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Manchester City v Birmingham City

Saturday 17 December 2005 17:15


Manchester City will be without Richard Dunne and Andy Cole for the Barclays Premiership encounter with Birmingham City.

The pair are suspended after Dunne picked up his fifth booking of the campaign and Cole was sent off during last weekend’s defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

City boss Stuart Pearce has admitted he was disappointed with his side’s lack of discipline during the latter stages of the Hawthorns reverse.

And, as he sends them out against Steve Bruce’s side looking for their first home win since October, Pearce’s last piece of advice to his team will be to keep their cool.

He said: “One or two individuals lost their rag last week and that is unacceptable.

“I don’t see discipline as a fine balance. You play with aggression, you try to win every tackle and header and you stick to the rules of the game.

“You cannot afford to lose sight of what you are trying to achieve and last week, we lost our cool.

“I don’t see it as a major problem, more a reaction to a disappointing performance. But we will have a chat about it and I am confident it will not happen again.”

After making such an encouraging start to their own campaign, City have now won just once in the last five games, a run which has seen them slip into mid-table.

With Danny Mills definitely missing through injury and both Dunne and Cole suspended, Pearce’s squad is already thin, so he is desperately hoping skipper Sylvain Distin and full-back Ben Thatcher recover from minor niggles.

Nedum Onuoha seems certain to earn a recall, probably at right-back, with David Sommeil moving across into the central defensive position left vacant by Dunne’s absence.

The decision over who will replace Cole is less straightforward.

Antoine Sibierski has filled the gap alongside Darius Vassell before but the Frenchman, who normally operates in an advanced midfield position, has looked ill-at-ease in a striking role.

Pearce’s other options are veteran Robbie Fowler, who has made just one senior appearance this season and whose fitness has been built up exclusively on the training ground for the past three weeks, and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Younger half-brother of former City favourite Shaun, Wright-Phillips has yet to start a Barclays Premiership game and was missing with a knee injury himself when Cole was sidelined earlier in the season.

However, he has already proved his eye for goal in reserve team combat over the past couple of years and may just edge out his two senior rivals.

“Bradley has been very unfortunate,” said Pearce. “When Andy and Robbie were injured, so was he.

“It was disappointing because he would have had a chance to play two or three games on the spin.

“I do have a selection problem this weekend and Andy has been excellent for us this season. But when I look at the options, it is a fantastic one to have.”

Striker Mikael Forssell returns to the Birmingham squad for the clash with City after a month out with a thigh injury.

Central defender Martin Taylor is also available after missing the 1-0 home success over Fulham with a twisted ankle and will be pressing to replace skipper Kenny Cunningham.

But defender Mario Melchiot (thigh) and the midfield duo of Muzzy Izzet (ankle) and Neil Kilkenny (ankle) are again ruled out.

And Blues boss Bruce believes striker Emile Heskey deserves to be part of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s World Cup plans.

Heskey’s chances of earning an England recall for the 2006 finals in Germany appear to be fading fast, with Eriksson admitting only three places are still up for grabs next summer.

Liverpool forward Peter Crouch is clearly favoured at present by the Swede, but Bruce points to the form which Heskey has been showing as a powerful argument for the inclusion of the 27-year-old, who won his last cap in the opening game of Euro 2004.

Heskey was Birmingham’s player of the year last season, and has again shouldered the responsibility of at times being the only fit striker at Bruce’s disposal.

“Emile has been immense,” Bruce said. “He has led from the front and been fantastic.

“He plays week in and week out and if something happened to him, heaven forbid what it would mean to us.”

Bruce admitted: “You have to say Peter Crouch is in the pole position up to now with England - but it’s a long time to the World Cup. Somebody usually comes from nowhere to get in.

“In my opinion Emile Heskey is a better centre forward than Peter Crouch.”

The Birmingham manager added: “I don’t think where we are in the league would affect his England chances.

“Every week people are going away and saying ‘Emile Heskey played well’ and I think playing in the Premier League whether at the top, in the middle or at the bottom is a testament in itself.

“I think of his type there is nobody better in the country and I’m disappointed for Emile especially with the World Cup coming up, but there are six months to go.

“We know in football how quickly it changes. For us, he was our player of the year last season and people realise when they play against him how difficult he is to handle.”

Manchester City (from): James, De Vlieger, Onuoha, Sun, Sommeil, Distin, Thatcher, Jordan, Sinclair, Croft, Barton, Reyna, Ireland, Musampa, Vassell, Wright-Phillips, Fowler.

Birmingham City (from): Vaesen, Tebily, Cunningham, Martin Taylor, Upson, Painter, Johnson, Butt, Dunn, Clemence, Lazaridis, Heskey, Maik Taylor, Pandiani, Forssell, Pennant, Jarosik, Clapham

Everton v Bolton Wanderers

Saturday 17 December 2005 15:00


David Moyes has revealed that he tried to bring former Wales captain Gary Speed back to Everton.

Instead the 36-year-old midfielder will be stepping out for Saturday's opponents at Goodison Park, Bolton Wanderers.

Speed decided to join the Trotters in a £750,000 move from Newcastle United in July 2004 despite a number of other offers.

Such was his impact in his debut season that Bolton qualified for European competition for the first time. They are now scheduled to face Marseille in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup in February.


Moyes was disappointed at missing out on securing the services of lifelong Toffees fan Speed, who made 50 league appearances for the club between July 1996 and 1998.

“I rate Gary Speed very highly,” said the Everton boss. “I would have liked to have brought him back here before he went to Bolton.

“He has done really well there and been a good signing for them.

“Gary certainly does not play as a 36-year-old, that’s for sure.”

Moyes, who welcomes back midfielder Tim Cahill from suspension, is aiming to get back on track after the home defeat to West Ham United in midweek.

The result was a bitter pill for Moyes to swallow after a good run which had seen Everton accumulate 14 points from seven games following a poor start to the campaign.

He said: “I was always optimistic we would turn things around but the result the other night dampened us.

“We were disappointed not to get points but we did not perform or play as well as we should have done. We are looking forward to putting it right against Bolton.

“But overall I have been pleased with the points return from the last month or two.”

Everton are looking to complete a league double against Bolton, having been the only side to beat them at the Reebok Stadium this season. That victory came courtesy of a goal from Marcus Bent.

Moyes expects nothing less than a hard, physical battle.

“Bolton have coped really well this season with playing in Europe,” he said. “They have been terrific and made progress season after season.

“Sam (Allardyce) gets the best out of his players. You have to make sure you do not get rolled over.

“They have caused Arsenal and other teams problems with the way they play - and that is not a criticism of them. Football is a game that can be played in many ways.”

Scotland midfielder James McFadden is facing a late fitness test after suffering a foot injury in the defeat by the Hammers.

Goalkeeper Nigel Martyn will be out for at least another week with a groin strain, which gives Richard Wright another chance to impress in goal.

Bolton boss Allardyce is intent on adding a number of new faces to Wanderers’ squad in the new year to ease the burden the African Nations Cup has imposed on his resources.

Five of Bolton’s first-team squad - Radhi Jaidi, Jay-Jay Okocha, Abdoulaye Faye, El-Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga - head off to Egypt next month to represent their countries, depleting the numbers at the Reebok Stadium.

