Man Utd v C Palace preview
Manchester United have injury concerns in attack ahead of Crystal Palace's visit to Old Trafford, live on Prem Plus.
The Red Devils' expensively assembled four-pronged strike-force could be reduced to just one member in the worst case scenario for manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Louis Saha, who scored in the Carling Cup victory over Palace last month, is definitely out with an ankle injury.
Ruud van Nistelrooy is undergoing a scan on Friday on his troublesome calf complaint and is rated doubtful for the teatime tussle.
Ferguson also has concerns over the fitness of Alan Smith who picked up a knock to his foot during Monday's 1-1 draw at Fulham.
That could leave Ferguson with just Wayne Rooney as a striking option and it would be interesting to see if the England ace is allowed to lead the line against Palace.
Kleberson is also missing with an ankle injury, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Gabriel Heinze are reportedly on a mid-season sabbatical.
Heinze's absence, although it could be delayed until next week, would open the door for John O'Shea, while the likes of Darren Fletcher, Liam Miller and David Bellion will be hoping for a chance with Ronaldo back in Portugal.
Palace, like United, will ring the changes from the team which was beaten at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the Carling Cup.
Iain Dowie's selection problems are not as severe as his opposite number, with Wayne Andrews aiming to shake off a flu bug.
Tommy Black is definitely missing with a broken leg, along with Nicola Ventola, but Gonzalo Sorondo could return to the squad after a hamstring injury.
The Eagles' sole victory away from home in The Premiership this season was at Birmingham, when Andy Johnson's breakaway goal settled the match.
Dowie is likely to again deploy Johnson as a lone striker, with Palace operating with a five-man midfield designed to frustrate the hosts
Birmingham v West Brom
Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce has backed Emile Heskey to get amongst the goals in the clash with local rivals West Brom.
The Blues chief is looking to pay for a meal out with former Manchester United pal Bryan Robson in the evening after a wager with the visitors' manager, and is determined his side will build on last Sunday's fantastic win at Aston Villa.
Although City have won only one league game at St Andrews all season, Bruce is convinced Heskey will play a key role.
"Emile unfortunately takes a bit of criticism about the number of goals he scores," complained Bruce.
"But, when he plays like he did at Villa, as a centre forward, leading the line, there is absolutely no-one better.
"When we have needed him, Emile has produced."
Darren Carter should celebrate his 21st birthday with another start after impressing in his first game back since a successful loan spell with Sunderland.
Disappointing winger Jesper Gronkjaer will not be involved after flying to Spain to seal his New Year switch to Atletico Madrid.
West Brom have been boosted by the news that highly-rated keeper Russell Hoult has recovered from a knee injury that had threatened his participation at St Andrews.
Darren Moore (knee) and Cosmin Contra (groin) have been rated as 50-50 for the game by Robson, and a late decision will be made on their fitness.
Robson has praised Jonathan Greening, who has been handed more responsibility in a central midfield role of late.
"Jonathan has a big part to play in the future at West Brom," commented the Albion boss. "Whether we stay in The Premiership or not."
Blackburn v Everton
High-flying Everton expect to welcome Kevin Campbell back into their squad for the trip to Blackburn Rovers.
The experienced striker has been missing for around a month but could bolster the party as David Moyes has used less players this season than any other Premiership manager.
Campbell is likely to be on the bench, alongside Duncan Ferguson, while Alessandro Pistone is making good progress in his bid to recover from a knee problem.
The Italian defender missed only a day's training and should feature for the second-placed Toffees.
Blackburn boss Mark Hughes takes on one of his former clubs fully aware that the Lancashire side have won only one Premiership home fixture all season.
Striker Matt Jansen is missing for the hosts as he continues to recover from knee surgery.
Lorenzo Amoruso is back in training after his operation, on a foot problem, but Vratislav Gresko headed to Colorado to visit top surgeon Richard Steadman.
The Slovakian is fighting to save his career and is definitely out for the remainder of the season.
Youri Djorkaeff is in training, after a hamstring strain, and could get a spot on the bench.
David Thompson is out through suspension but Andy Todd could be fit despite receiving a knock in training.
Bolton v Man City preview
Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City are chasing a fillip when they lock horns at The Reebok Stadium.
Both clubs have hit a blip, with Bolton's slump more alarming as they have slipped off the pace for a European berth.
