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What to watch in the leading soccer leagues in Europe

December 13, 2018
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Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho looks out from the bench prior a Group H Champions League soccer match between Valencia and Manchester United at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

What to watch in the leading soccer leagues in Europe this weekend:

ENGLAND

Jose Mourinho loves nothing more than spoiling the party at Anfield, so ending Liverpool’s unbeaten start and potentially knocking it off the Premier League summit is a tantalizing prospect for Manchester United on Sunday.

Manchester City’s loss to Chelsea last weekend left Liverpool in first as the only undefeated team remaining after 16 games.

Liverpool’s stay at the top is likely to be short if Mourinho continues his impressive record at Anfield. He famously led Chelsea to a victory there at the end of the 2013-14 season to help deny Liverpool the title, and United has ground out 0-0 draws in the past two seasons.

City, which is two points back in second place, plays before Liverpool and can put pressure on the new leaders by beating Everton in the Saturday lunchtime kickoff.

Third-place Tottenham is six points off the lead heading into a home match against Burnley, fourth-place Chelsea is at Brighton and fifth-place Arsenal visits Southampton.

— By Steve Douglas

SPAIN

With Ousmane Dembele attracting most of the attention — both for goals and misbehavior — Barcelona visits Levante to defend its Spanish league lead on Sunday.

Dembele, 21, has three goals in his last five games, including a beautiful one in the team’s 1-1 draw against Tottenham in the Champions League on Tuesday. He had already impressed with his neat finish for one of the goals in the 4-0 rout of Espanyol last weekend.

But that has been overshadowed by his turning up late for a training session. The French striker, one of the club’s top signings after Neymar’s departure in 2017, overslept.

It wasn’t Dembele’s first misstep off the field and club officials were not happy. Coach Ernesto Valverde said the issue was being handled internally.

“We will try to help the player as much as we can,” said Valverde, who started Dembele against Tottenham despite his tardiness. “He has a lot of talent and has a long career in front of him.”

Dembele will likely be given another chance to atone at Levante, which is sixth and hasn’t lost in four games across all competitions.

Barcelona has a three-point lead over Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. Sevilla hosts Girona on Sunday, a day after Atletico visits Valladolid.

Fourth-place Real Madrid, coming off a 3-0 home loss to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, hosts relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano in a city derby on Saturday.

— By Tales Azzoni in Madrid

FRANCE

After the relief of narrowly qualifying for the Champions League round of 16, Lyon gets back to the business of fighting for second place in the French league when it faces lowly Monaco on Sunday.

Lyon showed fighting qualities in rallying to earn a draw away to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, and coach Bruno Genesio will hope his players can show similar mental strength in Ligue 1.

For all of its attacking flair, Lyon remains prone to big lapses in concentration and consistency. This was evident when Lyon lost 2-0 at home to Rennes on Dec. 5.

Lyon is in fourth place, three points behind second-place Lille but having played one game less. Monaco, hit by injuries, is 19th and remains short on confidence, so Genesio will be expecting a comfortable home win.

Runaway league leader Paris Saint-Germain’s match at struggling Dijon is among several postponed this weekend because police forces are being stretched. PSG and other teams also had their games called off last weekend amid widespread anti-government protests in France.

— By Jerome Pugmire in Paris

ITALY

All four Italian teams failed to win in the Champions League this week, though it proved more costly for some than others.

Inter Milan and Napoli exited the competition and will have to swiftly pick themselves up for must-win matches against Udinese and Cagliari, respectively.

Inter, third in Serie A, has only won one of its past seven matches and has slipped 14 points below leader Juventus. Napoli is eight points off the pace, with Juventus seemingly on an unstoppable march to a record-extending eighth consecutive league title.

Juventus, which already qualified for the Champions League’s round of 16, lost 2-1 at Young Boys on Wednesday for only its second defeat in 21 matches this season.

It visits city rival Torino in a derby match on Saturday, with Cristiano Ronaldo looking to get his scoring touch back.

Ronaldo, who hit the post against Young Boys, has failed to score in consecutive matches for the first time since September.

Roma, which was also already through to the round of 16, lost at Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday to extend its winless streak to five matches.

Another defeat at home to Genoa on Sunday would pile even more pressure on coach Eusebio Di Francesco, whose job may be at risk.

— By Daniella Matar in Milan

GERMANY

Bayern Munich is counting on others to do what it couldn’t — take points off Borussia Dortmund so it can cut the gap at the top.

Dortmund, the only unbeaten team in the Bundesliga, leads Borussia Moenchengladbach by seven points and Bayern by nine ahead of the 15th round.

Bayern, the six-time defending champion, lost 3-2 in Dortmund last month.

The Bavarian powerhouse next faces a trip to struggling Hannover on Saturday before Dortmund hosts Werder Bremen for the late game.

Bayern is looking for its third consecutive league win for some stability under coach Niko Kovac, who has endured a difficult start to his first season with the club. Hannover has lost its last 11 games against Bayern and anything but another win for the visitors would be a huge surprise.

Bayern will then be looking for a favor from Bremen in Dortmund.

“You always hope that the opponent stumbles,” Thomas Mueller said of Dortmund.

Gladbach, which aims to keep pace with Dortmund for as long as possible, visits Hoffenheim on Saturday.

— By Ciaran Fahey in Berlin

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