Preview: Cadiz vs. Sevilla

Jose Luis Mendilibar will officially begin life as Sevilla head coach on Saturday evening, with Los Nervionenses facing a trip to fellow La Liga strugglers Cadiz.

The visitors are currently 14th in the table, level on points with 15th-placed Cadiz, with both teams only two points clear of the relegation zone heading into the next set of fixtures in Spain’s top flight.

Match preview

Cadiz players line up before the match on February 19, 2023

Cadiz are in their third straight campaign at this level of football, which is their best run in Spain’s top flight since the early 1990s, so it is a successful period in the club’s history.

The Yellow Submarine only just survived relegation last season, finishing 17th, one point ahead of the bottom three, and they are involved in another scrap at this stage of the 2022-23 campaign.

A total of 28 points from 26 matches has left Cadiz in 15th position in the table, just two points clear of 18th-placed Valencia, who are level on points with Almeria in 19th.

It is very difficult to imagine Elche escaping the bottom three this season, having only picked up 13 points from 26 matches, but the fact that the team in 19th is just three points behind 13th-placed Getafe is an indication of how quickly things could change.

Sergio Gonzalez’s side, who have the third-worst home record in the division this term, have actually drawn each of their last three in the league against Real Sociedad, Getafe and Almeria, while they are unbeaten in Spain’s top flight since losing 2-0 at Barcelona on February 19.

Sevilla's Erik Lamela celebrates scoring their second goal with Ivan Rakitic on March 9, 2023

Sevilla, meanwhile, suffered a 2-0 defeat to Getafe before the international break, with the result marking the end of Jorge Sampaoli’s second spell as head coach of the club.

Sampaoli was only appointed last October, and Sevilla are in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, but their disappointing La Liga campaign led to a change being made.

Mendilibar has managed the likes of Eibar, Athletic Bilbao, Real Valladolid, Osasuna, Levante and Alaves during a long career, so it would be fair to say that he is experienced when it comes to Spain’s top flight.

The 62-year-old has been tasked with moving Sevilla away from the relegation zone, with a poor season leaving the team in 14th spot in the table, just two points ahead of the bottom three.

Los Nervionenses have finished fourth in each of their last three top-flight campaigns but will have to win the Europa League in order to secure a Champions League spot for next term.

Sevilla have actually won four of their last five La Liga games against Cadiz, including a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture between the two sides at Estadio Ramon back in January.

Team News

Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri pictured on September 14, 2021

Cadiz will be without the services of a number of first-team players this weekend through a mixture of injury and suspension, but Fali is available again after a ban.

Jeremias Ledesma and Iza Carcelen remain unavailable due to suspensions, while Ruben Alcaraz, Brian Ocampo, Juan Cala, Jon Ander Garrido and Joseba Zaldua are on the sidelines due to fitness issues.

Roger and Sergi Guardiola are again expected to play as the front two for Cadiz, with Alvaro Negredo and Anthony Lozano set to start on the bench.

As for Sevilla, Fernando is available again following a suspension, but Erik Lamela, Karim Rekik, Alejandro Gomez and Marcao will miss the match through injury.

New head coach Mendilibar will make changes from the side that started against Getafe before the international break, with Ivan Rakitic, Gonzalo Montiel, Suso and Youssef En-Nesyri all expected to come into the XI.

Tanguy Nianzou could also regain his spot in the middle of the defence, with the youngster potentially coming into a back four this weekend.

Cadiz possible starting lineup:
Gil; Parra, Hernandez, Fali, Espino; Bongonda, Fede, Escalante, Sobrino; Guardiola, Roger

Sevilla possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Montiel, Bade, Nianzou, Acuna; Rakitic, Jordan, Gueye; Suso, En-Nesyri, Ocampos

Preview: Burnley vs. Sunderland

Burnley play host to Sunderland on Friday evening looking for the victory which will take the club to within six points of a return to the Premier League.

While the Clarets sit 13 points clear at the top of the Championship standings, Sunderland are down in 11th position, seven points adrift of the playoffs.

Match preview

Burnley manager Vincent Kompany celebrates after the match on March 11, 2023

Although defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals was probably expected, Burnley were brought back down to earth with a bump as they succumbed 6-0 to Vincent Kompany’s former side.

Pep Guardiola paid the runaway Championship leaders a compliment by naming a stronger team than expected, and the difference in quality and class was clear as City netted each of their goals during a 41-minute period either side of half time.

Despite that disappointment, Burnley can now focus on securing an immediate return to the top flight as soon as possible with just nine points being required from as many matches.

