Zidane, Villas-Boas under the cosh, Zlatan boosts Milan – what to watch in Europe this weekend
Real Madrid hope to put an embarrassing midweek cup exit behind them, while Andre Villas-Boas’s future is under scrutiny at Marseille and AC Milan look to keep their rivals in the rearview mirror with Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from injury.
AFP Sport selects some of the standout football action in Europe this weekend:
Pressure back on Zidane in Madrid
Alaves v Real Madrid, Saturday 2000 GMT
After successive defeats in the Spanish Super Cup and Copa del Rey, the second a shock loss to third-tier Alcoyano, Real Madrid will try to reignite their La Liga title challenge away to Alaves.
Zinedine Zidane’s side are playing catch up to Atletico Madrid, despite having played a game more, after draws against struggling Elche and Osasuna, two of the league’s bottom three, in recent weeks.
Alaves beat Madrid 2-1 in the capital in late November but have won just once in eight matches since, their slide into a relegation scrap costing coach Pablo Machin his job last week with former Spain international Abelardo Fernandez returning to take charge.
Reinforced Milan face Atalanta test
AC Milan v Atalanta, Saturday 1700 GMT
Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasted little time shaking off any rust accrued while sidelined by a muscle injury as he scored twice against Cagliari on Monday, in his first Serie A start in two months.
The 39-year-old Swede has scored 12 goals in just seven starts this season, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo in the league, and Milan this week strengthened their attack with the signing of ex-Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic on a free transfer.
“Zlatan and I have a lot of experience. In football, it’s important to instill fear in your opponents, to fight and to protect your team,” said Mandzukic, who could make his debut against an Atalanta side that arrives in Milan unbeaten in nine league outings.
End of the line for Villas-Boas?
Monaco v Marseille, Saturday 2000 GMT
Marseille are reeling after two straight defeats followed a draw at lowly Dijon, a run that has shattered any fanciful Ligue 1 title dreams and cast considerable doubt over the future of coach Andre Villas-Boas.
“I am at the service of the board. I am not here to cause problems. If they decide that I am not up to it in terms of results, then it will be the time to leave. If a change is needed, I am at their service,” Villas-Boas said following Wednesday’s 1-0 home loss to Lens.
Club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud blasted the players as “not fit to wear the shirt” in the wake of last weekend’s defeat by bottom side Nimes. A trip to Niko Kovac’s in-form Monaco could spell further trouble at the Velodrome.
Schalke behind the eight ball
Schalke v Bayern Munich, Sunday 1430 GMT
With their 30-match winless run finally over, Schalke will want no reminding of what happened when they met Bayern Munich on the opening day of the season — a crushing 8-0 defeat setting the tone for a disastrous first half of the campaign.
In 19-year-old US forward Matthew Hoppe, Schalke have found a ray of hope in their fight against relegation, but the Royal Blues are eight points from potential safety at the halfway stage.
Bayern have clawed out tough wins over Freiburg and Augsburg in their two previous games to regain control atop the Bundesliga, sending a “signal to the rest of the chasing pack” their hunger remains strong despite a recent dip, says Manuel Neuer.
Portuguese League Cup final
Sporting v Braga, Saturday 1945 GMT
Having sparred with their rivals off the pitch over the handling of Covid-19 cases, Sporting Lisbon got the better of Porto in Tuesday’s semi-final thanks to two late goals from Cape Verde-born Jovane Cabral.
A day later, Braga overcame their “outrage” at Benfica’s efforts to seek a postponement of their tie, booking a place in the final in Leiria with a 2-1 victory over an opposing side hit by a raft of coronavirus infections.
Sporting and Braga have combined to win each of the past three editions of the Portuguese League Cup, the former lifting the trophy in 2018 and 2019 before Braga defeated Porto in last year’s final under current Sporting boss Ruben Amorim.