The Top Weekend Matches

Milan and Baku derbies, Croatia’s eternal version, Le Classique and a Premier League clash of two old FC Internazionale Milano coaches take centre stage in our weekend preview.


Azerbaijan: Neftçi PFK v İnter Bakı PİK preview (Saturday 11.00)
Second hosts first in a match likely to have a big bearing on the destination of the title. Champions Neftçi, distracted by UEFA Europa League group stage commitments earlier in the season, have rediscovered their zest and are unbeaten in six Premyer Liqasi outings. A fifth victory in seven will lift them above their opponents, who have occupied top spot for much of the campaign.

Optimism abounds in the Neftçi camp though, with coach Boyukagha Hajiyev saying: “[İnter coach] Kakhaber Tskhadadze has done a good job and created a strong team, but everything is down to us.”

England: Manchester City FC v Chelsea FC preview (Sunday 14.30)
Manchester United FC have shaken off their early-season wobbles and are now unbeaten in 14 Premier League games (12 wins and two draws), leaving champions City and Chelsea floundering in their wake ahead of this battle of former FC Internazionale Milano coaches.

City boss Roberto Mancini, however, has not given up entirely on the title, noting: “We are 12 points behind at the moment, but we lost seven points in three games, so we know how quickly things can change.” Four points adrift of City, Rafael Benítez’s third-placed Chelsea have more modest targets. “We’ve let Man U get so many points ahead of us, but everyone is dropping points and we can still easily get second spot,” said defender John Terry.

Switzerland: FC Basel 1893 v Grasshopper-Club preview (Sunday 16.00)
Super League pacesetters Grasshoppers will be without injured captain Veroljub Salatić and suspended centre-back Stéphane Grichting for their visit to the champions. His team may have a four-point cushion over their second-placed opponents, but Grasshoppers coach Uli Forte is happy to assume the role of underdog.

“We must be modest,” said Forte, whose side’s last league defeat was a 4-0 reverse in Basel on 18 November, five matches ago. “To say we want to win the title would be arrogant. We want to play the best football we can, but FCB are, and always will be, title favourites.” Basel are also missing their skipper Marco Streller while Alexander Frei is doubtful.

Croatia: HNK Hajduk Split v GNK Dinamo Zagreb preview (Sunday 18.00)
With their passionate supporters behind them at Stadion Poljud, second-placed Hajduk will hope to take a sizeable chunk out of Dinamo’s eight-point lead at the top of the Prva Liga. The Adriatic club approach the Eternal Derby on the back of a 2-0 victory at NK Slaven Koprivnica – their 11th match unbeaten in all competitions.

“Dinamo are an excellent team, but they know they’ve never had it easy at Poljud stadium,” said midfielder Mirko Oremuš, who will deputise as captain for the injured Mario Maloča. “With our fans we have an extra man on the pitch. I believe it will be 1-0 to Hajduk.”

Ivan Krstanović, who won the reverse fixture for Dinamo 11 months ago with two goals in the last 11 minutes, said: “I hope I can score against Hajduk again, this time in Split.”

Italy: FC Internazionale Milano v AC Milan preview (Sunday 20.45)
After climbing to third position in Serie A and then beating FC Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie, Milan want to cap a perfect week with a derby victory.

Mario Balotelli, who has scored four goals in three league games since joining the Rossoneri from Manchester City FC, will return to the XI to face his former employers. “Mario is a very important player for us,” said Giampaolo Pazzini, who led the attack against Barcelona with Balotelli ineligible for European competition. “He will give us a huge help.”

Inter, in fifth, are a point shy of their neighbours following a run of one win in five top-flight fixtures, the most recent of which was a 4-1 loss at ACF Fiorentina. “We must play a great derby now,” said Nerazzurri coach Andrea Stramaccioni.

France: Paris Saint-Germain FC v Olympique de Marseille (Sunday 21.00)
Following leaders PSG’s shock reverse at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard and OM’s last-gasp win against Valenciennes FC, there are five points and two places between the clubs heading into the 81st edition of ‘Le Classique’.

David Beckham could make his PSG debut and, in so doing, go head-to-head in midfield with compatriot Joey Barton. “All the players are aware how important this game is,” said Barton. “It will be 11 against 11 and we’ll have to control our emotions, be focused and keep up the good atmosphere in the squad.” The teams meet again next Wednesday at Parc des Princes in the French Cup round of 16.

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