The weekend’s top matches

Germany: VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach v Fortuna Düsseldorf (Saturday 15.30)
Visiting their regional rivals Mönchengladbach for the first time in 16 years, Düsseldorf look well-set for a quick return next season after a decent first half of the Bundesliga season. Adding three more points from this derby to their tally of 21 would be another step towards survival for the fifth-bottom club. “They have a well-organised side and are difficult to play,” said Gladbach coach Lucien Favre. “Because they are so compact, we will need to show patience.”

The Foals started 2013 with a goalless draw at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, a result which has prompted Favre to demand more intensity from his eighth-placed team. “We need to have more tempo in our game. That will allow us to be more flexible and we’ll have better solutions in every situation.”


France: Stade Rennais FC v Olympique de Marseille (Saturday 17.00)
A point off the title pace, Marseille travel north in search of their third Ligue 1 victory in as many seasons at the Stade de la Route de Lorient. The Brittany outfit, two places below OM in fifth, have not beaten the 1993 European champions at home since Sylvain Wiltord scored twice in a 3-1 win five years ago this month.

OM coach Élie Baup welcomed his third January signing, CFR 1907 Cluj’s Modou Sougou, to the club on Thursday whereas counterpart Frédéric Antonetti must fill the void left by Yann M’Vila’s departure to FC Rubin Kazan.

“The aim is to maintain this pace,” said Rennes’ home-grown midfielder Romain Danzé, referring to last week’s 2-0 success at SC Bastia. “Fourth place [level on points with OGC Nice] is good but our position is not what matters most at the moment.”

Portugal: SC Braga v SL Benfica (Saturday 21.15)
Joint leaders with FC Porto, Benfica required a penalty from Óscar Cardozo to draw 2-2 with the Arsenalistas on the opening weekend of the Liga campaign. In total, the Lisbon side have won 32 of the 64 meetings between the teams in the Minho region, losing only 15. “Braga will still have a say in this championship,” said Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, for whom Ezequiel Garay is a doubt.

Opposite number José Peseiro is without the suspended Paulo Vinícius and the injured Douglão and Nuno André Coelho as his third-placed charges seek to reduce the ten-point gap between them and the Eagles.

Netherlands: Feyenoord v FC Twente (Sunday 14.30)
Fourth-placed Feyenoord may have lost 3-0 at AFC Ajax last weekend but they are still just four points adrift of leaders Twente. Though Steve McClaren’s men drew 0-0 with RKC Waalwijk, they climbed to the Eredivisie summit thanks to PSV Eindhoven’s 3-1 home defeat by PEC Zwolle. McClaren’s priority is to improve the firepower of a Twente side who have scored only 35 goals in 19 league games this term.

“I am an Englishman,” he said. “With us, it is one, two and then forward with the ball. Our tempo has to go up. We must choose attacking options quicker and become more ruthless in front of goal.” Feyenoord, though, have their own work cut out to breach the Dutch top flight’s best defence.

Italy: Parma FC v SSC Napoli (Sunday 15.00)
After slipping five points behind Serie A leaders Juventus following last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at ACF Fiorentina, second-placed Napoli face another difficult away test as they visit Roberto Donadoni’s Parma, undefeated in five league outings.

“We know what we have to do to stop them,” said Donadoni, who coached the Neapolitans in 2009. “Napoli are lethal when they counterattack because they have players with great pace and technique who can hurt you if you leave them space.”

With Parma in ninth position, their manager added that he is not working on anything special to negate the threat of Edinson Cavani, who scored his 100th Serie A goal last time out. “I want to leave my mark in this town [Naples],” said the Uruguay striker. “We can beat anybody and I think we can dream of the Scudetto.”


Spain: Athletic Club v Club Atlético de Madrid (Sunday 21.00)
A year ago Athletic were enjoying a season that culminated in them playing Sunday’s opponents in the UEFA Europa League final and FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey showpiece. That glory has faded this term, though, with the Leones out of Europe early and eliminated from the cup by third-tier SD Eibar.

With the Basque team 14th in the Liga, attacker Iker Muniain believes it is time to deliver a stirring performance at San Mamés. “We’re not enjoying a good run in front of our own fans, who deserve a good showing from us,” the 20-year-old said. “Against [second-placed] Atlético is the ideal moment for us to do that, even if we haven’t managed to beat them on the last few occasions.”

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