“We would like to get some players in, depending on players’ availability, the quality of those players and how much they might cost,” he said.

“There are a lot of anomalies that we have to get through to secure that amount of players.

“The most difficult part is to find a player of the quality that can make an impact.

“We have to go to all the other Premiership clubs and find out whether there is anything available first because that is the only area you are going to find Premiership experience.

“Otherwise we will have to turn to Europe as we have done with mixed success previously. Some have worked and some have been extremely disappointing.

“In the past Florent Laville has kept us up, Youri Djorkaeff kept us up and Vincent Candela made a massive contribution last year.

“But then you can point to players like Salva Ballesta and Javi Moreno who weren’t able to make a contribution in a short space of time.

“It is a dangerous market to go in but sadly we will have to due to the fact it is an African Nations Cup year.

“If it wasn’t we we would not need anyone unless someone became available like a Roy Keane popped up, someone you could tell your chairman you had to try to get.

“I need to address signing players, I have not had any luck as yet but I am working hard on it.”

A more pressing matter, however, is who will fill in at left-back for the clash at Goodison Park should Ricardo Gardner fail to recover from a hamstring injury.

England Under-21 international Nicky Hunt deputised in the second half of the 1-1 UEFA Cup draw with Sevilla in midweek but Allardyce said: “Quite who we are going to play there is a difficult selection process.

“Looking at Wednesday night’s game it appears that Nicky is too uncomfortable switching from right to left, based on the fact his dominant foot is his right and he has to cut back inside to keep possession, so I don’t think that is an option for me.

“I might have to look for another alternative if Ricardo doesn’t make it.”

With Tal Ben Haim suspended, Jaidi is set to partner Bruno N’Gotty in the centre of defence as Bolton look for revenge after dominating the reverse fixture in August only to lose to a solitary Bent goal.

“It was one of our best performances of the season, it was hugely disappointing we didn’t even get one point out of it,” added Allardyce.

“Because of one slip in the second half Everton took full advantage and for a long time they were the only points Everton had on the board. So David was very grateful for that.”

Bolton Wanderers (from): Jaaskelainen, O'Brien, N'Gotty, Gardner, Faye, Nolan, Speed, Giannakopoulos, Diouf, Davies, Jaidi, Vaz Te, Walker, Okocha, Fadiga, Nakata, Borgetti.

Everton (from): Wright, Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Nuno Valente, Osman, Davies, Neville, Arteta, Cahill, Kilbane, Beattie, McFadden, Ferguson, Bent, Kroldrup, Li Tie, Turner.
Aston Villa v Manchester United

Saturday 17 December 2005 12:45


Sir Alex Ferguson hopes Manchester United’s shock exit from the Champions League will aid their Barclays Premiership campaign.

For the first time in a decade Europe will be a Red Devil-free zone in the New Year.

While the knockout phase draw left Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool licking their lips in anticipation of mouth-watering two-legged ties with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Benfica respectively, United have only domestic action to look forward to over the remaining five months.

Ferguson is convinced the hangover from the unhappy night in Lisbon which signalled their departure from Europe’s number one competition was blown away by the midweek win over Wigan Athletic.

And, although there is no doubt the Scot would prefer to still be in the Champions League, later in the season the enforced rest periods brought on by United’s elimination may prove very useful.

“It may help us,” he said. “But the only way we will find out is if the English teams stay in.

“Sometimes, playing lots of games in different competitions can help, as it did to us in 1999.

“But extra games in March and April can be exhausting too.

“Most of us accept the Premier League is exhausting anyway, so it would be interesting to see how the others handle it.”

United could finish this week looming large in Chelsea’s sights if results go their way.

Victory at Aston Villa would cut the Londoners’ lead to just six points, with Jose Mourinho’s side due at Highbury 24 hours later for their crunch encounter with Arsenal.

Ferguson added: “Six points is achievable, without question.

“I don’t think it would start playing on Chelsea’s minds but they do have a big game on Sunday, although we have to do our own job first.”

With Mikael Silvestre struggling to overcome a groin injury, Ferguson is set to stick with the side which started against Wigan as United look to record an eighth win in nine visits to Villa Park.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not be considered either despite coming through another 77 minutes of reserve team action against Bolton Wanderers on Thursday night.

For all the gloom which descended on Old Trafford in the wake of United’s European exit, Ferguson’s side have picked up 16 points from their last six games, a run only Liverpool can better.

And, with four league games sandwiched between Carling and FA Cup ties over the next three weeks, the Red Devils chief knows it is imperative to maintain the momentum.

“December is an important month,” said Ferguson. “If you can get into a challenging position by the end of it, you know you have a real chance.

“There is one spell of three games in five days, which gives you no respite whatsoever in terms of trying to keep the freshness in your squad.

“Hopefully, we can get through this period and stay within a few points of Chelsea.”

Aston Villa are without striker Kevin Phillips and defender Olof Mellberg for the visit of United.

Phillips will miss his third successive match after undergoing surgery to remove a piece of floating bone from his ankle, while Mellberg (hamstring) is set to be sidelined for up to a month and will be be replaced by Aaron Hughes who will move from right-back to the centre of defence.

Mark Delaney returns at right-back after a groin injury but Villa are still missing midfielder Patrik Berger with a knee injury.

Hughes admits the loss of Sweden defender Mellberg is a problem for Villa.

He said: “It is a big blow losing Olof Mellberg. He is captain of the club and he is a commanding figure at the centre of defence.

“We have just got to get on with it and make sure when he comes back he will step back into a side which has done well in his absence.”

Hughes has singled out Wayne Rooney as United’s danger man and admits he is a big fan of the young England player who will spearhead their bid for a league double following the 1-0 win over Villa at Old Trafford in August.

Hughes added: “He is Wayne Rooney and he can do anything on the day. He is a one-off and a very good one.

“But there again you do not play for Manchester United unless you are a top player.

“As a result they are dangerous in all areas of their team and that is why they can hurt you from different parts of the field.”

To offset the danger of Rooney, Hughes is looking to his international colleague and rising star, midfielder Steven Davis, to have another major impact on the game.

Hughes predicts a highly successful future for Davis and said: “Steven is young and on his ability he is going to be a big player for both Villa and Northern Ireland.

“It is good news he is staying at the club as he has a lot to offer the game.”


Villa manager David O’Leary is similarly happy to have Davis in his side to tackle United but is looking to Juan Pablo Angel to fire up his side following a vital equaliser at Bolton Wanderers last week.

But O’Leary admitted: “We have got to play unbelievably well against United. We respect them but we have to have at go at them as well.

“I hope the goal he netted at Bolton will give Angel a much-needed lift.”

Villa have not beaten United at Villa Park since August 1995. In those 19 games Villa have managed to pick up just six draws.

O’Leary said: “Sir Alex loves coming to Villa Park and with his record it is hardly surprising.

“Every time I have watched them this season they have been in tremendous form as they were on Wednesday when they beat Wigan 4-0.

“They have come in for a lot of criticism recently because there is always a massive expectation at Manchester United.

“There is often a bit of hysteria associated with Manchester United because under Alex Ferguson they have been so successful.

“I think everyone knows that Chelsea have moved ahead of Manchester United in the pecking order and ahead of everyone else in the game.

