Preview: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

The La Liga title race temporarily takes a backseat for El Clasico rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, who lock horns in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at the Bernabeu on Thursday evening.

Los Blancos defeated city rivals Atletico Madrid 3-1 in the last eight to progress this far, while Xavi’s side needed just the one goal to eliminate Real Sociedad.

Match preview

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti on November 2, 2022

With an astounding quadruple still a distinct possibility heading into the spring months, Real Madrid’s trophy cabinet is itching to welcome another Copa del Rey crown, which rather incredibly has not been won by Los Blancos since the 2013-14 campaign.

Cacereno and Villarreal both fell to the superiority of Real Madrid before a stern test versus Atletico awaited in the quarter-finals, where Alvaro Morata would return to haunt his old club, but Rodrygo forced extra time before Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior saved Los Blancos’ bacon.

Another Madrid derby with Los Rojiblancos in La Liga would not be a smooth affair for Carlo Ancelotti’s men either, as breakout teenage star Alvaro Rodriguez endeared himself to the Bernabeu faithful with a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw, which puts Los Blancos seven points behind Barcelona in the La Liga standings.

Barcelona’s shock defeat to Almeria means that there is still a glimmer of hope for Real Madrid, whose five-game winning run in all tournaments was brought to an end on Saturday evening, and a first Copa del Rey semi-final since the 2018-19 campaign now lies in wait.

That year, Real drew the first leg of their semi-final clash with Barcelona 1-1 before bowing out with a 3-0 defeat at the Bernabeu, but with form and fitness concerns working against them, the latest instalment of El Clasico could hardly have come at a worse time for La Blaugrana.

FC Barcelona coach Xavi reacts on January 8, 2023

With one avenue to success in the Europa League now closed off courtesy of Manchester United, Barcelona’s need for glory in the Spanish top flight has become ever more dire, so it was no surprise to see Xavi overcome with fury following Sunday’s upset to Almeria.

Ironically, a Luis Suarez was one of the architects behind Barcelona’s downfall – not La Blaugrana’s former Uruguayan luminary, though – as the Colombia international set up El Bilal Toure for the game’s only goal in the 24th minute of the match, preventing Xavi’s side from going 10 points clear at the top.

An unassailable seven-point chasm is nonetheless a healthy advantage for the success-starved Catalans, but suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time since April is not what the doctor ordered before El Clasico, and neither is an injury to star striker Robert Lewandowski.

One-nil was also the scoreline when Barcelona defeated 10-man Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey quarters – Ousmane Dembele’s effort proved decisive that day – and Xavi’s side have also avoided giant killings against Intercity and Ceuta to progress to the semi-finals for the 11th time in 13 seasons.

Thursday’s first leg will mark the 252nd competitive Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the latter of whom won 3-1 in January’s Supercopa de Espana final, but Los Blancos prevailed by the same scoreline at the Bernabeu back in October, and the odds are stacked heavily in their favour to glean a first-leg advantage here.

Team News

Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring for Barcelona on October 12, 2022

During their quarter-final win over Atletico in January, Real Madrid lost Ferland Mendy to a thigh injury which is yet to heal, and he has since been joined in the treatment room by Rodrygo and David Alaba, who were casualties of their Champions League last-16 first leg win over Liverpool.

Rodrygo has made a rapid return to training and could make himself available, but Alaba is sure to miss out, while Luka Modric will serve a suspension against Real Betis this weekend but is fine to line up here.

Now fully recovered from a bout of flu, Aurelien Tchouameni could freshen up the Blancos midfield alongside Modric – who was only a substitute against Atletico at the weekend – which could push Federico Valverde further forward in place of Marco Asensio.

As mentioned, Barcelona have suffered an untimely injury blow with Lewandowski, who sustained a hamstring injury during the weekend’s defeat to Almeria. The Catalans have not placed a timeframe on his recovery, but he is sure to watch this one from the sidelines.

Ousmane Dembele and Pedri are also out of contention with their own thigh problems, but on a brighter note, Xavi is hopeful that Ansu Fati’s bruised knee will heal in time for the first leg.

The 20-year-old is one option to deputise for Lewandowski through the middle, but Ferran Torres should get the nod as the number nine, allowing Raphinha to return out wide after his peculiar post-Manchester United injury – damaging his foot by kicking a fridge out of anger following his substitution.

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho; Kroos, Tchouameni, Modric; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; De Jong, Busquets, Roberto; Raphinha, Torres, Gavi

Preview: Liverpool vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Fans may not be expecting sparks to fly at Anfield on Wednesday night, as two goal-shy teams in Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers renew hostilities for the fourth time this year in the Premier League.

The Reds laboured to a point in a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday, prior to which Julen Lopetegui’s men came away from their meeting with Fulham with a point of their own in a 1-1 stalemate.

Match preview

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah in action with Crystal Palace's Albert Sambi Lokonga on February 25, 2023

Being humiliated 5-2 on their own patch by Real Madrid would no doubt have left Jurgen Klopp’s men shell-shocked, and Liverpool could not shake off the cobwebs when they met Crystal Palace on Saturday, as both sets of supporters left the stadium without getting their money’s worth.

The woodwork may have been rattled three times by Diogo Jota, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Mohamed Salah, but in truth, neither team really looked like scoring in the capital, quickly bringing an end to Liverpool’s Premier League purple patch in which they saw off the threat of Everton and Newcastle United.

However, with Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion not in action at the weekend, that point was enough to lift Liverpool into seventh place in the table, but they have a nine-point gap to make up to Tottenham Hotspur, who have played two games more.

