MATCHDAY: Barcelona in Europa League; Chelsea in EPL action
A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández won’t count on Dani Alves and Gavi Páez when the Catalan club hosts Galatasaray in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Europa League, the only competition where it still has a realistic chance of a trophy. Barcelona is out of the Copa del Rey and trails Spanish league leader Real Madrid by 15 points. Alves was not included in the Europa League squad, while Gavi is suspended. Barcelona has won four in a row in all competitions and is unbeaten in eight consecutive games. Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui will have former Manchester United forward Anthony Martial available for the first leg against West Ham at home after he missed a few matches because of an injury. The coach still can’t count on some key players because of injuries, including Diego Carlos and Papu Gómez. Monaco coach Philippe Clement is convinced his side is back on track after winning away to Marseille in the French league last Sunday, for only the club’s first win in five games. But given how inconsistent Marseille has been recently, it’s hard to read too much into Clement’s new-found optimism. At least Wissam Ben Yedder is on form as both the club’s top scorer with 22 goals overall and dovetailing at times as a canny playmaker. However, Ben Yedder’s ratio in Europe this season has been mediocre with only two goals in nine games. He may need to step up a gear against Braga, since the Portuguese side has a solid defense with 24 goals conceded in 25 league games. The other games see Scottish champion Rangers host Red Star Belgrade and Atalanta play Bayer Leverkusen. Two matches were played a day early on Wednesday, with Lyon winning 1-0 at Porto and Eintracht Frankfurt edging Real Betis 2-1 in Spain.
Four Premier League games are being played after being postponed due to coronavirus cases earlier in the season. Chelsea goes to last-place Norwich with its focus on shoring up its hold on third place. Arsenal is five points behind with a game in hand but Liverpool is 10 points ahead of Chelsea in second place. In the relegation zone, Watford is a place and two points above Norwich heading into its game at Wolverhampton. Leeds is in desperate need of a win against Aston Villa in Jesse Marsch’s second game in charge with his team only two points above the drop zone having already played a match more than Burnley. Newcastle has started to pull away from the danger of relegation, sitting seven points clear of the bottom three after going eight games unbeaten before Eddie Howe’s side heads to Southampton. Saudi-funded Newcastle has been able to strengthen in the transfer window since this game was originally due to be played in January before being called off due to coronavirus and injuries severely depleting Howe’s squad. Howe said: “We are just following the protocols that we have been set and we’re delighted to play our new players. They have done very well for us and made a difference.”
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