Zidane faces Mourinho lookalike upon return
Nobody knew it at the time, but Zinedine Zidane’s last game as Real Madrid coach at the Bernabeu took place on May 12 against Celta Vigo, on the penultimate matchday of 2017/18. With Cristiano Ronaldo out injured, Gareth Bale scored a brace inside half an hour en route to a magnificent 6-0 rout. No one knew then that Zizou only had two fixtures left at the helm, and he resigned a few days after beating Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Now all eyes are on Zidane again as he makes his unexpected comeback, and his first game is at the Bernabeu against Celta Vigo once again on Saturday.
Ronaldo is now at Juventus, of course, but will Bale and Isco play any part this time? Those are just two questions among many waiting to be answered. Zizou is now preparing for next season, with the current campaign all but over for Los Blancos – and everyone’s contribution will be under spotlight ahead of huge changes in the summer.
Celta Vigo, like Real Madrid, have been through three coaches already this season and Fran Escriba is the man now tasked with saving them from relegation. The Jose Mourinho lookalike will be an amusing visitor to Madrid, given that the Special One hoped for a return to the Bernabeu: a doppelganger in the dugout is now as close as he’ll get.
Derby di Milano without Icardi
Mauro Icardi has been the king of the Derby della Madonnina in recent seasons, scoring five goals in the last four Serie A meetings between Inter and Milan. The Argentine’s heroics helped Inter beat the Rossoneri in October: his injury-time strike was the only goal of the game. Icardi also scored a hat-trick, including a very late penalty, in the Nerazzurri‘s 3-2 win in October 2017.
He’s a proven big-game player overall, as eight goals in 11 fixtures against Juventus would prove. There is a huge difference, however, between a player with a winning mentality and one who is a true leader. Inter’s decision to make Icardi captain in the first place was questionable, and now they’re paying heavy price for it.
He might be influential in the dressing room and on the pitch, but the star striker only thinks about himself and is refusing to play again until the club apologies for stripping him of the skippership. That’s why Icardi will be missing from Sunday’s huge derby, which Inter approach a point behind their city rivals in the race for a Champions League spot. With the upper hand, this is Milan’s chance to beat Inter in Serie A for the first time since January 2016.
Marseille dream of beating PSG
Since the big-money Qatari takeover, Paris Saint-Germain have turned France’s hottest fixture into some sort of farce. Their last defeat to Marseille in Le Classique was back in 2011, when Antoine Kombouare was still the coach.
In the 18 matches since, PSG have won 15 and three ended in draws. This is one of the best examples of PSG’s recent domination of Ligue 1, making the league a long competition.
Could there be a surprise this time? Marseille fans celebrated their rivals’ demise in the Champions League by thanking Manchester United last week, and now – powered by newly-signed, free-scoring Mario Balotelli – they sense a rare opportunity to provide an upset. PSG have a perfect home record in the league so far. Could that change?
Hertha legend faces beloved mentor
Back in 2007, a little-known and shy 19-year-old Swiss defender made his debut for Hertha Berlin.
Fabian Lustenberger was signed especially at the request of his new coach, compatriot Lucien Favre, who was also starting a new career outside of Switzerland for the first time. The mentor nurtured the youngster’s talents, but Favre was fired in September 2009 before going on to enjoy good spells at Borussia Monchengladbach and Nice.
Lustenberger stayed on the other hand, and he is now closing in on 12 years at Hertha as one of their longest-serving players, with 301 matches in all competitions.
The man who excelled as both a stopper and defensive midfielder will return to his homeland in the summer, having signed for Swiss champions Young Boys, and it’s fitting that one of his final home games will be against Favre on Saturday. Borussia Dortmund visit the capital in desperate need of three points having surrendered their position at the top of the Bundesliga, remembering only too well that Hertha managed a 2-2 draw in the first round.
It should be a great game – and an emotional one for Lustenberger.
Celina dreams of upsetting Manchester City
Bersant Celina openly stated his desire to face Manchester City ahead of the FA Cup fifth-round draw in January. He didn’t get his wish back then, but the Kosovan midfielder is now out against his former club on a big stage as Championship Swansea host Pep Guardiola’s side in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
Celina joined the Citizens’ academy at the age of 15, but his aspirations of joining the first-team squad were eventually broken – he only made a few short appearances at the beginning of 2016.
Last summer, after loan spells at Twente and Ipswich, the 22-year-old left the club for good but with his head held high. “There’s no shame at all in not being able to make it there,” he reflected wisely.
And yet the chance of proving his worth to Pep will be priceless. Celina has arguably been Swansea’s best player this season, despite his comical penalty miss against West Brom on Wednesday.
Now *this* is how you pull off a Panenka penalty. Terrific, Bersant Celina.pic.twitter.com/xBHzeoRf6i
— FourFourTwo (@FourFourTwo) March 13, 2019
A Russian Clasico that rarely disappoints
Another big derby will take place in Russia, as Spartak Moscow host Zenit in the most emotional game the country can offer. The hatred between the clubs is huge, and Spartak would dearly love to prevent their bitter rivals from winning a first championship title since 2015.
Zenit lead the table by five points at the moment, but their away record is questionable and they haven’t beaten Spartak in Moscow since 2012.
The fixture usually promises a feast of fouls, controversy and lots of goals. No fewer than 60 were scored in the previous 13 meetings before the teams somehow produced a boring goalless draw in September. Everybody hopes that was an exception to the rule. Sardar Azmoun, the Iranian who joined Zenit from Rubin Kazan in February and has scored five goals in the his last four games, is bound to shine.
VIP trio enjoy themselves in Kobe
They started with Lukas Podolski, then got Andres Iniesta, and now David Villa has completed a magical VIP triangle at Vissel Kobe. The veterans have a combined age of 104 but are still enjoying themselves in Japan, and Vissel fans are also loving what’s on offer./
They lost on the opening matchday but have now won two games in a row, and on Sunday host Shimizu S-Pulse, who have conceded 10 goals from their first three games.
The worst team in the world?
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
Spare a thought for Karabukspor fans. They were a respectable mid-table outfit in the 2016/17 Super Lig, but financial difficulties mean they’ve fallen apart completely.
They were relegated with just 12 points last season, and their second division campaign started with a three-point deduction as a result. Their total so far? Minus one.
After 25 matches, they have two draws (in August and December), 23 defeats, eight goals scored and 79 goals conceded. Could they finish the season without a single point in 2019? Such a scenario is very real, and Altay are certain to score plenty of goals against them on Sunday afternoon.