“But Manchester United are still second in the Premiership. They could win the Carling Cup and the FA Cup and still enjoy another successful season.”

Aston Villa (from): Sorensen, Taylor, Hughes, Delaney, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel, Bouma, McCann, Milner, Hendrie, Davis, De La Cruz, Djemba-Djemba, Barry, Baros, Angel.

Manchester United (from): Van der Sar, Howard, Neville, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Brown, O’Shea, Richardson, Ronaldo, Park, Fletcher, Scholes, Smith, Giggs, Rooney, Van Nistelrooy, Saha.

Fulham v Blackburn Rovers

Saturday 17 December 2005 15:00


Fulham duo Luis Boa Morte and Papa Bouba Diop return for the Barclays Premiership clash with Blackburn Rovers.

Club captain Boa Morte and Senegal international Diop missed the 1-0 defeat by Birmingham City through suspension.

Denmark midfielder Claus Jensen (groin) and German full-back Moritz Volz (ribs) remain in the treatment room.

Rovers boss Mark Hughes has no new injury concerns for the clash.

Defender Andy Todd returns after missing last week’s Ewood Park win over West Ham United through suspension after being sent off against Everton.

Craig Bellamy and Ryan Nelsen are both still ruled out with hamstring problems as Rovers seek their first double of the season.

Hughes hailed his side’s win over the Hammers when, for the second time in three games, Rovers’ fitness shone through and they came from behind to win.

It is that kind of perseverance Hughes believes will stand his team in good stead heading towards the new year, starting with the trip to west London.

“We have now got the belief because we hadn’t been able to turn games round up until the win at Charlton,” Hughes said.

“Now we’ve done it twice. I think we have the physical confidence of getting through games and coming on strong in the last few minutes.

“Those last few minutes are very crucial for us because that is when we are looking at our strongest at the moment.”

Hughes admitted he was also looking forward to renewing acquaintances with his fellow Welshman Chris Coleman.

It was Hughes who handed Coleman his first chance in management when the Wales boss appointed his former international team-mate manager of the Under-21 team.

Hughes joked: “I was able to give Chris his first opportunity so I am taking all the credit - I like to think I knew he had some qualities which would lead to him being a manager.

“That has been proved because Chris has done a great job. He came through a difficult time last year and because of that he has become a better and stronger manager.”

And Coleman has no time for critics of the physical style favoured by Saturday's opponents Blackburn and Bolton Wanderers.

Both clubs have come under fire from some quarters for their combative approach but it has proved successful with Blackburn sat in mid-table of the Barclays Premiership and Bolton claiming fifth place.

"The people who complain about big Sam Allardyce and Bolton are generally the teams who have just lost to them and been beaten up," said Coleman.

"It's the same with Blackburn. The teams who don't like it when you get stuck into them, they're the ones that complain.

"There are some teams in this league who pretend they play a lot of football but in reality they don't play that much football. Then they get tagged a football team. I won't name any names.

"We've played against them and I've been left scratching my ahead and saying that's not a footballing side. It's all about perception.

"The majority of people who know anything about football will be looking and saying ‘what are they talking about?’ Have we just watched the same game?"

Coleman believes Blackburn boss Hughes is right to continue with the tactics for as long as they keep working.

"Mark won't give a monkey's about what anyone is saying about his team as long as they're successful and the club is going in the right direction," he said.

"You have to think like that. Mark doesn't care and big Sam doesn't care. It's about winning games. We've played great football this year but we need to win more games."

Hughes landed the Blackburn job after an impressive spell with Wales - his first managerial position - and Coleman admits he would like to emulate the former Manchester United striker by coaching the national side at some point in the future.

"As a player Mark was fearsome - a tough, tough boy. He was a good player as well of course," he said.

"With Wales Mark faced the same problems as me when I started at Fulham. One day he was in the dressing room and then bang he had to pick the team.

"He impressed with Wales but missed the day-to-day involvement that you get as a club manager. As an international coach you can't work on things that are going wrong, you have to wait until the next game.

"For me that's the biggest thing I'd miss if I became international manager. I'd love to be Wales coach one day in the future, and I mean one day in the future. I'm very, very happy where I am at the moment."

Fulham (from): Warner, Crossley, Rosenior, Bocanegra, Christanval, Knight, Goma, Pearce, N Jensen, Elrich, Legwinski, Malbranque, Diop, Boa Morte, Radzinski, McBride, John, Helguson.

Blackburn Rovers (from): Friedel, Enckelman, Neill, Gray, Todd, Emerton, Thompson, Reid, Savage, Pedersen, Kuqi, Dickov, Mokoena, Khizanishvili, Tugay, Bentley.
Portsmouth v West Bromwich Albion

Saturday 17 December 2005 15:00


Harry Redknapp has told the section of fans opposed to his return to Portsmouth to ignore him and back their team all the way to a vital win over West Bromwich Albion.

A local newspaper poll showed most were in favour of Redknapp's return to the Barclays Premiership strugglers from rivals Southampton last week.

But the 58-year-old Londoner knows there is a minority who believe he is no longer the man for the Fratton Park job.

They were unhappy when he joined Saints just 10 days after quitting Pompey - but failed to keep them in the Barclays Premiership.

Redknapp said: “It is going to be strange walking out on the pitch again as manager at Fratton Park, but really and truly my only concerns are for the team.

“I still have some of the fans to win over and I’m not surprised about that because I understand where people are coming from.

“I made a mistake going to Southampton, I made a mistake leaving Portsmouth and I’ve apologised for it.

“But I feel comfortable back here now and it is no good trying to do anything more except get us out of relegation trouble, get the best out of the players I’ve got.

“The next two games are vital, both at home, and so long as they get behind the team as they always do, I’m sure, they can urge us on to important wins."

Saturday's opponents can act as a role model for Pompey - the Baggies looked dead and buried last Christmas but they survived.

Redknapp said: “The job here now looks even tougher than when I dragged Pompey up from low down in the old First Division to establish themselves in the Premier League.

“But West Brom have improved since last season and signed some good players like Diomansy Kamara.

“I brought him here from Modena last year and I saw him play ever so well against Manchester City last week.

“He scored a fantastic goal and I wish I still had him here - but we will just have to go steaming in and work hard for the whole 90 minutes.”

Goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, who gifted Albion a winner in August, stands by for a recall for the game, with Jamie Ashdown struggling to recover from the knee injury sustained in a clash with Tottenham Hotspur striker Mido in the 3-1 defeat on Monday night.

Redknapp added: “There is still every chance Jamie could make it but if I have to call on Sander I wouldn’t hesitate.

Redknapp is also ready to add Uruguay striker Dario Silva to the squad for his first home match back in charge but Salif Diao (hamstring) is still out.

Defender Steve Watson is West Brom manager Bryan Robson’s new major injury worry as his side aim to extend their unbeaten Barclays Premiership run to five games.

The former Everton player has a hamstring injury and is considered a big doubt. If he is ruled out, Martin Albrechtsen is likely to deputise at right-back.

Midfielder Zoltan Gera is back in full training after a hernia operation and played half a reserve game against Aston Villa but Robson is more concerned at him being fully fit for the demanding festive programme.

