Serie A preview: Battle for Scudetto heats up

7 March 2013 12:47

The top sides in Serie A will fancy their chances of victory this weekend, with the top three each tackling teams well below them in the table.

Champions Juventus, fresh from securing their place in the last eight of the Champions League at the expense of Scottish club Celtic, host eighth-placed Catania.

Catania are in reasonable touch at the moment – winning two of their past three matches before going down 3-2 to Inter Milan in a thriller last weekend.

Juventus, meanwhile, have taken only four points from a possible nine in their past three matches, probably the worst run of form for Antonio Conte’s side this season.

Second-placed Napoli, who are six points behind Juve, visit 16th-placed Chievo on Sunday, while on Friday Milan, who are in third place and 11 points behind Juventus, visit 17th-placed Genoa.

Milan are unbeaten in nine Serie A matches, and during that time posted a 2-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League to make them the form team of Serie A at the moment.

On Saturday, Roma try and continue their three-match winning run under new coach Aurelio Andreazzoli when they visit Udinese, and Atalanta host second-bottom Pescara in the day’s other game.

Fourth meets sixth on Sunday when Vladimir Petkovic’s Lazio entertain Fiorentina, with the Rome-based club keen to bounce back from their 3-0 thumping from Milan in their last league game.

Inter Milan are level with Lazio on 47 points, one behind Milan, and they welcome 11th-placed Bologna to San Siro, while Sampdoria visit Cagliari.

Other Sunday matches see Siena visit Palermo, with both teams desperate to escape the relegation zone, and Torino journey to Parma.

Bundesliga preview: Can Fortuna stop runaway leaders Bayern?

7 March 2013 12:46

Leaders Bayern Munich host Fortuna Dusseldorf while Borussia Dortmund visit Schalke in this weekend’s Bundesliga action.

Bayern are beginning to resemble a runaway freight train this season, 17 points ahead of Dortmund in the league and already having one foot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after their 3-1 round-of-16 first-leg victory over Arsenal in London.

Their 1-0 win over Dortmund in the quarter-finals of the DFB Pokal means Jupp Heynckes’ men are in with a realistic chance of claiming a historic treble – setting some bar for incoming coach Pep Guardiola to try and emulate.

Bayern could only manage a 1-0 win over Hoffenheim in their last match, and they could have one eye on next Wednesday’s second-leg encounter with Arsenal in the Champions League during Saturday’s meeting with Fortuna.

But Bayern have won 15 successive matches in all competitions, and it seems nothing will stop them from marching to their 23rd German top-flight title.

Dortmund, meanwhile, journey to Schalke, who are continuing to claw their way up the table under new boss Jens Keller.

Keller took over from the sacked Huub Stevens in December and although he found the going tough at first, the club – who are still in the Champions League and took a 1-1 draw at Galatasaray in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash – are unbeaten in their past three Bundesliga matches.

Dortmund are also still campaigning in Europe’s elite competition, and they cruised to a 3-0 second-leg win over win Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday to book their place in the last eight.

Third-placed Bayer Leverkusen, one point behind Dortmund, travel to eighth-placed Mainz on Saturday, while Freiburg host Wolfsburg.

Other Saturday matches see Werder Bremen journey to Borussia Moenchengladbach, Greuther Fuerth welcome Hoffenheim in a battle of the bottom two sides, while the round of matches begins on Friday night when 16th-placed Augsburg host Nuremberg, who are 13th.

On Sunday, Hannover entertain Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg journey to Stuttgart.

Ligue 1 preview: PSG look to end slump

7 March 2013 12:45

Leaders Paris Saint-Germain will host Nancy in the French capital, while challengers Lyon and Marseille do battle in Ligue 1 this weekend.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side have fallen to two shock defeats in their past three league clashes, most recently going down to relegation-threatened Reims.

They will also have to back up from a mid-week Champions League date with Valencia, making the task all the tougher for PSG when Nancy visit on Saturday.

However, going in their favour is Nancy’s length absentee list – with Fouad Rachid, Florent Zitte, Ziri Hammar, Jean Joachim, Romain Grange and Vincent Muratori all sidelined for the clash.

Nancy, who sit second last in the table, will take some solace from the fact the two sides who have beaten PSG recently – Reims and Sochaux – are also both in the midst of a relegation battle.

Meanwhile, Marseille can draw level with second-placed Lyon on 52 points with a victory in their clash at the Stade de Gerland.

It will be a tough task for Elie Baup’s men though, as Lyon are unbeaten in four in all competitions.

Marseille bounced back from consecutive defeats to PSG in the league and Coupe de France, with an unconvincing come-from-behind win over bottom club Troyes at home.

