Five to Know: Key weekend match-ups across Europe’s big leagues

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After a week-and-a-half’s hiatus, European club soccer returns from the international break this Friday. Leading up to the weekend, ProSoccerTalk will be providing extensive coverage the upcoming Premier League matchday; however, to help you assimilate into your normal routines, here are the weekend’s marquee matchups in each Europe’s top five domestic leagues:

England: Everton vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, NBC

When will Everton score again? They lead the Premier League in possession. They’re playing the exact type of soccer Roberto Martínez wants, yet over the last two games, they have no goals. And through three weeks of the season, they also have no wins.

The Toffees haven’t lost, either, which may leave José Mourinho cautious going into Goodison Park on Saturday. ‘Special’ tactics often call for a conservative approach against quality opposition on the road. Considering how many Chelsea players saw significant time over the international break, Mourinho may replicate the plan he used at Old Trafford.

There is, however, still a huge talent disparity between the sides. Though Everton may be emboldened by their Deadline Day haul, they’ll occupy their typical underdog’s role.

source: Getty ImagesSpain: Villarreal vs. Real Madrid, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

The Yellow Submarine’s return to the Spanish first division has been a successful one thus far, the team sitting third place after wins over Almeria, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna. Mexican international Giovani dos Santos, acquired from Mallorca this summer, has already paid off with two goals and two assists, helping to fuel an attack that’s produced eight goals in three games.

At first blush Real Madrid would appear to be on an entirely different level, and their performance before the international break against Athletic Club hinted they may be coming around. But with Mesut Özil gone and Gareth Bale (right) to be incorporated, Los Blancos may be facing another period of adjustment similar to the one that saw them underperform against Real Betis and Granada. If so, Villarreal could snare a result.

Germany, Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. Eastern

The league’s top three teams — Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen — are all home favorites, leaving this as the weekend’s most enticing battle.

Hoffenheim, coming off an embarrassing 6-2 loss at Stuttgart (their first defeat of the year), still have the Bundesliga’s most prolific offense, having scored 12 times in four games. Unfortunately, they’ve allowed an identical number and sit 11th (1-2-1).

Equally unfortunate for Markus Gisdol’s team, the league’s second best attack is coming to Rhein-Necker Arena on Sunday – Juan Arango and Borussia Moechengladbach. Like Hoffenheim, they’ve given up more goals than they should (eight), but thanks to 10 scored, Moechengladbach sit seventh through four rounds.

Regardless, if form holds, this should be a shootout, with Moenchengladbach’s 4-1 win over Werder Bremen giving them some semblance of momentum ahead of Sunday’s kickoff.

source:  Italy: Inter Milan vs. Juventus, Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

The season’s first Derby d’Italia sees two perfect sides meet at the San Siro. For Juventus, that start’s not surprising, the Bianconeri favored to claim a third straight scudetto. Wins over Sampdoria and Lazio have done little to change that perspective, with two goals from Carlos Tévez complementing a defense that’s only conceded once.

Inter, under new coach Walter Mazzarri, has yet to concede at all through two games, one of only two teams in the league that can make that claim (Roma). Thanks to a strong starts from Rodrigo Palacío, a resurgent Ricky Alvarez, and two goals from Yuto Nagatomo (set to thrive in Mazzarri’s scheme), the Nerazzurri have been able to claim full points against Genoa and Catania.

It’s too soon to think Inter have left last year’s disappointment behind them, and Juventus is just the team to show them how far the have to go. But if Mazzarri can get full points on Saturday, expect the buzz to start screaming about a potentially overlooked contender.

France: Bordeaux vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Friday, 2:30 p.m. Eastern

Laurent Blanc, back in Ligue 1 for the first time since his title-winning tenure with Girondins, makes his first trip back to Bordeaux. Unfortunately for a team with so many international commitments, they do so on Friday, giving Paris Saint-Germain one fewer day to get people back and ready after national team duty. In contrast, Monaco and Lyon don’t play until Sunday, while Marseille have the early game on Saturday.

here PSG clicking before the break, that might not be as much of a concern, but although Blanc’s team are 2-0-2, they haven’t matched the form of league-leading Monaco or second place Marseille. For all their talents, PSG have yet to score more than two goals (perhaps a trifling concern), have been drawn twice, and their only multi-goal win came over Guingamp. These are relative problems — perhaps not even problems at all — but they still hint the transition from Carlo Ancelotti to Blanc needs work.

Bordeaux finished seventh last year, riding a stingy defense (34 goals allowed in league) to seventh place, eventually claiming the Coupe de France. While they’re off to a relatively slow start this season (15th after four rounds), they did play Monaco close the league’s opening weekend before losing 2-0. Their only other loss is at Saint-Étienne, fall 2-1 to a Les Verts team that’s started 3-1-0.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as do Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone

VIDEO: Reus scores stunning winner for Dortmund

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BERLIN (AP) Marco Reus scored his first Bundesliga goal of the season to give Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 win at his former team Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze started for the first time together for Dortmund, and the three Germany teammates were all involved in the 32nd-minute goal.

Goetze played the ball to Schuerrle, who crossed for Reus on the right. Reus looked up and lifted the ball over ‘Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to score off the underside of the crossbar.

“It was a good goal. I think he wanted to do that,” Sommer said.

Reus, who returned from a serious knee injury last weekend against Hamburger SV, said he wanted to play the ball further to the left “but the important thing is it went in.”

Goalkeeper Roman Buerki was man of the match for producing a string of saves to deny the home side what would have been a deserved equalizer.

Dortmund moved second, 19 points behind Bayern Munich, while ‘Gladbach stayed 10th after its fourth consecutive defeat without scoring.

Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi failed to score for the first time in four games since his deadline-day switch from Chelsea, though he wasn’t helped by the poor condition of the pitch. Some players lost their footing as the grass gave way.