European Football: Neymar suspended for PSG, Bayern without Lewandowski

Barcelona travels to Madrid for the Clasico, Lyon takes on rival Saint-Etienne, Bayern Munich faces Hoffenheim and Juventus clashes with Inter Milan.

PSG manager Thomas Tuchel wont have the services of Neymar for the home game against Dijon this weekend.   -  AFP

- LIGUE 1 -

Lyon is hoping to build on its rousing Champions League win over Juventus this weekend as it faces bitter rival Saint-Etienne, whose coach Claude Puel heads into hostile territory under serious pressure. Off the field, Lyon has established itself as the second force in the French game behind Paris Saint-Germain, but it is struggling to translate that into on-pitch success.

Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Juventus in its Champions League last 16, first leg has raised hopes Lyon might win a knockout tie in the competition for the first time in a decade. However, the result came with Rudi Garcia’s side languishing in seventh place in Ligue 1 and in serious danger of missing out on the Champions League next season.

With Neymar suspended, will Cavani keep his place in the Paris Saint-Germain side for its home game against Dijon? The Uruguayan scored his 200th goal for the club in last week’s 4-3 win over Bordeaux after being selected ahead of Mauro Icardi.

Read | Aubameyang, Arteta reflect on Arsenal's UEL defeat to Olympiacos

It was a rare start this season for the 33-year-old, who is PSG’s record marksman, but he will be hopeful of forcing his way into Thomas Tuchel’s thinking for a place in the upcoming Champions League last 16, second leg against Borussia Dortmund.

Sitting 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, PSG should have few problems at home to a Dijon side sitting just above the relegation zone.

- BUNDESLIGA -

Bayern Munich heads into the start of a crucial series of games this weekend without key striker Robert Lewandowski, who has contributed 25 league goals this season. The 31-year-old Pole picked up a knee injury during Bayern’s 3-0 demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday when it looked every inch a club with the pedigree of five Champions League titles to its name.

Bayern has one foot in the Champions League quarterfinals but Lewandowski will miss the second leg at the Allianz Arena on March 18 and at least three Bundesliga matches, starting with Saturday’s trip to Hoffenheim. With a mere one-point lead at the top over Leipzig in an exciting Bundesliga title race, reigning champion Bayern cannot afford to slip up at eighth-placed Hoffenheim.

100

Robert Lewandowski injured his knee at Stamford Bridge.   -  Clive Mason/Getty Images

 

“Lewandowski is in the form of his life,” Flick said. “He can’t be replaced. He is very, very important to us.” “We didn’t have a replacement for Gerd Mueller either,” was Bayern chief Uli Hoeness’s typically blunt reply when asked about how the club will cope without Lewandowski, referring to the legendary Bayern striker.

Leipzig was off during the week after taking a 1-0 advantage over last season’s finalist Tottenham in London in the Champions League last week. Its opponent Bayer Leverkusen, has won nine of its last ten in all competitions, but the last of them was away to Porto in the Europa League on Thursday night.

- SERIE A -

Lazio is ready to pounce to hammer home its Serie A ambitions when it hosts Bologna on Saturday before title-rival Juventus and Inter Milan clash behind closed doors in Turin because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Romans are one point behind leader Juventus with Inter Milan six points adrift with a game in hand, after last weekend’s match against Sampdoria was postponed because of the virus epidemic in Italy.

Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio is on a 20-match unbeaten run in the league as it targets its first Scudetto in two decades. The Serie A calendar has been thrown into turmoil by the spread of coronavirus which has infected 650 people and killed 17 in Italy. Four matches last weekend were postponed, and five will be played behind closed doors this weekend.

Also read | Conte praises Inter for overcoming 'strange' atmosphere

Juventus is reeling after its Champions League last 16, first leg defeat in Lyon, and needs a result against Inter to keep its bid for a ninth Serie A title firmly on track.

“I am confident, because we are a united group,” said Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey. “Let’s focus on ourselves, and do better starting on Sunday with Inter. For the return leg we want to secure a result in front of the fans.”

It will also mark the return of Inter coach Antonio Conte to Turin where he played for 13 years and coached Juventus to three Serie A titles in its current run of eight.

- LA LIGA -

La Liga’s most important Clasico for years might also be the most mediocre on Sunday as Barcelona and Real Madrid each fight to lift the gloom by deepening the other’s sense of crisis.

Two points separate the league’s leading pair, making this weekend’s meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu a potentially significant checkpoint in a back-and-forth title race, particularly if Barcelona wins and extends its advantage to five.

It will be more significant than last season, when Barca kicked off the calendar’s second Clasico nine points clear of Madrid, or the season before, when it was already 15 in front.

100

Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos with match officials before December's Clasico.   -  Getty Images

 

But while a tussle at the top of the table is welcome in terms of intrigue, there is an unmistakeable sense of decline hanging over what has become the world’s most famous club fixture.

“It’s a race of two lame ducks, both of them are bad right now, that’s the reality,” former Real Madrid forward Jorge Valdano told Onda Cero on Wednesday night. “Barca’s recovery is more down to Real Madrid than Barca themselves.”

Related | Ajax knocked out of Europa League by Getafe

For both teams, the build-up has been bumpy, with Madrid particularly wounded after a 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester City which has left it on the brink of exiting the Champions League in the last 16 for a second year in a row.

Barca’s own problems recently have largely been to do with its president and board, but the emergency signing of striker Martin Braithwaite from Leganes exposed muddled thinking that has affected the squad too.

Barcelona and Real Madrid’s combined 108 points taken at this stage is their second lowest since 2007, beaten only by last year’s even lower total of 105.

  Dugout videos