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MADRID, March 7 (Reuters) - New leaders Real Madrid will be anxious to consolidate their position at the top when they host Dmitry Piterman's Racing Santander at the Bernabeu on Saturday (kickoff 18.00 GMT).
Real Sociedad's 18-game reign came to an end last weekend when they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Valladolid while a Ronaldo-inspired Real Madrid thrashed Alaves 5-1.
'It cost us a great deal to take over as leaders and now we can't afford to relax,' Real keeper Iker Casillas said this week. 'Our aim now is to stay top until the end of the season.'
Racing, 13th in the table, are one of two sides to have beaten the European champions this term. Despite the presence of president Piterman on the bench, their chances of a repeat of their 2-0 victory earlier this season look pretty remote.
Real have not lost a home game in the league since November 2000 and former Real winger Pedro Munitis, who scored against his old side in the game at the Sardinero in October, is unlikely to play because of a foot injury.
Luis Figo returns for Real, but an ankle injury to Ivan Helguera means that coach Vicente del Bosque has been forced to draft reserve team player Ruben into the centre of defence.
Del Bosque will be sitting in the dug-out for the 140th time as Real coach, a figure exceeded only by the great Miguel Munoz, who steered the team to nine league titles and two European Cups during a 14-year reign that began in 1960.
Other matches being played this weekend (league positions in brackets, kick-offs 1600 GMT unless stated):
BARCELONA (9) v VALLADOLID (11) 2000
Barca drew 2-2 at Osasuna last week to remain unbeaten in four league games since the arrival of new coach Radomir Antic, but now face a tricky game against Valladolid who dealt a heavy 3-0 defeat to former leaders Real Sociedad last week.
Inspirational skipper Luis Enrique, Dutch striker Patrick Kluivert and Swedish defender Patrik Andersson are set to return to the Barca line-up.
DEPORTIVO CORUNA (4) v VILLARREAL (10) 1945
Deportivo will be looking to refocus their attentions on the league after their disappointing midweek exit from the Cup. The Galicians are only three points behind leaders Real and if their potent strike force of Roy Makaay, Diego Tristan and Albert Luque hit it off once more they should prove too strong for Benito Floro's workmanlike Villarreal side.
VALENCIA (3) v ATLETICO MADRID (7) 2030
Defending champions Valencia have underlined their title credentials with an eight-match unbeaten run, and they will be boosted by the return of Argentine playmaker Pablo Aimar. But they will be missing injured defender Fabio Aurelio.
Atletico are without both their goalscorers in last week's 2-1 win over Malaga. Fernando Torres is sidelined for two weeks with a muscle strain and Luis Garcia is suspended after his sending-off. Former AC Milan striker Javi Moreno should lead the Atletico attack after recovering from a knock in training.
MALAGA (14) v ATHLETIC BILBAO (12)
UEFA Cup quarter-finalists Malaga were delighted when Dario Silva was cleared to play after the Spanish Federation withdrew the red card he received during last week's defeat at Atletico.
Athletic, who lost 3-2 to bottom club Recreativo Huelva last week, will be strengthened by the return of centre forward Ismael Urzaiz, but will miss Asier del Horno even though the defender had his four-match ban halved to two on appeal.
RAYO VALLECANO (19) v CELTA VIGO (5)
Celta dropped seven points behind fellow Galicians Deportivo in the race for Champions League places following last week's draw against Valencia, but will be strong favourites to claim a win against struggling Rayo.
The outlook for the modest Madrid-based side is increasingly bleak and they will need to recover their old battling spirit if they are to end a disappointing three-match losing streak.
REAL MALLORCA (16) v REAL BETIS (6)
Mallorca will be hoping they can replicate their impressive Cup form when they host Betis in the league.
The islanders produced a highly professional performance as they negotiated their way past holders Deportivo to earn their place in their third Cup final on Wednesday and will need to do the same if they are to claim their first win in eight league matches against a talented but inconsistent Betis.
REAL SOCIEDAD (2) ALAVES (17) 1930
An out-of-sorts Sociedad will be keen to get their title challenge back on track after surrendering the leadership with a 3-0 defeat at Valladolid last week. Speedy Turkish forward Nihat Kahveci makes a welcome return from suspension to renew his partnership with Serbian striker Darko Kovacevic.
Raynald Denouiex's side will be need to wary of fellow Basques Alaves who are desperate to heal their wounded pride after conceding 11 goals in humiliating defeats against Deportivo and Real Madrid.
RECREATIVO HUELVA (20) v ESPANYOL (18)
Recreativo are on a high after earning a place in their first ever Cup final following this week's historic victory over Osasuna. Although they remain anchored to the bottom of the table they have won their last two games and can be guaranteed to give fellow strugglers Espanyol a run for their money.
SEVILLA (8) v OSASUNA (15)
A cagey Sevilla have made the most of a miserly defence and a street-wise attack to haul their way up the table. They are certain to make life difficult for Javier Aguirre's side who are focusing their attentions on survival in the top flight following their exit from the Cup at the hands of Recreativo.
ROME, March 7 (Reuters) - AS Roma captain Francesco Totti risks missing the Rome derby against Lazio on Saturday (19.30 GMT), after catching 'flu.
Totti has had a frustrating season, disrupted by knee and thigh injuries, and his latest stroke of misfortune is bad news for team coach Fabio Capello who is trying to haul Roma out of the bottom half of Serie A to challenge for a place in Europe.
Roma's fortunes recently appeared to be turning after they followed up an impressive 3-0 win over Valencia in the Champions League - sealed by two Totti goals - with a 3-1 defeat of Empoli in Serie A last weekend. Now, however, Capello has to cope with the absence of defender Traianos Dellas (hamstring) and Totti's usual replacement, Antonio Cassano, who is serving a one-match suspension for insulting the referee after the Empoli game.
Lazio arrive fresh from their fourth-round UEFA Cup win over Polish side Wisla Krakow on Wednesday.
Enrico Chiesa's decisive goal indicated the striker was regaining the form that made him a regular in the Italian national side during the late 90s, though coach Roberto Mancini believes he is capable of much more. Lazio can also take comfort from their 17-game unbeaten record away from home this season, as they prepare to enter an Olympic Stadium packed with Roma fans.
Other matches in Serie A, kick-offs Sunday 1400 GMT unless stated.
BOLOGNA (8) v INTER MILAN (2) (Saturday 1700 GMT)
Inter's 3-0 defeat by Juventus last Sunday led to a week of soul-searching among players and staff. Coach Hector Cuper is expected to leave top striker Christian Vieri on the bench in preparation for next week's Champions League match against Newcastle. Bologna have lost three of their last five games.
ATALANTA (15) v PARMA (7)
Atalanta let slip an early three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with AC Milan last week, in a game that nonetheless showed why the Bergamo-based squad are clawing their way out of the relegation zone.
Against Parma, however, they will be without influential playmaker Cristian Doni, who is serving a one-match suspension.
