The SportsGrape European Football Preview: El Clásico dominates, but there is excitement elsewhere

victory

The eyes of the world will be transfixed on Spain come Sunday afternoon as Barcelona entertain their fierce rivals Real Madrid in El Clásico.

Here, we take a look at the key fixtures happening this weekend, across the major European leagues, including the always popular ‘El Clásico’.

 

El Clásico dominates the weekend’s schedule

However, there will be a peculiar feel to this year’s Clásico. Indeed, it will be the first time since 2007 that neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will feature.

Clásico

So often in recent years El Clásico has been built as Ronaldo vs Messi, but this season it will be a test to see who can triumph without either of their poster boys. Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus this summer and a Lionel Messi fractured arm means there is an opportunity for someone else to step up and become the hero.

Julen Lopetegui will be hoping it is a player in white who will star: his job being in the balance as a result of a poor run of form. The unconvincing display, albeit a victory, over Viktoria Plzen in the week will do little to help his cause. Lopetegui will need to see a lot more from his side, otherwise he will almost certainly get the chop, with rumours circulating that the Real Madrid hierarchy is in the process of sounding out former Juventus and Chelsea boss, Antonio Conte.

Clásico
BARCELONA, SPAIN: FC Barcelona’s Ricardo Quaresma of Portugal (L) vies with Real Madrid Brazilian Roberto Carlos (R). (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)

A win for Barcelona in El Clásico would maintain their position at the top of the table and also open up a seven-point lead over Madrid, as they look to gather momentum after a positive performance in their 2-0 win over Inter in the week. Messi’s replacement Rafinha managed to bag a goal as Barca put on a decent display, in spite of their key man’s absence.

 

Can Atletí take advantage of El Clásico?

Elsewhere in Spain, Atletico Madrid will look to bounce back from an unfamiliar thrashing in midweek, where they were pummelled 4-0 by free-scoring Borussia Dortmund. They take on mid-table Real Sociedad in a game they would need to win to maintain pressure at the top of the league.

Athletic Bilbao entertain Valencia in the battle of the underachievers. Bilbao are currently wallowing all the way down in 17th, while last seasons 4th placed side are 14th with just the one win and a toothless seven draws from their nine La Liga matches so far.

 

Big clashes in Italy as the fight for the runners up spot heats up

Ok, maybe a bit early to write off the title race, but you’d get long odds on any team denying Juventus of their 8th consecutive title. The reigning champions travel to Empoli, after their superb performance against Manchester United in the week.

On the Sunday, Milan take on Sampdoria in what could be a big week for manager Gennaro Gattuso. Pressure is beginning to build on the former Milan and Italy central-midfielder, with a recent defeat in the derby and a defeat to Real Betis in the week causing concern. The Rossoneri are currently languishing in mid-table and could really do with a win to get their season back into gear.

Equally, Eusebio Di Francesco will be feeling the heat again, after a 2-0 defeat to SPAL last weekend. Roma have had an inconsistent season to date and take on an inform Napoli side on Sunday night.

Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli dives to block a shot from Inter captain Mauro Icardi. Photo: Associated Press

Monday sees Lazio play Inter, in a clash between 3rd and 4th. Inter are currently on a five-game winning streak in Serie A and will be hopeful going into the clash, particularly after their derby win last Sunday.

 

Can anyone stop Dortmund?

Dortmund come into their game against Hertha Berlin in an outrageous vein of form. A 4-0 demolition of Atletico midweek sums up their season to date, with goals flying in all over the place. They are currently averaging more than three goals a game in the league and it would be unsurprising were they to bag a few more on Saturday, particularly with the prolific Paco Alcacer finding the net with relentless ease this season.

Bayern Munich travel to Mainz as they look to continue their winning streak following a dip in form. Nico Kovac has been criticised for some of his tactical decisions in recent weeks and could do with a good display to silence the doubters and maintain their pursuit at the top.

On the Sunday, Leipzig take on Schalke who have had a bitterly disappointing start to the season, occupying 16th place, just above the drop zone.

 

Henry searching for victory

Thierry Henry is still searching for his first win as Monaco manager, after a defeat and a draw in his opening two games. The principality side host Dijon in Henry’s first home game where they will be hoping for a victory, particularly as Dijon have lost their last four on the spin.

European

Sunday evening sees Marseille take on PSG in Le Classique, arguably the biggest derby in France. PSG’s dominant domestic form will be truly put to the test in this vociferous, intense atmosphere. Though they have brushed all opposition aside in the league, their Champions League form has been patchy, and Marseille will be hoping to capitalise on their disappointing 2-2 draw with Napoli on Wednesday.

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