That feels like a formality at this stage, but Kompany will demand that there is no complacency with anything but securing the league title now deemed to be a huge letdown.

Nevertheless, Burnley are on a 17-match unbeaten streak in the league, and extending their unbeaten record at Turf Moor will strengthen their advantage over Sheffield United to more than 13 points.

Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray on February 21, 2023

From Sunderland’s perspective, their promotion challenge has started to peter out, the Black Cats having lost their way since they conceded a last-gasp equaliser at home to Bristol City on February 18.

Just five points have been collected from seven matches, and their bid to change their fortunes was not necessarily helped with a run against three fellow promotion contenders.

On some level, however, Tony Mowbray will be content with a recent four-point haul from meetings with Norwich City, Sheffield United and Luton Town.

The leveller versus the Hatters before the international break came four minutes from time, and the North-East outfit need to use that small bit of momentum to produce what will need to be their best performance of the season.

When the two teams met in the reverse fixture in October, Sunderland held a two-goal advantage at half time before remarkably losing by a 4-2 scoreline.

Team News

Dan Ballard in action for Northern Ireland in June 2022

While Kompany will first assess any Burnley players who have been away with their respective nations, he will want to name as strong a team as possible.

Reverting to a back four appears most likely, with Jack Cork, Josh Cullen and Johann Berg Gudmundsson taking the three central positions if no risks are taken on Josh Brownhill.

Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jay Rodriguez could be in line to return to the squad, although Kompany may keep them on the substitutes’ bench at this stage of their comebacks from injury.

Amad Diallo is expected to remain among the Sunderland replacements having played 74 minutes for Ivory Coast on Tuesday.

Dan Ballard sustained an hamstring issue while representing Northern Ireland and will likely miss out, and the severity of Sunderland’s injury list may lead to a full-back deputising in the centre or a switch to a back three.

Burnley possible starting lineup:
Muric; Roberts, Dakhil, Beyer, Maatsen; Cullen, Cork; Tella, Gudmundsson, Zaroury; Barnes

Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Patterson; Gooch, Hume, Batth, O’Nien; Michut, Neil; Roberts, Ba, Clarke; Gelhardt

Cheltenham Town vs. Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield Wednesday make the trip to Cheltenham Town on Wednesday evening looking to kick-start their League One promotion bid.

At a time when the Owls can return to top spot in the standings, despite losing successive matches, Cheltenham are down in 17th place on the back of some of their best form of the season.

Match preview

Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore before the match on February 7, 2023

Having not lost since the beginning of October, Sheffield Wednesday appeared on course to cruise to promotion with numerous matches to spare.

However, a draw with Bolton Wanderers and successive defeats at Barnsley and Forest Green Rovers have changed the equation, arguably leaving Darren Moore’s side with their biggest game of the campaign on Wednesday.

Although dropping points to fellow promotion chasers did not feel like a disaster, succumbing 1-0 to Forest Green – opponents who had not won since December – did, and Moore must find a way to lift his players as they bid to protect their top-two spot.

Holding a chance to move one point ahead of leaders Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield Wednesday remain in a favourable position, yet their poor form and the relentlessness of Barnsley have made this a four-horse title and promotion race.

Despite two away defeats in a row, the Yorkshire giants remain with the best record on their travels in the division, something which should not be forgotten ahead of squaring off versus one of the form teams in the division.

Not so long go, Cheltenham appeared like they may suffer relegation to League Two, a consequence of just five wins coming between October 25 and the end of February.

Instead, Wade Elliott looks like he will deliver the club’s primary objective for the season having moved his team eight points clear of the bottom four.

Ten points have been collected from fixtures versus Fleetwood Town, Lincoln City, Peterborough United and Exeter City, and Cheltenham have also played fewer games than many of the teams below them having had the weekend off.

Conceding in the 69th minute of the latter of those fixtures ended a run of 362 minutes without shipping a goal, and Cheltenham will back themselves to do the same versus opponents who did not score versus their bottom-placed Gloucestershire neighbours last time out.

Team News

With a week-and-a-half to prepare for this contest, Elliott may look to start with the same Cheltenham XI from the triumph over Exeter.

Although central midfielder Taylor Perry was introduced as a half-time substitute in that game, Ryan Jackson is likely to retain his spot at right wing-back.

Luton Town loanee Glen Rea is an option in the middle of the pitch if Elliott wishes to add more experience in that area.

Moore will almost certainly shake up his Sheffield Wednesday starting lineup with Will Vaulks among the players in line for recalls.

