European preview: Bayern-Dortmund clash headlines weekend, Real aims for consistency

An in-form Borussia Dortmund will be keen to pile further misery on Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga while Serie A leader Juventus takes on an ailing AC Milan.

Bayern is three points ahead of third-placed Dortmund.   -  GETTY IMAGES

La Liga - Kroos urges Madrid to improve

Toni Kroos admits Real Madrid’s players feel frustrated they have not used the inconsistency of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid to establish a hefty lead in La Liga.

Barca has already lost three games out of 11 this season while Atletico has managed only five wins from 12, with Real Sociedad sitting third after a surprisingly strong start.

But Madrid has not taken advantage. It missed out on the chance to go top last weekend by drawing at home to Real Betis, just after Barcelona was beaten by Levante and Atletico drew against Sevilla.

“The last few games have been better,” Kroos told AFP. “More and more players are coming into form which is good because at the start of the season only a few players were in form which made it difficult.

“To be honest my feeling in the league is that we should be a few points clear by now. But we aren’t and we have to keep fighting for that first place,” said Kroos.

Zinedine Zidane’s side got back on track with an emphatic 6-0 win over Galatasaray in the Champions League on Wednesday, a morale-boosting win ahead of Saturday’s visit to Eibar in La Liga.

Toni Kroos is left frustrated by Madrid's wastefulness in taking advantage of Barcelona and Atletico's slip ups. Photo: AP

 

After Madrid faces Eibar at Ipurua, Barcelona plays at home to struggling Celta Vigo, which appointed Oscar Garcia as its coach on Wednesday after Fran Escriba was sacked earlier this week.

Celta will be hoping to lift the mood, and Barca too, after it followed up its defeat by Levante with a goalless draw against Slavia Prague in front of a restless Camp Nou.

“We know that we need to give more, especially when we play at home,” said Frenkie de Jong. “I can understand that when we’re not winning at home, it’s normal that people criticise. We’re not running away from that, we know that we have a lot to improve.”

Atletico is also looking for a change in momentum as it hosts Espanyol on the back of three games without a win. “The first person responsible is me,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

Fixtures

Friday: Real Sociedad vs Leganes

Saturday: Alaves vs Real Valladolid, Valencia vs Granada, Eibar vs Real Madrid, Barcelona vs Celta Vigo

Sunday: Mallorca vs Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao vs Levante, Atletico Madrid vs Espanyol, Getafe vs Osasuna, Real Betis vs Sevilla

 

Serie A - Juventus takes on AC Milan

Inter Milan and Napoli return to the Serie A fray after a disappointing week of European football for the Italian giant as leader Juventus looks to pull clear after punching its ticket to the Champions League last 16.

Juventus has 29 points from 11 games, one point ahead of Inter Milan, with resurgent Roma a further six points adrift in third. Napoli is seventh after a run of three league games without a victory.

A win over struggling AC Milan would allow Juventus to keep ahead of Inter, which hosts midtable Verona after their 3-2 Champions League defeat by Borussia Dortmund.

After the frustration of throwing away a two-goal lead against the Germans, Antonio Conte’s Inter needs a boost against Verona, which was itself under fire during the week after their fans aimed racist chants at Brescia’s Mario Balotelli last weekend.

Inter returns to Serie A after blowing a 2-0 lead in the Champions League against Dortmund only to lose 3-2. Photo: Reuters

 

“This defeat has really got to me and I hope that’s the same for my players,” said Conte, who blamed a lack of resources despite remodelling the team after his arrival last summer.

“We made some mistakes in planning because we cannot play in two competitions with such a small squad,” said former Italy boss Conte, who won three Serie A titles in a row with Juventus from 2012 to 2014, and the Premier League with Chelsea in 2017.

“We cannot play in Serie A and the Champions League constantly pushed to the limits.”

Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli hosts Genoa after a series of poor results which has put the club management at loggerheads with the players who refused to be confined to a training camp this week.

Napoli has slipped 11 points off the pace after collecting just two points from its last three matches. Ancelotti’s side also missed a chance to secure their Champions League last 16 berth with a 1-1 stalemate against Salzburg.

“We are not in a good moment, but we must react and move forward,” said captain Lorenzo Insigne.

In a clash between two of Italy’s most titled clubs, Sarri’s eight-time reigning league champion hosts AC Milan which is sitting 11th in the table. New Milan coach Stefano Pioli has not improved the club’s fortunes with just four points in as many games.

Juventus, meanwhile, could be without Cristiano Ronaldo who was substituted by Sarri “as a precautionary” measure with knee and thigh problems late in the 2-1 Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow.

Roma will looking to keep the momentum going at Parma, to follow its 2-1 success over Napoli last weekend which lifted it into the Champions League places.

Atalanta turns its focus to Sampdoria after bagging its first ever Champions League point with a dramatic 1-1 draw against Manchester City. The Bergamo side is level on points with fourth-placed Lazio.

Fabio Grosso’s first game in charge of lowly Brescia will be against Torino which i s also desperate for a result after a run of six games without a win.