Tomasz Kuszczak looks set to again continue in goal, despite Chris Kirkland now being available, after keeping three clean sheets in the last four league games.

Striker Kevin Campbell is aiming to spoil Redknapp's homecoming and insists “all the pressure is on Portsmouth” as he strives to win a new playing contract with the Baggies.

Campbell views the game as a golden opportunity for the Baggies to put clear daylight between themselves and one of their main rivals in the battle to survive in the top flight.

Albion have collected eight points from their last four games and victory would push them nine points clear of second-from-bottom Portsmouth and leave the south coast club with a mountain to climb to overhaul them.

Campbell, whose current contract expires in the summer, said: “Because of the euphoria of Harry Redknapp going back to Pompey, and it being his first home game, all the pressure is solely on them.

“They’re the team who have to win. We want to win and will go to Fratton Park looking to win. But they really need to win in their position so we will make it as hard as possible for them to try to get all three points."

Campbell, who has just regained full fitness after his ankle problem, believes West Brom have recaptured the form of the second half of last season which kept them in the Barclays Premiership.

He said: “Exactly how we played on Saturday against Manchester City was how we wanted to be at the start of the season and it didn’t quite happen.

“We wanted to be tough to beat and be able to play our football as we know we can. It’s taken us a while but I truly believe we have turned the corner now.

“Being unbeaten for four games is good but we want to continue that. We want to continue that over Christmas. We’ve got a tough period coming up over Christmas and we want to put points on the board.”


Portsmouth (from): Ashdown, Westerveld, Primus, O’Brien, Stefanovic, Griffin, O’Neil, Viafara, Hughes, Taylor, Robert, Pericard, LuaLua, Silva, Vukic, Cisse, Priske, Todorov, Guatelli.

West Bromwich Albion (from): Kuszczak, Kirkland, Watson, Albrechtsen, Clement, Davies, Moore, Gaardsoe, Robinson, Greening, Wallwork, Inamoto, Kamara, Kanu, Ellington, Earnshaw, Campbell, Carter.
West Ham United v Newcastle United

Saturday 17 December 2005 15:00


Newcastle United boss Graeme Souness has hailed the leadership qualities of captain Alan Shearer as he plots a charge up the Barclays Premiership table.

The 35-year-old turned in an inspirational display in the 1-0 win over Arsenal last Saturday which has breathed new life into the Magpies’ league campaign, but has also been at the forefront off the pitch as Souness’ men have forged an impressive unity in the face of an indifferent start to the season.

“I believe you have got no chance at a football club unless you have good senior professionals, and right now, we have some fantastic ones and he is obviously the leader of the pack in that sense,” the Scot said.

“He’s certainly the oldest and sometimes the wisest and he’s great to work with. If you look at him last week, he was - I’m maybe taking a wee bit away from Amdy Faye or Scott Parker, but he was the catalyst last week.

“He put a few people on their backsides and said ’Come on, this is how it is today for you’ and there were a few followed him pretty quickly into the fray.”

That win sends Newcastle to in-form West Ham United on Saturday on a high, but knowing they cannot afford to let the standards they set themselves against the Gunners slip if they are to put together a meaningful run of results.

Souness, who has spent much of the season to date having to deal with speculation over his future, woke on Sunday morning with a smile on his face, but he is well aware it will only remain there as long as his players continue to give as much for the cause.

“I was very happy because we had beaten one of the best teams in Europe, and in the second half, we had beaten them in a very positive way,” he said.

“Beating Arsenal at any time, given they players they have, would give anyone a lift. I would like to think we can take that on into the next game, but we know West Ham are going to be a difficult team to play against because they will be playing with confidence.

“They had a good result in midweek at Everton, so they will be lying in wait for us.”

Souness will not risk either midfielder Emre or Celestine Babayaro at Upton Park, although the pair could return from hamstring and groin injuries respectively at Liverpool on Boxing Day.

However, Steven Taylor, Stephen Carr, Kieron Dyer, Charles N’Zogbia and Craig Moore remain on the sidelines, so 20-year old full-back Kris Gate is called into the squad.

Of the seven absentees, Taylor remains the biggest concern, with Souness admitting if his damaged shoulder dislocates again on his return to training over the next few days, he will require an operation which would keep him out for up to 10 weeks.

“He’s going to give it a go in the next few days and if it pops out again, he’s going to have to have an operation which would mean him being out for the best part of 10 weeks, which would be an almighty blow to all of us,” he said.

West Ham boss Alan Pardew has no fresh injury concerns following the win at Everton, but will still be without Danny Gabbidon (knee) and Teddy Sheringham (calf) for the visit of Newcastle.

Wales international James Collins is set to make his second Barclays Premiership start alongside Anton Ferdinand at the centre of the defence.

Pardew must decide whether to stick with Carl Fletcher in midfield, or bring back 18-year-old Mark Noble.

Captain Nigel Reo-Coker has returned to training after suffering a fractured ankle, but will not yet be considered.

Pardew has challenged Matthew Etherington and West Ham's clutch of rising stars to aim for a place in England's World Cup squad.

England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, who this week revealed three places in his World Cup squad remain up for grabs, will be at Upton Park for the game against Newcastle - and Pardew has marked his card.

Paul Konchesky started for England against Argentina, Eriksson this week mentioned Reo-Coker in dispatches, while Pardew believes both Ferdinand and Etherington should both be aiming for Germany 2006.

"I tell all my players to set themselves goals that some people might think are unachievable and see where it takes them," said Pardew.

"I have said to my players: 'Don't give up hope of going to the World Cup'. Mattie, Anton, Nigel, Paul - they have all got a shout.

"We should be flattered by Sven's words. It is an indication of the performances we have been putting in."

Etherington has hit form recently, with the Hammers securing six points from three consecutive away games. The 24-year-old tormented Everton on Wednesday night and created what proved to be the winning goal for Bobby Zamora.

"In the last three games he has been right up there in our top three players," said Pardew.

"He started the season slowly. He is a thinker about his game and his big problem is that he is worrying about his performances too much.

"But where he is now is in a good, confident place and when he is like that he is very difficult to stop.

"He is only a young boy but if those three performances are anything to go by and, with the problems England have on the left side, then he has to be considered."

West Ham's rookie defensive partnership of Ferdinand and Collins is likely to be tested to the full against Michael Owen and Shearer.

Collins started his first Barclays Premiership game against Everton and Ferdinand is confident they will be able to keep the Newcastle pair quiet.

"This is the first time I will have played against Owen. He is one of the best strikers in the world and one I have watched since I saw him at the World Cup in 1998," said Ferdinand.

"Shearer and Owen are complete opposites so you have to adjust your game, but that is part of playing in the top flight. I am sure me and James Collins will have a good understanding of what we have to do."

West Ham United (from): Carroll, Hislop, Repka, Ferdinand, Konchesky, Benayoun, Fletcher, Noble, Dailly, Newton, Mullins, Etherington, Sheringham, Harewood, Zamora, Bellion, Aliadiere, Bywater.

Newcastle United (from): Given, Harper, Ramage, Elliott, Gate, Bramble, Boumsong, Parker, Faye, Solano, Luque, Ameobi, Bowyer, Clark, Brittain, Shearer, Owen, Chopra.
Wigan Athletic v Charlton Athletic

Saturday 17 December 2005 15:00


Charlton Athletic hope to have leading scorer Darren Bent available for the Barclays Premiership match at Wigan Athletic, although the striker has been struggling with a hamstring problem.