Jaden Brown could be given a run out at left wing-back, while Jack Hunt may replace Dominic Iorfa, being used in a back three or at wing-back.

Cheltenham Town possible starting lineup:
Southwood; Long, Taylor, Bradbury; Jackson, Sercombe, Bonds, Ferry; Broom; Keena, May

Sheffield Wednesday possible starting lineup:
Dawson; Palmer, Flint, James; Hunt, Vaulks, Bakinson, Bannan, Brown; Smith, Gregory

Preview: Turkey vs. Croatia

Having been denied in stoppage time at the weekend, Croatia seek a first Euro 2024 qualifying win against Turkey on Tuesday, when the Group D rivals meet in Bursa.

While last year’s World Cup semi-finalists were held to a draw by Wales, their hosts have three points on the board already, following victory in Armenia.

Match preview

Turkey's Cengiz Under celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on March 29, 2022

In their first fixture since the devastating earthquake which struck the country last month, Turkey were pitched against regional rivals Armenia on Saturday, in a highly-charged meeting between nations with a long history of enmity.

Though Ozan Kabak’s early own goal put the Crescent-Stars behind in Yerevan, they levelled affairs through Orkun Kokcu before the break and Galatasaray winger Kerem Akturkoglu then found a 64th-minute winner after coming off the bench.

Head coach Stefan Kuntz, a former Besiktas striker and European Championship winner with Germany, therefore posted his 10th win from 15 games in charge and helped put his team ahead of fellow contenders Croatia and Wales in the race for a top-two finish in Group D.

With Latvia and Armenia perhaps set to merely make up the numbers, it seems to be a three-way race for automatic qualification, and Turkey will have to hold off the claims of two nations that have been accustomed to reaching major tournaments of late.

Under Kuntz, though, they appear to be on the right track, as they sealed Nations League promotion back to League B last year and were only beaten by Portugal in the playoffs for Qatar 2022, having lost just once in the group phase.

Indeed, only one defeat in Turkey’s last nine matches since suffering that World Cup heartache means an appearance in Germany – where a huge Turkish community resides – could be on the cards for next summer. However, they will now be faced by one of their sternest tests on the road there, in the shape of Croatia.

Croatia celebrate scoring against Wales in their Euro 2024 qualifier on March 25, 2023.

When these two nations last met on Turkish soil, a friendly fixture three years ago finished 3-3 in Istanbul, and Croatia have lost only twice to Tuesday’s hosts in 10 previous encounters.

The Croats’ current crop will hope to continue that largely positive trend in midweek, as they let two points slip on the opening night of their Group D campaign; also allowing a direct rival for the top two to take a point away from Split on Saturday.

Andrej Kramaric’s sharp turn and finish gave the hosts a merited half-time lead at Stadion Poljud, and they went on to dominate possession before Ivan Perisic struck the crossbar with a looping shot after the interval.

However, the Vatreni squandered a seemingly certain victory point by shipping an injury-time equaliser to Wales’ only shot on target, which came in the 93rd minute.

Croatia had won 34 and drawn one of their previous European qualifiers on home turf, so even failing to beat Rob Page’s plucky Welsh side comes as something of a blow to morale ahead of a tricky trip to Turkey.

While they will still expect to safely negotiate their way to another Euros by the end of the qualification process, Zlatko Dalic’s men cannot afford to fall further behind in the early running.

Having lost just one of their last 14 matches all told – to eventual champions Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – their stature as one of Europe’s football heavyweights remains intact, despite an ageing squad. Indeed, the vast experience of Perisic and ageless captain Luka Modric could prove invaluable in Bursa.

Team News

Turkey manager Stefan Kuntz pictured in October 2021

After fielding an attacking formation in Armenia, with in-form Getafe forward Enes Unal as his starting striker, Stefan Kuntz could make a couple of changes to counter the very different challenge of Tuesday’s visitors.

Unal had netted six goals in his last four La Liga games before the international period kicked off so is expected to retain his place, but Kerem Akturkoglu scored as a substitute last time out and may force his way into the XI on the left flank.

If the Crescent-Stars revert to a back four, then Roma’s Zeki Celik would most likely come in at right-back, with Caglar Soyuncu or Ozan Kabak perhaps dropping to the bench.

Croatia, meanwhile, continue the post-Dejan Lovren era in their defensive setup, and Josip Sutalo should again join in-demand Josko Gvardiol at the heart of the visitors’ back line.

The familiar midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic will be relied upon once again, though Nikola Vlasic and Mario Pasalic are both pushing for inclusion further forward.

