Premier League predictions – Blackburn to feel Fergie’s wrath?

Saturday 31st October

  • Arsenal v Tottenham
  • The North London derby has been pretty easy to predict in recent years as Arsenal have generally been good and Tottenham generally haven’t. This season it isn’t so easy as both teams are looking good and occupy third and fourth place in the table.

    Arsenal are playing their usual great stuff and a couple of weeks ago they won comfortably over Birmingham despite reaching their normal standards. Last week they threw away a lead at West Ham and they won’t want to repeat that. Tottenham are also playing great stuff but they inexplicably dropped three points last week at home to Stoke. What better way to bounce back for them than to win at Arsenal?

    I think Arsenal will have just too much for Harry’s men.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

  • Bolton v Chelsea
  • Bolton get a really quick chance of revenge after they lost 4-0 at Chelsea in the Carling Cup in mid-week. Unfortunately for them, it is likely that Chelsea will play their first team this time.

    Gary Megson will keep Bolton safe but he won’t be expecting anything here.

    Chelsea continue to look strong and Ancelotti will be looking at the other teams at the top and thinking that the Premier League should be his.

    SoccerNews prediction: 0-3

  • Burnley v Hull
  • Burnley were taught a harsh lesson about life in the Premier League last week when their excellent home record was unceremoniously torn apart by Wigan. What they need more than anything is another home game really soon against a team that are not very good.

    Luckily for Burnley the visitors this week are Hull! Managerless? (I wrote this on Thursday so I’m not sure Brown will still have a job when this is published) Hull really are a poor side in terms of the Premier League. If Phil Brown is still in charge, he surely won’t be after losing this one.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

  • Everton v Aston Villa
  • Last season this would have been a game between two teams who felt capable of making a bid to get into the top four. This season, Villa are still thereabouts but Everton are having a bad time.

    David Moyes has had terrible trouble with injuries but Everton have had some truly terrible results. They need something from this game to get their season back on track.

    Villa look good and will be in the top eight come the end of the season and maybe even be challenging for the top four. Having said that, Martin O’Neill will settle for a point in this one.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-1

  • Fulham v Liverpool
  • Fulham have been slowly edging their way back up to mid-table and are beginning to look a little more like the team were last season. Liverpool seem to have turned a disastrous season into one of great hope on the back of just one win. That may be a little optimistic, however good that win was.

    A win here would propel Liverpool back into the top four and talk of their demise will be forgotten. At least it will until their next defeat.

    SoccerNews prediction: 0-2

  • Manchester United v Blackburn
  • Sir Alex Ferguson is never more dangerous than when he has been wounded. Accepting an FA charge of improper conduct and watching his team lose at Anfield will have wounded him terribly. I would say this is a bad time to be playing against him and his team at Old Trafford.

    Blackburn are a decent outfit and they should remain safe this season. Having said that, teams at the top tend to be able to open them up reasonably easily and I can’t see this one being any different.

    SoccerNews prediction: 3-0

  • Portsmouth v Wigan
  • Things at Portsmouth are a little confused at the moment. Their saviour and multi-billionaire new owner doesn’t appear to have any money. The whole situation is a little embarrassing for the club. On the pitch, things are not a great deal better.

    Wigan pointed out a few home truths to Burnley last week when they won comfortably at Turf Moor, but they will also have a defeat at Hull in their recent memory. I can’t see them making the same mistake again.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-2

  • Stoke v Wolves
  • Both of these teams will be reasonably happy with the start they have made and would settle now to end the season in the position they occupy.

    Stoke continue to punch above their weight and sit ninth whilst Wolves are fourth from bottom. That would do nicely for both of them.

    I think Stoke at home will just be too strong for the visitors.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

  • Sunderland v West Ham
  • Steve Bruce will be looking for his team to bounce back from defeat at Birmingham and Carling Cup defeat against Aston Villa. He has the makings of a good side up at the Stadium of Light but he needs to get a result before losing becomes a habit.

    West Ham are already in the habit of losing but their spirited fight back last week to get a point against Arsenal may have been just the tonic Gianfranco Zola needed to turn their season around. A point here would be another step in the right direction.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-1

    Sunday 1st November

  • Birmingham v Manchester City
  • They have managed to keep themselves just outside the relegation zone but Birmingham know that this will be a season of struggle. They know that they need to gather points against the other teams in the bottom half of the table and that getting anything from a game like this is a bonus.