In action on Friday night, Rennes will entertain fourth-placed Saint-Etienne – with the visitors on a 12-match unbeaten streak.

Rennes can move within three points of Christophe Galtier’s men should they put an end to Saint-Etienne’s run.

On Saturday, Ajaccio will be out to snap a run of back-to-back losses when they host mid-table Lorient.

Troyes (20th) welcome Reims (16th) in a relegation six-pointer, while Evian (18th) and Sochaux (17th) will similarly meet in a match that will have some effect on the shape of the bottom three.

Brest are unbeaten in three, and can continue their form when they host Toulouse – who have drawn their past three.

Valenciennes are targeting an end to Lille’s four-match winning streak when they go head to head.

On Sunday, fifth-placed Nice will hope to hold off Montpellier in sixth at the Stade Municipal du Ray, before Bordeaux can put an end to a four-match losing streak at home to Bastia.

La Liga preview: Deportivo visit wounded Barca

7 March 2013 12:43

Barcelona can return to winning ways when they welcome Deportivo La Coruna to Camp Nou, while Real Madrid visit Celta de Vigo in La Liga.

The runaway league leaders fell to just their second defeat of the season in El Clasico last week, losing 2-1 away from home, with an 82nd-minute winner from Sergio Ramos giving Real a moral triumph ahead of Barca’s likely reclaiming of the league crown.

Barca lead the league by 11 points from closest challengers Atletico Madrid, with Jose Mourinho’s Real still languishing in third, a further two points back.

And Tito Vilanova’s men should bounce back emphatically on Saturday, as they host strugglers Deportivo, who sit bottom of the table some 51 points in arrears of Barca.

It will take something special to top the previous meeting between the teams this season, Lionel Messi netting a hat-tick as 10-man Barca beat Deportivo 5-4 away from home.

Atletico will need to win if they are to remain in second when sixth-placed Real Sociedad visit on Sunday – with the latter on an eight-match unbeaten run.

Sociedad have also lost just once in their past 16 – and that came at the hands of Real Madrid.

Mourinho’s men can maintain the pressure on their city rivals against drop-zone occupants Celta, however their only visit to the Estadio de Balaidos since 2007 ended in a 2-1 defeat in their Copa del Rey clash in December.

On Friday night, Real Betis can put pressure on the league’s top six, as the seventh-placed club host strugglers Osasuna.

Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol are without a win in three and two matches respectively ahead of their date on Saturday.

Fourth-placed Malaga are on the road at Real Valladolid, while second-bottom Mallorca host mid-table Sevilla.

In the early kick-off on Sunday, Athletic Bilbao host Valencia in Basque country before Levante and Getafe go head to head.

Premier League preview: Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur

7 March 2013 12:41

High-flying Tottenham will take their four-match winning streak to Anfield on Sunday, hoping to unseat a rejuvenated Liverpool.

Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs have catapulted into third spot in the league with a whiff of Champions League in their nose.

They should at least secure a top-four spot, but now they are two points inside the top-three, Villas-Boas will only be looking skywards to guarantee their group-stage spot in Europe’s elite competition in 2013/14.

The Reds, meanwhile, have climbed back into contention for securing a spot in the Europa League next season with back-to-back victories.

Albeit against either poor or distracted opposition – the latter being Swansea, who were preparing for a League Cup final when they lost 5-0 at Anfield – Liverpool have put nine goals into the back of the net in their past two wins.

Unsurprisingly, Luis Suarez has scored four of Liverpool’s seven goals from open play in those wins to climb to the lead in the race for the Golden Boot with 21 goals.

But one-man show or not, the Reds have found their scoring prowess in a flourish – and that can only breed confidence for Brendan Rodgers’ men, who are looking to end their mediocre season on a high.

Once a regular ‘big four’ club, Liverpool have been forced to scrape their way into seventh spot on the table – with their win over Swansea their first against top-10 opposition this season.

That statistic doesn’t spell a happy ending for The Kop on Sunday, and neither does the formline that shows Spurs have not lost on their two most recent trips to Merseyside.

In fact – home or away – Liverpool have not beaten Spurs since January 2010, when Dirk Kuyt scored twice at Anfield in a 2-0 win.

Tottenham won their previous encounter this season at White Hart Lane, with Gareth Bale scoring at both ends in a 2-1 result.

Bale is the man of the hour in the Premier League, with seven goals in his past five matches to total 16 for the season.

The battle within the battle will be that of ‘Bale versus Suarez’, and whoever can weave their magic the best on Sunday could just decide the winner of this crucial clash for both sides’ respective European aspirations.