COMO (17) v BRESCIA (11)
Como's 1-0 win over fellow Serie A stragglers Piacenza last weekend threw them the slenderest of lifelines in their battle to avoid relegation.
Brescia, however, last lost at the beginning of December and should prove too strong for the lakesiders.
EMPOLI (14) v PIACENZA (16)
Empoli's 3-1 loss to Roma last weekend continued a run of games without a win that stretches back to before Christmas, and has them hovering dangerously above the relegation zone.
Piacenza have looked more lively since new coach Luigi Cagni took over in February, but will be without injured defender Amedeo Mangone (ankle).
MODENA (12) v PERUGIA (10)
Modena midfielder Omar Milanetto misses this midtable clash while he serves a one-game suspension.
Perugia's challenge for a UEFA Cup berth has been undermined by inconsistency lately, their win against AC Milan last month being balanced out by defeats by Reggina and Parma.
TORINO (18) v REGGINA (13)
Torino's home matches have been moved to Reggio Emilia as a result of the crowd trouble that marred their loss to AC Milan two weeks ago.
Their miserable season stands every chance of continuing against a resurgent Reggina side, who last week defeated in-form Udinese 3-2.
UDINESE (6) v JUVENTUS (1)
Juventus sealed their 26th Serie A title with a 3-0 win at Udine on the final day of last season.
This year the Italian champions try to maintain their three-point lead over Inter Milan against an Udinese side stripped of midfielders David Pizarro and Vincenzo Iaquinta, both serving one-match suspensions.
AC MILAN (3) v CHIEVO (5) (Sunday 1930 GMT)
Chievo reinforced their reputation as giant-killers with a 3-1 win over Milan in their previous league meeting this season in Verona.
Milan, however, regain playmaker Andrea Pirlo from injury for this fixture, which should restore some confidence and shape to the side.
BERLIN, March 7 (Reuters) - Oliver Kahn returns after facing a barrage of criticism for his private life when Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich entertain Bayer Leverkusen for the second time in four days on Saturday.
The Bayern goalkeeper and captain has been front-page news in the country for almost a week now after admitting he had betrayed his pregnant wife with a barmaid.
'It is already dramatic how things have come to a head,' Bayern coach Ottnar Hitzfeld said of the media treatment of Kahn's affair. 'Olli is being treated almost like a hardened criminal.'
Kahn, also the Germany skipper, looked as focused as ever in Wednesday's 3-1 defeat of Leverkusen that sent Bayern through to the German Cup final.
Now he faces the same opponents, this time in the Bundesliga, hoping to contribute to a victory that would send his club closer to a domestic league and Cup double.
Leverkusen, who collapsed after narrowly missing out on three titles last season, wasted their last chance of playing in Europe by bowing out of the Cup.
Last season's Bundesliga runners-up and losing Champions League and German Cup finalists have won their last two league games to move up to 12th in the 18-strong table but are just three points above the relegation zone.
Other matches this weekend (league positions in parentheses, kickoff times GMT)...
Saturday, March 8 (1430)
VFL WOLFSBURG (11) v ENERGIE COTTBUS (17)
Wolfsburg have just sacked aptly-named coach Wolfgang Wolf following a string of poor results and hope new coach Juergen Roeber can stop them from moving any closer to the danger zone.
Bosnia striker Marko Topic is suspended for strugglers Energie Cottbus, who had gone five matches without defeat when they lost 2-0 to Bayern last weekend.
HERTHA BERLIN (7) v TSV 1860 MUNICH (8)
Hertha Berlin, who have fared poorly lately and are not at all certain of playing in Europe next season, fined Brazilian midfielder Marcelinho this week for partying all night after his side's last two defeats.
TSV 1860 Munich, dropping out of contention in the battle for places in Europe, are still without injured playmaker Thomas Haessler.
VFB STUTTGART (3) v HAMBURG SV (5)
Stuttgart's coach Felix Magath wants the title in 2005 and his team's recent form suggests they could play the Champions League next season. First-choice goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand is sidelined with a knee injury.
Hamburg, chasing a spot in the UEFA Cup, are almost at full strength.
SCHALKE 04 (4) v ARMINIA BIELEFELD (13)
Schalke will miss Nigerian striker Victor Agali, who has been banned for three games for elbowing Borussia Dortmund's Dede in the face in an ill-tempered 2-2 draw between the Ruhr Valley rivals last month.
Lowly Bielefeld will miss a string of players through injuries, among them Poland midfielder Maciej Murawski and Croatian striker Ilija Aracic.
WERDER BREMEN (6) v VFL BOCHUM (9)
Werder, threatened by a crisis after losing their last five league games and bowing out of the German Cup, will be without suspended striker Markus Daun.
Mid-table Bochum have several players out injured, missing notably Nigeria midfielder Sunday Oliseh, who joined them on loan from Dortmund during the winter break.
BORUSSIA MOENCHENGLADBACH (16) v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (2)
Moenchengladbach coach Ewald Lienen faces the champions for his first game in charge since replacing Hans Meyer last Sunday. Midfielders Markus Muench and Marcel Witeczek had been dropped from the squad by Meyer and Lienen is expected to leave them out.
Dortmund, hunting a Champions League berth after dropping 10 points behind Bayern, will miss Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who is nursing a sore thigh muscle.
Sunday, March 9 (1630)
KAISERSLAUTERN (18) v NUREMBERG (15)
Kaiserslautern boosted their morale for their fight against relegation with a convincing 3-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Tuesday for a place in the German Cup final.
Fellow strugglers Nuremberg have two defenders suspended in Tomasz Kos and Thomas Stehle.
HANOVER 96 (14) v HANSA ROSTOCK (10)
Hanover 96, who won 2-1 in Bochum last weekend, will try to move further away from the relegation zone. They will miss Senegalese defender Dame Diouf, who is nursing damaged knee ligaments.
Rostock, whose only concern is to remain in the top flight, will be without two valued midfielders in injured Rene Rydlewicz and suspended Marcus Lantz.
Bastia v Strasbourg: Preview
BASTIA, March 7 (Ligue 1) - Bastia lost their unbeaten record for 2003 last week at Le Havre and will aim to bounce straight back as they welcome Strasbourg to the Stade Furiani.
The visitors certainly do not have history in their favour as they have won just once in 23 games between the clubs with Bastia taking the points on 17 occasions.
Last week`s reverse at Le Havre was their first since December 14 and they will hope it is their last as they have four successive games against lower-ranked sides.
However, the players are not too disappointed by the defeat with the pitch not in the best condition.
Mickael Essien highlighted the state of the pitch, which he claims hampered them from their usual game.
``We weren't able to play our usual game because of the pitch,'' he said. ``We were physically and technically fine but we aren't used to playing on such a pitch and it hampered us considerably. We weren't able to profit from our technical qualities.''
Despite that slip-up, Bastia remain in the hunt for a European place.
``We have the potential to qualify for Europe and I hope we reach the goal the players have set. We are a good team who play the ball around well and we deserve something at the end of the season,'' added Essien.
The home side must play without injured Frederic Mendy and suspended Cedric Piocelle.
