks and the second-place side hosts struggling Girona on Sunday.
Girona is enduring a 13-game winless run in all competitions — including six successive losses. Without a league win since November, the Catalan club is one point from the relegation zone in 17th place.
Barcelona has drawn three consecutive games — two in the league and one against Real Madrid at home in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. The defending league champions host 15th-place Valladolid on Saturday with the squad rested after not playing midweek.
Third-place Atletico Madrid, coming off two straight losses, visits relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Fourth-place Sevilla, winless in two league matches, visits second-to-last-place Villarreal on Sunday.
— By Tales Azzoni.
The Premier League takes a break for the fifth round of the FA Cup.
But there’s still an eye-catching all-Premier League encounter between Chelsea and Manchester United on Monday. After an impressive start to his United reign, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost for the first time in his 12th match in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain in a last-16 first leg. Maurizio Sarri faces more pressure after Chelsea dropped to sixth in the league last weekend when United climbed to fourth.
Premier League leader Manchester City travels to south Wales to play fourth-tier side Newport on Saturday. Newport hasn’t reached this far in the competition since the 1948-49 season, and Padraig Amond has scored in every round so far.
“They’re such a great side that even if they rest a few players they’ll probably put out 11 internationals,” Amond said of City.
Four other Premier League sides face lower league opposition, with Watford at Queens Park Rangers on Friday, Brighton hosting Derby on Saturday and Sunday seeing Wolverhampton go to Bristol City and Crystal Palace play away at Doncaster.
AFC Wimbledon, the third tier’s last-place side, plays Millwall of the second tier on Saturday. It has already faced tougher London opposition in the competition, ousting West Ham of the Premier League in the fourth round.
—By Rob Harris.
Defending champion Bayern Munich will hope to pile further pressure on Borussia Dortmund with a win at Bavarian rival Augsburg on Friday.
Bayern is five points behind Dortmund going into the 22nd round and looking to seize on the Bundesliga leader’s first dip in form under coach Lucien Favre.
Dortmund has failed to win any of its four games across all competitions and has conceded nine goals in its last three matches. The side is on the verge of a Champions League exit after losing 3-0 away to Tottenham on Wednesday, while it threw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga last weekend.
Dortmund has a trip to last-place Nuremberg on Monday. Nuremberg, which Dortmund routed 7-0 earlier in the season, fired coach Michael Koellner and sporting director Andreas Bornemann on Tuesday. It is bidding for a fresh start under club favorite Marek Mintal and former assistant coach Boris Schommers.
Third-place Borussia Moenchengladbach hopes to recover from its first home defeat of the season but faces a tough game at fifth-place Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday, before sixth-place Bayer Leverkusen hosts Fortuna Duesseldorf for a Rhine derby.
— By Ciaran Fahey.
Saint-Etienne can join the chase for second place and an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League, but first must beat runaway league leader Paris Saint-Germain at home on Sunday night to keep the pressure on rivals Lyon and Lille.
Saint-Etienne is in fourth place but has the second best home record in the French league, and PSG’s only defeat of the league campaign so far was away from home.
Not many observers tipped Lille to be in second place, after the club almost got relegated last season.
Nicolas Pepe has 16 league goals this season, but the highly-rated forward may find it hard to add to that tally against visiting Montpellier on Sunday. Montpellier has the second strongest defense in the league behind PSG.
Should Lille drop points it could open the door for third-place Lyon, which is six points behind Lille. Lyon, which is the only team to have beaten PSG so far, is at home to last-place Guingamp on Friday night.
— By Jerome Pugmire.
The fight for fourth place takes center stage in Serie A as AC Milan visits direct rival Atalanta on Saturday.
Milan currently occupies fourth spot and the final Champions League qualifying berth but has just one point more than Atalanta.
Both sides are on similar runs with their last league defeats coming on Dec. 22. They are also both through to the Italian Cup semifinals.
Roma and Lazio are level on points with Atalanta and they play Bologna and Genoa respectively.
Juventus will be looking to extend its lead at the top of Serie A to 14 points with a win at home to relegation-threatened Frosinone on Friday, with second-place Napoli not playing until Sunday, when it hosts Torino.
Third-place Inter Milan plays Sampdoria on Sunday.
— By Daniella Matar.