Pique fit for Clasico

25 October 2013 21:25

Barcelona have been handed a boost ahead of Sunday’s Clasico against Real Madrid with the news centre-back Gerard Pique is fit to play.

The Spain international was a doubt ahead of the stellar fixture with Carlo Ancelotti’s men, after sustaining a thigh strain in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

But he took part in training with the rest of the team at Camp Nou on Friday, and manager Gerardo Martino confirmed his availability for Saturday’s showdown.

“Pique is in the squad and he is able to play tomorrow,” Martino commented.

Barcelona will have home advantage for the match, and lead La Liga with eight wins and one draw from their opening nine league games.

But Martino refused to accept his side would head into the match as favourites, and warned his charges to be wary of Madrid’s sharpness on the counter-attack.

“I don’t think the favourite is based on recent games,” he continued. “There are important players in both sides.

“I don’t think in Clasicos there is one team who starts as favourites. We will see who is favourite over the 90 minutes.

“They are going to try and prevent us from getting on the ball. Real can play on the counter-attack and we want to finish off every attacking move we have. We have to get back as best we can to ensure they don’t have goalscoring chances.

“They have (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Gareth) Bale, (Karim) Benzema, (Angel) Di Maria, they can be dangerous, but we have to be oursleves and take certain risks.”

Serie A Preview: Juventus v Genoa

25 October 2013 21:01

Juventus go in search of a swift reaction to back-to-back defeats when they entertain Genoa in Serie A on Sunday.

The reigning champions suffered a second-half collapse as they let a two-goal advantage slip in their 4-2 defeat to Fiorentina in their last Serie A outing.

And Antonio Conte’s side followed that disappointment up by succumbing to a 2-1 UEFA Champions League loss to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Despite those setbacks, Juventus are in good shape overall in Serie A, having amassed 19 points from eight games to sit third in the table.

The Turin outfit have a 100 per cent winning record at the Juventus Stadium in the league this season too, seeing off Lazio, Verona and Milan on their own turf so far.

Ahead of the match with Genoa, defender Andrea Barzagli called on the side to bounce back and stop shipping goals.

“It will be another important game, we need to get back to winning ways as soon as possible in order to forget what happened in Florence,” he told the club’s official website.

“Genoa have recently changed manager and I think they’ll come here to sit back and put bodies behind the ball.

“We know we’ve got to improve after conceding a few too many goals in our most recent fixtures. It’s not that we’re giving that much more away this season, we just need to cut down on the individual mistakes.”

Conte has no fresh injury concerns, with Mirko Vucinic and Simone Pepe (both thigh) set to be their only absentees.

Gian Piero Gasperini – who began his second spell at Genoa last month – will look to guide his team to a second consecutive Serie A victory.

Alberto Gilardino was the hero in their 2-1 triumph over Chievo last time out, as his double sandwiched an effort from Simone Bentivoglio.

But Genoa have struggled for consistency this season, and occupy 15th position having garnered just two victories from eight league games.

Serie A Preview: Parma v Milan

25 October 2013 20:42

Milan will aim to break their away duck in Serie A by enjoying familiar success against Parma on Sunday.

Although Milan have yet to win in four league games on their travels this season, they boast a superb record against Parma, having lost just one of the last 18 meetings between the two sides.

Parma’s only victory over Milan in the last 10 years came in March 2010, when a late goal from Valery Bojinov secured a 1-0 win at the Stadio Ennio Tardini.

However, Roberto Donadoni’s men will be buoyed by victories in each of their last two home games, against Atalanta and Sassuolo.

Parma currently sit 13th in the table, but were unbeaten in four prior to a 3-2 reverse at Hellas Verona last time out.

Milan’s last action came in the UEFA Champions League as they held Spanish giants Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at San Siro.

Massimiliano Allegri’s men have yet to lose in Europe’s premier club competition, but their league form has been patchy and they already trail leaders Roma by 13 points.

Philippe Mexes remains suspended for Milan, who must also cope without injured duo Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy.

Mattia de Sciglio has returned to training, though, and could make his return from a knee problem, while Brazilian goalkeeper Gabriel will hope to make a second appearance after a fine debut against Udinese last weekend in the absence of Christian Abbiati, whose fitness remains in doubt.

Daniele Galloppa and Gabriel Paletta are still on the sidelines for Parma, but Antonio Mirante is available again following a ban.

On-loan Napoli midfielder Walter Gargano, who spent last year with Inter, told Parma Channel of his respect for Milan ahead of the fixture.

“It is a great team, with high-quality players, that holds the level of the best teams in the world as we saw on Tuesday (against Barcelona),” said the Uruguay international.

“It will need the best Parma to make a result. We need to stay close, play as a team. If we do this we will take home something.”

Premier League Preview: Swansea City v West Ham

25 October 2013 20:12

West Ham United will hope their recovery on the road can continue against Swansea City on Sunday.

Sam Allardyce saw his side pick up a stunning 3-0 win at Tottenham in their last away game, but that triumph was their first as a visiting side since a 1-0 success at Stoke City on March 2.

However, it has not been all doom and gloom for the London club on their travels this term. In four away games they have conceded just one goal – a Robbie Brady penalty in last month’s 1-0 defeat at Hull City.

Swansea grabbed their first Premier League win at the Liberty Stadium last week, crushing beleaguered Sunderland 4-0.

The Welsh side have only completed consecutive home wins in the Premier League in a season twice since their promotion to the top flight in 2011 and were denied a win at the Liberty Stadium on Thursday when a 90th-minute Djibril Cisse penalty resulted in a 1-1 UEFA Europa League draw with Kuban Krasnodar.

The match has been billed as a clash of styles, with Swansea favouring a possession-based game and West Ham known for a more direct approach.

But Michael Laudrup sees no issue with Allardyce’s methods and is anticipating a tough test on Sunday.

He said: “There are some who say one thing and do another, but Sam Allardyce is very honest in what he wants and what he asks from his players.

“They are very strong and when we played them away last year they were very good so we know it will be difficult.

“They were very strong, physical and direct. They had Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan up front. We know Carroll is not there for this game but we saw how strong they are the last time they played away against Tottenham, where they won 3-0. It will be tough.”

Carroll remains on the sidelines with a foot injury that has rendered him unavailable so far this season. Allardyce will also have to make do without Alou Diarra and George McCartney (both knee) and James Collins (hamstring), but will be boosted after the game by the return of Jack Collison from a short-term loan at Bournemouth.

Carlton Cole is set for a place on the bench having re-signed for the club on a short-term basis just five months after being released by them.

Laudrup is without defensive pair Ben Davies and Ashley Williams, both suffering with ankle injuries and is likely to shuffle his pack, having made six changes for the visit of Kuban in midweek.

Evra denies United exit rumours

25 October 2013 19:19

Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra has moved to quell speculation he is looking to leave the club.

The France international conducted an interview with Telefoot in his homeland, in which he appeared to allude to a departure from Old Trafford upon the expiry of his contract at the end of the season.

But Evra insists he was misinterpreted and revealed he has no plans to quit the Premier League champions.

Speaking to MUTV, he said: “The problem with me is I don’t read the papers so I don’t know what people are saying about me.

“I had a French interview and I said ‘it’s personal’ meaning ‘I don’t want to talk about it’.

“Maybe some people (outside the club) want me to leave the club but that’s not the case.

“I will answer if somebody wants to talk about my contract because I think it ends after this year but then they have to talk with Manchester United and my agent. Me? I love this club so much.

“The only thing I can say is it (the French interview) was a big misunderstanding.”