European soccer weekend: What to watch in the main leagues
What to watch in the leading football leagues in Europe this weekend:
After collecting only two points from a possible six in its last two games, Liverpool’s title challenge is wobbling.
Juergen Klopp’s side can reclaim top spot in the Premier League — temporarily at least — with at least a draw against Bournemouth on Saturday.
But realistically, Liverpool has to avoid slip-ups — particularly against weaker opponents — if the 29-year title drought is to end.
Defending champion Manchester City is ahead of Liverpool on goal difference and doesn’t play until Sunday against fourth-place Chelsea. Tottenham is still in the title mix, sitting third, five points behind City, as it prepares to host Leicester in Sunday’s early game.
The 26th round starts on Saturday lunchtime with Manchester United at Fulham after rising to fifth last weekend above Arsenal, which is at Huddersfield.
— By Rob Harris in London.
Real Madrid has another tough assignment. After earning a 1-1 away draw against Barcelona in the first leg of the semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, Madrid plays Atletico Madrid in the league on Saturday.
Real Madrid is in the middle of the most difficult period of the season, with a trip to the Netherlands coming right after the city derby for a match against Ajax in the round of 16 of the Champions League.
A victory at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano would lift Madrid past its city rival into second place.
Barcelona is six points in front of Atletico and eight points ahead of Real Madrid after 22 matches.
Barcelona visits Athletic Bilbao on Sunday to try to rebound from a home draw against Valencia in the league. Athletic had a dismal start to its season but has won three of its last five league matches. It’s unclear if Lionel Messi will make the trip to Bilbao because of a right leg injury that kept him on the bench for most of Wednesday’s clasico.
— By Tales Azzoni in Madrid.
Encouragingly, Verratti resumed training this week after recovering from a sprained ankle. Having been expected to play on Wednesday in the French Cup, he sat out due to an unspecified problem. Tuchel’s midfield is weak and he needs Verratti at Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday. But one game may not be enough for Verratti to get his rhythm back.
It’s a headache for Tuchel, who may rule out Verratti and move either Marquinhos, Julian Draxler or Dani Alves out of their normal positions into a makeshift midfield alongside new signing Leandro Paredes.
Languishing in 12th place, Bordeaux could give a debut to 20-year-old English striker Josh Maja, signed last month from second-tier English club Sunderland.
— By Jerome Pugmire in Paris.
The pressure might be getting to Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund. Lucien Favre’s side dropped points at Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend and was knocked out of the German Cup by Werder Bremen in a penalty shootout on Tuesday. Injuries have taken their toll and the side no longer seems to be scoring goals as freely as it did earlier in the season.
Dortmund’s reliance on captain Marco Reus is also a worry for the side — he was taken off as a precaution at halftime in the loss to Bremen — and Saturday’s Bundesliga game at home to Hoffenheim is overshadowed by the trip to Tottenham in the Champions League next Wednesday.
Bayern Munich, seven points behind after losing to Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, is still hopeful of capitalizing on any Dortmund slip-ups over the remaining 14 games and aims to start a winning run against visiting Schalke on Saturday.
Borussia Moenchengladbach – ahead of Bayern on goal difference – can consolidate second place with a win at home against Hertha Berlin, which narrowly lost to Bayern in the cup on Wednesday. Also on Saturday, bottom clubs Hannover and Nuremberg clash for a relegation battle.
— By Ciaran Fahey in Berlin.
Roma needs to find some consistency ahead of a tricky few days for the capital club.
Roma, which is still reeling from its 7-1 humiliation at Fiorentina in the Italian Cup, visits last-placed Chievo Verona in Serie A on Friday, four days before it hosts Porto in the Champions League.
It impressed on Sunday in drawing with AC Milan 1-1 and is unbeaten in its past five league matches.
Roma was a point behind fourth-placed Milan, which hosts Cagliari on Sunday.
Napoli could have trimmed the gap to six points by then, with a victory at Fiorentina on Saturday.
__ By Daniella Matar in Milan.