A third Premier League clean sheet on the bounce at Selhurst Park was a small silver lining for the Liverpool faithful, whose side have also taken 10 points from the last 12 on offer at Anfield in the top flight – losing just one of their last 34 home contests in the Premier League.

Shaky performances from Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular left the travelling fans biting their nails at Selhurst Park, but the Reds have only faced five shots on target in their last three games, and attacking proficiency is not exactly Wolves’ forte.

Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Julen Lopetegui during draw with Fulham on February 24, 2023.

Wolves became the latest team to feel the full force of Manor Solomon’s super-sub powers for Fulham, who went behind to a Pablo Sarabia finish at Craven Cottage on Friday night before the Israeli attacker did what he does best off the bench.

Curling home a delightful equaliser with 64 minutes on the clock, Solomon denied Wolves back-to-back away wins in the Premier League, but taking seven points from their four fixtures in February has allowed the West Midlands crop to create some breathing space between themselves and the drop zone.

Now 15th in the table and three points clear of the dreaded dotted line, Wolves travel to Anfield having only lost to Manchester City in their last six Premier League away matches, although not since August’s draw at Bournemouth have they kept a clean sheet on the road.

However, Wolves and their 18 goals no longer hold the title of the worst attacking team in the Premier League – that unwanted honour now belongs to Everton (17) – and the Kop will need no reminding of how Lopetegui’s men tore them to shreds 3-0 at Molineux a few weeks ago.

That astounding win for Wolves came after the visitors had drawn 2-2 at Anfield in the third round of the FA Cup before losing 1-0 in the replay thanks to Harvey Elliott’s screamer, and a similar piece of individual brilliance could yet again prove decisive on Wednesday.

Team News

Liverpool's Darwin Nunez celebrates scoring their first goal on February 21, 2023

Despite recovering from a shoulder injury in time to face Real Madrid, Darwin Nunez experienced a fresh bout of pain prior to the draw with Palace and could not take part at Selhurst Park, and it remains to be seen if the striker’s problem will settle down in time for Wednesday.

Thiago Alcantara, Calvin Ramsay, Luis Diaz and Joe Gomez are all expected to miss out too, but Ibrahima Konate has made a welcome return to full training and may now be considered for a recall over Matip, while Arthur Melo is also vying for his first Premier League minutes, having played the full 90 for the Under-21s at the weekend.

A complete midfield overhaul could see Fabinho, Stefan Bajcetic and Harvey Elliott come into contention for recalls, while a fit-again Roberto Firmino could also bring Cody Gakpo’s run in the first XI to an end.

As for Wolves, Lopetegui lost Matheus Cunha to an ankle injury on the hour mark against Fulham – the Atletico Madrid loanee needed to be stretchered off the field – although the results of his MRI scan were reassuring.

Cunha has not been ruled out of this game, but it is likely that he will take up a place on the sidelines alongside Hwang Hee-chan, Sasa Kalajdzic, Chiquinho and Boubacar Traore, who has suffered a setback in his recovery from a groin problem.

Daniel Podence and Adama Traore should fight it out to replace Cunha in the starting lineup, unless Pedro Neto can miraculously prove his fitness in time, and Raul Jimenez can expect to hold his place at the tip of the attack after capping off a strong showing at Craven Cottage with the assist for Sarabia’s goal.

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Bajcetic, Fabinho, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Jota

Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Sa; Semedo, Dawson, Kilman, Bueno; Neves, Lemina, Nunes; Traore, Jimenez, Sarabia

Preview: Cremonese vs. Roma

After back-to-back wins at home, Roma take to the road on Tuesday, when they meet Serie A’s bottom club Cremonese at Stadio Giovanni Zini.

Having kept up the pace in their pursuit of a top-four finish and secured a place in the Europa League’s last 16, the Giallorossi now tackle a winless home side that seem destined for a quick return to Serie B.

Match preview

Paulo Dybala in action for Roma on October 6, 2022

With the opening leg in Austria having ended 1-0 in favour of RB Salzburg, when Roma filed out at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday they needed to turn the tie around if their Europa League journey was not to be halted at the first knockout stage.

Goals in the first half from Andrea Belotti – who has yet to find the net in Serie A since joining from Torino – and attacking talisman Paulo Dybala proved enough to secure safe passage from the playoff round, and Jose Mourinho’s men were subsequently drawn against Real Sociedad in the last 16.

Four days earlier, Roma had taken care of business against Serie A strugglers Hellas Verona, again keeping a clean sheet; edging to victory courtesy of Ola Solbakken’s first goal for the club, scored on the brink of half time.

They have now won 11 league matches by a 1-0 scoreline under Mourinho – including one in August’s reverse fixture against Cremonese – and since the start of last season only Barcelona and Real Sociedad have racked up more throughout Europe’s top five leagues.

While, in the coming months, last year’s Europa Conference League winners will have one eye on replicating that feat in the continent’s second-tier competition, their main aim will surely be to cement a top-four finish amid stiff competition from several other contenders.

Form certainly suggests that the Giallorossi should have little problem in continuing that quest with a win on Tuesday evening, but their most recent encounter with Cremonese, in the Coppa Italia, brought a shock 2-1 loss at the Olimpico.

Davide Ballardini, now in charge of Genoa, pictured in January 2018

Soon after his appointment to the top job at Stadio Zini, Cremonese coach Davide Ballardini engineered a second cup upset in quick succession by leading his side to victory over Roma, but he has yet to get them over the line for a first Serie A win since promotion.

