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Derbies in Italy and England top weekend bill

Published: Friday 31 January 2014, 9.50CET previews the best of the weekend action, featuring local ties in England and Italy, title battles in Switzerland and Northern Ireland and a test for Real Madrid CF.

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Published: Friday 31 January 2014, 9.50CET

Derbies in Italy and England top weekend bill previews the best of the weekend action, featuring local ties in England and Italy, title battles in Switzerland and Northern Ireland and a test for Real Madrid CF.

England: Newcastle United FC v Sunderland AFC (Saturday 13.45)
Sunderland have enjoyed a remarkable metamorphosis under Gus Poyet. At Christmas they were five points adrift at the foot of the Premier League and the dark clouds over Wearside looked there to stay. Since then, though, they have eliminated Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC to book a League Cup final date and, on Wednesday, climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since August.

Victory in the 144th Tyne and Wear derby would be a huge boon. Newcastle are reeling from the departure of Yohan Cabaye and, with Loïc Rémy suspended, on-loan Luuk de Jong could be thrust into action. Sunderland hope it will be a baptism of fire.

Germany: FC Schalke 04 v VfL Wolfsburg (Saturday 15.30)
The sides' starts to the second half of the Bundesliga season could scarcely have been more different. While Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made a goalscoring return to action as Schalke waltzed to victory over Hamburger SV, Wolfsburg endured a painful derby defeat by Hannover 96 – just a blip, says the Wolves' Swiss goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio. "We had a great nine-game unbeaten run," he rued. "But it's one defeat; not the end of the world. We'll try to get back on track against Schalke."

That is a must for Wolfsburg, a point and a place behind their opponents and Germany's fourth UEFA Champions League slot. Schalke defender Felipe Santana is confident, though, saying: "If we can put in a performance like we did against Hamburg then we have a big chance."

Northern Ireland: Cliftonville FC v Linfield FC (Saturday 16.00)
Cliftonville lifted Northern Ireland's first trophy of the campaign last weekend with a League Cup triumph, and they can boost their hopes of more silverware on Saturday. Win and Linfield's lead at the summit would be cut to two points with 11 rounds to play. "There's a lot at stake for both clubs," said Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin, who guided his side to their first championship in 15 years last season. "We can close the gap to two points, so it's a huge incentive for us." The north Belfast club have already beaten Linfield twice in the league this season, 4-2 and 3-0.

Switzerland: FC Luzern v Grasshopper Club (Sunday 13.45)
Grasshoppers may start the second half of the season fourth in Switzerland, but they are just three points behind leaders FC Basel 1893. Aspirations of overhauling that deficit took a massive hit with this month's departure of Izet Hajrović and his trusty left foot to Galatasaray AŞ – "a big loss", as coach Michael Skibbe admitted. Yet here is an opportunity to prove there is life after the Bosnian international, as they travel to second-placed FC Luzern, who are also eager to underline their title credentials. Luzern are always strong at home but Grasshoppers can take strength from the fact that they have not lost there since July 2009.

©Getty Images

Juventus coach Antonio Conte

Italy: Juventus v FC Internazionale Milano (Sunday 20.45)
The Derby d'Italia is one of the most eagerly anticipated games in Serie A, and Sunday's match is no exception. Fifth-placed Inter are 23 points adrift of leaders Juventus but they have plenty to fight for – Torino FC, Parma FC and Hellas-Verona FC could all leapfrog Walter Mazzarri's side if they fail to win.

The Bianconeri will be without the injured Gianluigi Buffon, but in Marco Storari they seem to have the perfect replacement. Their 12-match winning run was halted by last weekend's 1-1 draw at SS Lazio but Juve's confidence is undimmed. "We did not win our last game but we showed why we are on top of the table," said coach Antonio Conte. "We never gave up, even when we were reduced to ten men; we will do the same on Sunday."

Spain: Athletic Club v Real Madrid CF (Sunday 21.00)
Two of Spain's in-form sides meet at the new San Mamés, where Athletic suffered a first defeat against Club Atlético de Madrid during the week. "Everyone knows that playing there is not an easy; [FC] Barcelona lost there recently," explained Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. Indeed, having won four of their last five games in the Liga, scoring 17 goals in the process, Ernesto Valverde's fourth-placed side are expected to provide strong opposition to a third-placed Madrid team 20 matches unbeaten in all competitions and yet to concede a goal in 2014. "Athletic are playing well but having said that, this is a good moment for us to face them as we are in confident mood," the Italian tactician concluded. 

All times CET

Last updated: 31/01/14 17.32CET

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