European League Preview: Hazard back for Madrid, Inter seeks to bounce back against Sampdoria

Real Madrid will be boosted by Eden Hazard's return, while Inter will look to bounce back from recent setbacks when it takes on Sampdoria.

Eden Hazard

Eden Hazard played his first game since November 27 versus Celta Vigo last weekend and impressed, winning a penalty in the second half and offering hope he can regain sharpness quicker than when he returned from injury in September.   -  Getty Images

La Liga: Hazard return poses conundrum for Real as Clasico, Eibar test for Barca

Eden Hazard’s return should prove timely ahead of a crucial week for Real Madrid, but fitting him into the team may not be a simple task for Zinedine Zidane.

Real plays at Levante on Saturday at the start of an eight-day period that continues at home to Manchester City in the Champions League and finishes against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Hazard made his first appearance since November 27 versus Celta Vigo last weekend and impressed, winning a penalty in the second half and offering hope he can regain sharpness quicker than when he returned from injury in September.

Hazard is an automatic pick and it is no coincidence his return to the side comes just before the last-16 first leg against City and then the Clasico. Yet Zidane will have to find a balance. He appeared to settle on Hazard’s best position being in a front two behind Karim Benzema in October but Madrid’s success in the Belgian’s absence has been in a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation.

“We’ve played with three up front all our lives, it doesn’t weaken us,” said Zidane on Saturday.

In that system, Hazard could be played off the left, where he thrived for Chelsea. Zidane even tried a back three in pre-season but with little success. Zidane’s plans for City and Barca will be particularly interesting given he has previously viewed Gareth Bale as too much of a liability defensively against elite opponents.

Madrid has surged to the top of La Liga due to a 15-match unbeaten run founded on seven goals conceded, rather than an abundance of creativity up front.

Barcelona will warm up for the Clasico at home to Eibar on Saturday before facing a trip to Napoli in the Champions League three days later. Despite a turbulent few weeks on and off the pitch, Quique Setien’s team have managed to restrict Madrid’s lead at the top to just one point and have three consecutive victories in the league.

Eibar sits 16th, its last win coming against Atletico Madrid last month.

Serie A: Inter seeking to 'bounce back' against Sampdoria before Juventus showdown

Antonio Conte warned Inter Milan needs to bounce back from recent setbacks against Sampdoria on Saturday to keep pace with leading duo Juventus and Lazio, before its clash with the Serie A champion in Turin next week.

Inter dropped from first to third, three points behind champion Juventus, after losing 2-1 to second-placed Lazio last weekend, following an Italian Cup defeat to Napoli.

“It was a painful result,” said Conte of the loss in Rome's Stadio Olimpico. “We've now got back up with the desire to bounce back and move forward.”

Claudio Ranieri's Sampdoria is 17th, just one point above the relegation zone, and lost the reverse fixture in Genoa 3-1 in September.

Juventus can open up a six-point gap on Conte's side with a win at rock bottom SPAL, before hosting Inter at the Allianz Stadium on March 1.

Maurizio Sarri's Juventus has lost its last two away matches and needs a win against SPAL before its Champions League last 16, first leg trip to French club Lyon. Despite its low ranking, SPAL has shocked both Lazio and Atalanta this season.

In the race for Champions League places, Atalanta is fourth, six points ahead of Roma, with the side from Bergamo hosting Sassuolo on a high after its stunning 4-1 European win over Valencia.

AC Milan travels to 13th-placed Fiorentina, as Torino, just below the Tuscans, hosts Parma trying to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat.

Bundesliga: European success boosts Leipzig's title run

Julian Nagelsmann will take RB Leipzig to Schalke 04 on Saturday hoping a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League will give his team confidence for its Bundesliga title run.

Until last week's league win over Werder Bremen, Leipzig had been without a victory for the previous four games in all competitions and its dip in form had cost it the lead in the Bundesliga and a German Cup exit. But in the Champions League knockout round for the first time, Leipzig came through the first leg in London on Wednesday with flying colours.

Nagelsmann had played down Leipzig's title chances saying even a Champions League spot would be a success, though his team is in second place in the Bundesliga on 45 points, just one behind Bayern.

Leipzig's next opponent, Schalke is looking for its first win in five games, and has scored just one goal in its last four league games. The side is now in sixth place, having briefly broken into the top four earlier in the campaign.

Borussia Dortmund, in third on 42 points, will take on Werder Bremen, having notched a 2-1 victory over Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday. Teenager Erling Haaland, who has taken Bundesliga by storm with eight goals in five games, scored both goals.

Bayern Munich has what looks to be on paper the easiest task on Friday when it hosts last-placed Paderborn. The Bavarians face Chelsea in the Champions League next week.

Ligue 1: Distracted PSG seek to bounce back against Bordeaux

Paris Saint-Germain goes into Sunday’s home game with Bordeaux with a comfortable 10-point lead in Ligue 1, but life has been anything but comfortable for the French champion over the last week.

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was indicted on Thursday in a Swiss corruption investigation, which does not directly involve PSG but is, however it turns out, a distraction.

Meanwhile, the future commitment of the club’s star striker is again in doubt, after Lionel Messi said in an interview published in Spain on Thursday that Neymar “really wants to return to Barcelona“.

On the field, PSG threw away points in its last league match with a bizarre 4-4 draw at Amiens last Saturday. PSG fell behind 3-0, fought back with four goals in 29 minutes and then conceded an equaliser in added time.

Coach Thomas Tuchel rested Neymar for the two Ligue 1 outings in the run-up to Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League loss to Borussia Dortmund and, while he scored in Dortmund, the Brazilian complained after the game.

“I understand the club’s fear, because I missed the last 16 in each of the last two years,” he said. “I respect the decisions, but it can’t be that way, because it is the player who ends up suffering.”

“It was very difficult to play a game of that intensity,” he added. “If I were in a better condition physically then I definitely would have played better.”

Bordeaux is unbeaten in its last five games, but three of those were draws and it is trudging along in mid-table. The question is whether it presents enough of a challenge to force PSG to rediscover its intensity or will it give another distracted display?

(Complied from AFP and Reuters)

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