While the Grigiorossi can look forward to a Coppa Italia semi-final against Fiorentina, having also eliminated league leaders Napoli on the road to the final four, they are enduring a humbling streak without success in Italy’s top flight.

Last week’s 2-2 draw with Torino – in which they came from behind thanks to strikes from Frank Tsadjout and Emanuele Valeri before conceding a 79th-minute equaliser – means Cremonese have equalled the longest winless run ever recorded in Serie A: 30 matches, along with Ancona.

That miserable sequence stretches back to when they last reached the top tier over 20 years ago, but if anything their league fortunes have declined even more sharply since the start of 2023.

The Lombardy club have picked up just two points from eight games since the turn of the year – during that time, only Hoffenheim have earned fewer across the top five European leagues – and with the gap between them and safety into double figures, they are relying on a miracle to avoid demotion.

Team News

Chris Smalling in action for Roma on November 3, 2022

As Juventus will visit Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, and Roma have been involved in an intense European tie over the past two weeks, Jose Mourinho could make some changes to his starting lineup on Tuesday.

At a minimum, one switch is required in defence, with Chris Smalling sidelined by suspension and Marash Kumbulla standing ready as his replacement.

Meanwhile, Georginio Wijnaldum should start in central midfield, and Stephan El Shaarawy might come in so Paulo Dybala can be rested before meeting his former club. Up front, Andrea Belotti competes for selection with Tammy Abraham, who must wear a mask to protect an eye injury sustained against Verona.

While Belotti is on his longest run without a goal in Serie A (22 games, 701 minutes), Abraham has failed to score in his last six Serie A matches against promoted sides, having netted four in his first four.

Cremonese’s Cyriel Dessers has been involved in three of just five home goals scored by the hosts this season, but he could be edged out again by Frank Tsadjout and David Okereke, who are set to be paired up front. Ex-Roma forward Felix Afena-Gyan should join Dessers on the bench.

With Johan Vasquez returning from suspension and most probably slotting back into defence, the continued absence of Vlad Chiriches – the Grigiorossi’s only fitness concern – will not be as keenly felt by Davide Ballardini.

Cremonese possible starting lineup:
Carnesecchi; Ferrari, Bianchetti, Vasquez; Sernicola, Benassi, Pickel, Meite, Valeri; Tsadjout, Okereke

Roma possible starting lineup:
Patricio; Mancini, Kumbulla, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Wijnaldum, Cristante, Zalewski; Pellegrini, El Shaarawy; Abraham

Preview: Villarreal vs. Getafe

Villarreal will be bidding to bounce back from four straight La Liga defeats when they continue their domestic campaign at home to lowly Getafe on Monday night.

The Yellow Submarine have dropped into ninth position in the table due to their recent struggles, while Getafe occupy 16th, level on points with 18th-placed Cadiz on the same number of matches (22).

Match preview

Villarreal's Gerard Moreno celebrates scoring their first goal with Samuel Chukwueze on January 7, 2023© Reuters

Villarreal have not been victorious in Spain’s top flight since overcoming Girona on January 22, losing each of their last four against Rayo Vallecano, Elche, Barcelona and Mallorca.

Quique Setien’s side conceded four in their defeat to Mallorca last weekend, and the disappointing run of form has seen them drop into ninth position in the table, boasting just 31 points from their 22 matches.

The Yellow Submarine are currently 10 points behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, but they are just three from Rayo Vallecano in sixth, so a European finish is still entirely possible despite their recent problems.

Villarreal have picked up 19 points from their 10 home league games this term, and their form in front of their own fans is likely to be crucial when it comes to a possible top-six position.

El Submarino Amarillo, who are unbeaten against Getafe in the league since January 2019, are still in the Europa Conference League, meanwhile, with the team preparing to take on Anderlecht in the round of 16.

Getafe's Enes Unal celebrates scoring their first goal with Munir El Haddadi on February 4, 2023© Reuters

Getafe’s recent record against Villarreal will not fill them with much confidence, having lost six of their last seven top-flight matches against their opponents on Monday night.

The points were shared in a goalless draw earlier this season, though, and the visitors can certainly draw confidence from Villarreal’s problems over the last month.

Getafe will bring a three-game unbeaten run into this match, having drawn with Atletico and Rayo Vallecano, and beaten Valencia, in their last three games in Spain’s top flight.

Last time out, Borja Mayoral netted the only goal of the contest against Valencia at Coliseum Alfonso Perez, and the result moved them onto 22 points in the table, level with 18th-placed Cadiz.

The Deep Blue Ones are undoubtedly involved in a relegation battle at this stage of the campaign, but head coach Quique Sanchez Flores will still be confident that he has enough quality in the squad to pull clear of the drop zone over the next few weeks.

Team News

Villarreal's Francis Coquelin is stretchered off after sustaining an injury on February 12, 2023© Reuters

Villarreal will be without the services of Manu Trigueros following his red card against Mallorca last time out, while Francis Coquelin and Nicolas Jackson are on the sidelines through injury.

Gerard Moreno and Giovani Lo Celso are also fitness doubts for the home side, but Alberto Moreno will be back in the squad after returning from a suspension.

Head coach Setien is expected to introduce Alex Baena into his starting XI for this match, but there are not expected to be wholesale changes despite the disappointment of the result last time out.

As for Getafe, Carles Alena will be back in the squad after serving a suspension against Valencia, so the visitors could have a full-strength squad for this contest.

Alena is expected to return to the starting side, with Gonzalo Villar potentially dropping out, but it might otherwise be the same side that took to the field for the first whistle against Los Che.

