Struggling German giants Schalke have to win to avoid equalling an unwanted record, while a chastened Atletico Madrid return to their La Liga title quest and there are big games at the top of the table in Italy and Holland.
AFP Sport selects some of the standout football action in Europe this weekend:
– Historically bad Schalke? –
Schalke v Hoffenheim, Saturday 1430 GMT
Rock bottom of the Bundesliga, Schalke will be in joint possession of an ignominious record should they fail to win at home to Hoffenheim. The Gelsenkirchen club have gone 30 games without winning since their last victory, at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach on January 17 last year.
With veteran Swiss coach Christian Gross now in charge, Schalke stand just one game away from equalling Tasmania Berlin’s record of 31 Bundesliga matches without a win, set in 1965/66.
There was an explanation for Tasmania’s awful showing: they had been an amateur club before being parachuted into the top flight because the authorities wanted a representative from West Berlin after Hertha were demoted. In contrast, as traditionally the club with the third-biggest support in Germany, Schalke’s record has been shameful.
– Time for Dortmund to step up? –
RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund, Saturday 1730 GMT
The expected title challenge from Dortmund has not really transpired and they sit eight points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich before going to RB Leipzig, the club who sit second and now look the most likely rivals to the reigning champions.
Only Borussia Moenchengladbach have beaten Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig in the Bundesliga this season, and they have only let in nine goals, three of which came in a draw away to Bayern.
Dortmund, meanwhile, have won two of their three Bundesliga games since coach Lucien Favre was sacked and replaced by Edin Terzic, and have Erling Braut Haaland back after injury kept him sidelined in December. It would be a big statement if they could win at the Red Bull Arena.
– Atletico on rebound –
Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao, Saturday 1515 GMT
Diego Simeone’s Atletico need to quickly get an embarrassing Copa del Rey defeat out of their system as they resume their title bid in La Liga at home to Athletic Bilbao.
Atletico, with a weakened side admittedly, were dumped out of the cup on Wednesday by Cornella, a third-tier outfit from suburban Barcelona. However, in La Liga they are two points clear at the top from Real Madrid, and have two games in hand.
They have not lost at home in the league since December 2019 and they should be too strong for mid-table Athletic, with the Basque club coming into this game on the back of a home loss to Barcelona in their first match with new coach Marcelino.
– Roma, Inter test title credentials –
Roma v Inter Milan, Sunday 1130 GMT
Inter’s momentum in the Serie A title race was halted in midweek when they lost at Sampdoria, ending a run of eight straight victories for Antonio Conte’s side.
However, defeat for AC Milan against Juventus left Inter still just a point behind their city rivals at the top of the table. They are also just three points clear of third-placed Roma, who have themselves won their last three outings and now host the Nerazzurri at the Stadio Olimpico.
Will Romelu Lukaku, scorer of 12 Serie A goals this season, return to Inter’s starting line-up?
– Dutch giants clash –
Ajax v PSV Eindhoven, Sunday 1545 GMT
As Ajax look to close in on a big-money deal for West Ham United’s French striker Sebastien Haller, they are also hoping to strike a major blow in the Dutch title race when they welcome PSV to Amsterdam in their first outing of the new year.
Ajax are top of the Eredivisie after 14 games, a point above PSV and averaging 3.7 goals per match. Their rivals may wonder if they need Haller, who made his name in the Netherlands with Utrecht.
It is the German influence which has helped make PSV contenders again, with Roger Schmidt as coach and a clutch of German players including 2014 World Cup final hero Mario Goetze. A win away to Ajax would be a major statement.
Schalke close on unwanted record, Atletico defend Liga lead – what to watch in Europe this weekend The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ France 24.