    Manchester City have drawn a couple of games that they should have won recently and they need to stop doing that if they are going to seriously challenge the top four.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-2

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Race on in Italy to peg back Inter

    It will be a case of damage limitation this weekend for Inter Milan’s Serie A title rivals.

    The reiging four-in-a-row champions went four points clear of the pack on Thursday following a thrill-a-minute 5-3 win over Palermo.

    And the worry now for Inter’s rivals and neutrals alike is that the gap could keep on growing if the leaders don’t slip up soon.

    Inter travel away to newly-promoted Livorno on Sunday in a game they will be expected to win comfortably, even if they do ring the changes to keep some players fresh ahead of a long trip to Ukraine to tackle Dynamo Kiev in midweek.

    Livorno may have won two straight games since Serse Cosmi took over from Gennaro Ruotolo just 10 days ago with the club rock bottom and winless, but beating Inter will be a whole different proposition for the team with the worst attack in the league.

    Inter’s main rivals have a 24-hour start on the champions to try to put some pressure on them and provoke a slip.

    AC Milan and Juventus host Parma and Napoli respectively on Saturday — Inter play on Sunday — but come into their matches in vastly differing states of morale.

    Juve are on a high after climbing to second in the table following Wednesday’s 5-1 thrashing of Sampdoria, who had been above them at kick-off.

    That victory convinced Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon that his Juve team are back to their best.

    “Scintillating? No, I’d call it a nuclear explosion,” he said about the performance against Samp.

    “That’s the quality we have and we knew it. We wanted to win and to do so convincingly.

    “We’ve always performed against the big teams, but unfortunately it’s the other matches that make the difference.

    “We need to try to stop dropping points in those to give ourselves a chance of reaching our goals.”

    Napoli are one of the teams who probably fall into the category of other matches for Juve and they will be buoyed by their stunning late comeback against Milan on Wednesday when they snatched a 2-2 draw despite reaching 90min at 2-0 down.

    It meant they remained unbeaten under coach Walter Mazzarri and they showed enough against Milan to suggest they will be more than a handful for Juve, as long as they can tighten up at the back, where they did look vulnerable.

    Milan had been on course for a fourth straight win but the two dropped points now leaves them nine points behind Inter and knowing that they can afford few such banana skins if they are to have any hope of winning the title this year.

    If truth be told, Napoli deserved their draw and Milan’s luck finally ran out after three games in a row where they fought back from 1-0 down to snatch narrow victories.

    They host a newly-promoted team but one holding a Champions League qualification berth and with a lot to defend on Saturday night.

    At the bottom Marco Baroni takes over Siena for the first time following the sacking of Marco Giampaolo as the Tuscans host Lazio, whose own coach Davide Ballardini is surely perilously close to the boot after they slumped to 15th with Wednesday’s 1-0 home loss to Cagliari.

    Meanwhile, Samp will be hoping to bounce back from their Turin humiliation at home to Bari while Palermo and Fiorentina will both look to boost their Champions League qualification hopes as they host Genoa and Catania respectively.

    Fixtures:

    Saturday

    AC Milan v Parma, Juventus v Napoli

    Sunday

    Cagliari v Atalanta, Chievo v Udinese, Fiorentina v Catania, Livorno v Inter Milan, Palermo v Genoa, AS Roma v Bologna, Sampdoria v Bari, Siena v Lazio

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Humiliated Real pumped up for Getafe derby

    It has been called Real Madrid’s most humiliating defeat ever in the local media with Tuesday?s 4-0 first leg Cup thrashing by third division Alcorcon giving coach Manuel Pellegrini and his Real stars food for thought ahead of Saturday?s home derby with Getafe.

    Real have failed to win any of their last three matches and the shambles in Alcorcon – a team from the Madrid suburbs that have never played in the top-flight – has cranked up the pressure on Pellegrini for the derby duel with Getafe.

    “It is embarrassing and a difficult defeat to stomach,” confessed Pellegrini. “We have to show our character and every single person has to take responsibility so that we can turn things around in the next game.”

    Getafe have proved a difficult customer for Real in the past – triumphing 3-1 at home last season in a match that nudged Bernd Schuster closer to the exit door – and Real can’t afford to slip up any more with champions Barcelona three points clear at the top.

    Pellegrini can bring in the rested Kaka who sat out the Alcorcon debarcle but Cristiano Ronaldo is still out injured with an ankle problem.

