European Football Preview: Real hosts Sevilla, Klinsmann faces former club Bayern

Real Madrid, which recently won the Spanish Super Cup, will host Sevilla in La Liga this week, while Klinsmann's Hertha Berlin takes on Bayern in Bundesliga.

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Barcelona star Lionel Messi will be key to their side's chances this weekend.   -  Getty Images

Barcelona’s appointment of Quique Setien, a fervent disciple of Johan Cruyff, came the day after Zinedine Zidane won his ninth final out of nine as coach of Real Madrid. With both teams level on points at the top of La Liga, Spain’s closest title race in years will be as much a contest of identity and beliefs as points won and lost.

On the other hand, Jurgen Klinsmann is planning a party if Hertha Berlin beats his former employer Bayern Munich on Sunday despite doubts about the validity of his coaching licence, as the Bundesliga resumes this weekend after a four-week break.

LA LIGA - BARCA AND REAL'S FIGHT FOR SUPREMACY CONTINUES

Real Madrid, the club that defines itself by winning, against Barcelona, where winning is seen as the result of something more profound, a style heralded by Cruyff that has become its footballing philosophy. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, both five points behind, are still in touch but playing catch-up.

Setien once said he would have given his little finger to play under Cruyff. Now, 34 years later, he has the chance to resuscitate those ideals after two years under Ernesto Valverde when pragmatism took a greater hold.

Barca’s new coach is not well-known outside of Spain and, at 61, he may be in the twilight years of his career. “For me this is the pinnacle,” he said at his unveiling on Tuesday.

His previous clubs are not illustrious. They include Lugo, Logrones, Las Palmas, Poli Ejido, Racing Santander, Real Betis and one game in charge of Equatorial Guinea. His list of trophies begins and ends with one Spanish Super Cup in 1985 with Atletico Madrid.

But his work and words up to this point could leave the impression of someone that has been preparing to coach Barcelona his entire life. “When I was a player, coaches tried to set guidelines for me,” Setien, a former Spanish international, told Marca in 2018.

“But on the field, I tried to express myself and it was only when I saw Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona play that I started to understand how things really worked.” “Having the ball makes you a football player, not running after it,” he said last year.

Yet, as Barca reflects on its identity and style, Madrid might be comforted by the simplicity of its own DNA. The club’s lifeblood is success. Unlike Setien, Zidane sets his tactics around his players, not the other way round.

After lifting the club's 11th Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, Zidane was asked to explain how he has won all of the nine finals he has been in as coach.

“That’s what this club is, we always want to win,” he said. “First and foremost, we have a good team and then you have to believe. We’ve done that.”

The key to how the Spanish Super Cup and Setien’s arrival might affect the trajectory of the title race could become clearer this weekend. Real Madrid, buoyed by its triumph in Saudi Arabia, plays at home to Sevilla on Saturday, while Setien’s first game comes on Sunday, also at home, against Granada.

Sevilla should offer the sterner test, even if one win from its last four league games suggests it may be fighting for fourth place in May rather than first.

Julen Lopetegui’s side is tied on points with Atletico Madrid, who will be more confident of rejoining the race after an impressive showing in Jeddah saw it beat Barcelona before losing out to Real Madrid on penalties. Atletico plays away on Saturday at 16th-placed Eibar.

FIXTURES (GMT)

Friday

Leganes v Getafe (2000)

Saturday

Levante v Alaves (1200), Real Madrid v Sevilla (1500), Osasuna v Real Valladolid (1730), Eibar v Atletico Madrid (2000) Sunday

Mallorca v Valencia (1100), Real Betis v Real Sociedad (1300), Villarreal v Espanyol (1500), Athletic Bilbao v Celta Vigo (1730), Barcelona v Granada (2000).

 

BUNDESLIGA - CLOSEST TITLE FIGHT IN YEARS

Since taking charge in November, the 55-year-old former Germany and US national team coach, Klinsmann, has pulled Hertha up from the relegation places to mid-table with 10 points from a possible 12 going into its clash with third-placed Bayern at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

However Klinsmann, who led both the US and Germany at World Cup finals, has been left red-faced after it emerged his coaching licence, held since 2000, may no longer be valid and the relevant paperwork is at the family home in California.

“It’s just been a bit of a chance for the media to let off a bit of steam,” Klinsmann told Sky as questions over his licence became a hot topic in the German media.

“No one has ever approached me about a licence in 20 years -- whether as coach of Germany, the USA or Bayern. Now they have looked into it and it’s expired.” The matter remains unresolved but Klinsmann insists he has sent the necessary paperwork to the German FA and that there is “no problem at all“.

He has a point to prove against Bayern, which sacked him in 2009 after just nine months and 43 games in charge. Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has recovered from recent groin surgery and will look to pick up where he left off after scoring 19 goals in the first 17 games.

The defending champion trails leader RB Leipzig by four points and is without wingers Kingsley Coman (knee) and Serge Gnabry, who injured his Achilles tendon during a training camp in Qatar.

