Premier League preview: Everton v Manchester City

14 March 2013 14:45

Everton will look to claim their fourth straight home win against Manchester City as they attempt to reel in fifth-placed Arsenal.

Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final draw means the English Premier League’s sixth-placed team is very unlikely be given a spot in the Europa League, which puts pressure on the likes of seventh-placed Everton.

Belgian attacking midfielder Marouane Fellaini looms as the key player for Everton as they look to bridge the two-point gap to Arsenal as the 25-year-old has seemingly returned to form.

Fellaini started the season with a bang, scoring three goals in the opening five Premier League games but apart from a flurry in November, the big Belgian has been fairly quiet since.

Since the start of February, however, Fellaini has started to find form again, scoring three goals and setting up another in Everton’s past four matches in the Premier League.

By contrast, Everton had a dismal February with just one victory from five games in all competitions and March has not started much better as a 3-1 win over Reading in the Premier League was followed by Everton’s 3-0 defeat by Wigan in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Everton manager David Moyes will hope the visit by Manchester City on Saturday can spark his team.

City have left Goodison Park in defeat on their past three visits and last tasted success on Everton’s home turf in April 2009.

The reigning champions’ manager Roberto Mancini will hope Sergio Aguero (knee) and captain Vincent Kompany (calf) are both available to take on Everton after they missed City’s 5-0 thumping of Barnsley in the FA Cup.

City have won their past four games in all competitions, including a 1-0 triumph over Aston Villa in their last Premier League fixture.

Mancini would be thrilled with his team’s defensive solidity in that period as Manchester City have not conceded a goal in 360 minutes, a fact even more impressive considering Kompany has been absent all that time.

Premier League preview: Aston Villa v Queens Park Rangers

14 March 2013 14:44

Adel Taarabt, Julio Cesar and Armand Traore are set to return for Queens Park Rangers’ relegation six-pointer versus Aston Villa.

Following Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Sunderland, QPR manager Harry Redknapp declared attacking midfielder Taarabt, goalkeeper Cesar and defender Traore should be fit for the crucial trip to take on Aston Villa.

While QPR remain bottom of the English Premier League, their quest to avoid relegation has gathered pace over the past two weeks with a 2-1 away win over Southampton before coming from behind to defeat Sunderland.

A third consecutive victory on Saturday could see QPR move out of the relegation zone for only the second time this season.

For Villa, a win would see them move six points clear of the relegation zone if Wigan lose to Newcastle and Manchester United defeat Reading.

Villa came from behind to defeat Reading 2-1 last week but manager Paul Lambert will be concerned about his team’s home form ahead of Saturday’s clash.

Lambert’s side have lost five of their past six matches at Villa Park, while, even more worryingly, QPR have picked up seven points from their past four games on the road.

The key for the hosts will be to find a way to keep Loic Remy quiet as the French striker has been crucial to QPR’s improving form.

Remy scored the equaliser against Sunderland, making it two goals in as many games and three in five matches since he joined QPR from Marseille in the January transfer window.

But worryingly for Lambert, defending is hardly his team’s strong point as Aston Villa have not kept a clean sheet in 18 matches in all competitions.

One thing Lambert can almost certainly bank on is that his men will find a way to score as they have only been kept goalless twice in their past 10 games with Belgian striker Christian Benteke the most likely Aston Villa player to hit the back of the net.

Benteke has scored 16 goals in all competitions this season, his first in England since arriving from Genk in Belgium.

The 190-centimetre striker is in fantastic form, especially considering Aston Villa’s poor form, having scored seven goals in his past eight games for the Birmingham-based club.

Premier League preview: Manchester United v Reading

14 March 2013 14:44

If a trip to Old Trafford to take on runaway leaders Manchester United wasn’t daunting enough, Reading will do so minus a manager.

Brian McDermott was sacked from the Royals’ post after the club succumbed to a fourth straight league defeat on Saturday, with the home defeat all the more detrimental as it came at the hands of relegation rivals Aston Villa.

It spelled the end of McDermott’s four-year reign in charge of the club, but it also posed a massive task for interim manager Eamonn Dolan – the academy head coach – with a trip to the champions-elect, as United lead the league by 12 points with 10 matches remaining.

