MATCHDAY: Barcelona hosts Betis; Milan visits Roma
A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Saturday:
Out of the Premier League relegation zone after a first win since Feb. 5, Nottingham Forest will look to pull clear of the bottom three by beating Brentford. Forest ended an 11-match winless run by rallying to beat Brighton 3-1 on Wednesday. Forest is one point outside the drop zone. Brentford is also coming off a midweek win — at Chelsea, 2-0 — and is in ninth, perhaps a little too far away from challenging for European qualification. Brighton is still in the mix for that ahead of a home match against Wolverhampton. Crystal Palace and West Ham — teams who have recently moved away from relegation danger — meet in the lunchtime kickoff.
Ousmane Dembélé and Andreas Christensen are back from leg injuries and on Barcelona's squad for its home game against Real Betis. Dembélé has been sidelined with a left thigh injury since January. Christensen has not played in a month. Barcelona has an 11-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid. But Barcelona has won only one of its last four league games and lost at Rayo Vallecano this week. Fifth-placed Betis needs to win to stay in the fight for a top-four finish and Champions League berth. Madrid hosts Almeria after it also was embarrassed at Girona 4-2. Madrid midfielder Luka Modric will miss the game after injuring his left thigh. mindful of the Copa del Rey final and Champions League semifinals looming. Rayo also plays last-placed Elche.
Roma hosts AC Milan in a direct battle for a Champions League spot. Roma is below fourth-placed Milan on goals scored. Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker at the end of the season. Two late Roma goals helped it snatch a 2-2 draw at Milan in January. Roma lost at Atalanta 3-1 last weekend. That win boosted Atalanta’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League as, despite being seventh, it is only four points below Milan. It visits Torino. Napoli was supposed to play Salernitana but that potentially title-clinching match was moved to Sunday.
Union Berlin hosts in-form Bayer Leverkusen for a Bundesliga clash with European qualification at stake. Union is riding high in third place with five rounds remaining and keen to defend its 20-game unbeaten run at home. Leverkusen still has an outside chance of Champions League qualification thanks to its timely good run under coach Xabi Alonso. Alonso’s team was six points behind fourth-placed Freiburg with five rounds remaining. The top four qualify for Europe’s premier competition. Freiburg visits Cologne, while Leipzig – two points further back in fifth – hosts Hoffenheim. Also, Eintracht Frankfurt welcomes Augsburg, and Borussia Mönchengladbach visits Stuttgart, then Werder Bremen plays at relegation-threatened Schalke.
Nantes looks to retain the French Cup when it faces Toulouse in the final. A four-time French Cup winner, Nantes will rely on midfielder Ludovic Blas for more silverware. Blas scored the lone goal in the semifinal win over Lyon this month as well as in the final against Nice last year. Toulouse sits nine points above Nantes in the league but won’t be the favorite because it plays in a cup final for the first time in its history. Nantes coach Antoine Kombouare has the opportunity to lift the French Cup for the fifth time. Kombouare won the Cup as a Paris Saint-Germain player in 1993 and 1995, then coached PSG in 2010 and Nantes in 2022 to glory. On the opposite bench, Toulouse coach Philippe Montanier led Rennes to a runner-up finish in 2014. Meanwhile, Lille could pull within two points of a Europa League spot with a win over struggling Ajaccio. Fifth-placed Lille holds the Europa Conference League spot while Ajaccio is 10 points from safety with just six games remaining.
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The Associated Press