A look at what’s happening around European soccer on Sunday:
It’s a meeting of the top two teams in the Premier League as Liverpool hosts Manchester United in what is traditionally the biggest game on the English soccer calendar. United moved into first place in midweek, and is leading this deep into the season for the first time in eight years, when Alex Ferguson was still in charge. Liverpool, the defending champion, is three points behind and will reclaim first place with a win, courtesy of its superior goal difference. Last-placed Sheffield United won for the first time in the league during the week and looks to back that up when Tottenham visits. Manchester City is unbeaten in 14 matches in all competitions and goes for an eighth straight win in a home game against Crystal Palace.
Barcelona is hoping to have Lionel Messi back fully fit and ready to play the final of the Spanish Super Cup against Athletic Bilbao. Messi missed the semifinal against Real Sociedad because of an unspecified fitness issue. Barcelona prevailed without him in a penalty shootout. Bilbao reached the final in Seville after defeating Real Madrid in the other semifinal. Barcelona won at Bilbao 3-2 in the league less than two weeks ago, with Messi scoring twice. Coach Ronald Koeman says Messi “will have the last word” on whether he plays. He trained individually on Friday and Saturday. In the Copa del Rey, Valencia, Villarreal, Real Betis, Eibar, Osasuna and Granada all play at lower-division opponents in the round of 16 hoping not to join the growing list of top-flight clubs to have been upset.
After two successive defeats, Bayern Munich aims to get back on track with a win at home to Freiburg. Another loss would lead to talk of crisis at the club given the high standards it has set itself. Hansi Flick’s team lost only once in 2020 and the German Cup defeat to second-division Holstein Kiel on Wednesday was only his fourth overall since taking over as coach in November 2019. “The form in the first half of 2020 up to our treble (Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League) was also not normal for Bayern,” Flick said. “I thought that our drop would come sooner, but the team kept it going to the end of the year with a remarkable mentality.” Flick said he felt there was less communication between his players lately compared to before. Bayern’s defensive frailty was already an issue, with 24 goals conceded in 15 Bundesliga games so far. Leon Goretzka, Kingsley Coman and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting were unavailable against Kiel, but Flick said they can return against Freiburg. Freiburg is on a five-game winning run in the Bundesliga, testament once again to cult-coach Christian Streich’s man-management. But Bayern has never lost at home to Freiburg in the league. “It will be an intensive game, Freiburg is known for that, and they’re the strongest form team in the league,” Flick said. Eintracht Frankfurt hosts Schalke in the other game.
Juventus’ match at title rival Inter Milan headlines the weekend in Serie A. Inter is second in Serie A, just three points behind city rival AC Milan, and a win would send it to the top on goal difference for 24 hours at least, with the Rossoneri playing Cagliari on Monday. Juventus is four points behind Inter but has played a match less than the Milan teams. The Bianconeri are without the injured Paulo Dybala, while Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado are out with the coronavirus. Inter coach Antonio Conte has never won against the team he played for and coached. Atalanta and Napoli could move into the top four with wins at home to Fiorentina and Genoa respectively. Bottom-placed Crotone welcomes promoted Benevento and Sassuolo hosts Parma.
Lyon needs to beat mid-table Metz at home to reclaim top spot from defending champion Paris Saint-Germain by one point. Veteran Algeria forward Islam Slimani could make his debut for Lyon after joining on loan from English Premier League side Leicester. Slimani did well last season when he was loaned out to Monaco, scoring nine goals and assisting on several more with his astute passing. Elsewhere, Lille can move six points clear in third place if it wins at home to Reims, while injured Bordeaux winger Hatem Ben Arfa will miss the trip to face his former club Nice.