Bastia is a difficult place to get a result at but Strasbourg will want to repeat their 2-0 victory earlier in the season to expel any lingering relegation fears for good.
``It's difficult to win over there because they are a very well organised side who move the ball about well. They are very competitive and have some good individuals``, Corentin Martins told the club website.
``We must go there to win by attacking like we would at home.''
Yannick Fischer is suspended for Strasbourg
Sochaux v Lille: Preview
MONTBELIARD, March 7 (Ligue 1) - It took extra-time and a single goal to separate the sides in Wednesday`s League Cup encounter and the tameness of Sochaux's attack combined with the poor form of Lille doesn't bode well for an entertaining game on Saturday.
Although Sochaux completely dominated the cup game, they failed to convert nine out of 10 excellent chances, hitting the woodwork on three occasions.
This poor strike rate mirrors their current league form in which they have scored only six goals in their last eight games, yet three 1-0 wins in that run has seen them well-placed to challenge for honours.
Pierre-Alain Frau is one of those strikers who isn't hitting the target with enough regularity, but he remains upbeat.
``Let's not start bandying words like scandal about,'' he said. ``We're two games away from the League Cup Final and not badly placed in the league. There could be some nice surprises at the end of the season.''
On the injury front, Laurent Charvet limped out of Wednesday's cup tie with a recurrence of his thigh injury and is expected to miss out.
Meanwhile, Benoit Pedretti took a knock to his fibula and is very doubtful to recover in time.
However, Lille can claim that their injury worries eclipse anybody's in the league.
Abdel Fahmi and Marius Baciu joined the list of wounded, which also includes first-choice defenders Stephane Pichot, Eric Abidal and Rafael Schmitz.
Manager Claude Puel has had to call upon the two youth team players Stephane Dumont and Nicolas Aubriot to complete his squad.
``It's been a long time since I've been able to name an unchanged side from one game to another but we'll have to adapt,'' said Puel after the midweek defeat, which also saw Mathieu Delpierre sent off.
It's also been a long time since Lille tasted victory. They are on a run of seven defeats and are now involved in a relegation dogfight.
At least with Montpellier facing Troyes, Lille can be sure they won't finish the night at the very bottom of the league.
Lens v Nice: Preview
LENS, March 7 (Ligue 1) - Both sides hope to be playing European football next season but with a host of clubs in the hunt for a top-four finish, defeat for either side could do real harm to their aspirations.
A win for Lens would see them leapfrog their guests, whereas Nice could jump to third and give Lens an uphill struggle by winning at the Stade Felix Bollaert.
The goalless draw at Ajaccio last Saturday stretched Lens' unbeaten run to eight games and kept them in the pack of teams looking for European football next season.
However, of those eight games five have been draws - a fact coach Joel Muller is well aware of.
``We've drawn too many games, which has made the difference between this and last season and has stifled our climb up the table,'' he said.
``As we are within firing range of a European place we need to take each game as it comes and certainly beating the teams around us will bring us closer to our objective.''
Nice are one of the teams who harbour aspirations of qualifying for Europe.
Much of their success this season is down to their resilience in the face of adversity.
They have ground out impressive draws at Paris, Lyon and Bastia and that has not gone unnoticed in Lens' preparations for the game.
``They are good at sticking at it and staying organised. They can regain possession and launch attacks very quickly,'' added Muller.
Nice have had some good news before travelling to the north of France.
Everson has had his suspension rescinded by the Disciplinary Commission and will be available to take on Lens.
Three successive draws have seen Nice drop out of the top three and they cannot afford to lose in Lens as that would all but end their hopes of European football next season as five of their nearest rivals have games in hand.
Lyon v AC Ajaccio: Preview
LYON, March 7 (Ligue 1) - Lyon coach Paul Le Guen is aware that this could be a big weekend for the defending champions with an apparently easy home match with Ajaccio.
Their title rivals all have difficult assignments with leaders Monaco squaring off with fourth-placed Bordeaux and second-placed Marseille hosting Paris St Germain, a match that represents the most intense rivalry in French football.
While Le Guen cannot control what happens in those matches he will be confident of picking up all three points against the Corsican outfit which has lost all six previous encounters between the clubs.
But Le Guen is adamant that nothing should be taken for granted.
``They (Ajaccio) have many outlets for good play, notably (Bernard) Diomede,'' said Le Guen on Ajaccio`s website. ``The more you look at them the more you realise that they are strong both in attack and defence.''
Le Guen has named a 16-man squad but has been in particular boosted by the news that Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson is available for selection again after 10 weeks on the sidelines.
``I hope it will lift everyone,'' Anderson told his club website. ``What`s important is that everyone is now available to the coach and that`s what should lift people`s spirits.''
Ajaccio are locked in a battle against relegation and coach Rolland Courbis has his options limited, especially up front.
Argentinian Juan Esnaider is still convalescing from his injury while Bruno Rodriguez has been omitted from the first-team squad for disciplinary reasons.
Yohan Demont is suspended while Renaud Connen is likely to be rested by Courbis who is likely to bring Hoalid Regragui and Laurent Moracchini in to reinforce his midfield.
Ajaccio are currently in 16th place in the 20-team division but are only two points ahead of bottom club Troyes.
Monaco v Bordeaux: Preview
MONTE CARLO, March 7 (Ligue 1) - Leaders Monaco tackle emerging contenders Bordeaux in a match that could have a major bearing on the title race.
Monaco returned to pole position last week - albeit on goal difference - over Marseille, who this weekend face a tough home match with arch-rivals Paris St Germain.
A few weeks ago Monaco`s home tie with Bordeaux would have looked an easier assignment but now the visitors have moved into fourth place and trail the leaders by just six points with a game in hand.
Monaco coach Didier Deschamps, facing one of his many former clubs, has an almost full line-up to choose from although Sebastien Squillaci is doubtful because of an injury to his right calf.
Definitely ruled out is Sebastien Carole who is suffering with an injury to his left calf muscle.
Deschamps rested key players Ludovic Giuly, Jerome Rothen, Patrice Evra, Dado Prso and Rafael Marquez from the team that beat Gueugnon 5-0 in a League Cup tie in midweek but all should play against the Girondins.
Elie Baup, who guided Bordeaux to their last title in 1998-9, will hope his men continue their fine recent run in a match that will see the French League`s joint top scorers Shabani Nonda (Monaco) and Pauleta (Bordeaux) continue their personal battle.
Portuguese international Pauleta played down that rivalry, saying: ``The duel with Nonda is the least important thing about this match. I look at the leading goalscorers table after I look at the divisional table.
``We`re playing the top team in the division - this is a big match for us, they have nine games left and we have 10 games left and everything is still to play for.''
Baup is further boosted by the news that he has a virtually full squad with Cedric Fiston, who had been unlikely to play anyway, the only absentee.
Sedan v Guingamp: Preview
SEDAN, March 7 (Ligue 1) - Sedan know the rot must stop very soon if they are to avoid relegation and a home fixture with an equally out-of-sorts Guingamp takes on must-win status for Les Sangliers (the Wild Boars).