The Trotters have not won for six games and are on a losing streak of three in The Premiership.
Sam Allardyce must arrest this slide against City with problems in his defence likely to bring about three changes for the game.
Ricardo Gardner's continued absence leaves Allardyce with a dilemma at left back as he has not been satisfied with Bruno N'Gotty in that position.
Anthony Barness or Julio Cesar are likely to fill in, although Allardyce has not ruled out playing Gary Speed at left back, a position he has played in for Wales.
Nicky Hunt is suspended after picking up five bookings, meaning the right back berth is up for grabs, while Radhi Jaidi is a doubt with a hamstring problem.
If Jaidi fails to shrug off his hamstring complaint, N'Gotty could be shifted across to the centre of the defence.
City have lost two on the spin with manager Kevin Keegan's selection issues, in contrast to Allardyce's, at the opposite end of the pitch.
Keegan's key decision is whether to recall unsettled striker Nicolas Anelka to the starting line-up.
That will be left until the last minute, with Keegan having been impressed by Jon Macken and Robbie Fowler, although an option under consideration is playing with a lone striker.
Ben Thatcher will return to training next week for City, while Claudio Reyna is not expected to make his comeback from a thigh problem until January.
Chelsea v Norwich preview
Chelsea aim to keep their march towards the Premiership title with victory over strugglers Norwich City on Saturday.
The Blues took a valuable point against Premiership champions Arsenal at Highbury last Sunday, though manager Jose Mourinho is sure to expect all three points against The Canaries.
Both clubs have not met each other since January 2002 when Chelsea disposed of their East Anglian counterparts in an FA Cup third round replay.
Nigel Worthington's side will be buoyed by their crucial 3-2 victory at home to Bolton Wanderers last Saturday - a result that took the Norfolk club out of the bottom three.
Norwich, however, have found scoring goals hard to come by and the likes of Mathias Svensson and Darren Huckerby will have a daunting task in trying to break down Chelsea's stingy rearguard.
Chelsea have no injury worries ahead of the Stamford Bridge clash, with centre back Robert Huth recovering from an ankle injury, but unlikely to feature against The Canaries.
Mourinho is expected to stick with the same squad that earned a 2-2 draw with The Gunners last Sunday.
Norwich also look set to be unchanged from the squad that beat Bolton at Carrow Road, with Thomas Helveg, Youssef Safri and David Bentley likely to continue in midfield.
Striker Leon McKenzie has recovered from a back injury, but is likely to start on the substitutes' bench while Simon Charlton looks again set to start ahead of skipper Adam Drury.
Midfielders Gary Holt (lung infection), Damien Francis (fractured cheekbone) and Phil Mulryne (groin) all remain on the sidelines.
Boro v Villa preview
David O'Leary takes his Aston Villa troops to the North East to face a Middlesbrough side who are riding high in The Premiership.
Boro chief Steve McClaren has moulded a solid unit at The Riverside and the club have built on their Carling Cup success last term with a fantastic start to the Premiership season.
The Riverside outfit have progressed to the knockout stages of the Uefa Cup and go into Saturday's clash on a high, having disposed of Partizan Belgrade in midweek.
Boro, though, did not convince in midweek and were fortunate to take a point from their trip to Southampton last weekend, and they will have to raise their game against Villa on Saturday.
Villa have a decent record against Middlesbrough, having lost just three of their last 22 meetings, but they too will have to raise their game - having been humbled by city rivals Birmingham last week.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink started the season like a house on fire, scoring goals as if they were going out of fashion, but he has hit the target just once in his last 11 outings.
Despite his recent goal drought, the Dutch marksman is likely to keep his place in the team alongside Mark Viduka.
McClaren has mixed news on the defensive front, with Frank Queudrue still out through suspension, but Chris Riggott has been passed fit to return following a hamstring injury.
Ray Parlour has been one of Boro's most consistent figures, but he will have to pass the doctor to feature on Saturday having picked up a thigh complaint in training.
George Boateng will also need to pass a late fitness test, but the signs are suggesting the combative Dutchman will brush off his ankle complaint to start.
Villa have been slow starters of late and O'Leary will be keen for his players to guard against a whirlwind opening from Boro on Saturday.
