- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

What to watch out for in the leading soccer competitions in Europe this weekend:



The first trophy of the season will be handed out Sunday at Wembley, a more familiar stadium for Manchester United than League Cup final opponent Southampton.

The last time Southampton visited seven years ago, it won the Football League Trophy as a third-tier side. Now firmly established in the Premier League, the south coast team is chasing its first major honor since beating United in the 1976 FA Cup final.

Jose Mourinho takes charge of United in a cup final for the first time with one eye on the more important pursuit of England’s four Champions League places. United is sixth in the Premier League and Liverpool can pull further ahead Monday by beating defending champion Leicester, which is hovering above the relegation zone.

At the top, leader Chelsea hosts Swansea and third-place Tottenham takes on Stoke. Arsenal and Manchester City have the weekend off because they were to play Southampton and United, respectively.

By Rob Harris in London.



There’s a top-four meeting, and it seems the worst possible timing for Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid hosts the second-place Catalan club on Sunday in the midst of a four-match winning run at home. And Barcelona’s confidence has been battered by a 4-0 humiliation at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and a difficult 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Leganes on the return to domestic duty.

But if Luis Enrique can turn it around, the coach could end the weekend on top with Barcelona. The two-time defending champions are only one point behind leader Real Madrid , which plays Sunday at Villarreal, where it hasn’t won since 2014.

Saturday’s highlight is the Seville derby, with Sevilla, three points off the lead, playing 15th-place Real Betis.

By Tales Azzoni in Madrid.



Hamburger SV and Bayern Munich have been the Bundesliga’s best performing teams in the month since the winter break - advancing missions at opposite ends of the standings.

Their strengths will be tested on Saturday.

Hamburg has dragged itself out of the relegation zone with a four-match unbeaten run, including impressive wins over Bayer Leverkusen, Cologne and second-place Leipzig.

But the team’s record against Bayern is dismal, failing to beat the champions at all since 2009, with an aggregate score in Munich of 37-3 over the last seven visits. Although Bayern has been relying on late goals to rack up the points, the team is five points in front.

Leipzig is also in action on Saturday, hosting Cologne, while third-place Borussia Dortmund visits Freiburg. On Friday, Wolfsburg plays Werder Bremen. A Bremen win would send Hamburg back into the relegation zone before it plays Bayern.

By Ciaran Fahey in Berlin.



Often labeled as low scoring, tactically conservative and somewhat tedious to watch, the French league is enjoying its most exciting season for many years.

It is thanks largely to the attacking prowess of Paris Saint-Germain and leader Monaco, which has scored 111 goals in all competitions. Lyon and Nice are also playing a far more enterprising brand of soccer.

PSG’s 4-0 rout of Barcelona and Monaco’s 5-3 loss at Manchester City - where it led 3-2 - showcased the new energy sweeping through the French league.

Fans could be in for another scoring showcase this weekend, with second-place PSG traveling south to play sixth-place Marseille. Expect a passionate and vitriolic atmosphere at Stade Velordome on Sunday, even without PSG fans, who have been prevented from traveling because police resources are stretched.

PSG’s title rivals have games against mid-table sides. Nice hosts Montpellier on Friday and Monaco travels to Guingamp the following day.

By Jerome Pugmire in Paris.



This weekend could be decisive in determining the European ambitions of Atalanta and Inter Milan, who are currently level in Europa League spots.

Atalanta’s youthful, mainly-homegrown team has greater ambitions: Champions League qualification. And on Saturday, Atalanta takes on Napoli, which is six points ahead in the third and final Champions League place.

“If we beat Napoli we would be playing for a spot in the Champions League,” Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said.

Inter faces a tough game on Sunday, hosting second-place Roma, which has an eight-point advantage over them in second place. Juventus is already seven points in front of Roma and plays struggling Empoli on Saturday.

By Daniella Matar in Milan.

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