Four consecutive defeats have seen Sedan slump to second bottom with only Troyes beneath them and unless coach Dominique Bathenay can turn them around soon, the team based in the Ardennes region near the Franco-Belgian border is destined for the drop.
Bathenay`s task is not helped by injury problems with defender Pascal Pedemonte, Senegal`s Moussa N`Diaye and Cameroonian Pierre Njanka considered unlikely to play.
Bathenay tried to rally the troops, pointing out there are many teams still in danger of going down.
The former St Etienne forward said: ``All is not lost nor is it a crisis. There are plenty of teams in the same situation as us.
``But we cannot afford to miss this opportunity at home to Guingamp.''
Guingamp have had a miserable 2003, although their impressive early-season form means they remain in 12th place in the division and 10 points clear of the relegation zone.
The Brittany-based outfit started the year in third but have lost seven out of eight matches since with their only success since the turn of the year a remarkable comeback 3-2 win over Paris St Germain in a match where they trailed 2-0.
Sadly it was normal service resumed last weekend with defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Montpellier, a result that did no favours to Sedan.
Guingamp boss Bertrand Marchand is deprived of the services of injured duo Aurio Guillaume and Hakim Saci.
Defender Guillaume has been ruled out for a fortnight because of a quadriceps injury while Saci has problems with his adductor muscles.
FC Zwolle v Ajax Amsterdam: Preview
ZWOLLE, March 7 (Eredivisie) - Zwolle coach Peter Boeve is trying to look on the bright side despite the prospect of having to send a patched-up side out to face defending Eredivisie champions Ajax on Saturday.
Ajax, who are second to PSV Eindhoven in the table, would be a tough enough prospect with a full strength team but Boeve is set to be without at least eight players.
The defence has been particularly hard hit, with Ruud Kras and first-choice goalkeeper Johan van der Werff among the absentees.
Kras, who is on loan from Ajax, is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card in last weekend's 4-0 defeat to Groningen.
Van der Werff has a hip problem, meaning 22-year-old Diederik Boer will make his debut.
Richard Roelofsen, who has been one of the shining lights for Zwolle this season, is also out because of a knee injury.
Despite this Boeve is determined to stay positive.
``We still want to enjoy these games,'' the former Ajax player said.
``I would rather talk about the players who can play.''
Boeve has warned his side to prepare for a furious early onslaught on Saturday, believing Ajax will aim to wrap the game up as quickly as possible.
``Our main aim is to be competitive against Ajax,'' he added.
``Next week they play against Valencia in the Champions League. Therefore I think that Ajax will start furiously, trying to score a goal in the first part of the game and save some energy for Valencia.''
Ajax coach Ronald Koeman has injury problems of his own and has just two fit strikers available for the trip to Zwolle in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nourdin Boukhari.
Koeman tried to bring in RKC Waalwijk striker Rick Hoogendorp this weekend but he proved to be too expensive.
Better news for Koeman though is the potential return to the starting line-up of star midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.
Van der Vaart played half-an-hour in Wednesday's 4-1 Amstel Cup win over Groningen and he could be part of the Ajax squad on Saturday.
``I'm very satisfied with our performance in the Cup against Groningen. We now have to continue that steady progress in the game against Zwolle,'' Koeman said.
``I'm very happy that Rafael van der Vaart is totally fit. Already at only 80% of his ability, he's very important for us. We won't take any risks with him, but if he doesn't have any reaction, we will play him.
``Against Groningen, he proved he hasn't lost his momentum. Also in that match, the goals from Ibrahimovic and Boukhari were very important for us. I hope their confidence is boosted by that as we need it.''
Koeman should also welcome back defenders Hatem Trabelsi and Petri Pasanen, as well as midfielder Tomas Galasek for the match. All three were rested for the midweek Cup game.
Defender John O'Brien is also available again and winger Victor Sikora has returned to training, however Brazilian midfielder Maxwell is a doubt with a muscle injury
Excelsior v Feyenoord Rotterdam: Preview
ROTTERDAM, March 7 (Eredivisie) - Excelsior will not surrender to Feyenoord in the Rotterdam derby but even Adrie Coster, coach of the city's second club, was speaking in terms of damage limitation in the build-up to the match.
He was adamant that Feyenoord, Excelsior's `big brother' club who supply them with a host of players each year, will not be gifted three points which would keep them in distant title contention.
But at the same time it was obvious Coster was more concerned with seeing his team display a fighting spirit of the sort which has been lacking since their last Eredivisie win on December 18.
Excelsior have slumped to 15th in the Dutch top flight and their prosects of getting anything out of the derby have been hampered by injuries to Michel Breuer, Civard Sprockel, Bart Fiegel and Dennis Jos.
That quartet are injured and Leo Koswal suspended, which means Excelsior are without five first-team players.
Coster said: ``The only way we can turn around our poor run is by working hard as a squad.
``With matches against Feyenoord and Ajax every point you get is profit, but normally those teams are too strong.
``We must work hard in the coming weeks and make the team ready for the more important matches against other relegation candidates like Groningen and Zwolle.''
Excelsior are as much in need of the points as Feyenoord, if not more so given that they are just one place outside the relegation play-off zone.
They will take some hope from the injury crisis Feyenoord are suffering in defence.
Gerard de Nooijer is a major doubt after bruising ribs in Feyenoord's 3-1 Amstel Cup win over Vitesse Arnhem, and Patrick Paauwe may consequently be forced to step into the backline and give up his place in midfield.
``This is a real setback,'' said coach Bert van Marwijk.
``As it looks now, I think De Nooijer will not be able to play against Excelsior.''
Chris Gyan could be another option for Van Marwijk after he replaced De Nooijer and gave a good account of himself against Vitesse.
Japanese midfielder Shinji Ono should be fit to take part after recovering from flu.
Arsenal v Chelsea
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is poised to rest a handful of first-team players for the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Chelsea at Highbury.
Wenger is still considering whether to recall Dennis Bergkamp, who was rested in the previous round at Old Trafford, and Thierry Henry to the side after a calf injury.
Francis Jeffers is expected to start up front, while only Oleg Luzhny (calf) and Ashley Cole (hernia) have so far definitely been ruled out.
Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri may decide to start without Marcel Desailly (hip), Emmanuel Petit and Graeme Le Saux (groin) even though all three are in the squad after recovering from injuries.
With Mario Stanic suspended, former Arsenal star Petit appears to have the best chance of returning to the starting line-up after a groin strain and a one-match ban, but is more likely to start on the bench.
Top scorers: Thierry Henry (Arsenal) 25; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink & Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea) 13
Liverpool v Bolton
Liverpool will be without Stephane Henchoz and Emile Heskey for the clash with Bolton at Anfield.
Henchoz has had a calf operation and is likely to be out until mid-April, while Heskey damaged a hamstring against Manchester United and is expected to be sidelined for a fortnight.
It means that Djimi Traore will almost certainly step into the centre of defence to replace Henchoz, while Milan Baros is expected to replace Heskey and partner Michael Owen up front.