The former Leeds boss is still without Danish defender Martin Laursen who has yet to return to full fitness from his knee injury.
Spurs v Southampton
Tottenham host Southampton at White Hart Lane looking for their fourth successive Premiership win.
Spurs are chasing a fourth consecutive victory for the first time since 1995 against Harry Redknapp's struggling Saints.
Southampton will be buoyed by their recent good record against Spurs having beaten them in their last four meetings.
The Saints welcome back star striker James Beattie after missing the last two weeks with a calf problem.
Beattie could return to the starting line-up in place of Peter Crouch to partner Kevin Phillips.
Rory Delap is unavailable as he serves a suspension and Paul Telfer and David Prutton are battling it out to replace Delap in midfield.
The visitors are still missing long-term absentees Matthew Oakley, Neil McCann, Jelle van Damme, Michael Svensson and Marian Pahars.
Tottenham have major doubts over defensive duo Noureddine Naybet and Stephen Kelly after they picked up knocks in last weekend's win at Manchester City.
The hosts are boosted by the return of Jermain Defoe after a one-match suspension although he will face a fight to get back in the team after Fredi Kanoute's goal against Manchester City.
Erik Edman and Reto Ziegler could be back in contention after recovering from injury, while Pedro Mendes is expected to shake off a knee problem to play.
Midfield pair Simon Davies and Sean Davis are both still a way off from returning to action.
Portsmouth v Arsenal
Arsenal welcome back captain Patrick Vieira from suspension for Sunday's Barclays Premiership clash against Portsmouth, but Ashley Cole is doubtful and Fredrik Ljungberg will again not be available.
England left-back Cole has not trained this week after picking up a knee injury during the draw with Chelsea. Gael Clichy is on stand-by.
Ljungberg has been ruled out of the last two matches because of migraines, but following medical tests is set to resume full training next week.
Manuel Almunia is expected to keep his place in goal ahead of Jens Lehmann, but Pascal Cygan (back), Edu (toe) and Gilberto Silva (back) are all out injured. Jermaine Pennant (hamstring) is also a doubt.
Portsmouth must do without experienced defenders Dejan Stefanovic (thigh) and David Unsworth (hamstring).
Midfielder Nigel Quashie is also a doubt with a groin injury but striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu could figure among the substitutes after missing six games with a knee ligament injury.
Matthew Taylor and Lomana LuaLua both look likely starters as Pompey bid to extend their unbeaten four-match Premiership run under caretaker managers Velimir Zajec and Joe Jordan.
Portsmouth (from): Ashdown, Griffin, Primus, de Zeeuw, Taylor, Faye, Quashie, Berger, LuaLua, Stone, O'Neil, Fuller, Berkovic, Yakubu, Hughes, Mezague, Curtis, Cisse, Hislop.
Arsenal (from): Lehmann, Almunia, Lauren, Hoyte, Cole, Clichy, Campbell, Toure, Senderos, Fabregas, Flamini, Vieira, Pires, Reyes, Pennant, van Persie, Henry, Bergkamp
Liverpool v Newcastle
Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek looks likely to retain his place against Newcastle on Sunday as doubts remain about Chris Kirkland's fitness.
Dudek was at fault for Portsmouth's late equaliser in midweek after Kirkland was sidelined with a back problem.
Manager Rafael Benitez may be tempted to reshuffle his pack again with full-back John Arne Riise set to be recalled to the starting line-up.
Newcastle manager Graeme Souness is hoping for some good news on the injury front as he prepares to return to his former club.
Alan Shearer (thigh), Patrick Kluivert (hamstring), Kieron Dyer (calf), Laurent Robert (leg muscle) and Lee Bowyer (suspension), all missed Thursday night's 1-1 UEFA Cup draw with Sporting Lisbon.
Souness is expecting most, if not all, to be fit for Sunday's trip to Anfield.
Craig Bellamy injured his back against Sporting, but should be fit, although Ronny Johnsen and Nicky Butt (both hamstring) and Stephen Carr (knee) remain on the sidelines.
Liverpool (from): Dudek, Finnan, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Riise, Kewell, Gerrard, Hamann, Alonso, Nunez, Baros, Pongolle, Mellor, Harrison, Diao.