Fixtures

Friday: Sassuolo vs Bologna

Saturday: Brescia vs Torino, Inter Milan vs Verona, Napoli vs Genoa

Sunday: Cagliari vs Fiorentina, Lazio vs Lecce, Sampdoria vs Atalanta, Udinese vs SPAL, Parma vs Roma, Juventus vs AC Milan

 

Bundesliga - Dortmund look to pile misery on embattled Bayern

Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre says his side has “nothing to lose” as it looks to inflict more woe on crisis-hit Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Saturday.

Niko Kovac was sacked last Sunday as Bayern coach after a 5-1 drubbing at Eintracht Frankfurt, with Hansi Flick taking over as interim boss for two games.

The former Germany assistant coach oversaw a 2-0 midweek win over Olympiakos which sealed a Champions League last-16 place with two matches to spare. But Bayern sits fourth in the Bundesliga, one point behind second-placed Dortmund and four adrift of leader Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Dortmund beat Bayern 2-0 at Signal Iduna Park in the German Super Cup in August, but Dortmund has unfinished business in Munich after suffering a 5-0 thrashing in April before its rivals went on to pip it to the title by two points.

“In the last five years, it has been hard to win there,” said Favre. “But, we have nothing to lose. We respect Bayern — we don’t fear them.”

Bayern has lost two of its last four league games and laboured against Olympiakos until Robert Lewandowski continued his incredible run of having scored in every Bundesliga and Champions League match this season, before Ivan Perisic netted late on.

Its 18 points from the opening ten matches is Bayern’s lowest tally since the 2010/2011 season — when Dortmund finished as champion.

Favre’s men mounted a stunning fightback from two goals down to beat Inter Milan 3-2 on Tuesday in the Champions League and claim a third straight win.

Bayern has won six and lost four of the last 10 meetings against Dortmund, whose sporting director Michael Zorc says he wants it to “play like blokes” after being repeatedly muscled off the ball in April.

Bayern has off-field distractions in its hunt for a new head coach, having turned down former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. But Zorc warned Dortmund against expecting the Bavarian giant to be off its game.

“We shouldn’t think that anything will be given away or that we’ll have it easy,” he said.

Flick said: “We’re playing at home and it’s a chance to lay down a new marker.” Thomas Mueller sees the showdown as the “most important game of the year“.

A second consecutive defeat would leave Bayern seven points adrift if Gladbach beats Werder Bremen on Sunday.

With Niklas Suele and Lucas Hernandez injured and Jerome Boateng suspended, Flick could field a makeshift back four of Javi Martinez, normally a midfielder, and regular left-back David Alaba at the heart of the defence, with winger Alphonso Davies and Benjamin Pavard as full-backs.

Dortmund hopes England winger Jadon Sancho, who suffered a thigh injury against Inter, and captain Marco Reus, who has an ankle knock, will be fit.

Fixtures

Friday: Cologne vs Hoffenheim

Saturday: Hertha Berlin vs RB Leipzig, Mainz vs Union Berlin, Schalke 04 vs Fortuna Duesseldorf, Paderborn vs Augsburg, Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund

Sunday: Borussia Moenchengladbach vs Werder Bremen, VfL Wolfsburg vs Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg vs Eintracht Frankfurt

 

Ligue 1 - Bitter rivals Marseille and Lyon clash

If Paris Saint-Germain has been held back in recent years by its lack of a truly top-class goalkeeper, Keylor Navas showed just why it was so keen to bring him to the French capital with his midweek performance in the Champions League.

The Costa Rican joined PSG in September from Real Madrid as Alphonse Areola moved in the other direction, and on Wednesday his late penalty save helped secure a 1-0 win over Club Brugge that clinched his side’s place in the last 16.

The last line of defence for Real as it won three successive Champions Leagues between 2016 and 2018, Navas is yet to concede a goal in Europe since arriving in Paris. Indeed, the 32-year-old has let in only five goals in 12 matches for Thomas Tuchel’s side.

“He is an extraordinary goalkeeper. He won three Champions Leagues with Real Madrid in a competition where goalkeeper is such an important position. They can change the outcome of a game,” remarked midfielder Marco Verratti after Wednesday’s game, in which Mauro Icardi scored the winner.

Leading sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday gave over its front page to the goalkeeper with a headline referencing 1982 Jean-Paul Belmondo action comedy The Ace of Aces.

And yet less than a week ago it is true that Navas hardly covered himself in glory as PSG suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Dijon.

Then again, neither did any of his teammates, and Europe is where this team will really be judged. A trip to Real Madrid later this month, when Neymar should be fit again, could be revealing.

In Ligue 1, PSG has lost three of its opening 12 games and yet it is already seven points clear of Angers at the top. It travels to face Brest on Saturday where Tuchel will again have to decide whether to leave the club’s all-time top goal-scorer, Edinson Cavani, on the bench.

Icardi has been preferred to the Uruguayan recently and has now scored eight times in the last seven matches.

Fixtures

Friday: Nice vs Bordeaux

Saturday: Brest vs Paris Saint-Germain, Lille vs Metz, Monaco vs Dijon, Reims vs Angers, Strasbourg vs Nimes

Sunday: Rennes vs Amiens, Montpellier vs Toulouse, Nantes vs Saint-Etienne, Marseille vs Lyon

 

 

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