Premier League preview: Swansea v Newcastle United

28 February 2013 10:32

Moussa Sissoko shapes as Newcastle United’s key man as Alan Pardew’s side aim for a third straight win when they travel to Swansea.

Sissoko has already proven himself as a fine acquisition since joining Newcastle United from Toulouse in the January transfer window, scoring three goals and setting up two others since he made his debut in a 2-1 victory away to Astron Villa.

Since that win on January 29, Sissoko has helped Newcastle United to three more victories across all competitions, while the north-east club have won all but one of their past four fixtures in the English Premier League.

A win over newly-crowned League Cup champions Swansea on Saturday could see Pardew’s men move as high as 10th, depending on other results.

Considering Newcastle United looked in danger of relegation just over a month ago, it has been an impressive turnaround by Pardew and his players with Sissoko and the rest of the club’s French connection playing a key role.

Pardew will hope two other members of his French troupe will be fit for the trip to Wales with Yohan Cabaye battling an illness, while Hatem Ben Arfa is expected to be ready after over a month out with a hamstring injury.

Swansea manager Michael Laudrup faces a new challenge after leading the Welsh club to their first-ever major trophy last week.

Laudrup needs to reinvigorate his team and get them ready for the run home in the Premier League.

Swansea have won just twice in the Premier League this year (3-1 over Stoke and 4-1 against Queens Park Rangers) and slipped to ninth after their 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool two weeks ago and West Bromwich Albion’s 2-1 triumph versus Sunderland over the weekend.

With just 10 points separating eighth-placed Liverpool and Sunderland in 15th, Laudrup will know how quickly Swansea’s season could turn into a slog to avoid relegation, especially if his players have a mental rest following their 5-0 win over Bradford City at Wembley.

The positive ahead of the visit of Newcastle is that Swansea have only lost two Premier League games at Liberty Stadium this season and have claimed two wins and a draw in their three home matches of 2013.

Serie A preview: Friday night set to light up in Italy

28 February 2013 10:16

Juventus can take a step closer to back-to-back Serie A titles when they take on Napoli in a top-of-the-table clash on Friday night.

The leading two teams in Italy’s top flight will meet at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo with the home side desperately needing a victory to stay in touch with Juventus.

The league leaders are six points ahead of Napoli and would almost have one hand on the Serie A championship if they win at Stadio San Paolo, although Juventus have not won there since 2000.

But in a bonus for Juventus, Napoli enter Friday’s clash without a victory in five games across all competitions.

In a big weekend in Serie A, fourth-placed Milan will host Lazio, who sit third, while Inter Milan (fifth) travel to Catania (seventh).

Lazio moved above Milan last week with a 2-0 victory over Pescara, as Inter drew with their city rivals.

Milan can retake third spot with victory on Saturday but if they lose and Inter win, the latter will move into fourth.

In the other match on Saturday, Torino will host Palermo.

Apart from Catania versus Inter, the pick of Sunday’s games will be Sampdoria versus Parma in Genoa.

Sampdoria and Parma are level on 32 points in the middle of the Serie A table with the former unbeaten in five games, while the latter are winless in seven.

In other games, Siena will host Atalanta, Genoa head to the Italian capital to take on Roma, Fiorentina will welcome Chievo to Florence, Bologna take on Cagliari and Pescara face Udinese.

Ligue 1 preview: Battle for European spots up for grabs

28 February 2013 10:14

Saint-Etienne host Nice in Ligue 1 on Saturday, as the chasing pack seek to apply pressure in the race for Champions League qualification.

All the focus so far this season has been on the heavyweight clubs scrapping it out at the very top of the Ligue 1 table.

Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain occupy top spot, three points clear of Lyon, with Marseille a further five points back in third spot.

Defeat to PSG last weekend saw Marseille’s hopes of staying in the title race take a major hit, and Elie Baup’s attention may now turn to consolidating third place and the prize of a route into UEFA’s elite club competition.

A strong run of form – three wins from their past four matches – has seen fourth-placed Nice climb to within a point of Marseille, while Saint-Etienne in fifth are one point further back.

Those two clubs go head to head at the Stade Geoffrey Guichard this weekend, in a match which could go some way to deciding which club mounts the strongest challenge for a European berth.

