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.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.