MATCHDAY: Aston Villa at struggling Newcastle

A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Friday:

ENGLAND

Aston Villa plays away at Newcastle knowing a victory would lift the team above defending champion Liverpool to eighth place in the Premier League ahead of the weekend’s remaining fixtures. However, Villa’s results have been patchy recently, winning four and losing four of its last 10 Premier League matches. One of the reasons for Villa’s inconsistency recently has been the absence of captain Jack Grealish. The 25-year-old attacker has recovered from a leg injury but will miss a fifth league game due to illness. There was some positive news on injuries, though, as winger Anwar El Ghazi will be fit to travel after missing a 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton with a bruised toe while defender Matty Cash will also be back in contention after missing the last four games with a hamstring injury. Villa retained its topflight status at the end of last season by a single point while Newcastle finished comfortably in 13th place, but roles have been reversed this year. Newcastle saw its advantage over the bottom three dwindle to a single point last weekend.

SPAIN

Levante hosts Valencia in a derby with both rivals wedged in the middle of the Spanish league table. Levante is still aiming to rebound from an extra-time loss to Athletic Bilbao last week that cost it a place in the final of the Copa del Rey. It followed that up with a loss to Real Sociedad in the league. Valencia is winless in its last four games away from home.

ITALY

Atalanta is hoping to move back into the top four in Serie A with a win at home to unpredictable Spezia. The visitors are just six points above the relegation zone and have only picked up two points from four matches but they managed to beat AC Milan recently and also drew against Atalanta earlier in the season. Atalanta could rest some players ahead of next week’s trip to Real Madrid, where it needs to overturn a 1-0 deficit. Lazio is also involved in the Champions League, although it will need something of a miracle to overturn a 4-1 deficit at holder Bayern Munich. Lazio has also lost four three of its past four Serie A matches and will be hoping to reverse the slide against bottom club Crotone. Crotone is seven points from safety but snapped a seven-match losing streak against Torino last weekend, in new coach Serse Cosmi’s first win in charge.

GERMANY

Borussia Mönchengladbach has a point to prove at Augsburg, where it hopes to make up lost ground in the Bundesliga’s race for European qualification places. Gladbach has lost five games in a row across all competitions since the club announced coach Marco Rose is leaving to join Borussia Dortmund next season. Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl has been forced to defend the coach amid calls from fans to fire him before the losing run continues. Gladbach has dropped to 10th, six points behind Dortmund in the last place for Europa League qualification. Eight rounds of games remain after this weekend’s matches.

FRANCE

Looking for a first league title since 2008, Lyon can move to the top of the French standings with a win at Reims. With just 10 games remaining, the seven-time champions are just three points behind leader Lille in a very tight race also involving second-placed PSG and Monaco. With the return of forward Tino Kadewere in the group, Lyon should be at full strength.

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