Bayern suffered a shock 2-0 defeat when it last travelled to Hertha in September 2018 and Klinsmann said a repeat result would spark a party in the capital.

One to watch: Erling Braut Haaland

Borussia Dortmund made the league’s standout signing during the winter break when it paid Red Bull Salzburg 20 million euros ($22m) for the 19-year-old Norway striker.

Haaland attracted attention last September when, aged 19 years and 58 days, he became the third youngest player to score a Champions League hat-trick in a 6-2 victory over Genk, finishing with eight goals in six group games.

“I don’t think we’ve had that kind of striker since Robert Lewandowski,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus told Sky.

Head coach Lucien Favre has not said when Haaland will make his debut. Fourth-placed Dortmund hopes a deluge of goals by their latest signing will help close the seven-point deficit to RB Leipzig, starting with a win at Augsburg on Saturday.

Fixtures (all times GMT unless stated)

Friday

Schalke v Bor. Moenchengladbach (1930)

Saturday

Hoffenheim v Eintracht Frankfurt, Fortuna Duesseldorf v Werder Bremen, Mainz v Freiburg, Augsburg v Borussia Dortmund, Cologne v VfL Wolfsburg, RB Leipzig v Union Berlin (1730)

Sunday

Hertha Berlin v Bayern Munich, Paderborn v Bayer Leverkusen (1700)

SERIE A - CONTE TAKES INTER TO LECCE AS JUVE HOSTS PARMA

Antonio Conte's Inter Milan heads south to his former club Lecce on Sunday looking to keep the pressure on Serie A leaders Juventus, which hosts Parma, as the three-way title chase gains momentum with Lazio just behind the leading duo.

Inter is two points behind the eight-time reigning champion after being held by Atalanta last weekend with promoted Lecce offering 50-year-old Conte a chance to take home three points.

The minnows from the heel of Italy is one point above the relegation zone, coming off a run of four consecutive defeats, with 38 goals conceded this campaign.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez, who has scored 15 goals in total this season, praised Conte for instilling ambition in the club which last won Serie A in 2010.

Inter kicked off its season at home in the San Siro with a 4-0 win over Conte's hometown club Lecce where he began his football career.

Former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku's first goal in Serie A came against Lecce, and he has scored 18 goals in all competitions this campaign, including a double during the week in a 4-1 Italian Cup win over Cagliari.

Maurizio Sarri's Juventus faces a potentially tricky tie against seventh-placed Parma, which is pushing for a return to European football.

Cristiano Ronaldo missed their midweek Italian Cup win over Udinese with sinusitis, but Paulo Dybala scored a double as he spearheaded the attack with fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain, who was also on target.

Lazio is third -- six points behind Juventus -- but with a game in hand and targeting an 11th consecutive league win against Sampdoria.

Claudio Ranieri's Sampdoria beat Brescia 5-1 last weekend, but has not won against the Roman club in 15 years.

Fourth-placed Atalanta, equal on points with Roma, host basement club SPAL after their fiery Italian Cup defeat to Fiorentina.

Roma is coming off back-to-back defeats against Torino and Juventus, and desperately needs a boost against Genoa before facing city rival Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico.

Napoli, in 11th place, hosts 14th-placed Fiorentina, after losing its last two games.

One to watch:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to score at home for AC Milan in the San Siro after finding the net in his first start last weekend in a 2-0 win against Cagliari.

The 38-year-old Swede was rested during their 3-0 Italian Cup win over SPAL.

AC Milan hosts Udinese, which is just behind it in 11th and on a three-match league winning streak.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Lazio v Sampdoria (1400GMT), Sassuolo v Torino (1700), Napoli v Fiorentina (1945)

Sunday

AC Milan v Udinese (1130), Bologna v Hellas Verona, Brescia v Cagliari, Lecce v Inter Milan (all 1400), Genoa v AS Roma (1700), Juventus v Parma (1945)

Monday

Atalanta v SPAL (1945)

 

LIGUE 1 - PSG faces tough trip to Marseille

Paris Saint-Germain ensured there were no slip-ups in its second meeting in three days against AS Monaco when it won 4-1 away from home. Star forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe got on the scoresheet with the Frenchman adding a second goal in injury-time.

After 20 matches, PSG has an eight-point lead over its nearest challengers Marseille. Thomas Tuchel will be keen to maintain that gap after this round when it travels to fifth-placed Lille on Sunday.

Marseille will host mid-table side Angiers on Saturday aiming to put some pressure on the champion.

Lyon will host bottom-placed Toulouse, which has lost 11 successive matches.

Fixtures (GMT)

Friday

OGC Nice vs Rennes (2345)

Saturday

Marseille vs Angers (2030), Brest vs Amiens (2300), Stade Reims vs Metz (2300), St. Etienne vs Nimes (2300), Monaco vs Strasbourg (2300), Montpellier vs Dijon (2300)

Sunday

Lyon vs Toulouse (1800), Nantes vs Bordeaux (2000),

Monday

Lille vs PSG (0000)

  Dugout videos