Fellow frontman Jay Bothroyd, however, is unlikely to feature despite resuming training following neurological tests after he blacked out while driving on Monday.

Shaun Bartlett is expected to make the squad again after coming off the bench in last weekend’s win over Sunderland to mark his return from injury, while Uruguay defender Gonzalo Sorondo, Jonathan Spector, and Jason Euell are all pressing for selection. Kevin Lisbie (knee) is out.

Addicks boss Alan Curbishley revealed he is looking to do some shrewd business during the January transfer window – but is not planning an expensive swoop for Norwich's England Under-21 striker Dean Ashton.

With former England striker Francis Jeffers currently on loan at Rangers, Lisbie’s injury-plagued campaign showing little sign of improvement and Jonatan Johansson not able to force his way into the side, Curbishley’s central attacking options could start to look thin as he enters the new year.

The Addicks are one of several Barclays Premiership teams being linked with a move for Ashton, whose reputation has not suffered despite the Canaries’ relegation and poor start to the season.

Curbishley, however, maintained an offer would not be forthcoming from The Valley, having been put off a bid in the summer.

“We could never afford Dean Ashton, from the outset, because the fee was escalating,” said Curbishley.

“Even if we had wanted him, it was out of our reach. I don’t know how many clubs could go for him."

However, Curbishley maintained: “We are always looking.

“If we think the right player comes available, then we will go for it – that could be in any position.

“Obviously the forward position, I have got enough bodies, but they have not played enough games. That is the problem I have had."

Wigan may be on a run of five straight Barclays Premiership defeats, but Curbishley will certainly not be taking them lightly, having just arrested his own team's six-match losing streak with last weekend's 2-0 win over Sunderland at The Valley.

“They have, along with West Ham, had a fantastic start to the season and probably could not have wished for much more,” said the Charlton manager.

“Wigan demonstrated they are a decent side with the performance against us earlier in the season.

“And they are now in a position where every result keeps them up there, and pushes them closer to that 40-point mark.”

Wigan boss Paul Jewell has stressed survival remains his side’s top priority despite an amazing start to the campaign which saw the Latics briefly soar to second place in the Barclays Premiership.

The five subsequent successive defeats have provided a harsh reality check for fans who began to dream of imminent UEFA Cup nights at the JJB Stadium - but Jewell insists he never allowed his feet to leave the ground.

Wigan have the chance to get their season back on track with victory over Charlton, which could lift the Lancashire side 16 points clear of the drop zone.

“We’ve done very well to get above Charlton in the table,” said Jewell, “but we’re the ones looking over our shoulders because we’re not the established Premiership side.

“If we were established in the Premiership, I probably wouldn’t be thinking along the lines of being five more wins away from staying up, I’d be looking further up the table.

“But at the moment we are just looking to try and get as many wins as possible so the last six or seven weeks of the season don’t become a little bit of a nailbiter - that’s what I’d love.”

Jewell felt he could take encouragement from the previous five games against sides competing for the title and Champions League places, which culminated in Wednesday night’s 4-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

But after three games without scoring, the Latics boss admitted his side lacks a proven top-level striker - and urged the rest of his team to help take the pressure off his front men.

“Three games without a goal is a concern and I don’t think we have got a 20-goal a season man in our side,” said Jewell.

“But they are very difficult to come by and I think the rest of the team needs to help with more goals.

“We’re asking the midfielders and wingers to do more because it is not just a striker thing, it is a whole team thing.”

“Winning any of the last five games would have been major upsets. Charlton are a good side - but they’re beatable and if we play to our maximum we can win.”

Jewell will hand late fitness tests to four players ahead of the game.

Arjan de Zeeuw is pushing for a return in defence after sitting out the last two games with a knee injury, while Josip Skoko limped out of Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at Old Trafford with a groin strain.

Stephane Henchoz (dead leg) and David Connolly (Achilles) are also doubts, with Graham Kavanagh among those standing by for a recall.

Wigan Athletic (from): Pollitt, Chimbonda, McMillan, Jackson, Henchoz, Camara, Johansson, De Zeeuw, Kavanagh, Mahon, Francis, Taylor, Teale, Bullard, Baines, McCulloch, Roberts, Skoko, Connolly, Wright, Walsh.

Charlton Athletic (from): Kiely, Young, Powell, Hreidarsson, Perry, Ambrose, Kishishev, Smertin, Murphy, Thomas, Bent, Myhre, Bartlett, Hughes, El Karkouri, Rommedahl, Spector, Sorondo, Holland, Johansson, Bothroyd, Euell, Andersen.
Brighton v Hull
Brighton striker Mark McCammon is back after injury and likely to be on the bench, with Colin Kazim-Richards set to start in attack alongside Leon Knight.
Gary Elphick is suspended and Chris McPhee, Paul McShane and Jason Dodd are still sidelined.

Hull are set to name an unchanged side as Roland Edge (groin) and Ben Burgess (knee) are still unavailable.

Ian Ashbee, Steve McPhee, Alton Thelwell and Danny Coles remain long-term injury absentees.
Burnley v Watford
Burnley have Jon Harley back from suspension after he missed the 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United.
Keith Lowe has returned to Wolves at the end of his loan spell and on-loan Lee Grant will be on the bench before going back to Derby.

Watford striker Darius Henderson will have a fitness test on a hip injury.

He could partner Marlon King with Jay DeMerit returning to central defence. Ashley Young (ankle) and Dominic Blizzard (virus) are both out.
Cardiff v Derby
Cardiff have Leeds loanee Michael Rickets returning to the frontline, while skipper Darren Purse will also return to the team.
Manager Dave Jones will relegate midfielder Willie Boland and central defender Neil Cox to the subs' bench.

Derby boss Phil Brown will be without Stern John and Johnnie Jackson after releasing both men from their loans.

Brown will also be without midfielder Paul Boertien, who is on the way back from long-term knee problems
Leicester v Crewe
Leicester may have Stephen Hughes back from the ankle injury he sustained in the cup defeat by Bolton in November.
Craig Levein will also be able to call on the services of winger Ryan Smith after extending the Arsenal player's loan deal until the end of the season.

Crewe manager Dario Gradi has doubts over right-back Darren Moss, while striker Michael Higdon is doubtful.

Strikers Pavol Suhaj (knee), Luke Rodgers and Mark Rivers (both heavy colds) are also unavailable
Plymouth v Crystal Palace
Plymouth playmaker Akos Buzsaky faces a late fitness test after returning to training following an abdominal strain.
Argyle are boosted by the return from injury of winger Bojan Djordjic and central defender Elliott Ward may play his last game on loan for the club.

Crystal Palace skipper Fitz Hall should return after a hip injury while Marco Reich (hernia) could also feature.

Defenders Danny Butterfield (foot) and Danny Granville (groin) are still out, as is Aki Riihilahti (hamstring).
Sheff Wed v Ipswich
Sheffield Wednesday skipper Glenn Whelan is expected to shake off a back injury in time and Drisso Diallo is in line for a first-team recall.
John Hills (knee) may not be quite ready but midfielder Steve Adams (Achilles) is likely to continue.