Newcastle (from): Given, Harper, Taylor, Bernard, Hughes, Elliott, Bramble, O'Brien, Ramage, Dyer, Jenas, Milner, Bowyer, Robert, Ambrose, Brittain, Shearer, Kluivert, Bellamy, Ameobi, Guy.
Brighton v Stoke
On-loan striker Mark McCammon is set to make his Brighton debut after joining on loan from Millwall and he will partner Adam Virgo in attack.
Leon Knight is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench once more.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis is sweating on the fitness of Wayne Thomas and Gifton Noel-Williams as they have been struggling with flu all week.
John Halls, Marcus Hall and Gerry Taggart are all unavailable but Clint Hill expects to be back in the squad.
Sunderland v Burnley
Sunderland midfield pair Jeff Whitley and Carl Robinson are fit again but boss Mick McCarthy must decide whether to keep faith with Dean Whitehead.
Michael Bridges faces a late fitness test on an Achilles injury but Kevin Kyle is sidelined with a hip injury.
Burnley have doubts over Graham Branch (calf) and Tony Grant (hamstring).
Midfielder Richard Chaplow has returned to training after a knee injury and has an outside chance of making the squad, but keeper Danny Coyne is out.
Sheff Utd v Cardiff
Defender Derek Geary goes straight back into the Sheffield United squad after serving a one-match suspension.
On-loan goalkeeper Ian Bennett will deputise for Paddy Kenny, who sits out the second of a three-game ban.
Cardiff keeper Neil Alexander will start his first league game in two years in place of dropped Tony Warner.
Defender Danny Gabbidon returns after an ankle strain, while Paul Parry is likely to be preferred to Willie Boland in midfield
Wolves v Crewe
Paul Ince is doubtful after surgery on an in-growing toenail, while Rob Edwards is unlikely to be risked despite returning to training.
Colin Cameron should return to bolster Wolves midfield after shaking off a virus.
Crewe midfielder Justin Cochrane is doubtful with shingles, and Anthony Tonkin is still out with a foot injury.
Defender Chris McCready is back in contention after shaking off a hamstring injury.
Plymouth v Derby
Plymouth are close to full strength after defender Mathias Doumbe's successful return from an eye injury against Crewe.
Argyle's only injured player is striker Steven Milne (knee).
Jamie Vincent is a major doubt for Derby with a hamstring strain but he will be given a late fitness test.
Inigo Idiakez is suspended and may be replaced by on-loan Bolton midfielder Blessing Kaku, but Mo Konjic is still out with a knee problem.
Gillingham v Rotherham
Gillingham hope to welcome back keeper Steve Banks after his recovery from a back injury.
Former player-boss Andy Hessenthaler could return if he shakes off an ankle injury, while Andrew Crofts is also recovering well from the same problem.
Rotherham will be without Martin Butler as the striker is still recovering after being knocked unconscious in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United.
Shaun Barker also misses the trip after sustaining a knock in the same game.
Nottm Forest v Leicester
Managerless Nottingham Forest will be without Jack Lester - who is out for the whole season - for their first game after Joe Kinnear's resignation.
Eoin Jess is still out, Matthieu Louis-Jean (hamstring) is a doubt while Adam Nowland faces a late fitness test.
Leicester duo Danny Tiatto and Martin Keown are in contention for a starting spot after recovering from injury.
Chris Makin has overcome a virus to bolster the defensive ranks while David Connolly returns from a thigh injury.
Reading v QPR
Reading captain Graeme Murty is facing a fitness race with ankle and knee problems sustained against Wolves.
Striker Nicky Forster, an unused sub last week, should play some part after recovering from a groin injury that kept him out for two months.
Lee Cook is set for an instant return to the QPR line-up after missing the Ipswich game with a foot injury.
Jamie Cureton may have to be content with a place on the bench as he returns to his old club.
This is a tricky relegation dogfight as Reggina have just escaped from the danger zone and Bologna don’t want to get sucked back into it.
The Rossoblu were unlucky to suffer a home defeat to Juventus last week and have Fabio Petruzzi and Nastase back from suspension, but Leonardo Colucci is ruled out by a ban. Tomas Locatelli could push his way into the first team in place of Claudio Bellucci as Giacomo Cipriani again spearheads the attack in the absence of Igli Tare.
