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Rome and Lisbon aflutter for big weekend

Published: Friday 7 February 2014, 9.02CET
A table-topping Lisbon derby, a city clash in Rome and a battle of France's big shots lead the lineup as takes a bird's eye view of the weekend's league fixtures.

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Published: Friday 7 February 2014, 9.02CET

Rome and Lisbon aflutter for big weekend

A table-topping Lisbon derby, a city clash in Rome and a battle of France's big shots lead the lineup as takes a bird's eye view of the weekend's league fixtures.

England: Liverpool FC v Arsenal FC (Saturday 13.45)
After a second v third encounter between Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC on Monday, it is fourth v first at Anfield. Arsenal go into the weekend two points clear at the top of the table, and eight points above their hosts, but Liverpool's strike pairing of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge is the best in the Premier League with 37 goals between them. Certainly, they are eager to make trouble for the Gunners, Suárez noting: "Arsenal are the leaders and victory would be good for morale, giving the whole squad an enormous injection."

Arsène Wenger's team are no fools though – conceding less than a goal a game this top-flight season, with only Chelsea boasting a meaner defence – and the wily Frenchman is keen to come at Brendan Rodgers' side. "[The key is] for us to dominate the game and leave them as few balls as possible," said Wenger. "At Liverpool the task might be a bit more difficult but the philosophy on our side has to be the same – to master the ball, have the ball and dominate the game."

Germany: 1. FC Nürnberg v FC Bayern München (Saturday 15.30)
It is second against first in the 188th Franconian-Bavarian derby – provided you just count results since the start of this year. Nürnberg had not won a Bundesliga match going into the winter break, yet have now collected a maximum six points in 2014 and are out of the relegation zone for the first time since week seven of the campaign. All of a sudden, their tussle with the unbeaten champions-elect does not seem such an away banker.

"Maybe we can be the first Bundesliga side to inflict defeat on Bayern this term," said striker Daniel Ginczek. "Their players are only human – they have two legs and make mistakes like the rest of us." Team-mate Mike Frantz sounded a similarly optimistic note: "We're playing at home, we're on a roll and we need the points. If we put everything into it, we have a chance – even if it's only a small one."

Croatia: HNK Rijeka v GNK Dinamo Zagreb (Saturday 20.00)
Dinamo kicked off their spring campaign with a rescheduled First League fixture at NK Istra on Thursday – won 3-1 – and just two days later face a massive test on the Adriatic coast. Having encountered little resistance in the last three seasons – their championship-winning margins were 20 points in 2012/13, 21 points in 2011/12 and 17 points in 2010/11 – Dinamo now have both HNK Hajduk Split and second-placed Rijeka hot on their heels.

In Dinamo and Rijeka's last three meetings, only one goal has been registered – El Arbi Hilal's late winner for Dinamo in Zagreb in October – and Rijeka's captain, former Juventus and AS Livorno Calcio defender Dario Knežević, would love to settle that score. "Dinamo are still a class apart from all the other clubs, but we will be extra motivated in this match," the 31-year-old said. "We will try to be dangerous and it would be great to start the second half of the season with a victory over Dinamo."

Italy: SS Lazio v AS Roma (Sunday 15.00)

Nine points behind Serie A leaders Juventus, albeit with a game in hand after last Sunday's visit of Parma FC was postponed, the Giallorossi must win the derby to keep their Scudetto prospects alive. Coach Rudi Garcia hopes the weekend off will prove an advantage against capital rivals Lazio: "We played a Coppa Italia game on Wednesday, so the derby will be our second game of the week, not our third," said the 49-year-old. "We won't have any physical problems."

Roma have won just one of the past six derbies, but that one came under Garcia – a 2-0 victory in September. However, Lazio are yet to lose in Serie A in 2014, although coach Edoardo Reja accepts they will need their wits about them to maintain that record: "It's really tough to stop Roma this season – they are so fast that when they start running it's almost impossible to catch them, so we must pay attention."

Portugal: SL Benfica v Sporting Clube de Portugal (Sunday 17.00)
First hosts second in the Lisbon derby, with emotions sure to run high given this season's results – the sides drew 1-1 at Sporting in the Liga, before Benfica beat their neighbours 4-3 at home in an exhausting Portuguese Cup tie in November. Benfica have also scored in their last 71 home matches, with coach Jorge Jesus observing: "We are very strong – as good as we were last season – and that gives me confidence."

Sporting are missing two key players in suspended midfielder William Carvalho and injured defender Jefferson, yet coach Leonardo Jardim has no intention of lowering his sights for the battle ahead. "We have other players who will give their best for the team and our goal of winning every game," promised the 39-year-old.

France: AS Monaco FC v Paris Saint-Germain (Sunday 21.00)
The Ligue 1 title race has long since been whittled down to a straight fight between leaders Paris and Monaco in second – but should Laurent Blanc's men prevail in the principality in Sunday's late kick-off, it would be increasingly difficult to see a way back for their promoted rivals, who are already five points off top spot having lost striker Radamel Falcao to a serious knee injury.

After two Zlatan Ibrahimović goals at FC Nantes on Tuesday propelled Paris into the League Cup final, Monaco know they must improve on their form in the 2-2 weekend draw at FC Lorient if they wish to deny their guests a second straight league crown. "Paris remain a great team and it's up to us to try to change a few things if we are to come out on top," said central defender Éric Abidal.

Last updated: 07/02/14 20.43CET

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