Barcelona and Real Madrid both won over the weekend but received mixed fitness news ahead of their return to Champions League action this week — while Arsenal’s opponents Bayern Munich continued their impressive form.
Ahead of tomorrow night’s last 16 first leg at home to Paris Saint-Germain at the Camp Nou, Barcelona went top of La Liga — for three hours — with a straightforward 6-0 win at Alaves on Saturday afternoon.
After their front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were all on the scoresheet, there was a late blow for the blaugrana team as right-back Aleix Vidal suffered a serious ankle injury which sidelines him for the rest of the season.
Javier Mascherano and Arda Turan are also definitely out of this week’s game, but Gerard Pique has recovered from a muscle issue and Samuel Umtiti was training on Sunday despite limping off at the Estadio Mendizorroza 24 hours previously.
Midfielders Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta both came through that game on their returns to fitness and are expected to start against PSG. PSG eased to a 3-0 win at Bordeaux on Friday night.
Centre-forward Edinson Cavani scored twice and Angel Di Maria added the third — with the Ligue 1 team also boosted by a successful return from injury for midfield general Marco Verratti.
Barca’s spell atop La Liga was shortlived as Real Madrid retook first place with a 3-1 win at Osasuna later on Saturday.
Madrid struggled to impose themselves on the game in the first half, even after Cristiano Ronaldo shot them ahead, and Sergio Leon soon equalised for the battling bottom side.
A shin injury to wing-back Danilo early in the second half lead coach Zinedine Zidane to end an experiment with a three-man defence, switch to a more traditional 4-4-2, and his team soon took control.
The win was then secured with goals from Isco and Lucas Vazquez — although both could be back on the bench for Wednesday’s game against Napoli at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Marcelo and Luka Modric came through the 90 minutes in Pamplona without any issues, while Dani Carvajal was on the bench and will rival Nacho Fernandez for the right-back slot.
There was a further boost for Madrid on Sunday when galactico winger Gareth Bale returned to full training for the first time since hurting ankle ligaments in late November.
The Wales international is unlikely to feature against Napoli but should be back to full fitness well in time for the World Cup 2018 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on March 24.
Napoli travel to the Bernabeu as one of Europe’s most in-form teams — unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions after a straightforward 2-0 win at home to Genoa on Friday night.
Bayern are also flying as they prepare for Wednesday’s first leg at Arsenal — the Gunners are looking to improve on a record of six last 16 exits in the last six seasons, with two to the Bavarians.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team strolled past Ingolstadt 2-0 on Saturday, to move seven points clear atop the Bundesliga, having won 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games.
Borussia Dortmund’s form is less impressive and they lost 2-1 at Darmstadt on Saturday, not an ideal way to prepare for tomorrow night’s first leg at Portuguese Liga Sagres leaders Benfica, who beat Arouca 3-0 at home on Friday evening.
In Serie A last night, two Gonzalo Higuain goals gave Juventus a 2-0 win at Cagliari. Earlier Radja Nainggolan and Edin Dzeko helped Roma see off Crotone 2-0 to keep up the pressure.
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