Munir El Haddadi should therefore continue in a wide position, with Enes Unal and Mayoral playing as the front two for Flores’s side on Monday night.

Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Reina; Foyth, Albiol, P Torres, A Moreno; Capoue, Parejo, Baena; Pino, Morales, Chukwueze

Getafe possible starting lineup:
Soria; Dakonam, Duarte, Alderete, Alvarez; Portu, Alena, Arambarri, El Haddadi; Unal, Mayoral

Preview: Fulham vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Friday night’s Premier League offering comes from Craven Cottage this week, as European hopefuls Fulham welcome basement battlers Wolverhampton Wanderers to the capital.

The two sides were on the opposite ends of 1-0 scorelines last weekend, as the Cottagers edged past Brighton & Hove Albion, while Julen Lopetegui’s men went down to Bournemouth.

Match preview

Fulham manager Marco Silva on February 18, 2023

There was a time not too long ago when Wolves were threatening to upset the European apple cart while Fulham tried to end their reputation as a yo-yo team, but a couple of years is a long time in football, and Marco Silva’s crop are now the ones with continental football firmly in their sights.

Taking on fellow Europa League chasers Brighton at the Amex last weekend, Fulham somehow quelled the Seagulls onslaught – which saw Brighton have 21 shots on goal compared to just five for Silva’s men – but when it mattered most, substitute Manor Solomon made no mistake to clinch the unlikeliest of wins in the 88th minute.

Credit must also go to the impenetrable Bernd Leno and the rest of the Cottagers’ rearguard for their third win on the bounce across all competitions – one which sees the newly-promoted side incredibly sit sixth in the table and just four points off Tottenham Hotspur in the final Champions League spot.

Dreams of European nights will become a reality if Fulham continue performing in the same vein, although Brighton, Liverpool and Brentford are all just three points behind with games in hand, and Fulham will face the latter two teams either side of a clash with league leaders Arsenal during a fear-inducing March schedule.

Nevertheless, Silva’s side can always rely on their staunch backline to do the dirty work, with Fulham keeping clean sheets in each of their last three top-flight games, and their upcoming opponents are not exactly renowned for prolific final-third play.

Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Julen Lopetegui during win over Liverpool on February 4, 2023.

Following the script of their season, Wolves left Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto relatively untroubled despite doing the majority of the attacking at Molineux, and Lopetegui’s strugglers would be made to pay for their profligacy in a chastening loss.

Back in the starting lineup with a bang, Bournemouth’s Marcus Tavernier struck the only goal of the game in the 49th minute for the Cherries, who brought Wolves crashing back down to earth following wins over Liverpool and Southampton for the West Midlands side.

By returning to losing ways, Wolves enter Friday’s game languishing in 15th in the table – three points clear of the drop zone – and their March schedule makes for grim reading too, as Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United lie in wait over the next few weeks.

Nevertheless, playing on rival turf has been a pleasant experience for Wolves in recent fixtures – losing just one of their last five away from home, and even that was against Manchester City – but Lopetegui’s side have kept just one clean sheet on their travels in a goalless draw at Bournemouth in October.

Wolves managed to hold Fulham to a 0-0 stalemate at Molineux in August, which made it five games without defeat for the West Midlands side against the Cottagers, who have incredibly not beaten their upcoming visitors in a league fixture since a 5-0 romping in March 2012.

Team News

Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates scoring for Fulham on October 20, 2022

Fulham came away from Brighton with all three points despite missing Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, and Silva has admitted that it will be difficult for the Serbian to take part here.

Despite being the most obvious replacement for Mitrovic, Carlos Vinicius started on the bench at the Amex before setting up fellow substitute Solomon, and the pair will surely come into contention for starts over Harry Wilson and makeshift striker Bobby Decordova-Reid.

A potential start for Solomon would be his first in the Premier League, and he could become the first Israeli player to score in three successive games in the tournament since Ronny Rosenthal in 1992. Neeskens Kebano (Achilles) and Tom Cairney (ankle) make up the rest of Fulham’s absentees for Friday’s game.

As for Wolves, ex-Fulham midfielder Mario Lemina is back from a one-game ban and ready to line up against his former club, but Sasa Kalajdzic, Hwang Hee-chan, Boubacar Traore and Chiquinho are all still missing.

Lemina may be a straight swap for Joao Moutinho in the middle, and Lopetegui also left Pedro Neto out of his squad for the loss to Bournemouth due to fitness reasons, but the injury-plagued Portuguese could return to bolster an ailing attack here.

Neither Adama Traore nor Pablo Sarabia performed too badly last weekend, so Matheus Cunha may be at the greatest risk of the axe as Daniel Podence, Raul Jimenez and Diego Costa press to return.

Fulham possible starting lineup:
Leno; Tete, Diop, Ream, Robinson; Reed, Palhinha; Solomon, Pereira, Willian; Vinicius

Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Sa; Semedo, Kilman, Dawson, Bueno; Lemina, Neves, Nunes; Traore, Podence, Sarabia

Preview: Nantes vs. Juventus

A place in the last 16 of the Europa League is up for grabs as Juventus travel to the Stade de la Beaujoire to face Nantes in the second leg of their playoff tie on Thursday night.

The tie is nicely poised after the two sides played out a 1-1 draw in a closely-fought first-leg contest in Turin last week.

Match preview

Nantes' Ludovic Blas celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on February 16, 2023© Reuters

Competing in Europe for the first time in 22 years, Nantes can take pride in holding Italian giants Juventus to a score draw on their own patch last week, with head coach Antoine Kombouare lauding his side’s “heroic and solid” performance to keep themselves in the tie.