Bolton midfielder Kevin Nolan is pushing for a place in the starting line-up against his hometown club.
Per Frandsen returns after suspension but injured trio Henrik Pedersen (shoulder), Paul Warhurst (calf) and Mike Whitlow (knee) are all ruled out.
Last season: Liverpool 1 Bolton 1, Bolton 2 Liverpool 1
Last five league matches: Liverpool W D W D L, Bolton L L W D D
Top scorers: Michael Owen (Liverpool) 19; Youri Djorkaeff (Bolton) 6
Southampton v Wolves
FA Cup qarter-final, March 9, KO 4pm
Live on Sky Sports 2 from 15.30
Southampton's Sweden international Anders Svensson is confident he will be fit for Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final with Wolves, live on Sky Sports.
Svensson limped out of the win over West Brom with an ankle injury, but after a week of intensive treatment he is hopeful of saving the Saints from a midfield crisis.
With Rory Delap (knee ligaments) out and David Prutton cup-tied, Gordon Strachan will be forced into a major reshuffle if Svensson does not make it.
Chris Marsden and Matt Oakley are obivious candidates for the central roles, while Jo Tessem, Paul Telfer and Wayne Bridge could all slot in on the opposite flank to the versatile Fabrice Fernandes.
Wolves will be without captain Paul Ince, who begins a two-match ban for picking up ten bookings so far this season.
Nine-goal striker George Ndah is also out after tearing a hamstring at Crystal Palace last week.
So Nathan Blake, who deputised in the draw with Ipswich, is the favourite to partner top scorer Kenny Miller in attack, though Dean Sturridge and Adam Proudlock give manager Dave Jones other options.
Alex Rae is the likely deputy for Ince, but Keith Andrews could also come into consideration.
Southampton (from): Niemi, Telfer, Lundekvam, M Svensson, Bridge, Fernandes, Oakley, A Svensson, Marsden, Ormerod, Beattie, Tessem, Williams, Higginbotham, Dodd, Arias, Davies, Jones.
Wolves (squad): Murray, Irwin, Lescott, Butler, Naylor, Newton, Rae, Andrews, Cameron, Kennedy, Blake, Miller, Proudlock, Sturridge, Clyde, Cooper, Oakes.
Preston v Derby
Preston are hopeful that Rob Edwards will be fit to face Derby.
Edwards is nursing a shoulder injury and will have a painkilling jab.
Paul McKenna is struggling to overcome a dead leg, while Marlon Broomes and Eric Skora are also doubtful starters.
Giorgi Kinkladze faces a late fitness test after limping out of the draw with Leicester because of a back injury last week.
Lee Morris is suspended, but Warren Barton has completed his ban and has recovered from tonsillitis.
Andy Oakes is progressing well after suffering a knee injury in training, though Lee Camp is expected to keep his place on the bench.
Brighton v Rotherham
Brighton manager Steve Coppell selects from an unchanged squad against Rotherham as the Seagulls look to bounce back from two successive defeats.
Gary Hart is again unavailable as he serves the last game of a four-match suspension, leaving Coppell to decide whether to continue with on-loan Tony Rougier as Bobby Zamora's strike partner or recall Graham Barrett.
Barrett, on loan from Arsenal, has scored only once for the Seagulls and that was in Coppell's first match in charge, five months ago.
Rotherham could be without the services of defenders Martin McIntosh and Marvin Bryan.
McIntosh sustained an ankle injury in the goalless draw with Walsall, while Bryan battled through the same game with a calf problem.
Manager Ronnie Moore will give the pair until the last minute to prove their fitness, with Bryan more of a doubt than McIntosh.
If he does not make it, Moore confirmed he will hand youngster Shaun Barker his first-team debut.
Coventry v Wimbledon
Coventry goalkeeper Morten Hyldgaard is rated doubtful to play in the Highfield Road clash with Wimbledon.
The Danish shot-stopper sustained an ankle injury in training last week, missing the win over Grimsby and the shock 5-1 reverse at Sheffield Wednesday, when Fabien Debec deputised.
Other likely absentees include David Pipe (foot), Jay Bothroyd (ankle), Keith O'Neill and Dean Gordon (hamstring) and Juan Sara (groin).
Youssef Safri is continuing his rehabilitation following a hernia operation.
Wimbledon striker David Connolly is back in training following a hamstring injury, but boss Stuart Murdoch is unlikely to change the side that beat Portsmouth on Tuesday.
Jobi McAnuff is back after a groin injury, but Gareth Ainsworth should keep his place after scoring the winner against Pompey.
Loan signing Moritz Volz will play his last match before his loan spell from Arsenal comes to an end.
Leicester v Sheff Wed
Billy McKinlay is doubtful for Leicester's home game with Sheffield Wednesday.
McKinlay has been nursing a severely bruised foot and has a 50-50 chance of making the squad.
Callum Davidson's groin injury keeps him out but Frank Sinclair is back from suspension.
Sheffield Wednesday are likely to be unchanged from the 5-1 win over Coventry.
David Burrows played in the reserve win at Sunderland but is yet to return to the first team after a torn hamstring
Ipswich v Stoke
Ipswich Town are hoping for a double tonic ahead of the clash with Stoke at Portman Road.
Marcus Bent may be included after overcoming a slight hamstring strain picked up last week, while John McGreal is back in training after a back problem.
Richard Naylor may have earned himself a starting spot up front after his late equaliser at Wolves, and Hermann Hreidarsson returns from suspension.
Stoke City could be without Wayne Thomas who was replaced at half-time in the win over Brighton on Wednesday after sustaining a calf injury, but will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness.
If he cannot play, Frazer Richardson - who replaced Thomas from the substitutes' bench - will deputise at right-back.
Clive Clarke may return to the squad for the first time since November following his recovery from a knee ligament injury. Kristian Commons (knee) remains on the sidelines
Walsall v Millwall
Walsall boss Colin Lee is confident walking wounded Jorge Leitao and Martin O'Connor will be available for the home clash with Millwall.
The Saddlers are expected to include both players in the squad, despite Leitao picking up a head injury and O'Connor an ankle problem in the midweek draw at Rotherham.
If selected, defender Ian Roper will play his last game before beginning a two-match suspension.
Millwall right-back Alan Dunne misses the trip north after breaking his wrist during the 1-1 draw against Burnley on Tuesday.
His injury leaves Millwall short of cover in the position, with first-choice Matt Lawrence still sidelined by a foot injury.
Defenders Ronnie Bull or Mark Phillips could fill in, but midfielders Steven Reid and Andy Roberts are also being considered.
Bradford v Crystal Palace
Jamie Lawrence will miss the Bradford rearranged home game with Crystal Palace through suspension.
Lawrence serves a one-match suspension after being shown the yellow card five times.
Ashley Ward missed the draw with Leicester through tonsillitis but was back in training by the end of the week and should be available for selection.