In terms of a ‘David versus Goliath’ battle, fewer clashes fit the bill so perfectly, with 48 points separating the two clubs with Reading 19th on the table, level on points and goal difference with cellar dwellers QPR.

But with all those numbers appearing in favour of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, Reading can take some solace in their recent form against United.

Despite losing their two clashes so far this season, Reading have put four goals past United – with those goals coming in two thrilling contests.

The Royals led twice against United in the reverse league fixture before going down 4-3 with all seven goals scored in the opening 34 minutes.

This was followed by a tense FA Cup tie, which United edged 2-1 but only after Jobi McAnuff pulled a goal back 10 minutes from time.

And while Reading earned the plaudits of football pundits for their exploits against United, an honourable defeat won’t be worth anything to them in their desperate predicament.

Four points deep into the relegation zone and winless in five in all competitions, Reading need points fast – but have an upcoming fixture list that reads Manchester United (A), Arsenal (A), Southampton and Liverpool.

Making life all the more difficult for them on Saturday will be the continued absence of suspended striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who will serve the last of his three-match ban earned against Wigan in February.

Also absent for the struggling side are goalkeepers Adam Federici (ankle) and Alex McCarthy (shoulder), midfielders Danny Guthrie (calf) and Jimmy Kebe (hamstring), and striker Jason Roberts (knee).

Ferguson is only unable to select three from his sizable squad, with Darren Fletcher (illness), Phil Jones (ankle) and Paul Scholes (knee) all unavailable.

But if United wished for a cruisy fixture to prepare for their FA Cup replay with Chelsea, then it looks like it will come true for them on Saturday.

Blatter not a fan of Euro 2020 format

14 March 2013 11:31

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has hit out at UEFA’s initiative to organise Euro 2020 in 13 different cities rather than one country.

The 2020 championships will be held in multiple nations all over Europe to mark 60 years of the tournament’s existence, a decision that has received its fair share of criticism over the past few months, and Blatter would prefer the tournament to be held in one country, too.

“I once told Michel Platini that Colonel Gaddafi presented a similar plan when he was bidding for the 2010 World Cup. He really believes in this idea, but I said it was out of the question. So Platini’s idea is nothing new,” Blatter told Kicker.

“A tournament should be played in just one country, that creates a certain identity and euphoria. Just look at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

“It will not really be a European championship in the new format. You’ll have to look at it in another way, although I don’t know how exactly. A Euros like this misses heart and soul for me.”

The host cities for Euro 2020 will be announced by UEFA in September 2014.

Holtby aiming to make Spurs the best

14 March 2013 11:18

Lewis Holtby says he is determinated to help Tottenham Hotspur become the biggest club in London.

The 22-year-old, who moved to White Hart Lane from Schalke in January, believes Spurs have what it takes to go all the way in the Europa League this season following their 3-0 win over Inter Milan last Thursday, but the German is ultimately aiming for Champions League football.

“Tottenham are a massive club. In Germany, they’re not seen as such perhaps, but people must come here and see what a club they are,” he told Goal.com.

“We have a good team and a good team spirit. We are all very professional over here.

“We should not be underestimated given the quality we have in the squad. I have a feeling we could win (the Europa League) but that will be tough. There is still a long way to go. We still have to play the second leg against Inter.

“We want to play in the Champions League and to be the best team in London.”

Gareth Bale has been in fine form lately, having scored 10 goals in his last nine appearances to help Andre Villas-Boas’ side into third place in the Premier League and seemingly on their way to the Europa League quarter-finals.

Holtby feels there is plenty more to come from the exciting Welsh winger.

“He’s a quiet but very professional guy,” he said.

“On the other hand, he also likes joking around a bit but he’s just a really good guy. Despite all the hype around him, he’s got on his feet on the ground.

“He works very hard. Gareth is just a sporting animal who has no fat on him and is very big. He also has a shot like a horse.

“The season is not over yet and Gareth is determined to score a few more goals.”

Tottenham visit Inter in the Europa League round-of-16 second leg on Thursday, aiming to defend their 3-0 aggregate advantage.