The 8 big stories to look out for in football this weekend
Solari and Ronaldo face the brink
Real Madrid are the centre of attention right now. Normally they'd be revelling in such a state, but not so much right now: Los Blancos have lost two Clasicos in a row, and crashed out of the Champions League after a thrashing at the hands of Ajax. Despite all of those games taking place at home, their season effectively ended this week.
Yet less than a month ago, it looked like Santiago Solari was doing a solid job in very difficult circumstances. Now his days are numbered, and he might even be gone after the visit to Valladolid on Sunday.
Fittingly, Solari's managerial La Liga debut took place against Valladolid in November, after he'd replaced Julen Lopetegui. He brought Vinicius Jr. from the reserve team with him, and the Brazilian teenager duly scored a crucial late winner to help the new coach start his tenure on a positive note. Madrid legend Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), who presented Vinicius at the Bernabeu last summer before taking over as the new owner of Real Valladolid, certainly had mixed feelings about that particular episode.
Fast-forward to March, though: Solari's time is up, Vinicius is out for the season after getting injured against Ajax, and Ronaldo's Valladolid are involved in a desperate relegation battle, having won just twice since that visit to Madrid. There will be little enthusiasm from either side going into this clash.
Balotelli vs Vieira
Mario Balotelli enjoyed two productive seasons at Nice under Lucien Favre, scoring 43 goals in all competitions – but his relationship with Favre’s successor Patrick Vieira never really blossomed. The Italian failed to find the net this season before he was released in January to sign for Marseille.
While his arrival at the Stade Velodrome seemed to be mistimed, with the club itself in crisis, things quickly got better and Super Mario is enjoying himself once more. L'OM have won five league games since he joined, and the Italian has four goals to his name already – famously celebrating his latest strike against Saint-Etienne live on Instagram.
On Sunday, Marseille host a Nice side just four points behind them in Ligue 1; and for Balotelli, the personal element will also loom large. It should be a cracker.
Oscar isn't missing Ramires
Oscar's decision to leave Chelsea for China was met with bewilderment two years ago, but the truth is that the Brazilian is enjoying himself at Shanghai SIPG and has played an important part in their title triumph last season. The midfielder scored 12 goals alongside Hulk, and the new 2019 season started well for him too – he was on target in the 4-0 derby win over Shanghai Shenhua.
The same can't be said about another former Blues midfield star. Ramires is unhappy at Jiangsu Suning, and didn't play at all in 2018 after trying to force a move back to Europe. He didn't feature last week either, and isn't expected to be on the pitch when Jiangsu visit Shanghai SIPG on Saturday.
Milan regret Chievo's plight
Chievo only have one win and 10 points so far this season as they approach near-certain relegation, and Milan could be quite sorry to see their demise. The likeable club from Verona – many people's second team in Italy – have often made life difficult for a lot of top teams throughout the years. But not the Rossoneri.
Milan have always enjoyed facing them. Their last defeat against the Flying Donkeys came back in 2005. Since then, they've won 21 matches against them, with just three draws along the way. Milan have scored 51 goals in that period and only conceded 12. Even Gonzalo Higuain netted the last time that these two teams met. With Chievo’s imminent departure from Serie A, they're about to lose their very favourite opponents.
But perhaps they have a surprise left in them. Milan are in high spirits after winning four matches in a row and leapfrogging city rivals Inter into third place. But fate appears to have a dark sense of humour at times...
Sancho faces Bundesliga 'twin'
Borussia Dortmund have hit hard times recently, after being kicked out of the Champions League by Tottenham and watching their lead over Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga – which stood at nine points in January – disappear.
Jadon Sancho scored a magnificent goal against Bayer Leverkusen last Sunday, but his overall form doesn't resemble the first half of the season, and that's worrying for BVB.
On Saturday, Dortmund face an intriguing test against struggling Stuttgart, who won for the first time since December last weekend, thrashing Hannover 5-1. Their hero in that game was Turkish centre-back Ozan Kabak, who headed home his first two goals in the top flight. The young prodigy, signed from Galatasaray for €11 million in January, was born on March 25, 2000 – the same day as Sancho. But can he stop the Englishman?
Gignac on cusp of history
They call it the Clasico Regiomontano in Mexico, and it's one of the most passionate derbies in the world.
The big game is even spicier this Saturday when league leaders Tigres visit Monterrey, who trail them by a single point. And it's even bigger when you take into account that Andre-Pierre Gignac is just three goals away from becoming the top scorer in Tigres history.
The Frenchman has become an idol there, helped by a number of magnificent goals since he joined the club in 2015. Two weeks ago, he reached 100 goals for Tigres. Could he score a treble against their biggest local rivals to break the record?
Ranieri's lost trip to Leicester
It isn’t easy to understand why Claudio Ranieri agreed to join Fulham after Slavisa Jokanovic was fired in November. Why hadn't the Italian retired after leading Leicester to their unbelievable title triumph? Why did he return to the Premier League with relegation candidates whose squad didn’t fit with his own tactical strengths? That decision may remain a mystery, but one thing is certain – Ranieri would have loved a return to the King Power Stadium.
The comeback would have been even more emotional following Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's tragic death in that October helicopter crash. Ranieri took the job at Craven Cottage just two weeks after that accident.
Unsurprisingly, Fulham lost to Chelsea last week, and on Saturday they visit Leicester. That should have been Ranieri's day. While he won’t be there, he will still be at the forefront of minds for many who are.
Heated Swedish derbies
Most fans outside of Scandinavia don't follow Swedish football – which is a shame, because the fan culture is magnificent, and the levels of passion can even be compared with South America.
Unfortunately, that can lead to trouble. The Gothenburg derby in the Swedish Cup was abandoned at half-time last week after IFK fans went a little overboard on pyrotechnics, with opponents GAIS then handed victory by the footballing authorities.
We're into the quarter-finals now, and the best fixture on Saturday features Djurgarden and Hammarby in a heated Stockholm derby. Expect action in the stands.