Though the Champions League has been hogging the headlines over the last two weeks, domestic action in Europe has been equally dramatic, with several of the continent’s biggest clubs fighting it out for league titles, European spots, and cup trophies.
This week sees the Premier League take a back stage to the FA Cup in England, with only four league fixtures due to be played while the cup competition enters the quarter-final stage, while there’s plenty of intrigue in store in Europe’s other top leagues this weekend.
Here’s a preview of the key games across Europe this weekend.
MATCH: AC Milan v Inter Milan
WHERE: San Siro
WHEN: Sunday, March 17, 23:30 GST
The Milan derby is one of the world’s most fiercely-contested fixtures, and this weekend’s meeting has the added spice of being a crucial game in Serie A‘s top-four race. These two teams are used to competing for higher honours, but with Inter having been knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages this season and Milan haven’t been in Europe’s premier competition since the 2013/14 season.
A surge in form from Milan coupled with a stumble from Inter has seen the Rossoneri take over third place in Serie A, though Inter are just a point behind going into this fixture. But though a loss would be a critical blow for either side, it may hurt the Nerazzuri more. This was the season Inter were supposed to challenge Juventus for the league title. Instead, they could be level on points with Roma in fourth place if they lose and the Giallorossi win.
This will also be the first taste of the Milan derby for Rossoneri striker Krzysztof Piatek, who has taken Italy by storm this season and become an instant star in Milan after joining the red-and-black side of the city in a winter transfer from Genoa. The Poland striker has eight goals in nine appearances for Milan, including the winner in last week’s 2-1 triumph over Chievo.
—AC Milan’s current top scorer— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 9, 2019
—Genoa’s current top scorer
Krzysztof Piatek is owning Serie A this season 🔫🤯 pic.twitter.com/suUvSsUfL3
MATCH: PSG v Marseille
WHERE: Parc des Princes
WHEN: Monday, March 18, 00:00 [+1] GST (Sunday night)
From a derby in Italy to a rivalry game in France. Le Classique is regarded as one of France’s most hotly-contested fixtures, even though Paris Saint-Germain have dominated the rivalry this decade.
Indeed, Marseille haven’t beaten their bitter foes since 2011, a run of 18 fixtures in which the Parisians have won 15 times. And PSG don’t lose Ligue 1 games at home – they’re unbeaten all season at the Parc des Princes, though that record has now been tarnished by their collapse against Manchester United in the Champions League.
Though several players have come out in the wake of that defeat and said it felt like the season was over, and indeed, there is little left to play for thanks to the 17-point lead they have over second-placed Lille. But games against Marseille are always charged affairs, and that should get the competitive juices flowing.
Despite their poor record, Marseille could be forgiven for going into this game with some hope. They’re on a six-game unbeaten run and there are signs that the “Champions Project” touted by the club owners as they look to restore former glory is finally gathering some steam.
Marseille are just three points behind Lyon in the race for the final Champions League spot, and a win in Paris would send a huge statement.
🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥— Olympique de Marseille (@OM_Officiel) March 13, 2019
Man on fire
MATCH: Real Madrid v Celta Vigo
WHERE: Santiago Bernabeu
WHEN: Saturday, March 16, 19:15 GST
All eyes will be on one man in Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, after Real Madrid announced the sensational return of Zinedine Zidane as manager.
The club legend had resigned from that very job last summer, but a poor season was capped off by a dismal week which saw Madrid knocked out of the Copa del Rey, the running for the La Liga title, and the Champions League all thanks to three devastating home losses – leading to an SOS that Zidane couldn’t help but answer.
Though his return has lifted spirits, there is serious work for the Frenchman to do. The squad seems fractured after their latest run of results and key players have struggled to find form all season. Vinicius Junior, the young Brazilian who has the lone bright spark of an abysmal campaign for Madrid, has had his season ended by injury, and other than striker Karim Benzema no Madrid player can truly say they’ve delivered their best in 2018/19.
But getting the best out of players was Zidane’s forte. He may have walked back into Madrid in the middle of a perfect storm, but it’s likely he’s about to release the full force of that storm on Celta Vigo. Saturday’s unfortunate opponents, stuck in relegation battle, have been handed the worst possible time to make a trip to the capital.
You're in Zinedine Zidane's shoes and can only pick one of each, who are you buying? 🤔💶— Sport360° (@Sport360) March 13, 2019
- Ronaldo v Mbappe
- Kane v Icardi
- Eriksen v Zaniolo
- Militao v De Ligt
- Firpo v Tagliafico pic.twitter.com/PyqDBmVjnC
MATCH: Wolves v Manchester United
WHERE: Molineux Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, March 16, 23:55 GST
After the highs of Paris, there was the low of London as Manchester United followed up their dramatic Champions League triumph over PSG with a loss to Arsenal that was the first league defeat of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s short reign as manager.
Perhaps the result was needed, as the club can now refocus after their European hangover and turn their attentions to the competition which provides the best opportunity for silverware. The FA Cup quarter-finals will dominate the headlines in England this weekend and this is the marquee fixture, with United’s opponents also looking to make a mark of their own.
Wolves have been the surprise package of this season in England, with the side currently seventh in the league. They nearly got a huge win last week, with only an injury-time equaliser preventing them from defeating Chelsea away from home. But there’s a chance for an even bigger scalp on Saturday, as they look to book their spot in the FA Cup semi-finals.