Both made cameos on Saturday, but would start only if Marko Livaja is dropped and opening-day goalscorer Andrej Kramaric assumes the centre-forward role instead.

Turkey possible starting lineup:
Gunok; Celik, Soyuncu, Demiral, Elmali; Calhanoglu, Ozcan, Kokcu; Under, Unal, Akturktoglu

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Sutalo, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic

Preview: Austria vs. Estonia

Austria will be aiming to make a perfect start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign by beating Estonia on Monday.

Ralf Rangnick’s side ran out comfortable 4-1 winners against Azerbaijan on Friday, while Estonia did not play a competitive match.

Match preview

Austria's Marko Arnautovic celebrates with Maximilian Wober after scoring their first goal on June 3, 2022

Indeed, the fixture list has been rather kind to Rangnick and Austria, with Das Team starting with two home matches against the weakest two nations in Group F.

Forwards Michael Gregoritsch and Christoph Baumgartner both got themselves on the scoresheet at Raiffeisen Arena against Azerbaijan, with Marcel Sabitzer’s brace ensuring that Emin Mahmudov’s strike for the visitors was little more than a consolation one.

Having lost five of six matches to succumb to relegation from League A of the Nations League last year, Rangnick will be feeling much more positive about Austria’s future having put together three successive victories in more recent times.

With Sweden losing to Belgium on Friday, his side have an excellent opportunity to ensure that they retain at least a three-point lead over arguably their greatest rivals for the second automatic qualification spot in the group by winning against Estonia as expected.

Estonia's Henri Anier celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on September 26, 2022

Estonia, on the other hand, did not have a scheduled competitive match during the week, with Thomas Haberli’s side losing 1-0 to Hungary in a friendly on Thursday.

The hosts dominated the encounter at Puskas Arena Park, although Estonia certainly had moments themselves, generating 11 shots – three of which were on target – across the course of the 90 minutes. Martin Adam’s goal four minutes before half time ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Having collected only one point from eight matches in their attempts to qualify for Euro 2020, Haberli will be expecting to perform much better than his predecessor, even if they have been handed an extremely tough task to avoid finishing bottom having been drawn alongside Belgium, Sweden, Austria and Azerbaijan in Group F.

However, Sinisargid have punched above their weight before, most notably when winning five matches during qualifying for both World Cup 2006 and Euro 2012, the latter of which they only missed out on reaching due to losing a playoff tie to Republic of Ireland.

Whether they currently have the ability at their disposal to pull off a similar achievement is a different matter, with them surely requiring a positive start in Linz on Monday if they are to have any chance of doing so.

Team News

Austria's Marko Arnautovic pictured on September 25, 2022

Marko Arnautovic has withdrawn from Austria’s squad after declaring an injury prior to their victory over Azerbaijan, meaning Baumgartner and Gregoritsch are set to lead the line once more having both bagged during the 4-1 win.

Rangnick may bring Stefan Posch into his backline at the expense of Gernot Trauner, but otherwise the former Manchester United boss is unlikely to want to tinker too much with a winning formula.

Estonia, meanwhile, may go with the same team which competed to a decent level against Hungary in their recent friendly defeat, with Haberli likely to be hopeful that an extra day’s rest could provide his team with a much needed advantage.

Captain Konstantin Vassiljev, who will turn 39-years-old in August, will be hoping to earn his 150th cap from the start.

Austria possible starting lineup:
Lindner; Mwene, Posch, Danso, Wober; Laimer, Seiwald, Sabitzer, Wimmer; Baumgartner, Gregoritsch

Estonia possible starting lineup:
Hein; Baranov, Paskotsi, Kussk; Sinyavskiy, Vassiljev, Kait, Shein, Pikk; Ojamaa, Sappinen

Preview: Bulgaria vs. Montenegro

Bulgaria will be looking to continue their impressive start under new manager Mladen Krstajic when they host Montenegro in the first round of Euro 2024 qualifying on Friday.

Joining Hungary, Lithuania and Serbia in Group G, Bulgaria and Montenegro will both fancy their chances of reaching the competition proper in Germany next year, but a strong start is vital.

Match preview

Serbia manager Mladen Krstajic on March 23, 2018

Following the resignation of Yasen Petrov, Bulgaria appointed Mladen Krstajic as manager in July 2022, and the new boss wasted no time in turning things around.

The Lions kick-started the Krstajic era with a 5-1 thrashing of Gibraltar before claiming clean-sheet victories over North Macedonia and Bulgaria, with a goalless draw against Luxembourg in November capping off a four-game unbeaten streak.