Despite falling behind in the 13th minute from a Dusan Vlahovic strike, a devastating Canaries counter-attack resulted in Ludovic Blas firing home a 60th-minute equaliser, netting his third goal in his last four games.

Nantes, who finished second in Group G of the Europa League earlier this season, are still in with a chance of progressing from a knockout round of a major European competition for the first time since the 2000-01 season when they beat Laussane-Sport in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

Kombouare and co were unable to follow up their impressive midweek draw with another positive result as they were beaten 3-1 away against Lens in Ligue 1 last weekend – a result that leaves them languishing 13th in the French top-flight table, albeit nine points clear of the relegation zone.

Nantes have shown their resilience on home soil so far this season, losing only three times in 14 matches at the Stade de la Beaujoire across all competitions. The Canaries have already secured home wins over Olympiacos and Qarabag in the Europa League group stage this term, but coming out on top against Juve would be their biggest triumph of all.

Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic celebrates scoring their third goal with teammates on February 7, 2023© Reuters

Following a disappointing Champions League group-stage campaign, in which they finished third behind Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus are now competing in the Europa League for the first time in nine years, and there is still work to be done before they begin to eye up potential last-16 opponents.

Indeed, Juve had their fair share of chances and dominated possession in the first leg with Nantes, but allowing the French side to restore parity with their only shot on target ultimately proved costly.

The Old Lady – two-time European Cup/Champions League winners and three-time UEFA Cup winners – are now at risk of being eliminated in the knockout rounds of a European competition for a fifth successive year, and the prospect of losing against one of the rank outsiders is something Massimiliano Allegri and co will be keen to avoid.

Juventus managed to bounce back form their midweek draw by securing a 2-0 away victory over Spezia in Serie A last Sunday, courtesy of goals either side of half time from Moise Kean and Angel di Maria.

Following Juve’s 15-point deduction in Serie A due to alleged financial irregularities, leaving them 12 points adrift of the top four, going all the way in this year’s Europa League appears to be their best chance of securing Champions League football for next season.

Juventus have struggled in recent European matches, winning only one of their last nine and conceding an average of two goals per game in the process. However, the Italians head to France having won six of their last eight away games in all competitions without reply, and they will hope to continue their strong form on the road by frustrating Nantes at both ends of the pitch when they lock horns on Thursday.

Team News

Federico Chiesa warms up for Juventus in November 2022© Reuters

Nantes will still be without forward Quentin Merlin who is nursing a groin injury, while Ignatius Ganago has been granted time away from the first team following the tragic loss of his five-year-old daughter.

Defensive duo Jean-Charles Castelletto and Nicolas Pallois have both emerged as doubts after missing last weekend’s defeat to Lens with respective groin and muscle problems; Joao Victor and Charles Traore could therefore retain their places in the back three.

Pedro Chirivella is set to return to centre-midfield at the expense of Florent Mollet, while Blas – who leads every Nantes player for goals (3), assists (3), shots (22) and chances created (15) in this season’s Europa League – is expected to replace Moses Simon in attack.

As for Juventus, Paul Pogba (knee), Arkadiusz Milik (muscle), Fabio Miretti (ankle) and Kaio Jorge (knee) all remain sidelined as they continue to recover from long-term injuries.

Federico Chiesa – who has recently returned from a 10-month layoff with an ACL injury – missed Juve’s win over Spezia last weekend and is now facing a race against time to be fully fit for Thursday’s clash.

Brazilian centre-back Bremer served a one-match domestic ban last weekend, but he is available to return on Thursday and will likely start alongside compatriot Danilo at the heart of the defence, although Leonardo Bonucci will also be pushing for a start.

Wojciech Szczesny and Di Maria are both expected to be recalled to the first XI after beginning on the bench last time out, with Mattia Perin and Moise Kean set to make way as a result, while Juan Cuadrado and Mattia De Sciglio will battle for the right-back spot.

Nantes possible starting lineup:
Lafont; Victor, Girotto, Pallois; Centonze, Sissoko, Chirivella, Moutoussamy, Coco; Blas, Mohamed

Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; De Sciglio, Danilo, Bremer, Sandro; Fragioli, Locatelli, Rabiot; Di Maria, Vlahovic, Kostic

Preview: Inter Milan vs. Porto

The bright lights of the Champions League will shine on San Siro for the second week running on Wednesday night, as Inter Milan host Porto in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Simone Inzaghi’s men finished second in Group C to set up a tie with the Portuguese champions, who took advantage of their adversaries’ slip-ups to finish first in Group B.

Match preview

Inter Milan coach Simone Inzaghi reacts on February 13, 2023© Reuters

Seven days on from AC Milan gleaning a narrow advantage in their last-16 tie with Tottenham Hotspur, Inter will endeavour to make lightning strike twice for the Lombardy luminaries on the San Siro turf, having finished second in the fierce three-horse race to qualify from Group C.

With Viktoria Plzen written off before the first whistle and following the script by collecting zero points in the group, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Inter battled for continental supremacy, and the Nerazzurri would edge their Catalonian counterparts by three points to finish second behind a perfect Bayern.

Since confirming their place in the Champions League knockout stages for the second tournament running – last year’s path to glory ended at this stage to Liverpool – Inter have attempted to quell the Napoli juggernaut in Serie A, but the Nerazzurri’s attempts have proven futile so far.