Reggina made a massive step towards safety with their 3-2 victory over Cagliari and climbed up to 13th place. However, their away form has been the real drawback so far with just one win, three draws and as many defeats. Shunsuke Nakamura is suspended, so the creative thrust of the side falls to Mozart and Marco Borriello could be drafted in for a two-pronged attack.
Bologna (probable): Pagliuca; Juarez, Gamberini, Sussi, Zagorakis; Bellucci, Amoroso, Smit, Meghni; Locatelli; Cipriani
Reggina (probable): Soviero; Cannarsa, De Rosa, Zamboni; Mesto, Paredes, Mozart, Balestri, Colucci; Borriello, Bonazzoli
Fiorentina - Chievo
The Viola will need a convincing performance to recover from their incredible 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Milan, while Chievo aim to push their way into the UEFA Cup places.
Fiorentina have rarely been so humiliated as at the San Siro on Sunday afternoon, as the reigning Italian Champions carved them up mercilessly. Sergio Buso’s men are more comfortable on home turf and will be eager to prove to their fans that it was a mere blip on the scanner. Goalkeeper Cristiano Lupatelli is out with injury, as are Luca Ariatti and Martin Jorgensen.
Chievo are brimming with confidence following their 2-1 victory over Palermo, ending a run of two consecutive defeats. Federico Cossato hadn’t scored since September, but his brace should get him back on track. Franceschini is suspended for this trip to Florence, so Franco Semioli should step in with Luciano taking the other flank.
Fiorentina (probable): Roccati; Delli Carri, Viali, Dainelli; Piangerelli, Ujfalusi, Maresca, Obodo, Chiellini; Miccoli, Rigano
Chievo (probable): Marchegiani; Moro, Mandelli, D’Anna, Lanna; Luciano, Brighi, Baronio, Semioli; Amauri, Cossato
Inter - Brescia
It’s back to the drawing board for Roberto Mancini after their desperately disappointing 2-2 result at ten-man Siena, but Brescia are also a team eager to make up lost ground.
The Inter boss claimed their 5-0 demolition of Messina had started a new era for the club, but the defensive frailties reared their ugly heads once more when it took a last-gasp Christian Vieri header to rescue a point at relegation fodder Siena. Alvaro Recoba was dropped from that game due to a row with Mancini and could well be sidelined again in favour of Vieri and Adriano. Giuseppe Favalli is suspended and Sinisa Mihajlovic recovered from a tendon problem, so the defence should undergo big changes.
If Inter salvaged a result in the final stages, then Brescia literally handed it to Roma. Mareco’s utterly pointless handling offence allowed the Giallorossi to convert a penalty with the last kick of the game and emerge with a 1-0 victory. The Rondinelle had been doing well recently with a 3-1 win away to Reggina, so they will want to get back on track as quickly as possible. They will also remember what happened last season, when Brescia left the San Siro with an historic 3-1 win.
Inter (probable): Toldo; Ze Maria, Cordoba, Mihajlovic, J Zanetti; Stankovic, C Zanetti, Cambiasso, Emre; Vieri, Adriano
Brescia (probable): Castellazzi; Martinez, Di Biagio, Mareco, Stankevicius; Schopp, Milanetto, Guana, Dallamano; Sculli, Caracciolo
Juventus - Milan
Games don’t get much bigger than this as the two remaining Scudetto contenders clash in the final fixture of 2004. The result could either blow the title race wide open or give Juventus a seven-point lead to enjoy over their Christmas dinner.
The Bianconeri have been leading the way throughout the campaign thanks to Fabio Capello’s intelligent tactics and hard-working squad, but in the last month some cracks have started to appear. Unconvincing victories over Lecce, Lazio and Bologna were peppered with defeat at Reggina and the extraordinary 2-2 draw at Inter. It took a last-gasp and extremely controversial Pavel Nedved free kick to keep the lead at four points last week and confidence is not running high. Alessandro Del Piero is still looking for his best form, while the partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic hasn’t quite gelled yet.
On the other hand, Milan could not have asked for a better lead-in to this showdown. Fiorentina were literally torn apart in a 6-0 victory that showed just how effective Andriy Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo and Kaka can be in a trident attack. It is also the Ukrainian’s first game since he was crowned European Player of the Year and he’ll be facing the 2003 title holder Nedved at the Stadio Delle Alpi. The Rossoneri are coming off four consecutive wins in which they scored 11 goals and conceded just two.