Wayne Jacobs will definitely miss the game after aggravating an existing hamstring injury against Walsall, while Robert Molenaar remains on the sidelines with a calf problem.
Ben Muirhead should be named in the squad but is unlikely to start.
Crystal Palace could welcome back Andrew Johnson after he damaged ligaments in his foot against Wolves.
Dougie Freedman returns from suspension, but Dele Adebola is rated doubtful after pulling a groin muscle while Aki Riihilahti will miss out with a thigh injury.
Luton v Huddersfield
Luton have lost Dean Crowe for the rest of the season with a broken leg suffered against Mansfield on Tuesday.
They will also be without Steve Howard for the home match against Huddersfield as he is still troubled by a knee problem.
Emmerson Boyce faces five weeks out with a groin injury, but there could be a recall for Russell Perrett.
Huddersfield skipper Eddie Youds will miss the trip after breaking down in the warm-up before the midweek game against QPR.
Youds pulled out after suffering with Achilles problems in both feet, but he is expected to be fit within a week.
Hamstring victim Martin Smith and Simon Baldry, who picked up a knock against QPR, have missed training this week, but are expected to be fit.
Peterborough v Wigan
Peterborough hope to welcome back Ian Hendon, Lee Clarke and Adam Fry to the squad for the home game with Wigan.
Hendon has been struggling with a knee problem picked up on his debut against Northampton.
Clarke may feature after a knee injury, and Fry is back in training after damaging his ankle.
Wigan captain Jason De Vos will be fit despite sustaining a foot injury during the midweek win over Tranmere.
Tony Dinning is also expected to be fit after he was kicked in the face and lost a tooth.
Jason Jarrett is better after a bout of flu, while Peter Kennedy has fully recovered from chicken pox.
Chesterfield v Plymouth
Chesterfield have signed Middlesbrough's Brian Close in a one-month loan deal and the midfielder goes straight into the squad to face visiting Plymouth.
Manager Dave Rushbury welcomes back Chris Brandon who missed the defeats at Wigan and Stockport through suspension.
Rushbury has no new injury or suspension worries to address, but Alan O'Hare (ankle) and Marcus Ebdon (hernia) remain on the sidelines.
Plymouth Argyle boss Paul Sturrock is set to stick with his winning line-up after reporting no new injuries after his side beat Peterborough.
Recalled quartet Lee Hodges, Martin Phillips, David Friio and Steve Adams are expected to keep their place.
Northampton v Swindon
Derek Asamoah could return to the Northampton starting line-up for the home game with Swindon.
Asamoah came on as a substitute for the last 20 minutes during the midweek defeat at Colchester after a knee injury.
Richard Hope may return to the squad after recovering from a groin strain, but full-back Gerard Lavin and midfielder Paul Rickers (both leg) remain long-term absentees.
Martin Wilkinson's side could be without defender Daryl Burgess for the remainder of the season after he pulled a hamstring in midweek.
Swindon Town boss Andy King is ready to name the same side that beat Queens Park Rangers last weekend.
Matt Hewlett, Andy Gurney, Danny Invincibile and on-loan Sheffield Wednesday defender Jon Beswetherick have been struggling with knocks, but have now made full recoveries.
Tranmere v Crewe
Tranmere are likely to name an unchanged side for the visit of Crewe.
Shane Nicholson played the final part of the draw at Wigan after recovering from a hamstring injury and is in contention for a starting place.
Russell Howarth also returned from a bout of tonsillitis, although he was an unused substitute, and Stuart Barlow could be ready after a groin problem.
Crewe will be without Steve Jones after he suffered a suspected fractured cheekbone during Tuesday's victory over Wycombe.
He also suffered a gash close to his eye when he took an accidental kick to the head and crashed into the advertising hoardings.
Dave Brammer could return in midfield as he continues his recovery from a groin injury.
Port Vale v Blackpool
Port Vale have no fresh injury problems for the home game with Blackpool.
Michael Walsh suffered no reaction in his first game back since a knee injury so the squad will remain unchanged.
Blackpool will be without Paul Evans who was stretchered off against Barnsley with a knee injury and is to undergo a scan to establish the extent of the damage. It is unlikely he will play for the Seasiders again.
John Hills is suffering from an abscess in his mouth and will be given a fitness test at the 11th hour.
Tommy Jaszczun is rated doubtful after sustaining an ankle injury during a midweek reserves game, while Richie Wellens plays his last game before a one-match suspension.
Cheltenham v Mansfield
Cheltenham have been dealt a severe blow ahead of the relegation six-pointer at home to Mansfield with Julian Alsop leaving training on crutches this week.
The Robins' top scorer injured his knee in a practice session on Thursday and is out of the Stags clash.
Alsop could be joined on the sidelines by on-loan Bristol City striker Damian Spencer, who has picked up a back injury, but Lee Howells (knee) is available again.
Adam Eaton has put pen to paper on a contract which will keep him at Mansfield until June 2004 and he will feature at Whaddon Road.
Eaton had been on loan from Preston since the middle of December, making a dozen first-team appearances.
Player-manager Keith Curle will sit out the game after collecting a one-game suspension, and Andy Jones is also banned.
Wycombe v Brentford
Manager Lawrie Sanchez will name an unchanged line-up for Wycombe's clash with Brentford at Adams Park.
The Chairboys have lost their last three matches, but Sanchez has little scope for a shake-up with several players still injured.
Martin Taylor returned to action from a calf injury in the reserves this week, but Frank Talia will keep his place.
Brentford boss Wally Downes still has an under-strength squad as his side look to complete a league double over Wanderers.
Stephen Evans (Achilles), Stephen Hunt and Leo Roget (both ankle) are out, while Jamie Fullarton has yet to return to training following a leg injury.
Downes is hoping Brentford rediscover the goalscoring touch - they have scored just four goals in their last eight matches and go into the game on the back of consecutive defeats by Cardiff and Tranmere.
Queens Park Rangers v Bristol City
Manager Ian Holloway will be forced into at least one change for QPR's clash with fellow promotion hopefuls Bristol City with full-back Gino Padula suspended for the game at Loftus Road.
Rangers could welcome back Matthew Rose, who came through a reserve match after being out for over two months with a ligament injury, but striker Andy Thomson pulled out of that match after failing to recover from a hamstring injury.
Holloway could recall Ben Walshe after a knee problem, but goalkeeper Nick Culkin remains sidelined, so Chris Day will continue in goal.
Robins boss Danny Wilson should be able to field an unchanged team, though skipper Tommy Doherty is under treatment for a minor calf problem, but is expected to be available.
Wilson's only dilemma is whether to recall experienced playmaker Brian Tinnion or stick with Aaron Brown on the left side of midfield.
Tinnion was on the bench for Tuesday night's 2-0 home win over Oldham, partly because he had only just recovered from a hamstring injury.
Oldham v Colchester
Dean Holden returns to the Oldham squad for the first time since October for the home game with Colchester.
The defender will be a welcome addition to Iain Dowie's side after returning from a thigh injury.