Inzaghi’s side are the Partenopei’s closest challengers in second place in the table, but Napoli hold a mammoth 15-point lead over the 2020-21 champions, who saw off Udinese 3-1 at the weekend courtesy of strikes from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Lautaro Martinez and a long-awaited goal for Romelu Lukaku in the black and blue – just his second of the Serie A season 189 days after his previous one.

Victory over Udinese marked Inter’s 12th win from their last 13 contests at San Siro – during which time they have conceded a mere four goals – but a 1-0 loss to Empoli on January 23 proves that the Nerazzurri are not invincible at the San Siro fortress.

Porto's Toni Martinez celebrates scoring their first goal on February 18, 2023© Reuters

A similar three-way fight for last-16 berths was seemingly on the cards when Porto, Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen were drawn alongside each other in Group B, but Club Brugge upset the apple cart and exploited the frailties of the Spanish and German giants.

Sergio Conceicao’s side were up against it after losing both of their opening games too – including that 4-0 humiliation at home to Brugge – but they proceeded to win each of their next four continental contests to progress as group winners ahead of the Belgian surprise package.

Domestically, the reigning Primeira Liga champions have been nothing short of faultless over the past several weeks – winning each of their last 10 games in all competitions – but they are incredibly still playing catch-up in the title race to Benfica, who sit two points clear at the top with a game in hand.

Braga also have just a two-point gap to make up to second-placed Porto, who edged Rio Ave 1-0 at the weekend thanks to a Toni Martinez effort, and the visitors’ own defensive acumen has seen them concede just one goal in their last eight matches.

The Dragons’ unbeaten run across all competitions stands at a whopping 22 games since defeat to Benfica in October, and they have managed to progress from their last two last-16 ties in 2018-19 and 2020-21, but the defence of their historic 2004 crown ended with a 4-2 aggregate loss to Inter at this stage.

Team News

Joaquin Correa celebrates scoring for Inter Milan on August 20, 2022© Reuters

Nearly blessed with a full complement of players, Inter coach Inzaghi should only be without thigh victim Joaquin Correa for the visit of Porto, but the Nerazzurri boss is facing quite the attacking quandary either way.

A well-rested Martinez can expect to return to the two-man strikeforce in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 formation, and a reinvigorated Lukaku may just edge out Edin Dzeko, despite the latter’s three goals and assist in the group stage.

The trio of Hakan Calhanoglu, Milan Skriniar and goalkeeper Andre Onana should also come into the fray after being rested at the weekend, forcing Matteo Darmian, Mkhitaryan and wily veteran Samir Handanovic out of the XI.

In contrast, Porto manager Conceicao is working around a mini injury crisis for the trip to Italy, with all of Evanilson, Fabio Cardoso, Gabriel Veron and Francisco Meixedo expected to miss out.

Mateus Uribe and Galeno will need assessing but are also likely to make the absentee list, and to make matters worse, Saturday’s match-winner Martinez went down in the final few moments and had to be replaced.

The severity of Martinez’s issue is unclear, but Danny Namaso will be on standby, while the pair of Pepe’s – the 39-year-old centre-back and 25-year-old attacker – are both set to start.

Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Onana; Skriniar, Bastoni, Acerbi; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Brozovic, Dimarco; Lukaku, Martinez

Porto possible starting lineup:
Costa; Mario, Pepe, Carmo, Sanusi; Franco, Eustaquio, Grujic, Pepe; Taremi, Namaso

Preview: Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Napoli

Having blitzed their way through the group stage, Napoli return to Champions League action on Tuesday, when they visit last year’s Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.

While the Serie A leaders cruised through to the last 16 by winning their first five matches, their hosts fought back on Group D’s final day to snatch second spot. The pair now contest the first leg of a tie which decides who will reach the quarter-finals.

Match preview

Napoli's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia celebrates scoring their first goal with Victor Osimhen on February 17, 2023

Not only have Napoli streaked clear of the pack in Italy this season, thanks to a series of ruthless displays and a growing mountain of goals, but they also made Europe sit up and take notice of their breathtaking abilities during the first phase of the Champions League.

A first Scudetto since 1990 already seems to be assured for the success-starved Partenopei, but coach Luciano Spalletti may fancy his team’s chances of going all the way to Istanbul too, after they racked up 20 goals in Group A – the most of any side in the group stage.

Three different Napoli players were directly involved in five or more strikes, with Giacomo Raspadori (four goals; two assists), Piotr Zielinski (three; two) and wing wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (two; three) all in top form – not to mention Serie A’s Capocannoniere leader Victor Osimhen and several others who played their part in seeing off Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax.

More recently, the club from Campania moved 18 points clear at the top of the table following an away victory over Sassuolo on Friday, though their lead was cut back by Inter beating Udinese 24 hours later. Spalletti’s side opened the scoring after 12 minutes through Kvaratskhelia, before Osimhen struck the second, earning their team a seventh straight Serie A success.

As a result, Napoli have won 18 of their last 19 league matches, while Osimhen has racked up 18 goals in his 19 top-flight appearances. They have only lost once in the league all season – to second-placed Inter, in their first game back after the World Cup – though did exit the Coppa Italia to lowly Cremonese after fielding an under-strength side.

Such scintillating form suggests the Azzurri could even become Italy’s first Champions League winners since Jose Mourinho’s Inter in 2010, but first they must deal with the threat of a dangerous last-16 opponent.

Eintracht Frankfurt's Randal Kolo Muani celebrates scoring their second goal on October 26, 2022

Tuesday’s will be the third meeting between Eintracht Frankfurt and Napoli, with the Germans winning the previous two in the UEFA Cup nearly three decades ago. Indeed, they have only lost two of 11 matches against Italian opposition to date – and none since being beaten by Palermo back in 2006.