Having recorded three wins and one draw since Krstajic’s arrival – scoring eight goals while conceding just once – the Bulgarians will be confident of enjoying a successful qualifying campaign in the coming months.

Bulgaria have only featured at two European Championships over the years, exiting at the group stage in 1996 and 2004, so Krstajic’s men could be the team to end the nation’s two-decade wait for major tournament football.

Montenegro's Milutin Osmajic celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on March 28, 2022

As for the Brave Falcons, they have failed to qualify for each of the four European Championships since Serbia and Montenegro’s disbandment back in 2006.

In fact, Montenegro endured a winless qualifying campaign for Euro 2020, recording three draws and five losses to finish rock bottom of their group, with three goals scored and 22 conceded.

Miodrag Radulovic replaced Faruk Hadzibegic as manager following that campaign, but the current boss has failed to transform the team’s fortunes, overseeing six wins, six draws and 10 losses since taking the reins in December 2020.

Not only have Montenegro failed to win any of their last four games – suffering three defeats without scoring – but they have also managed to win just one of their previous seven, so Radulovic’s men will likely struggle to hit the ground running in Razgrad.

Team News

Montenegro's Sead Haksabanovic in action with Romania's Iulian Cristea on June 4, 2022

Fourteen of the 24 players in Mladen Krstajic’s squad play their club football in Bulgaria, with captain Kiril Despodov and fellow forward Spas Delev among the notable inclusions.

Having already made four appearances for the Lions, 18-year-old Inter Milan midfielder Nikola Iliev could join Werder Bremen’s Ilia Gruev in the host’s midfield.

Ivan Dyulgerov, Ivaylo Markov, Hristiyan Petrov and Stanislav Shopov are all in line to make their international debuts on Friday, although the newcomers are expected to start on the bench.

With 31 international goals under his belt, Montenegro captain Stevan Jovetic will lead the line for the visitors, while Atletico Madrid centre-back Stefan Savic will marshal the defence.

Lazio’s Adam Marusic is likely to join Savic in the backline, with Celtic’s Sead Haksabanovic expected to operate in a more advanced role.

Vladan Bubanja is the only member of Montenegro’s squad without a senior international cap, so the 24-year-old midfielder will be eager to prove himself to Miodrag Radulovic.

Bulgaria possible starting lineup:
Vutsov; Galabov, Antov, Hristov, Nedyalkov; Kirilov, Krastev, Gruev, Iliev; Despodov, Delev

Montenegro possible starting lineup:
Mijatovic; Vesovic, Vujacic, Savic, Murasic; Jovovic, Scekic, Vukcevic, Haksabanovic; Jovetic, Mugosa

Preview: Kazakhstan vs. Slovenia

Kazakhstan commence their Euro 2024 qualification campaign when they host Slovenia at the Astana Arena on Thursday evening.

It is the first-ever competitive match between the two nations, with the rest of Group H made up by Denmark, Northern Ireland, San Marino and Finland.

Match preview

Kazakhstan have never managed to qualify for a major international tournament, finishing fifth in their group the last time they attempted to qualify for the Euros, after being unable to match the likes of Belgium and Russia.

It was the same story in the Hawks’ qualifiers for the recent World Cup, picking up just three points in a tough group, containing eventual finalists France, as well as Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

However, there are signs that Magomed Adiyev’s side are developing as a footballing nation, finishing top of their UEFA Nations League C group to secure promotion to League B in 2022, picking up a particularly impressive 1-0 victory away at Slovakia in the process.

After impressing against competition from the European confederation, the Hawks have been less successful in their recent matches against opponents from Asia, losing 2-0 against Uzbekistan before being defeated 2-1 by the United Arab Emirates.

It was a spirited display away in Abu Dhabi, with striker Abat Aymbetov getting on the scoresheet for the sixth time in a Kazakhstan shirt, but they were only able to muster up two shots on target all game, and an improved performance will be needed on Thursday.

Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kek pictured on June 5, 2022

Slovenia have managed to qualify for three major international tournaments over the years, playing at the European Championships in 2000, as well as two World Cups, in 2002 and 2010.

However, Kekci have found it more of a struggle to put a good run together during recent qualifiers, finishing fourth in their group in their most recent World Cup and European Championship campaigns.

In the Nations League, there were some promising signs for Matjaz Kek’s side, managing to retain their place in League B by picking up six points in as many games against tough opponents in Sweden, Slovenia and Norway.