John Eyre also returns to contention after missing the last three matches with a calf problem, and there is also a surprise inclusion for Marc Tierney, who receives his first-ever call-up to the first-team squad after impressive displays recently for the youth and reserve sides.
Matty Appleby is likely to be named in the side after missing the midweek defeat by Bristol City with a thigh injury.
Colchester United manager Phil Parkinson has been dealt a big blow ahead of the trip with the news that Liam Chilvers will probably miss the rest of the season with knee ligament damage.
Adrian Coote will also miss the game at Boundary Park after damaging a leg in training, although early fears that he had broken it have proved unfounded.
Joe Dunne, Gavin Johnson, Mark Warren and Kevin Rapley remain long-term absentees.
Cardiff v Notts County
Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence could name an unchanged side for the visit of Notts County to Ninian Park.
Gavin Gordon could make a return to the squad after missing the win at Brentford with a broken nose suffered at Stockport, but Lawrence is unlikely to tinker with a winning team.
Rhys Weston, Steve Jenkins, Gareth Whalley, Danny Gabbidon and Andy Campbell all miss out through long-term injury.
Notts County manager Billy Dearden will have to shuffle his pack.
Nick Fenton is in line for a recall to the squad after completing a two-game suspension, but the hip injury afflicting Willis Francis means he is a major doubt.
Dearden must plug another hole in County's rearguard after Ian Baraclough limped out of the victory over Port Vale with knee ligament damage.
Darren Caskey's ankle problem means there is also a question mark over his inclusion.
Barnsley v Stockport
Barnsley boss Glyn Hodges is expected to have a strong squad for the visit of Stockport.
Gary Jones, Anthony Kay and Andy Marriott all needed attention for minor knocks during the midweek win over Blackpool, but they have all trained.
Hodges is without Lee Crooks (calf), Rory Fallon (foot), Carl Barrowclough (hamstring), Griff Jones (knee) and Ashley Scothern (broken leg).
Stockport manager Carlton Palmer has reported a clean bill of health and looks set to name an unchanged side for the third successive match.
Palmer, who himself is out with an ankle injury, has gone on record as saying he is loathe to make too many changes as his side battle to avoid the drop to Division Three.
Aaron Wilbraham looks set to retain his place up front, although Jon Daly did his claims no harm by coming off the bench and scoring the winner in the midweek win over Chesterfield.
Dundee v Kilmarnock
Dundee manager Jim Duffy has two major worries ahead of the visit of Kilmarnock.
Barry Smith is rated doubtful with a thigh strain, while Georgi Nemsadze is struggling with a calf injury.
Beto Carranza is still missing from the squad with a knee injury.
Kilmarnock manager Jim Jefferies is boosted by the return of Steve Fulton for the trip.
Fulton missed his first game of the season after a virus, but is set to return to the starting line-up at Dens Park.
Last season: Dundee 2 Kilmarnock 0, Kilmarnock 3 Dundee 2, Dundee 1 Kilmarnock 2, Kilmarnock 0 Dundee 1.
Last five league matches: Dundee W D W W D, Kilmarnock W W L W W.
Top scorers: Steve Lovell (Dundee) 9; Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock) 9.
Motherwell v Aberdeen
Motherwell boss Terry Butcher will still be without Scott Leitch and Derek Adams for the clash with Aberdeen.
Leitch has had to have an operation on his troublesome knee and is expected to be on the sidelines for some time, while Adams serves the last game of his two-match ban.
Aberdeen captain Darren Young is set to make his first appearance since December 21 in the bottom-of-the-table clash after overcoming a calf injury.
Eric Deloumeaux is suspended after his dismissal at Kilmarnock last weekend, allowing Young to step into the side at Fir Park.
Phil McGuire also returns to the side after feeling the effects of an 82-game unbroken sequence with the Dons.
Stephen Payne is recalled to the squad as Nicolas Fabiano and Kevin Rutkiewicz drop out.
Last season: Motherwell 3 Aberdeen 2, Aberdeen 1 Motherwell 0, Aberdeen 4 Motherwell 2.
Last five league matches: Motherwell L L W W L, Aberdeen L L L W L.
Top scorers: James McFadden (Motherwell) 12; Laurent D'Jaffo (Aberdeen) 5.
Livingston v Hearts
Livingston manager Jim Leishman has no fresh injury worries ahead of their league game against Hearts.
But the Almondvale boss is still without the two players who were sidelined for the midweek clash with Dundee.
Barry Wilson is struggling with a hamstring strain he picked up in the defeat against Rangers, and David Bingham is ruled out with a broken bone in his hand which was sustained in a training ground accident.
Hearts will be without last week's goal hero Stephen Simmons.
The midfielder has had an x-ray on a rib injury suffered in a midweek Under-21 game and will miss the opportunity to follow his winner against Motherwell.
Graeme Weir will also miss out again after being involved in a car accident last week which left him with whiplash.
Mark de Vries could start on the bench for the Jambos if he passes a late fitness test on an ankle ligament problem.
Last season: Hearts 2 Livingston 3, Livingston 2 Hearts 0, Hearts 1 Livingston 3, Livingston 2 Hearts 1.
Last five league matches: Livingston W L L L D, Hearts W W W L W.
Top scorers: Rolando Zarate (Livingston) 9; Mark de Vries (Hearts) 14
English Nationwide Division 1
Brighton - Rotherham
I am happy with the price on the home win for Brighton against Rotherham (2.50). The key Brighton player, Zamora, returned to the line up in the midweek match away to Stoke. For once Zamora only fired blanks and Brighton lost to a late Stoke goal. I still think that Brighton have improved lately, and they have 2 straight home wins, 4-1 vs. Wolves, and 1-0 vs. Millwall. I suspect that Rotherham have their best part of the season behind them and they are destined to end up in a mid table position. They will most likely have motivation problems every now and then. Brighton are hovering just above the relegation zone, but they can take comfort in the fact, that 3 of their 7 league wins have been in these last weeks. The sharp shooter Zamora will not fire blanks against Rotherham and I support the home win (2.50), a good price!
Ipswich - Stoke
Ipswich at home to Stoke sounds like a banker. The price, not much of course at just 1.55. Ipswich have picked up four points in their 2 last, difficult away games to Norwich and Wolves. Impressive, especially if you take notice of their striker problems. Marcus Bent, Counago and Armstrong have been absent, with only the youngsters Darren Bent and Ambrose available, plus Richard Naylor. At home to Stoke Marcus Bent is back in contention, as well as the leading defender John McGreal, who has also been on the injury list. Hard working but limited Stoke, will be without the suspended Petur Marteinson. A home win for Ipswich and the price is 1.55.