Ipswich's attacking options are thin after teenager Billy Clarke dislocated his elbow, while Sam Parkin (broken ankle) remains a long-term absentee.

Adam Proudlock is also ineligible but Dean Bowditch is expected to be fit.
Wolves v Leeds
Wolves defender Jody Craddock is likely to miss out after suffering a recurrence of a calf injury.
Paul Ince remains sidelined by a thigh injury and Mark Davies (hernia) is out, though Colin Cameron could return.

Leeds striker Richard Cresswell played half a reserve match in midweek and could be in the squad, while defender Dan Harding may also be fit to travel.

Defender Gary Kelly is suspended, with likely replacement Frazer Richardson struggling with a knee injury
Luton v Stoke
Luton's veteran goalkeeper Marlon Beresford is struggling to be fit after injuring his back a week ago.
Skipper Kevin Nicholls plays his final game before serving a one-match suspension, while defender Sol Davis (knee) is still out.

Stoke manager Johan Boskamp will be without top scorer Sambegou Bangoura plus Marlon Broomes and John Halls.

On-loan winger Luke Chadwick remains a doubt with illness while John Eustace and Clint Hill remain sidelined
Millwall v Reading
Millwall will be without banned Matt Lawrence, while Andy Marshall and forwards Carlos Fangueiro, Barry Hayles and Carl Asaba are all unavailable.
Loan duo Jermaine Wright and Phil Ifil have returned to Leeds and Tottenham respectively after completing their three-month stints.

Leroy Lita is Reading's only absentee, sidelined with an ankle problem.

It was feared Lita could be out for several weeks, but the £1m forward is pushing for a Christmas return

Norwich v Southampton
Norwich Craig Fleming will go straight back into the side after the end of Calum Davenport's loan spell.
Jason Shackell is still out while Peter Thorne is rated 50-50, but Darren Huckerby is fit to challenge Paul McVeigh for a place up front.

Southampton caretaker-boss Dave Bassett will give his assistant Dennis Wise a late fitness test.

Captain Nigel Quashie is suspended, while Claus Lundekvam, Michael Svensson and Marian Pahars remain sidelined.

Preston v Sheff Utd
Preston will definitely be without Paul McKenna (leg), Callum Davidson and Patrick Agyemang (both hamstring).
Skipper Chris Lucketti is back from suspension but goalkeeper Andy Lonergan (knee) is a long-term absentee.

Sheffield United top scorer Steve Kabba has a slight hamstring strain but is expected to be fit.

Skipper Chris Morgan is pushing for a start, while Derek Geary, Keith Gillespie and Paul Shaw have also been added to the squad.
Striker crisis for Rangers

Ian Holloway has only two strikers available for QPR's televised match against Coventry on Monday.

Paul Furlong misses the game through suspension after receiving his fifth booking of the campaign in the draw at Ipswich last Saturday, while Kevin Gallen (hamstring) and Marc Nygaard (calf) are almost certain to miss the Loftus Road clash.

Rangers boss Holloway could pair youngster Shabazz Baidoo with Stefan Moore in attack, or push forward the versatile Georges Santos.

Defender Matthew Rose (groin) could make his first appearance since the 0-0 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on 26 August, but midfielders Marc Bircham and Steve Lomas (both hamstring) are out.
Cagliari - Ascoli

It is only December but Cagliari and Ascoli both approach this Stadio Sant’Elia clash knowing that it could be a relegation six-pointer. While neither side have been playing with confidence, each will see this as a great chance to move away from the drop zone.

Marco Giampaolo’s Ascoli had an encouraging start to life in Serie A but have started to look a little out of their depth. The Bianconeri have not won in eight games, a run that has seen them slide from mid-table to a position precariously close to the relegation zone, and are still awaiting their first away win. Swiss-born Coach Giampaolo has, however, built a side that is resilient and willing to fight and can be encouraged by coming within minutes of three points against Reggina last weekend.

Cagliari are still recovering from a disastrous start to the campaign which led to the demise of three Coaches. Latest boss Nedo Sonetti has instilled a greater team spirit and confidence in his side which were demonstrated in a 2-0 win over Sampdoria in Week 13 and a draw with Palermo. A 4-0 defeat at the hands of Juventus may have dampened spirits a little, but Sonetti’s men will know that this is the real test of their improvement.

Both Coaches will have almost full squads at their disposal. Cagliari will need to manage without Claudio Pani while Fabio Vignati, who scored an own goal against Juventus, is a doubt. Giampaolo still has a thin squad and cannot call upon Sasa Bjelanovic, Ivano Della Morte, Mirko Cudini, Valerio Virga, Domenico Cristiano or Daniele Adani.

Cagliari(12 maalia)
12 Campagnolo, 6 Lopez, 4 Bega, 2 Bizera, 31 Agostini, 7 Esposito, 18 Abeijon, 16 Budel, 24 Conticchio, 23 Langella, 9 Suazo

22 Tomasig ,3 Canini, 14 Pisano, 8 Gobbi, 5 Conti, 27 Cossu, 21 Capone,

Ascoli (14 maalia)
28 Coppola, 16 Comotto, 80 Domizzi, 24 Paci, 3 Del Grosso, 17 Foggia, 14 Guana, 5 Biso,8 Fini, 99 Quagliarella, 32 Colombo

51 Zotti , 19 Aguilar, 23 Corallo, 13 Carbone,21 Zanini, 10 Cordova, 25 Giorgi
Chievo - Udinese

Serse Cosmi’s Udinese arrive in Verona in dire need of three points, but will be well aware that Chievo humbled Milan at the Stadio Bentegodi only a fortnight ago. After the Gialloblu’s defeat against Messina last weekend, Beppe Pillon will hope that the home side can recreate their performance of Week 14 and increase the already intense pressure on Cosmi.

Last week can only be described as disastrous for the Udine club. After a midweek defeat by Barcelona put the Friulani out of the Champions League, a further indignity came as Cosmi’s men were beaten 2-1 at home by struggling Lecce. Club President Giampaolo Pozzo is said to be considering his options and, with Zdenek Zeman rumoured to be waiting in the wings, the Udinese boss knows he must get results fast.

Although Chievo are sitting proudly in seventh place, Pillon has refused to get carried away by an unexpectedly successful start to the season. The Flying Donkeys’ objective remains survival rather than a UEFA Cup place and, with a tough run of fixtures ahead, Pillon’s caution may well prove prudent.

The home side will be without Daniele Franceschini who was dismissed against Messina last weekend but have no new injuries. Influential midfielder Matteo Brighi is expected to play after recovering from a long-term injury and starting on the bench against Messina. Pillon will look to Lorenzo Squizzi to continue his excellent form as first choice goalkeeper Alberto Fonatana is still sidelined.

Udinese’s injury problems continue as they try to end a run of four defeats. Damiano Zenoni, Giampiero Pinzi, Cesare Natali, Mirko Pieri and Marco Motta have all been ruled out with injury. Fausto Rossini looks likely to partner Antonio Di Natale as Cosmi will be without Vincenzo Iaquinta until after Christmas.