Holders of the Europa League, Frankfurt are certainly a team on the rise, and they will now become the 11th different German team to play in the Champions League knockout rounds – incidentally, the most of any nation.

Die Adler won their last two games in the group phase – 2-1 versus both Marseille and Sporting – to steal through to the latter stages, as Oliver Glasner became the first Austrian coach to win consecutive matches in the competition and to record three victories in a single season.

In all, Glasner’s men have lost just two of their last 19 matches in Europe while recording 10 wins in the process, and on home soil at Deutsche Bank Park they have suffered only one defeat in nine continental contests – a surprising 3-0 reverse to Sporting last September.

Frankfurt have come to the fore in the Bundesliga too, as an impressive recent run has lifted them into the top six, with French World Cup star Randal Kolo Muani scoring seven goals in their last six games, including the second in a 2-0 win over Werder Bremen on Saturday evening.

Also into the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals, the club’s first knockout tie in Europe’s elite competition for several generations awaits. And of course, Tuesday’s hosts boast a rich heritage in European Cup football, having lost the classic 1960 final to Real Madrid. Emulating such a feat this year, though, will require the current squad to find a way past white-hot Napoli.

Team News

Eintracht Frankfurt boss Oliver Glasner on October 12, 2022

Despite his team’s win over Werder at the weekend, Oliver Glasner could make at least a couple of changes on Tuesday night, and he has an almost full squad available for selection.

Eric Dina Ebimbe is still sidelined by an ankle problem, but there are no other fitness concerns for Frankfurt, who are likely to bring in Hrvoje Smolcic and Aurelio Buta to face Napoli. Smolcic, though, is one of three men facing suspension for the second leg should they be booked – his Croatian compatriot Kristijan Jakic and midfielder Makoto Hasebe are the others.

Once again, Randal Kolo Muani starts up front, and the French forward has scored in both of his last two Champions League appearances, in addition to registering 10 goals and 10 assists during his debut season in the Bundesliga.

The visitors, meanwhile, are similarly well stocked, as worries surrounding Victor Osimhen – who has now scored in seven successive Serie A matches – were quickly quelled by Luciano Spalletti after the in-form striker limped off in Friday’s win at Sassuolo.

A muscular injury for Giacomo Raspadori, who fared so well in the group stage, rules him out of action, so Osimhen should be flanked by Hirving Lozano and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The latter scored and assisted in the same match twice during Napoli’s Group A campaign and offers a significant threat from the left.

In midfield, Piotr Zielinski will expect to return in place of Eljif Elmas, while Mario Rui and Mathias Olivera tussle for the right to start at left-back.

Eintracht Frankfurt possible starting lineup:
Trapp; Smolcic, N’Dicka, Tuta; Buta, Kamada, Sow, Max; Lindstrom, Gotze; Kolo Muani

Napoli possible starting lineup:
Meret; Di Lorenzo, Kim, Rrahmani, Rui; Lobotka, Anguissa, Zielinski; Lozano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia

Preview: Getafe vs. Valencia

Two teams inside the La Liga relegation zone will lock horns on Monday evening, with Getafe welcoming Valencia to Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

Getafe are currently 19th in the table, having picked up just 19 points from their opening 21 matches, while Valencia are 18th, boasting 20 points from their first 21 games in a disappointing 2022-23.

Match preview

Getafe's Enes Unal celebrates scoring their first goal with Munir El Haddadi on February 4, 2023

It would certainly be more shocking if Valencia were relegated rather than Getafe, but the Deep Blue Ones have only played outside of La Liga for one season since 2004, so it would be a surprise to see them drop into the Segunda Division for the 2023-24 campaign.

There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a tough season to date for Quique Sanchez Flores’s side, having picked up just 19 points from 21 matches to sit down in 19th position in the division.

Getafe have not been victorious in Spain’s top flight since the end of December, but they will enter this match off the back of successive draws, holding top-four chasers Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano, and their performances in both games would certainly have increased confidence.

The Madrid outfit have struggled at home this season, only picking up 10 points from 11 matches, but they will be facing a Valencia outfit that have won just once on their travels all campaign.

Getafe have not actually beaten Valencia since February 2021, with two of the last three meetings won by Los Che, including a 5-1 success in the reverse fixture earlier this term.

Valencia's Andre Almeida in action with Real Madrid's Karim Benzema on January 11, 2023

Valencia are six-time Spanish champions and have not played outside of La Liga since the 1986-87 campaign, but they are currently in a serious fight to stay in the top flight.

Indeed, a very tough campaign to date has seen Los Che pick up only 20 points from their first 21 matches, which has left them in 18th position in the table.

Valencia are only one point from the safety of 17th position, though, and will certainly feel that they have more than enough quality to escape the drop zone after the next few matches.

Ruben Baraja was confirmed as Valencia’s head coach on February 14, with the Spaniard back in a managerial role for the first time since leaving Real Zaragoza in November 2020.

Baraja won two La Liga titles, the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup during his time as a player for the Spanish giants, and the 47-year-old will now be tasked with moving the team away from the relegation zone.

Team News

Valencia's Samuel Dias Lino celebrates scoring their first goal with Edinson Cavani on January 11, 2023

Getafe will be without the services of Carles Alena following his red card against Rayo last time out, while Luis Milla is out with the muscular problem that forced him off in the same match.