Last season, Milan’s record against the other big clubs proved decisive in their ascent to the Scudetto and Juve often struggled in these fixtures. This tie ended 3-1 for the visitors with Shevchenko and a Clarence Seedorf brace making Ciro Ferrara’s late goal mere consolation. It was their first win in Turin since 1999 and ended a run of four consecutive defeats in this Stadium, but on current form anything could happen.
Juventus (probable): Buffon; Zebina, Thuram, Cannavaro, Zambrotta; Camoranesi, Emerson, Blasi, Nedved; Ibrahimovic, Del Piero
Milan (probable): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Maldini, Pancaro; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Kaka; Crespo, Shevchenko
Lecce - Sampdoria
Zdenek Zeman’s dream machine keeps on rolling and this is now a head to head battle for UEFA Cup places.
Lecce showed the best and worst sides of their character at the Stadio Olimpico last week, going 2-0 up at half-time only to share the points 3-3 with Lazio. Brazilian Babu’ scored a brace in that tie, but could be sent back to the bench in favour of the more powerful Sasa Bjelanovic. Guillermo Giacomazzi is suspended, so his midfield role will be taken by promising Finnish youngster Eremenko.
Walter Novellino’s Sampdoria finally broke through its drought with a 1-0 win over Messina, but they’ll need a stronger performance than that to conquer the Stadio Via del Mare. Sergio Volpi is suspended and Stefano Sacchetti injured, so Fausto Rossini could be given an unusual midfield role.
Lecce (probable): Sicignano; Cassetti, Diamoutene, Stovini, Rullo; Eremenko, Ledesma, Dalla Bona; Bojinov, Bjelanovic, Pinardi
Sampdoria (probable): Antonioli; Zenoni, Castellini, Falcone, Pisano; Doni, Rossini, Palombo, Tonetto; Flachi, Bazzani
Messina - Atalanta
Messina play host to Atalanta in Week 16 in a game that both sides will be desperate to collect the three points from. The Sicilian outfit are in something of a slump, while the Nerazzurri remain bottom of the table and are remarkably still looking for their first win of the season.
Messina have lost their last two games having been defeated 1-0 by Sampdoria and 5-0 by Inter. They’ve collected just two points out of a possible 12 and have slipped down the table after initially sitting in a Champions’ League spot. They are now just six points off the relegation zone.
Their injury list remains lengthy too as Mamede, Conte, Fusco, Giampà, Parisi and Zampagna have all spent time on the treatment table recently. Arturo Di Napoli, who is back after knee surgery, could start alongside Nicola Amoruso in attack.
Atalanta’s problems remain despite the sacking of Andrea Mandorlini. Delio Rossi’s arrival last week didn’t have the necessary effect as the Nerazzurri were beaten 1-0 by high flying Udinese. Marcolini is suspended but Demetrio Albertini may be fit enough to start on the bench.
Messina (probable): Eleftheropoulos; Zoro, Zanchi, Rezaei, Aronica; Rafael, Coppola, Donati, Iliev; Amoruso, Di Napoli
Atalanta (probable): Taibi; Rivalta, Sala, Natali, Bellini; Gautieri, Zenoni, Bernardini; Lazzari, Montolivo, Budan
Palermo - Cagliari
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia clash in Week 16 as Palermo and Cagliari do battle at the Renzo Barbera. The two sides are only separated by one point in the Division and given Cagliari’s dodgy away form, Palermo could realistically overtake them in the standings.
Francesco Guidolin’s men come into this game following a 2-1 defeat at Chievo. Prior to that, the Rosaneri had won their previous three matches which catapulted them on the verge of a Champions’ League spot. Conteh, Accardi, Terlizzi and Ferri are all doubts for Guidolin.
Cagliari also lost last weekend, when they were defeated 3-2 by little Reggina. Mauro Esposito again impressed but he wasn’t enough to save his side at least a point. Under-21 international striker Bianchi is injured, but boss Arrigoni was always likely to keep faith with the attacking trio of Esposito, Zola and Langella anyway. Bega is suspended.