Coventry - Wimbledon
There have been rumours circulating these last few days about behind-the-scenes-problems at Coventry. I have no inside information into all that, but maybe there is some truth in it, or how do you explain their heavy 1-5 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday? With a sequence of 8 games without a win, and only 2 goals scored, Coventry managed finally to defeat the bottom club Grimsby. I thought ahead of the Sheffield W fixture, that maybe the terrible times are over for Coventry, but obviously not! I have learnt that you should oppose unhappy clubs, so I back Wimbledon to win away to Coventry, and the price is 3.50. Wimbledon are on a good run with two consecutive wins against Reading and Portsmouth and both win achieved without their top scorer Connolly. He is close to fitness, but whether or not he will play on Saturday, I cannot say right now. Interesting facts: When Wimbledon defeated the leaders Portsmouth there were some 10.500 spectators, almost 10.000 were away supporters for Portsmouth. In other words Wimbledon still only have a few hard core supporters. Coventry have 0-0, 0-1, 0-1 and 0-2 in their latest home games, so Wimbledon will not face a confident home side, that is for sure. I back the away win, and the price is 3.50.
Walsall - Millwall
Once again I back Walsall, this time at home to Millwall, and the price on the home win is 2.25. With their new signings, Shuker, Samways and Robinson, Walsall managed four points in their away games with Bradford and Rotherham. Millwall, without a win in their last 5 league matches, managed a 1-1 draw with Burnley in midweek. Millwall have two defenders out, Alan Dunne and Matt Lawrence. Good news is that Sadlier is back to fitness, and he is expected to start on the bench once again. I think that Walsall have a decent side at the moment, I like them in their home games, and they defeated Millwall, 3-0, at the Den earlier this season. Conclusion: A home win for Walsall, and the price is 2.25.
Preston - Derby
Derby are so disappointing, week after week, and their home game with Crystal Palace in midweek was no exception. They lost an awful match, 0-1. On Saturday they face Preston, and I fancy a home win for the form side, Preston. The price is 2.1.0. Derby will be without one of their few interesting players, the suspended Lee Morris. Murray and Ravanelli once again up front probably.! I know of no significant problems in the Preston side, and after away wins against Watford and Sheffield W this last week, I guess the Preston players are brimming with confidence. A home win and the price is 2.10.
Sheffield – Leeds Utd
Sheffield Utd defeated Leeds in the Worthington cup, 2-1, at the Bramall Lane, and why not another home win for S U vs. Leeds on Sunday, this time in one of the FA - cup, quarter finals? Sheffield U had a dip of form recently, but after two straight away league wins, they look to be back on song again. According to reports they played a marvelous first half against Grimsby the other day. OK, Grimsby are no Leeds! Ndolu is suspended for S U, and his absence is a blow, and Wayne Quinn is also out. Leeds have doubts concerning Wilcox, Gary Kelly and Matteo. None of these could play midweek against Man United. Kewell will return to the Leeds side. Leeds had all the luck in the world when they defeated Crystal Palace in the previous round of the FA - cup, the ball was over the Leeds goal line, but the referees were dreaming and instead of a 2-1 lead at half time, Palace went down to the same score line. S U defeated both Liverpool (the Worthington Cup winners) and Leeds in the other cup, and those wins were absolutely no fluke wins, and as the price on the home win is 2.88, I find it worth backing.
Arsenal - Chelsea
In my opinion Arsenal really ought to give priority to their impending Champions League fixture against Roma next Tuesday, and not this FA cup quarter final with Chelsea. Who gives a f--k what I think? Bergkamp could be back for Arsenal. Stanic is suspended for Chelsea, but Desailly could return. Chelsea to win, and the price is 4.50.
Southampton - Wolves
Southampton face Wolves, a Wolves side without their influential midfielder Paul Ince, who is suspended. Southampton still hope that Anders Svensson will be fit in time. I guess that Southampton should win this quarter final, the home advantage is obvious, and no Ince for Wolves. Personally I am not tempted by the price on the home win.(1.74).
Watford - Burnley
Watford face Burnley in the last quarter final, the prices are 2.30 - 3.00. Watford were shrewd enough to rest many key players in their mid week league game, but Burnley used their best line up in their match against Millwall. If I have to choose a winner, I pick the best prepared side, Watford, at least that is the way I see it.
Udinese - Juventus
In Italy I like the price on the Udinese home win against the leaders Juventus (3.50). Strange price as Udinese still are unbeaten in their home games, 7-4-0. Udinese will be without the suspended duo, Iaquinta and Pizarro, but both Kroldrup and Jankulovski return to the side. Alberto or Gemiti will start. Muzzi and Carsten Jancker will be the two front runners, with Jankulovski just behind. Juventus have this enormous game with La Coruna next Wednesday, and it looks like coach Lippi will rest some key players vs. Udinese. Definitely their best player, Nedved, will not play, and probably not Trezeguet, Tacchinardi or Ferrara either. Del Piero is back to fitness, but he also in contention vs. La Coruna, not vs. Udinese. I back the home win for Udinese, and the price is 3.50.
Empoli - Piacenza
I take a chance with the Piacenza win away to Empoli, and the price on the away win is 3.7.! Empoli will be without their leading forward di Natale, who is injured, and the suspended Ficini. Piacenza have a fully fit squad to choose from, and both di Fransesco and Boselli are expected to play from the start. Piacenza can only play for the three points these days, a draw is no good, and they are almost always terrible in their away games. Empoli have stopped winning their matches, they are heading downwards, and they are lousy in their home games. My conclusion: a vote for the experienced survival fighters from Piacenza (3.75).
Milan - Chievo
Milan will not start 0-3 down this time, as they did at home to Atalanta last week. This time is at home to Chievo, and I bank the home win for Milan (1.53). Shevchenko is expected back for Milan, and he will join Inzaghi up front. Serginho and Kaladze are out, but both Pirlo and Redondo could feature. Chievo are without the injured defender D'Anna. Home win, of course. (1.53).
Roma - Lazio
On Thursday night, Totti has the flu and fever of 39 degrees. Will he be able to play in two days against Lazio? Probably not, but you never know with these footballers. He would most certainly be rested against any other side, but against the rivals, Lazio? Do remember that also Roma have this big match against Arsenal next Tuesday. Zebina and Delvecchio are back in contention for Roma, but Cossano is suspended. In other words without Totti, only Montella and Marazzina are the remaining forwards. Lazio deservedly defeated Wisla Krakow the other day, and they have practically all their players available. The prices in this game are Roma (2.60) and Lazio (3.00) Without Totti, definitely a bet on the away win for Lazio(3.00). Totti really makes all the difference for Roma.
Torino - Reggina
I keep on talking about the attractive Reggina offensive line up - Nakamura behind Bonazzoli and di Michele. They face Torino on Sunday, but it will not be a home game for Torino, as they are banned from their own ground. The match will be played on neutral ground, and during the circumstances maybe the 2.40 on the Reggina win is a decent price. Cozza is suspended for Reggina, and Torino will be without Comotto of the same reason. An away win, and the price is 2.40.
Valencia – Altetico Madrid
Valencia are only missing the injured Fabio Aurelio ahead of their home match against Atletico Madrid. The away side will be without their leading striker F Torres, as well the suspended Luis Garcia. This Garcia scored last week for his side against Malaga. Another Atletico key player, Albertini, could also be side lined against Valencia. Sounds like a reliable home win for Valencia, and the price is 1.63.