All six of the matches in weekend preview take place on Sunday, with Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona and Juventus away and Manchester City FC home to Liverpool FC.
Italy: AC Chievo Verona v Juventus preview (Sunday 12.30) With SSC Napoli just three points behind, Serie A leaders Juventus must get back to winning ways after being held at home by Genoa CFC last weekend. Coach Antonio Conte will have to do without the injured Giorgio Chiellini, Simone Pepe and Nicklas Bendtner, the suspended Leonardo Bonucci and Mirko Vučinić, plus Kwadwo Asamoah who is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana.
La Vecchia Signora are not in their best shape and lost their Coppa Italia semi-final to S.S. Lazio on Tuesday, though Conte believes the result – a 2-1 away defeat following a 1-1 draw in Turin – was hard on his side: “I think we were the better team, even if we lost in the end, but we paid for our mistakes up front.” The good news for Juve is that Andrea Pirlo has recovered from his calf injury and can start against Chievo.
Netherlands: FC Twente v FC Utrecht preview(Sunday 14.30)
Twente’s back-to-back 0-0 draws against RKC Waalwijk and Feyenoord say a lot about the Tukkers’ campaign. In terms of goals scored, their seasonal tally of 35 is just over half that of Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven, but their record of 14 goals conceded in 20 games is the best in the Netherlands – explaining why they sit just a point off top spot.
Six points short of their weekend hosts in sixth place, Jan Wouters’ Utrecht have had a similar campaign to Steve McClaren’s side in this sense, scoring at a modest rate (only 29 goals) while shipping very few. Indeed, their goals against total of 20 is second to the Tukkers’.
“We certainly don’t feel like title contenders,” said the typically understated Wouters, who hopes his seven-goal top scorer Jacob Mulengo can return from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Zambia in time for the game. “It is not our target to become champions, I am not going to start thinking about that. We are just enjoying being where we are in the table.”
England: Manchester City FC v Liverpool FC preview(Sunday 17.00)
Liverpool must start beating some of the Premier League’s leading lights if they are to challenge for a European finish, says midfielder Lucas – beginning at the home of the champions. Brendan Rodgers’ seventh-placed team have not defeated a member of the current top six this season and on Wednesday surrendered a two-goal advantage in drawing 2-2 at Arsenal FC.
“We have to start winning against the top teams if we want to achieve a better position,” Lucas stated. “The game against Arsenal was a real opportunity for us.” City, who in midweek drew 0-0 at lowly Queens Park Rangers FC, will be ten points behind Manchester United FC come kick-off if their neighbours overcome Fulham FC in London on Saturday.
Germany: Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund preview (Sunday 17.30) This season’s surprise package, second-placed Leverkusen have picked up four points from their first two Bundesliga games of 2013, but Dortmund in third have collected six – registering eight goals without reply – and trail the BayArena club by a single point. This fixture is being billed as a battle for the runners-up berth, with FC Bayern München in a league of their own at the top, but Leverkusen captain Simon Rolfes said: “We shouldn’t read too much into the result. In the end, there are only three points at stake.”
Dortmund want those points, even if manager Jürgen Klopp knows that retaining the title is already a bridge too far, given Bayern’s 11-point lead over Leverkusen. “Dortmund to be champions this year? That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We would have to get 51 points – the maximum from our remaining 17 games. Our goal is to catch Leverkusen.”
Belgium: RSC Anderlecht v R. Standard de Liège preview (Sunday 18.00) A run of 11 straight victories has allowed Anderlecht to build a commanding eight-point lead at the top of the First League, with traditional rivals Standard fully 13 points off the pace in fouth. The Brussels side’s winter acquisitions of midfielder Demy de Zeeuw and striker Samuel Armenteros have seemingly reduced even further the chance of anyone catching them in the championship race, though as one of only two teams to beat Anderlecht in the league this term, Standard have no reason to be fearful.
For Standard captain Jelle Van Damme it will be an extra special meeting, the defender having played 101 top-flight matches for Anderlecht between 2006 and 2010, when he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers FC. “We are not going to Anderlecht to accept a defeat, that’s for sure,” said the 29-year-old, who scored one and set up another in last week’s victory against another of his former clubs, KV Kortrijk. “I want to win at Anderlecht.”
Spain: Valencia CF v FC Barcelona preview (Sunday 19.00) Seeking to battle their way into the UEFA Champions League places from their current seventh position, Ernesto Valverde’s men need to overcome their worst-ever sequence against Barcelona. The Mestalla outfit have not beaten the Blaugrana since Fernando Morientes and David Silva scored in a 2-1 home success on 18 February 2007.
“We’ll have to run an awful lot, be very focused and look to take possession from them,” Valencia wide midfielder Juan Bernat said ahead of the encounter with the Liga leaders, who have won eight and drawn three of the teams’ last 11 meetings. “We must go out to win even though we are facing probably the best team in the world. It will be a difficult game but also a great one to play in.”