Milan derby the headline fixture in action-packed weekend across Europe's top five leagues

Aditya Devavrat 21:34 13/03/2019
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The Milan derby is one of Europe's fiercest rivalries.

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.

SERIE A

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.

LIGUE 1

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.

LA LIGA

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.

FA CUP

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.

BUNDESLIGA

MATCH: Hertha Berlin v Borussia Dortmund

WHERE: Olympiastadion

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.

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