The Portuguese wonderkid turns 22 today!! 🙌— Wolves (@Wolves) March 13, 2019
On his birthday, check out Ruben's best moments in a Wolves shirt!
(there have been some really, really good ones!)
MATCH: Hertha Berlin v Borussia Dortmund
WHEN: Saturday, March 16, 21:30 GST
Last week, Dortmund finally arrested the recent slide that has seen them throw away a nine-point lead over Bayern Munich, beating relegation battlers Stuttgart 3-1. Of course, that happened to come in the same weekend Bayern thrashed Wolfsburg 6-0 at home, a result that allowed the Bavarians to leapfrog Dortmund into top spot in the Bundesliga on goal difference.
Faced with the unenviable task of keeping up with Niko Kovac’s high-flying side, Dortmund have a chance this weekend to lay down a marker. They play a day before their rivals and one way or the other, Bayern could be suffering from a European hangover of their own after Wednesday’s clash against Liverpool.
A win against 10th-placed Hertha Berlin would see Lucien Favre’s team reclaim first place, if only temporarily, and send a reminder to Bayern that despite both teams’ recent fortunes, there is still a title race in Germany.
Cristiano Ronaldo hailed it a “magical night” after his hat-trick helped Juventus overturn a two-goal deficit in their Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid.
Ronaldo inspired the Italians to a stunning fightback with two towering headers and a nerveless late penalty, which sealed a 3-0 win on the night after they lost the first leg 2-0 in Madrid.
“It was always going to be a special night – and it was, not only for the goals, but for the team,” Ronaldo told Juve’s official website.
“This is the mentality of champions, this is the journey to follow. We enjoyed a magical night.”
Late goals from Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin had earned Atletico a 2-0 first-leg advantage, but Ronaldo produced two trademark headers in either half and converted a late penalty to clinch a deserved 3-2 aggregate win.
“Atletico were a difficult team, but we were strong too. We will see what will happen,” added Ronaldo, who has scored 124 goals in 160 Champions League appearances.
Joao Cancelo, who provided the cross for Ronaldo’s second header in the 49th minute, hailed his Portugal team-mate after a thrilling tie.
“Ronaldo? He’s fantastic,” Cancelo said. “Now we will think about the league, we want to win against Genoa (on Sunday).
“This victory was important for the team. In the week, we worked well and we deserved this success.”
Juve defender Leonardo Bonucci saluted the home fans in Turin and also quickly switched focus to the Serie A game at Genoa.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side, unbeaten in their domestic league this season, are currently 18 points clear at the top of the table.
“It’s a great night for the Juventus family and we responded on the field,” Bonucci said.
“In the first leg we were missing something, but today, we gave everything, and Allianz Stadium was our 12th man in an incredible night.
“But now we want to win in Genoa, to continue our journey and prepare a great month of April.”
Atletico ended the first leg in rousing fashion in Madrid, but offered little threat in the return and boss Diego Simeone was magnaminous in defeat.
“They were better than us,” Simeone told a press conference. “We didn’t have many chances apart from (Alvaro) Morata’s header. Juventus played very well, we have to congratulate them.”
Atletico are second in LaLiga, seven points behind leaders Barcelona, but five ahead of city rivals Real Madrid and Simeone turned his attention to Sunday’s trip to Athletic Bilbao.
“We have to get up tomorrow and keep working,” the Argentinian added. “Now we must finish La Liga in the best way possible.”
Pep Guardiola has warned his Manchester City players their Champions League tie with Schalke remains on a knife-edge.
City came from behind to take control of the last-16 fixture with a last-gasp 3-2 victory in the first leg in Gelsenkirchen three weeks ago.
But after surprise losses for Real Madrid and Paris St Germain in the competition last week, Guardiola points out nothing can be taken for granted in Tuesday’s return at the Etihad Stadium.
The City manager said: “We have a tendency – myself as well – that when we see the draw we always say who is going to win. After the first leg, everybody ‘knows’ who is going to win the second one.
“But a week ago we didn’t expect PSG would happen, or Real Madrid.
“Every game is completely different but for people who say there is nothing to do – one sent off, one red card, one goal in the first minute, many things can happen in 90 minutes in this kind of competition.
“I am sitting here thinking we still have work to do, that’s my feeling today.”
Premier League champions City are among the favourites for the competition but Guardiola continues to play down expectations by referring to the club’s lack of European pedigree.
City are competing in the Champions League for an eighth season in succession but their best effort remains their run to the semi-finals in 2016. They have not got beyond the quarter-finals under Guardiola.
The Spaniard, who won the competition twice as Barcelona boss, said: “We are teenagers in this competition, that’s what I feel, but we want to win it, we push ourselves. The best way is to feel this kind of pressure.
“We have to dream and point as high as possible. At the same time we have to accept there are other teams thinking the same with a lot of quality and a lot of talent.”
City are without the suspended pair of defender Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Fernandinho, although the latter is injured anyway. Aymeric Laporte and John Stones have both trained after recent injuries and could return but captain Vincent Kompany did not take part in an open session on Monday.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan feels City are capable of going deep in the competition – but they still have to prove it.
The German said: “If we want to be named as the best in Europe, we have to do it. It’s our ambition but in terms of how we play, we feel we are already quite good.
“We have to prove it on results and, obviously, that means going as far as possible in the Champions League. That’s our target. That’s why we play.”
Provided by Press Association Sport