Feb 8, 2013, 5:45 PM EDT
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the bench. So were Blaise Matuidi and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Paris Saint-Germain’s home game against Bastia would be a rotation opportunity under any circumstances, but with UEFA Champions League resuming next week, Carlo Ancelotti employed a strategy we’re sure to see throughout the weekend from other prominent managers.
Starting Tuesday, Champions League resumes with two Round of 16 first legs: Valencia hosting PSG and Celtic welcoming Juventus to Glasgow. On Wednesday, German champions Borussia Dortmund travel to Shakhtar Donetsk while Manchester United, in the week’s marquee match, visits Real Madrid.
For bosses like United’s Alex Ferguson and Real’s José Mourinho, the decisions will be relatively straight-forward. While both teams host talented teams this weekend (United facing Everton, Real against Sevilla), squad depth makes their compromises easy. Their reserves would be starters for most of their competition.
Other head coaches face more intriguing dilemmas. Take Valencia’s Ernesto Valverde. The former Athletic Club, Espanyol, Olympiacos and Villarreal boss replaced Mauricio Pellegrino at the Mestalla in December. While Los Che have clawed their way back into Champions League contention (only two points behind Málaga for fourth in Spain), a tight race that includes Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad and Levante means there’s little margin of error. Valencia needs to get into next year’s Champions League. Is it worth Valverde resting players Saturday at Celta de Vigo when the team has little chance of winning Champions League regardless?
Jurgen Klopp faces a completely different dynamic. Borussia Dortmund’s not going to defend their title. They’re 12 points back of Bayern Munich in Germany. They’re also likely to safely qualify for next year’s Champions League while having the talent to compete for this one. Hosting mid-table Hamburg ahead of a mid-week trip to Ukraine, Klopp could rotate his squad.
Here’s a quick look at the European weekend. We’ve highlighted the matches with mid-week Champions League clubs (they’re in bold).
English Premier League
Big match: Sunday’s game at Old Trafford gives Everton a chance to steal points. And when I say steal, I mean pick up points where competitors expect them to fall. The late Sunday start guarantees Manchester United will rotate ahead of Wednesday’s match with Real, while Everton won the reserve, season-opening fixture. Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
Intriguing: Newcastle has picked up two wins since their latest French invasion. Now it’s Tottenham’s turn to deal with the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy, Yoann Gouffran, and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Saturday, 7:45 a.m. Eastern.
Big Match: This match shouldn’t be that close, but when Bayern Munich faces Schalke, it’s going to be Germany’s big game. The Miners have plummeted to sixth place, their mid-December move to replace Huub Stevens with Jens Keller meeting with mixed results. Compounding an already difficult task, Schalke is expected to be without Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan, Ibrahim Affelay, Christian Fuchs and Kyriakos Papadopoulos. This may be the weekend’s marquee matchup, but it’s unlikely to be that close. Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
Others: Borussia Dortmund vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 9:30 a.m. Eastern).
Spanish Primera Division
Big Match: Málaga’s Champions League success (winning their group) and performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid suggest they have the quality to avoid a battle for Spain’s last Champions League spot, but their stumbles against the rest of La Liga leave them only one point clear of fifth-place Real Betis. Another stumble at Levante, where they have been outscored 6-1 in their last two visits, could see the Andalusians drop out of the top four. Saturday, 2 p.m. Eastern.
Intriguing: The scheduling is more interesting than the matchup. Since La Liga started their Asian-time kickoff last season, we’re used to seeing mildly interesting matchups scheduled for the early Sunday kickoff. This week, Barcelona gets the slot, kicking off at 6:00 a.m. Eastern against 12th place Getafe.
Others: Celta de Vigo vs. Valencia (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern); Real Madrid vs. Sevilla (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern).
Big Match: Lazio has claimed only one point from their last three, leaving second place to a surging Napoli team that’s pulled league-leading Juventus within three. Tomorrow at the Olimpico, Lazio gets what might be their last chance to salvage their faint title hopes. Given recent losses to Genoa and Chievo (and the absence of Miroslav Klose), Lazio looks unlikely to derail the surging Azzurri, even if Napoli haven’t beaten the Eagles in Roma since 2008. Saturday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Intriguing: In the wake of his infamous “little n—–“ comment, Paolo Berlusconi tried to make peace with Mario Balotelli mid-week. Milan’s visit to Cagliari will be the club’s first match since their VP screwed up. Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Eastern
Others: Juventus vs. Fiorentina (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern).
French Ligue 1
Big Match: Lyon’s upset loss at Ajaccio last week fueled speculation that resentment lingers from a contentious transfer window that framed leading scorer Bafetimbi Gomis and others as a potential cost-cutting casualties. Now, OL goes into Round 24 trailing PSG by three points. With the Parisians’ Friday win over Bastia, OL can’t hold out the hope that Champions League considerations will help their cause.
They can, however, keep up by adding to Lille’s misery. When LOSC visit Stade Garland, Les Gones will look to extend Lille’s league road winless streak to seven games.
May 25, 2013, 10:30 PM EDT
Jurgen Klopp has a mountain to climb in order to erase the pain of the Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
May 25, 2013, 9:45 PM EDT
FC Barcelona have confirmed via their official Twitter account that Neymar has agreed to join the Catalan side next season.
May 25, 2013, 9:25 PM EDT
The club lost. Again. This team is awful. So … where are the big changes?
May 25, 2013, 8:50 PM EDT
Chelsea lost to Manchester City 5-3 for the sweep in the pair’s double dip in the United States.
May 25, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
One of Major League Soccer’s hottest young strikers scores for the third consecutive match:
May 25, 2013, 8:27 PM EDT
It’s official: the Robbie Rogers’s return to soccer is nearly complete.
May 25, 2013, 7:19 PM EDT
Outgoing Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes hinted at Borussia Dortmund sensation Robert Lewandowski’s probable switch to Bayern after the Champions League final.
May 25, 2013, 6:50 PM EDT
Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium in London. The postmatch reactions pretty much cover it all.
May 25, 2013, 6:20 PM EDT
Manchester City and Chelsea are handing starts to four youngsters who are looking to make their breakthroughs.
May 25, 2013, 5:52 PM EDT
The 2013 Champions League final was incredibly exciting, and passed every test as a match that will live on in the memory of fans.
May 25, 2013, 5:25 PM EDT
How a wonderfully entertaining UEFA Champions League final played out:
May 25, 2013, 4:59 PM EDT
Arjen Robben, criticized by many for his woeful record in major finals, finally got over the hump in stunning fashion as his 89th minute winner sent Bayern Munich to the promised land.
May 25, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT
There have been two to make the semis; You know who they are?
May 25, 2013, 1:48 PM EDT
Looking back at his ground-breaking announcement, even Robbie Rogers is a little confused about why it was all such a big deal:
May 25, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The most recent reports say it’s Barcelona FC, as the Catalan giants have apparently beaten Spanish rival Real Madrid for the Brazilian star’s services:
May 25, 2013, 12:20 PM EDT
Looking at the weekend MLS schedule and wondering if we’ll see one of these two on the field?
May 25, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT
Something to like from the Galaxy side – but one big concern, too:
May 25, 2013, 10:45 AM EDT
Despite the Chicago Fire’s awful record through 12 MLS rounds, there’s still enough to like about Frank Klopas’ club.
May 25, 2013, 12:32 AM EDT
Santos confirmed that they have accepted two offers for Brazilian sensation Neymar.
May 24, 2013, 9:29 PM EDT
In a mind-blowing move, USA Today have reported the LA Galaxy have sent a player to the Chicago Fire in exchange for the rights to Robbie Rogers.
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