Since then, Slovenia have gone from strength to strength, winning their two most recent friendly matches, first defeating Romania 2-1 away in Cluj before following it up with a 1-0 victory at home to Montenegro, courtesy of Miha Zajc’s first-half goal.

Team News

Slovenia's Benjamin Sesko acknowledges fans after the match on September 24, 2022

Kazakhstan’s main threat in attack is undoubtedly Aymbetov, with the striker picking up three goals and one assist in his last six competitive meetings for his national side, scoring nine goals in 19 games for FC Astana last season.

Astana teammate Elkhan Astanov is the likely choice at left wing, while Islambek Kuat and Askhat Tagybergen should feature in the middle, with Bakhtiyor Zaynutdinov on the right.

Tasked with keeping the Hawks’ first clean sheet in their last seven games should be Sergey Miliy, Nuraly Alip and Aleksandr Marochki at the heart of defence.

Slovenia have good reason to be hopeful heading into this qualification campaign, given the emergence of some fantastic young players, namely Benjamin Sesko, with the 19-year-old scoring 10 goals for Red Bull Salzburg in the league this season.

One player Kek will have to do without, however, is Jasmin Kurtic, who misses out through a knee injury, so Jon Gorenc Stankovic could slot into the centre of midfield.

Goalkeeper Jan Oblak continues to impress at the top level with Atletico Madrid, and the shot-stopper, who captains his national side, is a sure-fire starter between the sticks, with Miha Blazic and Jaka Bijol set for starts just in front of him.

Kazakhstan possible starting lineup:
Shatskiy; Kairov, Maliy, Yerlanov, Marochkin, Dosmagambetov; Zaynutdinov, Tagybergen, Kuat, Astanov; Aymbetov

Slovenia possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Stojanovic, Blazic, Bijol, Sikosek; Zajc, Gnezda Cerin, Stankovic, Verbic; Sporar, Sesko

Preview: Italy vs. England

Taking the first step towards defending their continental crown, Italy welcome England to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona for Thursday’s Euro 2024 qualifying Group C opener.

The Azzurri ensured that football would not come home when they defeated the Three Lions on penalties in the Euro 2020 final, but Roberto Mancini’s champions have since lost their sparkle.

Match preview

Italy manager Roberto Mancini on September 23, 2022

Still reliving their North Macedonian nightmares, Italy fans can look forward to a reunion with their World Cup playoff conquerors in their Euros qualifying section, as they endeavour to consign another global failure to the history books.

The dominant force prior to and during the delayed Euro 2020 campaign, Italy once again came up short in their bid to appear at the World Cup Finals – losing to North Macedonia in the playoff semi-final to watch on from home for the second time running – and Argentina barely broke a sweat in a 3-0 Finalissima win over Mancini’s crop last year.

On a brighter note, Italy have a Nations League crown firmly within their sights after beating England, Hungary and Germany to top spot in League A Group 3 – a semi-final with Spain awaits in June – while they beat Albania 3-1 before losing 2-0 to Austria in their most recent bout of friendlies in November.

While no teams have competed in a Euros qualifier since pre-COVID times, Italy’s remarkable feats at this stage are well-documented – the Azzurri have won each of their last 14 qualification games and are unbeaten in 40 since going down 3-1 to France in 2006.

Furthermore, it has been 24 years since the reigning continental champions last lost a Euros qualifier on home soil – suffering a 3-2 beating to Denmark in 1999 – and an unforgiving Naples atmosphere will be sure to play its part in the hosts’ effort to extend that stunning streak.

England manager Gareth Southgate pictured on December 10, 2022

Unable to take inspiration from watching the women’s team soar to continental stardom in their Euro 2022 campaign, another quarter-final exit reared its ugly heads for England in Qatar, as Gareth Southgate’s golden generation saw another opportunity at silverware pass them by.

Few roadblocks were expected en route to a first-placed group ranking or last-16 battle with Senegal, but Harry Kane’s second penalty against France is still rising, and a plethora of questions over Southgate’s future were unsurprisingly brought up in the wake of more major-tournament heartache.

The FA continue to place their faith in the 52-year-old to end 57 years of hurt, but Southgate will soon lead his side into the unfamiliar territory of UEFA Nations League B following a torrid relegation from the big time last year, and the glass remains half-empty for a good chunk of the Three Lions faithful.

However, the Three Lions can boast 17 wins from their last 18 Euros qualifying matches – the outlier being a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic in October 2019 – and a landmark number could be hit for Southgate, who will claim his 50th victory as England manager if the Three Lions leave Naples with all three points in the bag.

