European weekend: Five (random) matches to watch

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Last time we did this, it was easy – not that it’s difficult when you have one of the world’s great intra-city derbies, a cup final, and a one versus two battle in one of Europe’s best leagues. It’s just that in our last edition of five to watch, we had Barcelona. We had Juventus. We had big, glamorous, self-explanatory names.

This week, the matches are no less interesting, but things being a little less self-explanatory, I have to do a little bit more writing, starting with the rivalry:

5. Austria Wien vs. Rapid Wien, Austrian Bunesliga, 10:00 a.m. ET, Sunday

Austria’s two most successful, most popular clubs saw their rivalry get some unfortunate international attention last year when pitch invaders caused a May meeting to be abandoned. If you look at the numbers and organization of police in this video, you can’t help but think these type of incidents (or the potential for them) is pervasive in this derby:

Let me be clear: That kind of nonsense is no reason to watch. It’s reason to be thankful that this part of the world has a soccer culture that precludes idiots forcing matches to be called off. Knock on wood.

Since last May, three Wien derbies have been waged, making Saturday’s the 300th meeting between the clubs. Rapid will be looking for the 125th win, while Austria sits on 109.

More important: Both clubs are chasing Red Bull Salzburg for the Bundesliga’s title. Rapid are only one point back with seven matches left, and with Salzburg facing a tough Saturday visit to Sturm Graz (fifth place), the Green-Whites could find themselves first at day’s end.

For Austria, it’s a must win match. Five points back of first, the Violets can’t afford to lose any more ground on the leaders.

Player to watch: Last season with Sturm Graz, Roman Kienast finished second in goals to Austria’s Ronald Linz (19 to 21). He moved to Austria in the winter window but has been unable to replace the goal output of the departed Nacer Barazite (who moved to Monaco in January). With only one score in 10 league appearances, Kienast has been an early bust.

4. Zenit vs. CSKA Moscow, Russian Premier League, 11:00 a.m. ET, Saturday

This match is difficult to resist, even if Zenit has put the RPL to bed. In this transition season that’s been played over 18 months (as Russia moves to a fall-spring schedule), Zenit has pulled away from their Muscovite adversaries, sitting 11 points clear with six matches remaining.

Unfortunately, the achievements of Luciano Spalletti’s side are being overshadowed by a story that has become ridiculously common to Russian soccer. Earlier this week, Zenit was fined after fans directed monkey noises at Lokomotiv Moscow’s black players.

On the field, it’s a potential great news, bad news scenario for CSKA. The bad news: Captain and best defender Sergei Ignashevich will miss the match with a broken toe. The potentially great news: One of the world’s best goalkeepers, Igor Akinfeev, could return after a long-term injury absence stemming from a controversial fall collision with Spartak attacker Welliton. The 26-year-old’s return from major knee surgery could be a huge boost to Russia’s Euro 2012 hopes.

Player to watch: Sergei Semak could also be in frame for Euro 2012, if Russia head coach Dick Advocaat sees things like Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The Zenit attacker claims his 36-year-old teammate could help the national team this summer, and looking around at Advocaat’s other deep-lying midfield options, you can see the logic. The former national team captain has three goals in his last eight appearances, and against his former club on Saturday, Semak could continue making his case.

3. PSV vs. AZ, Netherlands’ Eredivisie, 12:45 p.m. ET, Saturday

Possibly the most interesting title race in Europe was dealt a blow mid-week when AZ was drawn at home by Twente. The result meant the league’s second and third place teams lost ground on pace-setting Ajax, who’ve rode the crest of an up-and-down year to a three-point lead.

The circuit’s other traditional power, PSV, has also been on a roller coaster. At one point, the club was storming through Europa while sitting in control of league. Since the calendar turned, however, things have fallen apart. Valencia rolled them out of Europa while the club fell to fifth in the table, leading to Phillip Cocu to replace Fred Rutten as head coach. Since, PSV has claimed the Dutch Cup, though nobody will be satisfied finishing so low in league.

AZ, however, has been the Netherlands’ most consistent team (on Thursday, Johan Cruyff went as far as to call them the best in Holland), and on Saturday, they’ll take the league’s best defense to Philips Stadion. In August’s reverse fixture, goals from Maarten Martins, Nick Viergever and Jozy Altidore led AZ to a 3-1 victory, and while the bookmakers have PSV big favorites ahead of Saturday’s rematch, don’t be surprised if Gertjan Verbeek’s side creates another dip in PSV’s rollercoaster.

