European football weekend: Manchester City at Anfield, Le Classique in Ligue 1 and Mesut Ozil in Istanbul derby


Mauricio Pochettino takes Paris Saint-Germain to beleaguered rivals Marseille, while Mesut Ozil could make his home debut for Fenerbahce against Galatasaray and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane returns to the dugout after missing two games following a positive Covid-19 test. In England, Manchester City travel to Liverpool for a top of the table clash.

AFP Sport selects some of the standout football action in Europe this weekend:

Liverpool face must-win Man City test

Liverpool vs Man City (Sunday 1630 GMT)

Manchester City and Liverpool have dominated the Premier League over the past four seasons but a sizeable gap has opened up between the leaders and the champions ahead of their latest meeting on Sunday.

City are seven points clear of fourth-placed Liverpool, with a game in hand, and could kill off any hopes of a revival for Jurgen Klopp’s men with a first victory at Anfield for 18 years.

Despite the vast sums invested and multiple trophies won since Shiekh Mansour’s takeover 13 years ago, Anfield has remained an unassailable fortress for the men in blue with City’s last victory there coming in 2003. However, Liverpool’s invincibility at home has crumbled in recent weeks in front of empty stands.

After a club-record 68-game unbeaten run in the Premier League at Anfield, the Reds have suffered back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Burnley and Brighton.

Liverpool have not won any of their past four home games — and have not found the net there since late December.

Pep Guardiola’s men have conceded just one goal in winning their past nine league games to storm three points clear at the top with a game in hand over second-placed Manchester United.

Marseille in disarray ahead of Classique

Marseille vs Paris Saint-Germain (Sunday 2000 GMT)

A chaotic week at Marseille culminates with the visit of bitter enemies PSG, who are seeking to avenge an ill-tempered 1-0 loss in September’s reverse fixture in which Neymar was among five players sent off.

Academy director Nasser Larguet took charge of the midweek 2-2 draw at Lens, just 24 hours after the club suspended Andre Villas-Boas following his offer to resign over a transfer dispute.

Marseille’s home game against Rennes last weekend was called off after several hundred angry supporters stormed the training ground, causing widespread damage and leading to 25 arrests.

Pochettino got the desired response after suffering his first defeat at Lorient, and will recall Neymar for the game at the Velodrome after the Brazilian missed the 3-0 victory over Nimes through suspension.

Zidane back for spluttering Madrid

Huesca vs Real Madrid (Saturday 1515 GMT)

Absent for the past two matches after testing positive for coronavirus, Zidane knows Madrid’s diminishing hopes of retaining their league crown likely require a staggering collapse from Atletico.

A 2-1 reverse against Levante, a third home defeat of the season, left the defending champions languishing 10 points behind Atletico having played a game more.

While Zidane will be back on the touchline, taking back the reins from his assistant David Bettoni, Eden Hazard has suffered the latest in a series of injury setbacks and is expected to be out for around a month with a thigh problem.

After papering over the cracks last term, Zidane’s future hangs in the balance but an extended poor run could hasten the end of his second spell in charge.

Ronaldo seeks end to mini-drought

Juventus vs Roma (Saturday 1700 GMT)

Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Italian Cup semi-final first leg soccer match between Inter Milan and Juventus at the San Siro stadium, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Cristiano Ronaldo fired Juventus into a commanding position in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final with both goals in a 2-1 win at Inter Milan, but the Portugal star has failed to score in his past three league outings.

The Juventus striker, who turns 36 on Friday, has not gone four league games without a goal since November 2017, in his final year at Real Madrid. Despite the recent dry spell he remains the top scorer in Serie A this term with 15 goals, one above Romelu Lukaku.

Roma head to Turin a point above Juve in third and striving to keep in sight of the two Milan clubs.

Edin Dzeko could be back in the squad after patching things up with coach Paulo Fonseca who stripped the Bosnian of the captaincy following a row in the wake of last month’s cup loss to Spezia.

Bayern prepare for whirlwind Qatar trip

Hertha Berlin vs Bayern Munich (Friday 1900 GMT)

The European champions face a busy 10 days with the Club World Cup sandwiched between Bundesliga games against Hertha and Arminia Bielefeld, both struggling near the bottom of the table.

Bayern have distanced themselves in the title race with a run of four successive wins, and will fly directly to Doha following Friday’s encounter in the German capital.

Hertha have picked up a solitary point from a possible 15, but the club is counting on the return of former coach Pal Dardai as they bid to steer clear of the drop zone.

Sami Khedira could make his Hertha debut after signing from Juventus while Serbian winger Nemanja Radonjic has joined on loan from Marseille.

Istanbul debuts awaits Ozil’s Fenerbahce

Fenerbahce v Galatasaray (Saturday 1600 GMT)

Mesut Ozil came off the bench for the final 13 minutes of Tuesday’s 2-1 victory away to Hatayspor, his first match in 11 months after being frozen out at Arsenal.

The former Germany midfielder helped set up his new team’s second goal to keep them three points clear of Galatasaray ahead of the Intercontinental Derby.

Fenerbahce’s Ulker Stadium is situated in the Asian half of the city, while arch rivals Galatasaray come from across the Bosphorus on the European side of Istanbul.

Ozil has taken a substantial pay cut from the reported £350,000 ($480,000) a week he earned at Arsenal, but Fenerbahce have still launched a donation campaign to help pay his wages.

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