Only Sir Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom have previously brought up a half-century of triumphs with England, who are winless in their last six showdowns with Italy in all tournaments, playing out a goalless draw before losing 1-0 to the Azzurri during a forgettable 2022-23 Nations League run.

Team News

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford on March 9, 2023

Already witnessing a couple of players depart the camp injured, Italy have lost attacker Federico Chiesa, left-back Federico Dimarco and goalkeeper Ivan Provedel, the latter two of whom have been replaced by Emerson Palmieri and Marco Carnesecchi.

Carnesecchi is one of four uncapped players to have been called up by Mancini for March’s fixtures, with Wladimiro Falcone, Alessandro Buongiorno and Argentina-born striker Mateo Retegui also seeking to make their maiden appearances for the Azzurri.

With no Ciro Immobile or Giacomo Raspadori in the ranks due to injury, Retegui could very well be thrown into the deep end for his first start this week, as Mancini faces a toss-up between a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 setup.

Similarly, a trio of England men have also left the camp ahead of Thursday’s opener, with Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Nick Pope all pulling out with injuries – Fraser Forster has come in to replace the latter.

Despite admitting breaching betting rules, Brentford striker Ivan Toney has returned to the ranks as the only uncapped player in the squad, but none of Ben White, Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Callum Wilson has forced their way in this time.

Still languishing on the Old Trafford bench, Harry Maguire should continue to be one of the first names on the teamsheet for Southgate, while Harry Kane is just one strike away from becoming his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer and leaving Wayne Rooney in his wake.

Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Acerbi, Romagnoli, Spinazzola; Barella, Verratti, Jorginho; Berardi, Retegui, Grifo

England possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Henderson, Rice, Bellingham; Saka, Kane, Grealish

Preview: Barnsley vs. Sheffield Wednesday

There is a mouthwatering fixture in League One on Tuesday evening, as division leaders Sheffield Wednesday make the trip to Oakwell to take on fourth-placed Barnsley.

Wednesday will enter the contest off the back of a 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers on Friday, while Barnsley recorded a 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.

Match preview

Barnsley manager Michael Duff before the match on January 8, 2023

Barnsley were relegated from the Championship in 24th position last season, so they are bidding to bounce back into the second tier at the first time of asking, and the team are in the promotion mix at this stage.

Indeed, a record of 21 wins, six draws and eight defeats from 35 matches has seen them collect 69 points, which is enough for fourth position in the table, eight points behind second-placed Plymouth Argyle.

Barnsley actually have two games in hand on second-placed Plymouth and third-placed Ipswich Town, while they have two matches spare on Derby County just below them and three in hand on sixth-placed Bolton.

The Tykes are actually unbeaten in League One since the middle of January, winning nine of their last 11 in the league during a brilliant run of form.

Michael Duff’s side are showing strong form at a vital stage of the season, and they will enter this match off the back of a 1-0 victory at Wycombe, with Slobodan Tedic netting the only goal of the contest in the 85th minute after being introduced just before the hour.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore before the match on February 7, 2023

Wednesday, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw by Bolton on Friday night; Lee Gregory sent the Owls ahead in the 11th minute of the contest, but Victor Adeboyejo levelled the scores late in the first period.

Darren Moore’s side remain top of the table on 78 points, one point clear of second-placed Plymouth, who have played two games more than the team at the summit.

Wednesday are three points ahead of Ipswich in third, with two games in hand, so they are in a strong position at this stage of the campaign, with the club bidding to return to the second tier of English football.

The Owls finished fourth in League One last season, which saw them qualify for the playoffs, but they were beaten by Sunderland in the semi-finals.

Wednesday suffered a 2-0 defeat to Barnsley in the reverse game earlier this term, but they recorded a 2-1 victory in the corresponding fixture between the two teams during the 2020-21 campaign.

Team News

Sheffield Wednesday's Josh Windass celebrates scoring their first goal with Michael Smith on January 7, 2023

Barnsley boss Duff will have Tedic in this thinking when it comes to a starting role for this match, with the Serbian coming off the bench to register against Wycombe at the weekend.

Devante Cole is another pushing to be involved in the XI, with the 27-year-old finding the back of the net on 10 occasions in the league during the 2022-23 campaign.

Max Watters could be the player to drop out to allow Cole to feature from the start, while James Norwood should continue in the final third of the field.

As for Wednesday, Marvin Johnson could come into the side, having featured as a half-time substitute against Bolton on Friday night.

There are unlikely to be any further changes for the visitors, though, with Gregory again featuring in the final third of the field alongside Josh Windass.