Chievo (18m)
18 Squizzi, 4 Malagò, 29 Mandelli, 3 D'Anna, 23 Lanna, 5 Luciano, 33 Brighi, 8 Giunti, 7 Semioli, 9 Tiribocchi, 31 Pellissier

1 Alfonso 26 Scurto, 27 Moro, 10 Zanchetta, 13 Antonelli,11 Sammarco, 15 Obinna

Udinese (16m)
1 De Sanctis, 4 Bertotto, 6 Sensini, 19 Felipe, 16 Tissone, 8 Vidigal, 5 Obodo, 18 Muntari, 23 Mauri, 20 Rossini, 10 Di Natale

12 Paoletti 39 Juarez, 2 Zapata, 31 Barreto(2m),26 Pieri, 25 Morosini, 17 Di Michele(3m)
Poissa mm 9 Iaquinta (3m)
Empoli - Fiorentina

Empoli are in poor form but will be determined to thwart their more illustrious neighbours in this Tuscan derby at the Stadio Carlo Castellani. However, Cesare Prandelli’s Fiorentina have been the surprise success of the season and will be confident of securing the points and continuing to put pressure on the Milan clubs.

Mario Somma’s Empoli have already lost one derby to Livorno and will be desperate to come away with at least a draw. After a superb start to the season, they have received a reality check and suffered their fourth defeat in a row away to Siena last weekend. Fiorentina returned to winning ways after an unlucky defeat against Juventus, with a 1-0 win over Treviso and there is ever more talk of Champions League football in Florence.

The derby also pits Empoli marksman Francesco Tavano, who has already bagged nine goals, against Fiorentina’s 16-goal Capocannoniere Luca Toni. The derby has personal importance for the two strikers. Tavano started his career at Fiorentina, the team that his girlfriend supports, while Toni spent a season at Empoli earlier in his career.

Francesco Lodi is unavailable for Empoli and Fabrizio Ficini is also missing after he limped off against Siena. Prandelli has no new injury complaints, but Martin Jorgensen remains out of action as does Guilherme Do Prado. Giampaolo Pazzini and Valeri Bojinov will battle to partner Toni if Prandelli doesn’t opt for a lone striker.

Empoli (17m)
1 Berti,3 Lucchini, 6 Coda, 50 Pratali, 8 Bonetto, 24 Buscè, 33 Zanetti, 4 Almiron,80 Vannucchi, 10 Tavano, 99 Riganò

23 Balli, 15 Vanigli, 46 Raggi, 5 Moro, 18 Serafini, 21 Lodi, 7 Pozzi

Fiorentina (30m)
1 Frey, 21 Ujfalusi, 5 Gamberini, 3 Dainelli, 23 Pasqual, 10 Fiore, 32 Brocchi, 4 Donadel, 20 Jorgensen, 29 Pazzini, 30 Toni

12 Cejas, 27 Di Loreto, 26 Pancaro, 18 Montolivo, 11 Maggio, 17 Pazienza, 8 Bojinov,
Lazio - Juventus

Delio Rossi called for his Lazio side to be more clinical in front of goal following last weekend’s defeat against Livorno, and they will have few chances to waste against a seemingly invincible Juventus side at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

All in all it has been a positive start to the season for the capital side. Week 15’s 2-1 reverse against Livorno came after two 3-2 wins and the Biancocelesti are still unbeaten at home with five victories from seven. Although the Lazio faithful approached the season with reservations, as yet there have been few indications that their side will be caught up in a relegation dogfight.

The main task for Juventus boss Fabio Capello is preventing complacency within his squad. The Old Lady have a 10 point lead at the top and looked unstoppable in a 4-0 win over Cagliari last weekend. Having seen their major challengers fall by the wayside in recent weeks, Capello’s men know that if they hold their nerve the Scudetto should be a formality.

Saturday’s clash has a special significance for Giuliano Giannichedda who left Rome for Turin in the summer after four seasons with Lazio. Paolo Di Canio and Pavel Nedved have also lined up for both Lazio and Juventus, and it was Nedved who scored a late winner for Juventus in this fixture last season.

Delio Rossi has the luxury of a full squad and Di Canio is set to feature despite his anger at being substituted against Livorno. Emerson and Mauro Camoranesi return for Juventus but Gianluca Pessotto is a doubt. Christian Abbiati will again step in for Gigi Buffon who is out until January.

Lazio (20m)
1 Peruzzi, 22 Oddo, 13 Siviglia, 25 Cribari, 8 Zauri, 85 Behrami, 6 Dabo, 20 Liverani, 19 Pandev, 9 Di Canio, 18 Rocchi

32 Ballotta, 2 Stendardo, 31 Keller, 7 Belleri, 68 Manfredini, 17 Tare(2m), 21 Inzaghi

Juventus (35m)
32 Abbiati, 19 Zambrotta, 21 Thuram, 28 Cannavaro, 3 Chiellini, 16 Camoranesi, 8 Emerson, 4 Vieira, 11 Nedved, 17 Trezeguet, 9 Ibrahimovic

12 Chimenti, 6 Kovac, 14 Balzaretti, 20 Blasi, 18 Mutu, 10 Del Piero, 25 Zalayeta
Milan - Messina

Milan may well be out of the title race, but victory is still essential as Carlo Ancelotti will demand that his side erase memories of last weekend’s derby defeat with maximum points against Messina at the San Siro. Bortolo Mutti’s visitors approach the match as outsiders, but received a boost from a 2-0 win over Chievo and will look to take advantage of Milan’s recent troubles.

Despite a turbulent start to the season which has seen Milan beaten four times already, the Rossoneri still have a perfect home record. The odds are against Messina repeating last season’s shock 2-1 victory at the San Siro. The Sicilians have also had a far from ideal start to the season and have only won once on their travels, they need to continue their recent improvement if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle. They also need to work on their disciplinary record. With 39 yellow cards and one red, the Stadio San Filippo side are the bad boys of Serie A.

Back-to-back League defeats against Chievo and Inter have led to intense criticism of Ancelotti and especially his ageing defence. Milan have not been convincing even in victory and wins against Lecce and Schalke were a little fortunate. After switching off in the derby, Ancelotti will surely know that another slip up would be unacceptable.

Paolo Maldini is set to return for Milan and veteran Alessandro Costacurta is also full fit. Messina were buoyed by the emotional return of former captain Salvatore Sullo last weekend after his recovery from cancer, and welcome back Gaetano D’Agostino and Salvatore Aronica from suspension. However, Brazilian defender Rafael and Atsushi Yanagisawa are unavailable. Ivica Iliev and Luca Fusco look unlikely to feature after a training ground dispute with Coach Mutti.

Milan (32m)
1 Dida, 17 Simic, 3 Maldini, 31 Stam, 27 Serginho, 8 Gattuso, 21 Pirlo, 20 Seedorf, 22 Kakà, 11 Gilardino, 7 Shevchenko

16 Kalac, 18 Jankulovski, 5 Costacurta, 4 Kaladze, 10 Rui Costa, 32 Vieri, 9 Inzaghi

Messina (13m)
1 Storari, 8 Zoro, 3 Olorunleke, 4 Cristante, 6 Aronica, 27 Zanchi, 5 Donati, 31 Mamede, 7 D'Agostino, 11 Di Napoli, 9 Zampagna,

88 Caglioni, 14 Sculli ,2 Rezaei,41 Sullo, 17 Giampà, 13 Yanagisawa, 20 Muslimovic
Palermo - Livorno

The latest battle in the race for European qualification will take place in Sicily when Livorno travel to Palermo. The Granata currently occupy the top UEFA Cup spot and are just three points away from Milan in the final Champions League place. The Rosanero are six points behind their opponents, but only two off Sampdoria and Chievo, who are in joint sixth place. That means both of these teams will be eager for a good result here to maintain their push for continental football next season.