Juan Iglesias is also still a doubt due to a muscular injury, but Djene Dakonam will return from suspension.

Angel Algobia is expected to be Milla’s replacement in midfield, while Munir El Haddadi could benefit from Alena’s ban to feature alongside Borja Mayoral and Enes Unal in a front three.

As for Valencia, Samu Castillejo’s yellow card against Athletic last time out will rule him out of Monday’s fixture.

Hugo Guillamon and Gabriel Paulista will be available following bans of their own, but Edinson Cavani, Nico Gonzalez and Jaume Domenech are on the treatment table for Los Che.

Cavani’s injury, which occurred in the early stages of the clash with Athletic, is expected to open the door for Hugo Duro to start in the final third of the field.

Justin Kluivert could also start due to Castillejo’s absence, while Ilaix Moriba might be the player to drop out in midfield to allow Guillamon to return to the starting team on Monday night.

Getafe possible starting lineup:
Soria; Duarte, Dakonam, Alderete, Alvarez; Villar, Arambarri, Algobia; Munir, Unal, Mayoral

Valencia possible starting lineup:
Mamardashvili; Foulquier, Comert, Diakhaby, Gaya; Guillamon, Almeida, Musah; Kluivert, Duro, Lino

Preview: Aston Villa vs. Arsenal

Having both fallen to 3-1 defeats to Manchester City in their most recent Premier League encounters, Aston Villa and Arsenal kick off this weekend’s action at Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime.

Unai Emery reunites with his former club as his current side sit 11th in the top-flight rankings, while the Gunners have been bumped down to second but could quickly regain top spot here.

Match preview

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery reacts on January 8, 2023

Many wondered how Man City would immediately react to the plethora of charges that have been levied on them for alleged financial breaches, but Aston Villa ended up becoming the latest victims of an Etihad onslaught, as the champions responded how champions should.

Rodri’s header, Ilkay Gundogan’s tap-in and Riyad Mahrez’s penalty put the game to bed before the half-time whistle blew, but Ollie Watkins did manage to bag a consolation for the visitors before Jhon Duran rattled the woodwork with a thunderous volley in the dying embers.

The scoreline could have been more humiliating for Villa had Mahrez not ballooned another gilt-edged chance over the bar, and a second successive loss has further harmed the Lions’ top-half aspirations, as they enter the weekend three points adrift of Chelsea and four behind Liverpool, who have a game in hand.

The positives have outweighed the negatives for Villa since Emery took charge, as they have scored in all 11 of their competitive fixtures under the ex-Arsenal and Villarreal boss, but conceding seven goals in their last two games does not bode well before a meeting with the title contenders.

Each of the hosts’ last five home matches in the Premier League has seen both teams find the back of the net, but only one of those contests has ended in victory for Emery, who needs no briefing on the dangers that his former employers will pose in the West Midlands.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta reacts on February 11, 2023

It was Villa’s turn to lose 3-1 to Man City at the weekend, and it was Arsenal’s turn to suffer an identical beating at the hands of the champions on Wednesday night – one which knocked the Gunners off their perch at the top of the table as defensive mistakes bedevilled them.

Kevin De Bruyne and Bukayo Saka both made the net ripple in the first half, but the City juggernaut came out all guns blazing in the second as Jack Grealish and Erling Braut Haaland made the error-strewn North Londoners pay, extending their winning streak over Arsenal to 11 games in the top flight.

What may have started out as a minor blip against Everton is now becoming a slippery slope for the Gunners, who have now failed to win any of their last three Premier League games and are in second place on goal difference as a result, albeit while holding a game in hand on Man City.

The destiny of the title is therefore still in their own hands, and a point would send them back to the summit on Saturday before Man City tackle Nottingham Forest in the afternoon, but more and more questions are now being asked about the credentials of this young team.

Nevertheless, Arsenal still travel to Villa Park as the Premier League’s best-performing away team this term – conceding a joint-low seven goals in the process – and they posted a 1-0 win in this fixture last term before edging a close contest 2-1 at the end of August.

Team News

Thomas Partey in action for Arsenal on October 20, 2022

Villa may soon be blessed with a full complement of players as Diego Carlos steps up his recovery from Achilles surgery, but he will not be ready for this game, while Jed Steer is also working his way back from a calf concern.

The recently-returned Bertrand Traore could potentially play his way into contention as he shakes off a knee injury, though, while Emery should also be able to call upon Tyrone Mings, who missed the defeat to City with an unspecified problem.

Mings’s likely return would see ex-Arsenal man Calum Chambers drop to the bench after an underwhelming showing at the Etihad, while Lucas Digne did not cover himself in glory either and could drop out for Alex Moreno.

As for Arsenal, groans were heard across North London when it emerged that Thomas Partey would miss the clash with Man City due to a muscle injury, although his absence was described as precautionary, and there is still a chance that he could recover for Saturday’s game.

Nevertheless, Jorginho was one of the Gunners’ standout performers on Wednesday night and will start again if need be, while Mohamed Elneny and Gabriel Jesus are definitely out as they recover from knee surgeries, and Emile Smith Rowe is still a doubt with his latest thigh concern.

Arteta’s decision to start Takehiro Tomiyasu against Man City was not vindicated, so Ben White ought to return here, while the quick turnaround will also benefit Leandro Trossard’s chances of earning a start over Gabriel Martinelli.

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Young, Konsa, Mings, Moreno; Kamara, Luiz, Ramsey; Buendia, Watkins, Bailey

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Xhaka, Jorginho; Saka, Odegaard, Trossard; Nketiah