Palermo (probable): Guardalben; Zaccardo, Biava, Barzagli; Mutarelli, Barone, Corini, Grosso; Brienza, Zauli; Toni
Cagliari (probable): Katergiannakis; Lopez, Loria, Maltagliati, Agostini; Abeijon, Brambilla, Gobbi; Esposito, Zola, Langella
Roma - Parma
Roma will fancy their chances of netting their third win in four games as they entertain crisis hit Parma. The Giallorossi, who themselves have had a difficult campaign to date, will be eager for victory as they look to play themselves into contention for a top-four finish. Despite having their worst start to the season for 26 years, Roma are remarkably just two points adrift of fourth placed Cagliari and just one behind unbeaten Inter.
The capital giants go into this game with a win after a late Mancini penalty secured a 1-0 victory at Brescia last week. Antonio Cassano returned to the side after injury and did shine which bodes well. The home team will be further boosted by the return from suspension of Francesco Totti. He’ll be looking for a goal to make him the all-time Serie A top scorer in the club’s history. Boss Gigi Del Neri is likely to stick with his 3-4-3 formation, even if he’ll probably still be without the likes of Tommasi, Chivu, Perotta, Pelizzoli, Dacourt, Candela and Dellas.
Parma are now second from bottom after collecting just 12 points from 15 games. The 2-0 loss to Livorno last weekend saw boss Silvio Baldini axed. It’s unclear what sort of team, with regards to personnel and formation, will now turn up at the Stadio Olimpico following the appointment of Gedeone Carmignani. Marchionni, Zicu, Grella and Savi are all injury doubts.
Roma (probable): Zotti; Panucci, Mexes, Ferrari; Mancini, De Rossi, Aquilani, Cufrè; Montella, Totti, Cassano
Parma (probable): Frey; Ferronetti, Bonera, Bovo, Contini; Rosina, Simplicio, Bolano, Bresciano; Morfeo; Gilardino
Siena - Livorno
Siena boss Gigi Simoni will be desperate for a win against Livorno or he could receive an unwanted Christmas present – the sack. The Tuscan outfit are in severe relegation trouble after collecting just 12 points from 15 games.
They did draw with Inter last week but they perhaps should have grabbed all three points. Although the Bianconeri were reduced to 10 men and Inter missed a penalty, Siena conceded an injury time Christian Vieri goal which denied them a precious victory. Manninger, Mignani, Ardito, Graffiedi and Camorani are all struggling with injuries, while Argilli and Portanova are suspended.
Livorno relieved a little of the pressure on their boss Franco Colomba last Sunday. They beat Parma 2-0 thanks to a brace from the inspirational Cristiano Lucarelli. The former Torino striker is on fire at the minute, which is good news seeing as Igor Protti is still on the sidelines.
Siena (probable): Fortin; Nicola, Cirillo, Colonnese, Falsini; Pecchia, Di Donato, Vergassola, Taddei; Flo, Chiesa
Livorno (probable): Amelia; Galante, Vargas, A. Lucarelli; Balleri, Vigiani, Passoni, Vidigal, Giallombardo; Danilevicius, C. Lucarelli
Udinese - Lazio
Lazio boss Mimmo Caso is under great pressure to keep his job, so a trip to in-form Udinese is not a welcome tie. The Bianconeri are flying high in third-place right now, while the capital outfit are sliding down the table following a very promising start to the campaign.
Luciano Spalletti’s side won again last week when they sneaked a 1-0 at Atalanta. Vincenzo Iaquinta scored a good goal but the team performed well as a unit, which isn’t surprising when you consider that they have won seven and drawn two out of their last nine matches.
Lazio had to thank Paolo Di Canio for rescuing them a point in the 3-3 with Lecce. The veteran scored a brace but that still may not be enough to see him win a starting shirt at the Stadio Friuli. Zauri, Negro, Muzzi and Siviglia remain doubts because of fitness.
Udinese (probable): De Sanctis; Bertotto, Sensini, Felipe; Alberto, Pizarro, Muntari; Jankulovski, Di Michele, Iaquinta, Di Natale
Lazio (probable): Peruzzi; Oddo, Talamonti, Lequi, Lopez; Giannichedda, Dabo; A. Filippini, Pandev, Rocchi; Inzaghi
MADRID, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Last season's champions Valencia admit they face a daunting task as they seek to end the perfect home record of runaway leaders Barcelona when the two sides meet at the Nou Camp on Saturday (kickoff 2100 GMT).