Palermo will go into this match as favourites as they have only been defeated at the Renzo Barbera once this term. Their impressive home support has already spurred them on to a number of memorable victories there, including a 3-2 thriller with second placed Inter and a 3-0 demolition of Lecce.

This is bad news for Livorno as their away form still has a long way to go to catch up with their impressive home record. Only eight of the 28 points they have amassed during the current campaign have come away from the Armando Picchi and they will need to improve on that if they want anything significant from this encounter.

Despite Livorno’s dreadful disciplinary record, which has seen them awarded four red cards already this season, Coach Roberto Donadoni has nearly a full squad to choose from. The only absentee is injured striker Raffaele Palladino as Diego De Ascentis has now returned from his suspension.

Donadoni’s opposite number, Gigi Del Neri, has a lot more injuries to contend with. Luckily the only major omissions are Matteo Guardalben and the suspended Mario Santana, while defender Christian Terlizzi is now available for selection after recovering from his injury problems.

Palermo (24m)
24 Andujar , 2 Zaccardo, 21 Biava, 43 Barzagli, 11 Grosso, 19 Gonzalez, 8 Barone, 5 Corini, 6 Bonanni, 29 Caracciolo, 26 Makinwa

1 Santoni, 23 Terlizzi(4m), 77 Rinaudo, 81 Ferri 20 Codrea, 10 Brienza, 59 Palmiteri

Livorno (17m)
1 Amelia, 77 Grandoni 13 Vargas, 6 Galante, 29 Cesar Prates, 4 Morrone, 28 Passoni ,15 De Ascentis, 23 Coco, 17 Lazetic ,99 Lucarelli

19 Acerbis ,69 Balleri, 79 Melara, 24 Colucci, 8 Centi, 9 Bakayoko,
7 Pfertzel
Reggina - Inter

Inter will be hoping to continue their excellent run of form when they make the long journey south to face Reggina. Spirits are high at the Milan club after Sunday’s derby win and they go into this game on the back of four straight wins. Now up to second place in the League table, club President Giacinto Facchetti has even claimed they are capable of catching Juventus and finally bringing the Scudetto back to the blue half of Milan.

Inter are not the only ones who have seen an improvement in recent weeks though. Reggina are steadily building a gap between themselves and the relegation zone, which now stands at seven points. They have also gone four matches without suffering a defeat and have won all of their last three home games. Coach Walter Mazzarri will be hoping that they can continue that run to cause a major upset in this encounter.

It is no coincidence that the Nerazzurri’s excellent run has occurred at the same time as the return to form of star striker Adriano. He has looked far from his usual brilliant self at times this season, but seems to have rediscovered his golden touch. After the Brazilian international scored three times in his last two games, the Amaranto will be looking to their defence to try and nullify his threat. They will have their work cut out for them as ‘keeper Ivan Pelizzoli is still injured and defender Ivan Franceschini is suspended following his sending-off against Ascoli.

99 Pavarini , 55 Lanzaro, 29 De Rosa, 13 Lucarelli, 20 Mesto, 5 Paredes, 8 Biondini, 19 Tedesco, 23 Modesto, 10 Cozza ,17 Amoruso

12 Saviano ,53 Lauro, 21 Rigoni, 22 Carobbio, 11 Vigiani, 32 Ceravolo, 34 Missiroli

Inter (28m)
12 Julio Cesar, 4 J. Zanetti, 2 Cordoba, 25 Samuel, 16 Favalli, 7 Figo, 19 Cambiasso, 14 Veron, 5 Stankovic, 30 Martins, 10 Adriano

1 Toldo, 3 Burdisso, 20 Recoba, 11 Mihajlovic, 8 Pizarro, 6 C. Zanetti,
9 Cruz

Sampdoria - Roma

When Roma travel to Genoa to face Sampdoria it will see their Coach Luciano Spalletti return to his former club. Spalletti spent one year at the Luigi Ferraris in the 1998-99 season, finishing in 16th place in Serie A. Samp goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli will also be up against his old team as he was a member of the Giallorossi side that won Lo Scudetto in 2001. Another member of that championship winning side, Vincenzo Montella, could return to his former hunting ground, but it is unlikely that he will recover from his injury in time to play a part in this match.

This should prove to be a close encounter as while the Blucerchiati have lost just once at home all season, Roma have the exact same record away from home. Strangely the capital club have failed to repeat their impressive away form at the Olimpico, but they will have that firmly at the back of their minds in the run up to this match. Doria have turned their home ground into a fortress as their only defeat came as far back as September.

Roma have suffered a recent slump that has seen them go four games without a win. Spalletti will be hoping that the return to fitness of the influential Francesco Totti can inspire the kind of form which saw them overcome Inter at the San Siro. The Giallorossi captain has struggled with injury recently but has now fully recovered in time for this encounter. Unfortunately both Montella and Amantino Mancini are unlikely to be alongside him as they are still receiving treatment for their injuries.

Sampdoria (26m)
21 Antonioli ,77 C. Zenoni, 19 Falcone, 15 Sala, 26 Pisano, 34 Diana, 4 Volpi, 8 Dalla Bona, 22 Tonetto, 10 Flachi, 18 Bonazzoli

1 Castellazzi, 14 Castellini, 32 Pavan, 7 Gasbarroni, 20 Borriello, 11 Zauli, 13 Kutuzov

Roma (22m)
32 Doni, 2 Panucci, 4 Kuffour, 13 Chivu, 25 Cufrè, 20 Perrotta, 16 De Rossi, 11 Taddei, 10 Totti, 17 Tommasi, 40 Nonda

1 Curci, 5 Mexes, 53 Bovo, 14 Kharja, 15 Dacourt, 7 Alvarez, 35 Okaka
Siena - Parma

Enrico Chiesa will come face to face with his old club when his Siena side host Parma at the Artemio Franchi. After making another impressive start to this season, the veteran striker will be hoping to remind the Gialloblu fans why he was such a success for them by ending his barren spell, which now stretches to five matches without a goal.

Also looking to impress will be Chiesa’s latest successor at the Stadio Tardini, Bernardo Corradi. The striker has found it hard going this term after returning from Spain, but has scored in his last two appearances and will be hoping to show more of why Parma chose him as their replacement for Alberto Gilardino.

Corradi, born in Siena, will have his work cut out for him again though as the Gialloblu’s dreadful form shows no sign of clearing up. They have now lost all seven of their matches away from home, conceding 18 times in the process. This has seen them drop into the relegation zone, but last week’s deserved draw with Sampdoria showed that there is still plenty of hope for a change of fortunes, even if they will be without the injured Daniele Bonera and Domenico Morfeo who is suspended for a further four games after his red card against Reggina.

Sunday’s win over Empoli suggests that Si


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