Saint-Etienne will need strikers Brandao and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in top form if they are to overcome Nice.

Aubameyang had suffered a drop in standards before the winter break, but coach Christophe Galtier kept faith with the Gabon international, who has netted six times from his past five matches in all competitions.

“He never let his head drop,” Galtier said.

“He did everything possible to try to get his form back as quickly as possible. I’d say that during that particular period he really showed a lot of mental strength.”

Montpellier, sixth in the standings, kick off this week’s round at home to seventh-placed Rennes on Friday.

PSG will be in the spotlight on Saturday as they look to extend their lead with a win away to struggling Reims.

On the same day, Valenciennes go to Lorient in a mid-table tussle, while Sochaux will fancy their chances at home to bottom side Nancy.

Ajaccio can continue their recent march away from danger with a win at Bastia, and Evian can escape the bottom three if they triumph on the road against Toulouse.

Some of the country’s traditional heavyweights are in action on Sunday, with Lyon going to Brest, Marseille at home to second-bottom Troyes and Lille playing host to Bordeaux.

Bundesliga preview: Moelders ready for relegation fight

28 February 2013 10:14

Struggling Augsburg will rely on durable striker Sascha Moelders to make the difference when they meet Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

Unfancied Augsburg are a lowly 16th on the table, and may yet fail in their bid to secure top-flight football for a third successive season.

Markus Weinzierl’s team occupy the relegation playoff berth, sitting just two points clear of 17th and the automatic drop.

There remains a hefty margin of nine points between Augsburg and the confirmed safety of 15th, but they can at least take heart from a battling 2-1 win at home to Hoffenheim last week.

Moelders, 27, claimed the second goal in that home win, remaining on the pitch despite receiving a deep cut to his nose earlier in the contest.

Asked if he thought about coming off following the injury, Moelders said: “Not even a second. I bruised my nose, not my feet.”

Having helped secure what was just a third win of the campaign for Augsburg, Moelders was already looking ahead to Saturday’s away match against Bremen, unconcerned by his facial laceration.

“We’ll just glue it together, I’ll be all right,” he said.

Improbable as an Augsburg escape act seems, they may fancy their chances of upsetting Bremen at the Weserstadion – Thomas Schaaf’s team have suffered two defeats in succession to sit 12th on the table, and could be vulnerable on Saturday.

A day later, top side Bayern Munich are expected to continue their march to the title.

Jupp Heynckes’ men are 17 points clear at the top, and could extend that lead further still with a victory away to Hoffenheim.

There is an intriguing tie to begin this week’s round of matches, with fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt at home to mid-table Borussia Moenchengladbach.

On Saturday, second-placed Borussia Dortmund, the defending champions, host Hannover, who are seventh.

Relegation-threatened Wolfsburg are at home to underperforming Schalke, while bottom side Greuther Fuerth face a daunting trip to Europa League hopefuls Hamburg, sixth in the standings.

Bayern Leverkusen, third on the table and with Champions League football in their sights, await the visit of mid-table Stuttgart.

And in the other match on Sunday, Fortuna Duesseldorf are at home to Mainz.

Nedved tips Conte for greatness

28 February 2013 10:06

Pavel Nedved believes Juventus boss Antonio Conte has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Marcello Lippi and Fabio Capello.

Conte guided Juventus to the Serie A title in his first season in charge of the Bianconeri, while also leading them to the Coppa Italia final.

The Turin giants are now enjoying yet another successful campaign, much to the delight of director Nedved, who reckons Conte can become a coaching great.

“Conte’s a true star. I really like his way of thinking. He manages to get his humility across and that leads to successful results,” the former Juventus star told Sky Sport Italia.

“A comparison with Lippi and Capello? His relative youth means that he hasn’t won as much as them as a coach yet, but he’ll no doubt catch up with them. He’s one of the best.

“To become a top coach you have to be able to get your ideas across to the players, to get your personality across.

“He knows how to do that, and when I go to the stadium and watch Juve play, I really enjoy myself. The side has strength of character, it presses the opposition, the players are always looking to score.”

Juventus currently sit top of Serie A, holding a six-point lead over second-placed Napoli.