Weekend’s Top Football Matches

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Germany: FC Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund (Saturday 15.30)
After getting to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, Dortmund’s attention switched immediately to this 142nd Ruhr derby. “We’ve got to make up for last time against Schalke,” said midfielder Kevin Grosskreutz, remembering Dortmund’s 2-1 home loss to Schalke in October. “We will give our all to get a result.” Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller promised that BVB – second in the Bundesliga – are “motivated right down to the bones”, yet the same should apply to sixth-placed Schalke, whose own UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie concludes next week.

Schalke have lost their last two home games against Dortmund, so Julian Draxler is eager to make amends. “Even in my family, everyone is talking about the Dortmund match,” said the 19-year-old midfielder. “We are really excited. We have to take the positive attitude from our recent wins into the derby.”

 

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Russia: FC Rubin Kazan v FC Zenit St Petersburg (Sunday 13.00)
Rubin, in seventh position, will host their fellow UEFA Europa League contenders at the Ahmat Arena in Grozny in order to preserve the young grass at their home stadium for July’s World Student Games. Third-placed Zenit are without two key men, with playmaker Danny suspended and left-back Domenico Criscito a long-term absentee with a torn cruciate.

Meanwhile, Rubin’s big winter signing from Stade Rennais FC, Yann M’Vila, is yet to make his Premier-Liga debut because of a knee problem. Fellow midfielder Aleksandr Ryazantsev is also sidelined, with coach Kurban Berdyev explaining: “Having come on for five minutes in the [UEFA Europa League round of 32] second leg against Atlético he sustained an injury that does not allow him to train.”

 

England: Liverpool FC v Tottenham Hotspur FC (Sunday 17.00)

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In-form Tottenham round off a week in which they have beaten north London rivals Arsenal FC    and UEFA Europa League last-16 opponents FC Internazionale Milano with another heavyweight contest. Safely ensconced in the top four of the Premier League, André Villas-Boas’s side will hope to close on second-placed Manchester City FC, who are in FA Cup quarter-final action on Saturday.

  However, seventh-ranked Liverpool have struck 12 times in their last three matches, Luis   Suárez taking his tally to a Premier League-leading 21 goals with a hat-trick at Wigan Athletic  FC last Saturday. “Luis is a great all-round striker but it’s not just about the goals, it’s about what he gives to the team – it’s about his attitude,” said Anfield team-mate José Enrique. “He’s the same in training as you see in games. He gives 100% all the time.”

 

Greece: Olympiacos FC v AEK Athens FC (Sunday, 18.30)
This derby seldom needs added interest, but the spice will nevertheless be piled on high this weekend. Win against an AEK side only four points clear of the relegation zone and Olympiacos will be Greek champions for the 40th time – not that assistant coach Víctor Sánchez is taking anything for granted: “Regardless of the standings, AEK are our traditional rivals and we are ready for a tough match.”

The Piraeus outfit could even start the game as champions if in-form Asteras Tripolis FC, 16 points adrift in second with six fixtures to go, fail to beat Panthrakikos FC 24 hours earlier. Olympiacos, who celebrate their 88th anniversary on Sunday, have just one thing on their mind, though. “We have nothing but victory on our minds,” said Sánchez. “We want to party in front of our own fans.”

Italy: S.S. Lazio v ACF Fiorentina (Sunday 20.45)
With just six points separating third from eighth spots in Serie A, Lazio and Fiorentina go head to head knowing victory could be crucial in the race for the third UEFA Champions League berth. Lazio sit a solitary point behind third-ranked AC Milan after losing away to the Rossoneri last Saturday.

“We have to keep our heads up because the road is long,” said Lazio coach Vladimir Petković. Fiorentina, in sixth, are two points shy of the Rome outfit as they seek to end a streak of four consecutive away defeats. “From the start of the season we have dreamt of taking our fans back into Europe,” said Viola captain Manuel Pasqual. “The Lazio game will be crucial. We want to remain in the hunt for Europe next season.”

Olympique Lyonnais v Olympique de Marseille

France: Olympique Lyonnais v Olympique de Marseille (Sunday 21.00)
Three points adrift of their second-placed hosts, Marseille can reel in Lyon at the Stade de Gerland if they manage a repeat of their 2012 French League Cup final success against the same side – 1-0, albeit after extra time. “They are a direct rival for the Ligue 1 podium,” said OM defender Rod Fanni. “Mentally, as well as in points’ terms, a win would be a coup for us. Several teams are hot on our heels, so it’s up to us to send a message to them.”

Marseille, in third, have yet to win away in Ligue 1 in 2013, and were beaten 4-1 by Lyon at the Stade Vélodrome on 28 November. “They produced a very good display – it won’t be the same story this time,” Fanni promised. Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti added: “There is no favourite and we will see plenty of commitment. We have to focus on our football and try not to slip up.”

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