A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:
Thanks to the virus, the Premier League fixture list has been slashed from six games to two. Postponed to dates yet to be determined are Manchester United-Brighton, Southampton-Brentford, Watford-Crystal Palace and West Ham-Norwich. Still on are Aston Villa-Burnley then Leeds-Arsenal. The league is holding a crisis meeting with all of the top-flight managers on Monday, and Villa boss Steven Gerrard will stress the welfare of virus-free players. The knock-on effect of losing virus-hit players is added game time for others and increased risk of injuries at a congested point in the schedule. Villa, with six players out, faces a Burnley side fresher after its midweek match against Watford was postponed. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, stripped of the Arsenal captaincy in a disciplinary decision, is left out for a third straight league match. Questions about his future at the club are deflected by manager Mikel Arteta. He is not available for this match, is all Arteta offers. Without Aubameyang, the Gunners beat Southampton and West Ham to move back into the top four. They go to a Leeds side depleted of eight players, mostly injured. Although Germany defender Robin Koch could make his first Leeds appearance since a pelvic injury in the first round. Some defense will be welcome after Leeds was routed 7-0 by Manchester City midweek.
Second-placed Sevilla hosts Atlético Madrid hoping to close the eight-point gap with Spanish leader Real Madrid, while a struggling Barcelona hosts Elche. Diego Simeone’s Atlético is in fourth place, trailing Madrid by 13 points after back-to-back losses and will be very hard pressed to defend the league title it won last season. Both sides will be missing key players to injury. Antoine Griezmann is sidelined for Atlético after picking up a leg injury in a derby loss to Madrid in the last round. João Félix, who provided Atlético’s best threat against Madrid, could replace him in the starting lineup. Sevilla will be without Jesús Navas, Erik Lamela and Óliver Torres, while forwards Lucas Ocampos and Youssef En-Nesyri are doubtful. Barcelona will be without injured striker Memphis Depay for a second straight game when Elche visits Camp Nou. Xavi Hernández’s side has gone winless in three games across all competitions and is a demoralizing 18 points off Madrid’s lead back in eighth place. Rayo Vallecano will try to keep up its league-best home record of seven wins and one draw when it hosts Alavés. Real Sociedad has lost three straight before welcoming Villarreal.
Borussia Dortmund aims to keep pace with Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich with a win at Hertha Berlin and restore its own fans’ hopes of maintaining a title challenge. The team is under pressure after a lackluster display against last-placed Greuther Fürth on Wednesday, a draw at Bochum last weekend, and the loss at home to Bayern in “der Klassiker” the weekend before that. Instead of potentially leading the Bundesliga, Dortmund fell six points behind Bayern going into the last round of games before the winter break. Hertha is also under pressure to atone after it was routed at Mainz 4-0 on Tuesday. New coach Tayfun Korkut is struggling to revive the team but Hertha could yet finish the year on a positive note. Also, Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Adi Hütter is under pressure at Hoffenheim after four straight defeats, Eintracht Frankfurt hosts Mainz for a well-matched derby, Union Berlin visits Bochum, Leipzig hosts Arminia Bielefeld, and Augsburg visits Fürth.
Juventus will be without key forward Paulo Dybala for a visit to Bologna, adding to an injury list already featuring Giorgio Chiellini, Danilo and Federico Chiesa. The Bianconeri are in seventh place and eight points below the Champions League places. Also, third-placed Atalanta hosts sixth-placed Roma and relegation-threatened Cagliari plays Udinese. Atalanta is on a six-match winning streak and is unbeaten for 10 games.
In the last 64 of the French Cup, Rennes hosts Lorient in the only clash between top-division teams. In this Brittany derby, Rennes will be the heavy favorite against a Lorient side fighting relegation. French league champion Lille plays Auxerre, chasing promotion from third in the second division. Virtually out of contention for the league title, Lille will have high ambitions in the cup. In a meeting of former French Cup winners, second-division side Sochaux faces Nantes, which has won its last two league games. Clermont visits seventh-division Nimes Chemin Bas in the most uneven matchup on paper.
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