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What to watch in the main soccer competitions in Europe

January 24, 2019
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FC Barcelona's Gerard Pique gestures during a Spanish Copa del Rey soccer match between Sevilla and FC Barcelona at the Ramon Sanche Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)

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

SPAIN

The game the Spanish league initially wanted to play in the United States is taking place in Girona on Sunday.

Instead of making the 7,500-kilometer (4,600-mile) trip to Miami, Barcelona will travel some 100 kilometers (60 miles) to face its Catalan rival.

The Spanish league last month gave up on the idea of taking the regular-season match to the U.S. after not getting the approval of the Spanish soccer federation and other stakeholders. It said it will try again next season as it continues its push to expand internationally.

Barcelona was initially in favor of playing abroad, but the short trip within Catalonia will help the club avoid some unwanted fatigue ahead of a difficult stretch of matches in the league, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.

Barcelona leads the Spanish league with 46 points from 20 matches, five points more than second-place Atletico Madrid, which hosts red-hot Getafe on Saturday. Getafe, sitting in sixth place, has won four of its last five matches in all competitions.

Third-place Real Madrid, 10 points behind Barcelona, visits Espanyol on Sunday. Fourth-place Sevilla hosts Levante on Saturday to try to end a four-game winless streak.

— By Tales Azzoni.

ENGLAND

The FA Cup fourth round starts on Friday night with Arsenal hosting Manchester United, which is chasing a club-record extending eight consecutive wins in all competitions at the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign.

Alexis Sanchez is in line to feature at his former club for the first time since leaving Arsenal last January. The 30-year-old Chile forward has endured a difficult first year at Old Trafford and has not played since a hamstring issue flared up against Reading in the third round.

“I think he’ll love it if the crowd turns against him,” Solskjaer said. “As a player, pride kicks in and you think ‘I’ll show all of you.’ He’s been fantastic in training, his attitude has been spot on.”

Four Premier League teams face lower-league opposition on Saturday. West Ham is at third-tier AFC Wimbledon, Everton goes to second-tier Millwall, Wolverhampton takes on third-tier Shrewsbury and Brighton hosts West Bromwich, which was relegated from the topflight last season.

Among the all-Premier League encounters, Manchester City hosts Burnley. On Sunday, Tottenham is at Crystal Palace missing Dele Alli and Harry Kane through injury.

— By Rob Harris

GERMANY

The Bundesliga’s top three are playing against opponents that desperately need points to claw their way from the relegation zone.

League leader Borussia Dortmund hosts Hannover on Saturday, when the visitors will be playing to save Andre Breitenreiter’s job as coach after the side’s 1-0 loss at home to Werder Bremen last weekend.

Bayern Munich, six points behind Dortmund after 18 games, hosts Stuttgart on Sunday, when the visitors would do well to avoid a repeat of the 3-0 defeat Bayern inflicted in Stuttgart in the second round.

Borussia Moenchengladbach, not yet ruled out as a title candidate after a fine season so far, welcomes relegation-threatened Augsburg on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen plays at Wolfsburg, where visiting coach Peter Bosz is bidding for his first points since taking over. Leverkusen impressed in his first game in charge last weekend but was left empty handed against Gladbach.

— By Ciaran Fahey.

FRANCE

Marseille fans finally got the striker they have been screaming for since the summer, and all eyes will be on Mario Balotelli if he makes his home debut against second-place Lille on Friday night.

Marseille is in seventh place and has to go on a winning run soon to have a chance of finishing second or third and entering the Champions League next season. Beating Lille is paramount because it would close the gap to their rival to six points, with Marseille having played one game less.

Balotelli has not played for nearly two months after being dropped by Nice coach Patrick Vieira, but claims he’s fit enough after maintaining a rigorous training program. Fans will be desperate to see him succeed at Stade Velodrome, where the attitude toward the players and under-fire coach Rudi Garcia has been increasingly volatile in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, unbeaten league leader Paris Saint-Germain faces ninth-place Rennes at home on Sunday night. But PSG will be without key players Marco Verratti and Neymar, who are both out injured. For Rennes winger Hatem Ben Arfa, it is a return to Parc des Princes following a miserable two-year spell at PSG.

Monaco, after suspending coach Thierry Henry, is at Dijon.

— By Jerome Pugmire.

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