MATCHDAY: Final games in European leagues before World Cup

PSG's Lionel Messi, center, runs with the ball past Juventus' Manuel Locatelli, right, and Juventus' Fabio Miretti during the Champions League Group H soccer match between Juventus and Paris Saint Germain at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2019. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

PSG’s Lionel Messi, center, runs with the ball past Juventus’ Manuel Locatelli, right, and Juventus’ Fabio Miretti during the Champions League Group H soccer match between Juventus and Paris Saint Germain at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2019. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

PA

A preview of what’s happening in European football on Sunday:

ENGLAND

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will be looking for his side to finish strong at Fulham as the Premier League pauses for the World Cup. The Dutchman saw United respond to last week’s 3-1 loss to Aston Villa by beating the same opponent in the League Cup on Thursday. Ten Hag had a rocky start as United manager, including back-to-back defeats in his first two games in charge and a humiliating 6-3 loss to Manchester City. There were also hugely encouraging wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham – but the defeat to Villa brought his side down to earth. In the other Premier League match, Brighton, who have won their last three games in all competitions, host Villa.

ITALY

Four of the five teams below Napoli face off in the hope of putting pressure on the runaway Serie A leaders. Reigning champions AC Milan and Lazio are closest to Napoli but have still 11 points behind after the southern club closed the year with a 3-2 victory over Udinese on Saturday. Milan host Fiorentina, while Lazio travel to Juventus who have rebounded from a lackluster start to the season and an early Champions League exit. Juventus have won their last five league matches without conceding to finish fourth. Atalanta and Inter Milan are one point below Juventus – and less than three points behind second place – and face off in Bergamo.

GERMANY

Union Berlin and Freiburg were surprise Bundesliga favorites for much of the first half of the season. When they meet in Freiburg on Sunday, a victory will send either team second in the table behind Bayern Munich before the World Cup break. Eintracht Frankfurt could also snatch second place if they beat Mainz early in the game and then Freiburg and Union draw. The Bundesliga is experiencing by far the longest hiatus of Europe’s top five leagues, with no more games until January 20 as it was decided to have its usual winter break after the World Cup ends.

FRANCE

It’s another midday kick-off for Paris Saint-Germain as the unbeaten league leaders look to restore their five-point lead with a home win against Auxerre. There’s a lot more at stake than a win against a modest side as the PSG stars will be aiming to avoid injury just before heading to the World Cup in Qatar. PSG coach Christophe Galtier has included Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar in his squad, although captain Marquinhos is rested with a muscle issue. It remains unclear whether the PSG stars will start and exit – or start on the bench and return if necessary – at the Parc des Princes. Elsewhere, Monaco are improving against Marseille at the Stade Louis II.

SPAIN

With the Spanish league already on hiatus, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and other top clubs are playing their first Copa del Rey games of the season against lower-tier opponents. Bilbao, who moved up to fourth in the Spanish league before the World Cup break, start fourth-tier Alzira in the first round. Bilbao hold 23 cup titles, just behind Barcelona’s 31. Sevilla were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage and are in the league’s relegation zone. He visits sixth-tier Velarde in northern Spain. 2020 winners Real Sociedad, Getafe, Cadiz, Rayo Vallecano, Celta Vigo, Girona and Almería are also on the road against lower level clubs.

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