Barry Bannan will again play in central midfield for the division leaders, with Will Vaulks and Fisayo Dele-Bashiru also expected to retain their starting roles.

Barnsley possible starting lineup:
Isted; Thomas, Andersen, Kitching; Williams, Phillips, Connell, Kane, Cadden; Cole, Norwood

Sheffield Wednesday possible starting lineup:
Dawson; Palmer, Flint, Famewo; Hunt, Dele-Bashiru, Vaulks, Bannan, Johnson; Windass, Gregory

Preview: Newell’s Old Boys vs. San Lorenzo

The early leaders in the first phase of the Argentine Primera Division, San Lorenzo, can stretch their unbeaten run to seven matches in all competitions when they travel to Estadio Marcelo Bielsa to face Newell’s Old Boys on Monday.

La Lepra came from behind last week to salvage a 1-1 draw with Colon, while Los Santos were convincing 4-0 winners over Gimnasia in their previous domestic encounter.

Match preview

With rumours swirling about the potential return of Argentine legend Lionel Messi to Newell’s, his boyhood club, the team will have to turn their attention to this competition, where they have an opportunity to close the five-point gap between themselves and the league leaders.

Gabriel Heinze, a former teammate of Messi with the Argentine national team, has seen his players look sharp and organised on the backline at home, without a goal conceded in three league fixtures at Estadio Marcelo Bielsa.

Old Boys have only allowed one goal in their last six home fixtures in this competition, while playing San Lorenzo to a 0-0 draw in this exact fixture a season ago.

They are particularly strong at protecting leads, having posted a clean sheet in every league game this season in which they scored first.

In their two Primera defeats this season, Heinze has seen his group struggle to slow down their opponents in transition, while his players have often been manhandled in aerial duels.

Fresh off their highest top-flight finish since 2019-20 when they came in ninth a season ago, expectations are understandably high for a team currently holding onto the final spot in the Copa Sudamericana, a competition they will be competing in later this year.

In his second stint as manager of San Lorenzo, Ruben Dario Insua cannot have too many complaints about how his side have begun the new domestic campaign.

Los Cuervos have picked up 16 points after seven Primera fixtures, their best start to a top-flight season since 2015 (18).

San Lorenzo have been the stingiest defensive unit in the league to this point of the season, conceding a mere three goals, all of which have come away from home.

They come into this game having won five of their last six matches in all competitions, with their lone setback being a 1-1 draw at Huracan, while outscoring their opponents by a margin of 11-1 over that stretch.

Despite being so sharp defensively, San Lorenzo are by no means passive in their approach, attempting plenty of shots from all over the field while looking particularly dangerous when attacking down the left.

The club from the Boedo district of Buenos Aires are unbeaten in their last three matches in all competitions versus Old Boys, earning a 2-1 victory against them in Rosario last season at the Copa de la Liga Professional.

Team News

Newell’s will be without Fabian Angel, who has a sore knee, Armando Mendez is still recovering from his broken arm, Marco Campagnaro and Francisco Gonzalez are out long-term with ACL injuries, while Genaro Rossi remains sidelined because of a muscle strain.

Jorge Recalde notched his first of the campaign in their previous league game, while Lucas Hoyos helped his team preserve a point, stopping Jorge Benitez from the penalty spot a few minutes after Old Boys had levelled the match with Colon at 1.

Hoyos only had to make two stops in their previous home fixture when they defeated Baracas Central 1-0 thanks to a first-half strike from Facundo Mansilla, which was set up by Brian Aguirre, who is tied for the league lead in assists (three).

San Lorenzo are missing Jeremias James, who has an ACL injury, while Andres Vombergar will not be available as he was called up to the Slovenian national team for their Euro qualifiers next week.

Nahuel Barrios and Agustin Giay, meanwhile, both sat out of their previous league fixture because of red card suspensions.

A brace from Nicolas Blandi and a goal by Rafael Perez gave them a 3-0 victory over Sarmiento Resistencia in the Copa Argentina on Wednesday, while Augusto Batalla collected his second successive clean sheet in all competitions.

Adam Bareiro scored twice in their previous league match versus Gimnasia, with the other goals coming courtesy of Vombergar and Gaston Hernandez.

Newell’s Old Boys possible starting lineup:
Hoyos; Mosquera, Ditta, Mansilla, Pitton; Gomez, Sforza, Menendez; Reasco, Recalde, Aguirre

San Lorenzo possible starting lineup:
Batalla; Gattoni, Perez, Hernandez; Leguizamon, Elias, Martegani, Braida; Blandi, Bareiro, Cerutti