Player to watch: If you’re going to watch this one, you’ll likely tune in to see Altidore. I can’t blame you, but if you have time for one more player, keep an eye on PSV’s 22-year-old midfielder Kevin Strootman. Already in the plans of the national team, Strootman gives Bert van Marwijk a decidedly less violent, more creative option in the pivot.

2. Udinese vs. Internazionale, Italian Serie A, 2:45 p.m. ET, Saturday

This is really happening. This Inter Milan zombie may really get back into Europe.

The Nerazzurri sit in seventh, their 48 points only two back of Roma in fifth (otherwise known as a Europa League spot). Their seven points in three matches have converted a fews believers to the Andrea Stramaccioni movement. Now, the six-point gap to third doesn’t look so big, particularly with a season-closing match at Lazio. With six matches left, maybe Champions League isn’t out of the question after all.

Udinese’s won once in their last seven matches, and while they’re only three points out of that Champions League spot, the parade of big names behind them force the Bianconeri to be mindful of a fall. If Inter hand Udinese their second home loss of the season, Udinese could be in seventh come Sunday night.

Player to watch: With Walter Samuel suspended, it will be up to Lucio to handle Udinese’s Toto Di Natale, Italy’s second leading goal-scorer. Having conceded seven times since Stramaccioni took over, Inter desperately needs somebody at the back to assert themselves.

1. Olympique Lyon vs. Olympique Marseille, France’s Coupe de la Ligue final, 3:00 p.m. ET, Saturday

In addition to being ninth-place Marseille’s last chance for Europe, Saturday’s final is a snapshot of the changing face of Ligue 1. Well, perhaps describing it as the “face” is wrong. With former perennial titlists Lyon fighting for their Champions League lives while a club as big as Marseille regresses to mediocrity, this match is more France’s disappearing jawline than its face.

The game also see rivals at different ends of the form table. After being eliminated from Champions League by APOEL, Lyon has won six, drawn one in seven games, registering victories over Rennes, PSG, Lille as well as winning their derby at Saint-Étienne. Marseille, one the other hand, has not won a lead match since Jan. 29 and have lost 11 of 12.

Form aside, this is still two of the biggest clubs in France, and they’re playing for silverware. Given it’s the last chance for Didier Deschamps’ side to salvage anything from a horrible season, expect the best l’OM has to offer.

Player to watch: Lisandro Lopez is always worth watching, but during Lyon’s resurgence, the talisman has six goals in seven. Having struggled through injuries all year, the Argentine attacker appears to have hit a run of form that could carry OL into Champions League.

Also worth following: Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund, Germany, 9:30 a.m. ET, Saturday; Benfica vs. Gil Vicente, League Cup Portugal, 3:45 p.m. ET, Saturday

Mourinho: No one will want to draw Spurs in Champions League

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Jose Mourinho says his team selection was about “taking in information” on Tottenham Hotspur’s depth, and he wasn’t terribly bothered by Bayern Munich’s 3-1 win in Germany.

The Spurs boss, however, says the seeded teams in Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw should be terribly bothered at the concept of drawing the reigning finalists.

[ MORE: Who can PL teams draw in UCL? ]

“I think from the teams that finished second, I think the teams that finish first they wish they don’t play against us,” he said, via Football.London.

“I think we are one of the strongest teams from the second group. I know we are a country which goes through a crazy period and leaves marks on players and their conditions. But by February I will understand my players better and we will be more ready.”

Mourinho said he thinks the 3-2 score line that could’ve arrived had Heung-Min Son not been denied by Manuel Neuer would’ve been a more fair representation of the match, with both sides leaving out key players but Bayern’s side decidedly stronger.

And he hopes Spurs supporters will forgive him leaving Harry Kane, Jan Vertonghen, and Dele Alli behind after a big win at the weekend.

“The fact we played so well the last time, 5-0, allowed me to come here and risk what happened. I’m happy with the decisions I made and I hope the supporters understand what I did. Internally we understand.”

Say what you will about Mou, and he’s lost his share of elimination games, but his acumen will have the opposition more worried than his players (and that’s even with the knowledge that the majority are former finalists).

He’s not wrong.

Who can Premier League clubs draw in the Champions League knockout rounds?

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All four Premier League entrants join a quartet of La Liga squads to comprise half of the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds field.

Atletico Madrid and Atalanta scored the final two berths with wins on Wednesday, giving us the 16 teams left in the race to meet in Istanbul on May 20.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Serie A and the Bundesliga have three teams in the final 16, with Ligue 1 putting two in the fray.

Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic league nor UCL group.

Seeded teams

Barcelona
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Liverpool
Manchester City
Paris Saint-Germain
RB Leipzig
Valencia

Unseeded teams

Atalanta
Atletico Madrid
Borussia Dortmund
Chelsea
Lyon
Napoli
Real Madrid
Tottenham Hotspur

Who can PL sides draw?

Chelsea: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig

Liverpool: Atalanta, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Real Madrid

Manchester City: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Napoli, Real Madrid

Tottenham Hotspur: Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Valencia

Bayern Munich tops Spurs 3-1 behind Davies, Coutinho

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Ryan Sessegnon scored his first Spurs and Champions League goals as Tottenham Hotspur rested many of its top players in a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in a group stage dead rubber on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Kingsley Coman, Philippe Coutinho, and Thomas Muller scored for group-winning Bayern, who got an absolute star show out of 19-year-old Canadian left back Alphonso Davies.


Three things we learned

1. Spurs depth gets valuable time: Being a dead rubber, both teams left key components out of the fray or at least the Starting XI. Jose Mourinho left Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Jan Vertonghen out of the 18 and both Heung-Min Son and Davinson Sanchez on the bench. That didn’t stop his men from a strong showing in a very difficult venue, though Bayern rested David Alaba and put Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka on the bench to start the match.

2. Coutinho beats old nemesis again: The longtime Liverpool man was at his very best on Wednesday, and his wonderful second-half goal means he’s now scored against Spurs for Liverpool, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich (also assisting against the North Londoners while with Inter Milan). That’s also because his 14 matches against Spurs are the most he’s played against one club in his senior career.

3. Canadian super show from Davies: Alphonso Davies turned 19 just over a month ago but already looks a man in his prime. He registered an assist and hit the post in addition to making seven successful dribbles and winning five tackles, also completing almost 90 percent of his passes. There are shades of teammate David Alaba in his game. That’s high praise, but Davies potential may be higher than the Austrian.

Man of the Match: Davies was absolutely electric at left back. It’d be too easy to give it to Coutinho, who was just as good, and like Spurs manager we relish the chance to be contrarian.


Early chances were there for both sides, Paulo Gazzaniga the busier of the keepers and making a fine save on Benjamin Pavard.

Serge Gnabry tried to find Philippe Coutinho through a sea of defenders, but his pass bounded off Moussa Sissoko and onto the path of back-post residing Coman for the opener.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Spurs leveled the score in the 20th minute when Sessegnon collected a deflected shot and buried it past Manuel Neuer.

Sissoko led a rush but couldn’t get cross over the fray as Spurs looked better money for a second goal.

Then Joshua Kimmich saw a yellow card for standing firm as Giovani Lo Celso wandered into him.

Bayern had the better of the final 15 minutes of the half, when Muller was in prime position to deposit Alphonso Davies’ rebound off the goal post.

Coutinho tried to put the match to bed in stoppage time, but his blazing shot from distance was touched off the bar by Gazzaniga.

He’d get his goal via another audacious shot, this time zipping a lay-off from Alphonso Davies through traffic and inside the far post.

Heung-min Son had a late breakaway saved by Neuer.

Saint-Maximin absence to ask more of struggling Almiron, Joelinton

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Newcastle United lightning bolt Allan Saint-Maximin is going to miss a month with a hamstring injury suffered late in the Magpies’ 2-1 defeat of Southampton at St. James’ Park.

The ebullient Saint-Maximin played deep into the match despite a minor injury, and was on of the main reasons Newcastle won. He helped set up the winning goal, but left the stadium on crutches.

That left Steve Bruce questioning his decision to keep “ASM” in the match.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Now the electric Frenchman is set to miss fixtures against Burnley, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, Leicester City, and an FA Cup third round match versus either Boston United or Rochdale.

Saint-Maximin’s absence will hurt Newcastle all-around, but especially when its counter-attack tries to take down bigger sides. His 4.5 dribbles per match makes him one of just three players in the Premier League with more than 3.1 (Adama Traore and Wilfried Zaha).

Ultimately, though, this could provide struggling Joelinton more looks at performing on the wing opposite of Miguel Almiron. The Brazilian will have to work center forward at times as Andy Carroll certainly can’t go every game, and Dwight Gayle, Christian Atsu, and Yoshinori Muto could also be asked to play prominent roles.

And, of course, this will demand much more from industrious but sloppy Miguel Almiron, whose expected goal total is 2.5 (he has zero).