Barca enjoy a comfortable nine-point lead over fellow Catalans Espanyol in the standings and have swept all before them at their own stadium, scoring 19 goals and conceding just two in their seven home games so far this season.
Both sides go into the game on a four-match winning run, but Valencia striker Marco Di Vaio believes his side will have to be at their best if they are to inflict a first home defeat on the Catalans.
"Barca are the best team in Europe at the moment," he said on Thursday. "We will be up against a team of immense quality and one that is incredibly confident given the brilliant start they have made to the season.
"If we try to take them on head-to-head it would be suicidal, so we need to pressure them very hard and stop them playing their usual game."
Although they have not played the same sort of fluent, passing football that characterised their performances last season, Claudio Ranieri's side are beginning to show signs of improvement.
They are third in the league, a point behind Espanyol, and are starting to welcome back the string of key players who have been out injured for much of the season.
Winger Vicente has returned after two months out with an ankle problem and defensive linchpin Roberto Ayala is set to make his first appearance of the season after undergoing a knee operation.
Barca, however, remain blighted by injury problems with Mexican midfielder Rafael Marquez set to join Brazilian fullback Juliano Belletti and French winger Ludovic Giuly as the latest additions to the lengthy casualty list.
Other matches being played this weekend (league positions in brackets, kickoff times 1600 GMT unless stated):
LEVANTE (10) v ALBACETE (18) 1700
The bubble appears to have burst for Levante who have now gone five games without a win. Albacete may occupy a lower place in the standings but they were unlucky to lose to Barcelona last week and could cause problems. - - - -
RACING SANTANDER (15) v REAL MADRID (4) 1900
A must-win game for Real who need a major improvement in their away form if they are to re-ignite their chances of challenging Barca for the title.
Mariano Garcia Remon's side have won just two of their seven matches on the road this season, but will be encouraged by the fact that Racing have now gone five games without notching a victory and have a poor record at El Sardinero this term. - - - -
ATLETICO MADRID (7) v DEPORTIVO CORUNA (8) 2000
Atletico will face a severe threat to their unbeaten home record when they host Deportivo at the Calderon. Although they have made a disappointing start to the season the Galicians have scored plenty of points on their travels and should have a full-strength squad to choose from. - - - -
NUMANCIA (20) v ESPANYOL (2)
Espanyol continued their excellent start to the season with an authoritative 2-1 win over Mallorca last week and will be favourites to win against basement side Numancia.
The Sorians have, however, garnered all their points at home this term and will provide stiff resistance in defence. - - - -
REAL MALLORCA (19) v OSASUNA (9)
Mallorca have won just one game at home this season but will need to start totting up the points if they are to avoid losing ground against the other teams fighting for survival in the top flight. A combative Osasuna promise to make tough opponents for the islanders. - - - -
REAL SOCIEDAD (14) v GETAFE (17)
Sociedad appear to have recovered their form after a nervous start to the season.
They fought back to draw 1-1 against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu when the match was abandoned because of a bomb scare last weekend and should have the edge against Getafe who are on a four-match winless streak and have not won away from home this season.
- - - -
REAL ZARAGOZA (11) v ATHLETIC BILBAO (13)
Bilbao may not have won away in the league this season but their 7-1 destruction of Standard Liege in the UEFA Cup will have given them a massive boost against Zaragoza, who also qualified for the last 32 of the competition after a 1-1 draw away to Bruges. - - - -
SEVILLA (5) v REAL BETIS (6) 1800
An explosive derby in prospect between the two Seville teams which will feature a keenly awaited duel between Brazilian strikers Ricardo Oliveira and Julio Baptista.
Former Valencia player Oliveira has grabbed nine goals for Betis, who have lost just one of their last 12 games, while Baptista has scored seven for Sevilla.
As well as bragging rights over their neighbours, a victory for either side will give them a valuable boost in their bid for a European place. - - - -
VILLARREAL (12) v MALAGA (16)
Villarreal followed up their first win in five league games with a crushing 4-0 victory over Egaleo in the UEFA Cup and with playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme in fine form they should be able to cope with an out-of-sorts Malaga who have won just one of their last nine. - - - -
(BBC, Channel 4, Reuters, Sky-Sport, Sporting Life)