A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:
Tottenham was starting to look like a serious title challenger when Jose Mourinho’s side beat Manchester City 2-0 in November but the fortunes of both clubs have turned dramatically since then. While City has not lost again, and head into Saturday’s reverse fixture as leader looking to extend its 15-game winning run in all competitions, Tottenham has slipped to eighth place. A three-game losing sequence was broken only by last week’s victory over struggling West Bromwich Albion. Liverpool’s hopes of defending its title look faint after losing to City 4-1 on Sunday to fall 10 points behind. The champion has endured a wretched spell with just two wins in its last nine league matches. Liverpool on Saturday plays Leicester, which is a place and three points ahead. Aston Villa, which survived relegation last season only on the final day, heads to Brighton ninth in the standings. Winning both games in hand over Chelsea and Liverpool could see Dean Smith’s side climb above both clubs and up to fourth. Crystal Palace plays relegation-threatened Burnley looking to climb into the top half of the standings.
Lionel Messi is one game away from matching Barcelona’s club record of most Spanish league appearances held by former midfield great Xavi Hernández. Xavi’s milestone stands at 505 appearances. Messi has made 504 and is expected to play when Alavés visits Camp Nou. Atlético Madrid visits Granada aiming to start another winning streak and strengthen its lead of the league. Atlético will aim to bounce back from drawing Celta Vigo 2-2 that ended an eight-round winning run. Atlético leads second-placed Real Madrid by five points and has two more games to play than the defending champion. Sevilla hosts Huesca seeking a ninth consecutive win overall after it beat Barcelona 2-0 midweek in the opening leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Also, Eibar welcomes Valladolid with both in danger of relegation.
Serie A leader AC Milan will be hoping to take advantage of a tough weekend for its title rivals when it visits relegation-threatened Spezia. Milan has a two-point advantage over second-placed Inter Milan, which hosts fifth-placed Lazio on Sunday. Nine-time defending champion Juventus goes to Napoli on Saturday. The Bianconeri beat Napoli 2-0 in the Italian Super Cup last month. It will be Spezia’s first match under American ownership after it was bought by the Platek family on Thursday. Spezia is six points above the bottom three. Torino is only one point above the relegation zone and it hosts Genoa, which is moving away from danger under Davide Ballardini.
One win from Borussia Dortmund’s last five Bundesliga games leaves the team and interim coach Edin Terzic under heavy pressure ahead of the home game against Hoffenheim. Dortmund is sixth and a win would help to close the gap to the Champions League places and give some energy to a team which was flagging before it fired coach Lucien Favre in December and appointed Terzic. Missing out on the Champions League could force Dortmund to sell more of its promising young players at the end of the season. Bayer Leverkusen is fifth ahead of hosting relegation-threatened Mainz. If last-placed Schalke is to mount an unlikely escape from the relegation zone, it could do with beating Union Berlin. Hertha Berlin visits Stuttgart as it looks for a first win since reappointing coach Pal Dardai. Werder Bremen plays Freiburg.
Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino is in a difficult position heading into the home game against 13th-placed Nice. With defending champion PSG only third in the league, he can ill afford to rest key players but also has a Champions League game in Barcelona on Tuesday. Neymar is out injured for the next four weeks and midfielder Marco Verratti is recovering from a bruised hip, but goalkeeper Keylor Navas has recovered from an adductor injury and could start. Lyon looks for a sixth straight win and will go to the top provisionally by beating visiting Montpellier, and sixth-placed Lens travels to struggling Reims in the day’s other game.
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