MATCHDAY: Final games in European leagues before World Cup


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A look at what’s happening in European football on Sunday:

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will look to see his side finish on a high at Fulham when the Premier League is sidelined for the World Cup. The Dutchman saw United react to last week’s 3-1 defeat by Aston Villa by beating the same opponents in the League Cup on Thursday. Ten Hag had a shaky 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 very encouraging victories against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham – but defeat by Villa brought his team back to earth. In the Premier League’s other game, Brighton, who have won their last three games in all competitions, host Villa.

Four of the five teams below Napoli are facing off, hoping to put pressure on the runaway Serie A leaders. Holders AC Milan and Lazio are closest to Napoli but are still 11 points adrift after the southern club ended the year with a 3-2 win over Udinese on Saturday. Milan host Fiorentina while Lazio travel to Juventus, who have recovered from a so-so start to the season and an early Champions League exit. Juventus have won their last five league games without conceding a goal, finishing fourth. Atalanta and Inter Milan are a point below Juventus – and three points behind second place – and face each other in Bergamo.

For long stretches of the first half of the season, Union Berlin and Freiburg were the surprise leaders in the Bundesliga. When they meet in Freiburg on Sunday, both teams will be able to send second-placed behind Bayern Munich ahead of the World Cup break if they win. Eintracht Frankfurt could also grab second place if they beat Mainz away in the early game and then draw Freiburg and Union. The Bundesliga is taking by far the longest break of Europe’s top five leagues, with no more games until January 20 because it decided to go on its usual winter break after the World Cup ended.

It’s another opener at lunchtime for Paris Saint-Germain as the undefeated leaders look to restore their five-point lead with a home win over Auxerre. There is far more at stake than victory against a modest side as PSG’s stars will look to avoid injury before heading to the World Cup in Qatar. PSG manager Christophe Galtier has added Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to his squad despite captain Marquinhos being rested with a muscle problem. It remains unclear if PSG’s stars will start at the Parc des Princes and get off – or start on the bench and get on if necessary. Elsewhere, improving Monaco meet Marseille at the Stade Louis II.

With the Spanish league already on hold, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and other top clubs are playing their first Copa del Rey games of the season against lower division opponents. Bilbao, who have risen to fourth place in the Spanish league before the World Cup break, will start in the first round at fourth-tier side Alzira. Bilbao holds 23 cup titles, surpassed only by Barcelona’s 31. Sevilla were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage and are on the relegation zone in the league. It visits the sixth grade Velarde in northern Spain. 2020 winners Real Sociedad, Getafe, Cádiz, Rayo Vallecano, Celta Vigo, Girona and Almería are also playing against lower-tier clubs.

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