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League leaders braced for tricky assignments

Published: Friday 25 November 2011, 9.30CET
Derbies in Belgrade, Madrid, Tel Aviv and Lisbon take centre stage on a weekend when the leaders in England, France and Italy all face tough tests. previews the key games.

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Published: Friday 25 November 2011, 9.30CET

League leaders braced for tricky assignments

Derbies in Belgrade, Madrid, Tel Aviv and Lisbon take centre stage on a weekend when the leaders in England, France and Italy all face tough tests. previews the key games.

England: Liverpool FC v Manchester City FC (Sunday, 17.00)
Peerless in the Premier League, City suddenly find themselves on the precipice in the UEFA Champions League. Facing an uphill struggle to reach the round of 16, they have had no such domestic concerns. Unbeaten in 15 league games – a new top-flight club record – they look unstoppable in their hunt for a first title since 1968.

Liverpool, though, are making an increasingly salient case for inclusion in the top four at least. Last weekend's 2-1 win against Chelsea FC has increased their confidence. "I think we are moving in the right direction," said manager Keny Dalglish. "Whether Sunday is a positive result for us or not, it won't be a determining factor in the progress of the football club."

Serbia: FK Crvena zvezda v FK Partizan (Saturday, 18.00)
The Belgrade rivals meet for the 141st 'Eternal Derby' with Partizan four points ahead of their neighbours at the Serbian Super League summit. "We are at a very important stage of the season," said Crvena zvezda coach Robert Prosinecki, who is sweating on injuries to Milan Vilotić, Uroš Ćosić and Nenad Kovačević. "We must prove we have the mental strength to beat an opponent when the pressure is on."

Partizan coach Aleksandar Stanojević added: "This is the biggest game in the domestic championship and the impression we make, not only the points, is very important."

Spain: Real Madrid CF v Club Atlético de Madrid (Saturday, 20.00)
Despite the fact the Liga leaders are on a 12-game winning run in all competitions, Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas admitted it would be "stupid" to get carried away ahead of a "derby in which Atlético's players and fans will want to get a good result".

Gregorio Manzano's ninth-placed side are yet to win away in the league this season and their last triumph at the Santiago Bernabéu came in October 1999. Casillas, however, believes the Merengues will have to "grit our teeth and play well" when the teams meet. "We refuse to look beyond the next encounter which comes against an Atlético team who will be 200% up for the game," he concluded.

Italy: S.S. Lazio v Juventus (Saturday, 20.45)
Seria A co-leaders Lazio and Juventus meet in Rome but Biancocelesti midfielder Cristian Ledesma believes it is too early to dub this a Scudetto decider. "The league is extremely close," said the midfielder. "You lose a couple of games in a row and you are mid-table again. Juve, however, are surely among the favourites considering what they have done so far."

Lazio have Miroslav Klose back from injury while the visitors, who have also a game in hand, are also prudent: "We will analyse the situation only when we have faced all teams once," coach Antonio Conte said.

Portugal: SL Benfica v Sporting Clube de Portugal (Saturday, 21.15)
Portugal's greatest derby encounter could scarcely have come at a more tantalising time. FC Porto may be top of the Portuguese Liga, but Benfica are level on 24 points in second and Sporting lurk only a point adrift in third. The Eagles resume domestic action after securing a UEFA Champions League round of 16 berth with a thrilling 2-2 draw at Manchester United FC, while Sporting have won nine domestic games on the bounce.

Benfica have beaten Sporting in their last six meetings, but remain cautious. "Sporting will have more time to prepare but this is a derby so the players will do what is needed," said coach Jorge Jesus.

Israel: Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC v Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC (Sunday, 19.50)
Maccabi Tel-Aviv host rivals Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC looking for a first league win in four games. Almost 20 years to the day since they triumphed 4-0 against Hapoel – on 23 November 1991 – the Yellows are keen to not only restore local pride, but also to remain in title contention. Four points adrift of leaders Hapoel in sixth, Maccabi have not won this particular derby since March 2008. "I have never played alongside or seen any player who single-handedly won a derby," said Maccabi goalkeeping coach Alexander Ubarovn. "We can only do it if we are united."

France: Olympique de Marseille v Paris Saint-Germain FC (Sunday, 21.00)
Defeated 1-0 at home to Olympiacos FC in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, Marseille have the perfect chance to make amends. Didier Deschamps' side, languishing in tenth, trail Ligue 1 pacesetters PSG by 12 points but know victory at the weekend could prove a season-defining catalyst. "We will be more tired but it's another important game for us," said Deschamps.

Antoine Kombouaré's PSG are also looking to bounce back after their momentum was checked by a 1-0 loss to AS Nancy-Lorraine last weekend. "It's the game everyone talks about here," said PSG's Javier Pastore, in his debut season in France. "It will be a great game and we'll try to live up to the fans' expectations."

All times CET.

Last updated: 06/12/13 5.55CET