    Real’s form has slumped in the absence of Ronaldo with defeats against Sevilla, AC Milan and Alcorcon along with a 0-0 draw at Sporting Gijon.

    While Real have failed to score in their last two games Barcelona crushed Real Zaragoza 6-1 at the weekend and hope to carry on their good form at Osasuna on Saturday.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice in the Zaragoza rout to become the league’s joint top-scorer with seven goals but the display of Lionel Messi was the major boost with the Argentine back to his best after a dip in form.

    “I didn?t have the happiest of times with the national team or in the Valencia game but I knew I would bounce back,” said Messi. “The coach and players supported me and the fans have always been behind me even when I didn’t do things well.”

    Osasuna beat Barcelona 1-0 at Camp Nou on the penultimate day of last season although Barca had already wrapped up the title and fielded a string of youngsters.

    Elsewhere, Quique Sanchez Flores is ready for his managerial league bow with Atletico Madrid beginning with a trip to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday night.

    Former Valencia coach Flores was presented on Monday following Abel Resino’s sacking and Atletico, a point above the relegation zone, hope he can guide the club back into the top four.

    “The first thing we want to do is get the best out of the quality players we have,” said Flores. “I believe in the players and that we have enough quality to get out of this situation.”

    Flores won his first match in charge with a 2-0 victory over Marbella in the Kings Cup on Wednesday and Bilbao are on the slide losing four out of their last five league outings.

    Villarreal are another top side struggling down at the bottom although they got their first win of the season last weekend to move off the foot of the table.

    Brazilian striker Nilmar scored his long-awaited first goal for the club following a club record 11 million euro move in the summer and hopes for more goals in the next match at home to promoted Tenerife on Sunday.

    “Scoring goals always gives you confidence and now I want to go on a good run as does the team,” said Nilmar.

    In other matches, third-placed Sevilla want to hit the goal trail again at Xerez on Saturday having failed to score in their last two league matches.

    Sevilla have slipped six points behind pacesetters Barcelona and their title hopes could be over by Christmas if they don?t get back on track soon.

    Valencia are just a point behind Sevilla in fourth and travel to basement boys Malaga on Sunday.

    Malaga thrashed Atletico Madrid 3-0 on the opening day of the season but have not won since.

    Fixtures

    Saturday

    Real Madrid v Getafe (1600 GMT), Osasuna v Barcelona (1800 GMT), Xerez v Sevilla (1800 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid (2000 GMT)

    Sunday (all 1500 GMT unless stated) Real Zaragoza v Almeria, Real Mallorca v Racing Santander, Villarreal v Tenerife, Espanyol v Valladolid, Malaga v Valencia (1700 GMT) Deportivo La Coruna v Sporting Gijon (1900 GMT)

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Monaco out to topple French champions Bordeaux

    In-form Monaco go into their game at Bordeaux on Saturday knowing that victory will allow them to finish the weekend at the top of the French first division for the first time since September 2004.

    Guy Lacombe’s side are on a run of three straight league wins and head to the Stade Chaban-Delmas a point behind the defending champions in second place.

    Monaco’s recent form has seen them move ahead of Lyon and Marseille in the race to wrestle the crown from Bordeaux, whose 3-0 victory at home to Le Mans last weekend came after back-to-back defeats in the league.

    “We have to take the three points, particularly as it’s Monaco,” said Bordeaux goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso.

    “We can’t drop points against our nearest rivals. They won at Marseille (a 2-1 victory on October 4) so we’ve been warned. We know they’re a strong team, and they’re chasing three points. But so are we.”

    Monaco were grateful to league top scorer Nene for their 3-1 win at Boulogne-sur-Mer last time out, after the Brazilian forward struck two sublime free-kicks late on to take his personal tally for the season to nine.

    The principality side are likely to be without South Korean striker Chu-Young Park, who scored the opener against Boulogne, as well as midfielder Cedric Mongongu, with both players struggling to overcome foot injuries.

    “I’m hoping both will be fit in time, but I’m more optimistic for Cedric than I am for Chu,” said Lacombe.

    The last time Monaco were top of the table their coach was Didier Deschamps, who made his return to French football when he joined former club Marseille in July.

    A sizeable summer outlay on new players prompted some observers to install the Mediterranean outfit as title favourites, but they are currently five points behind leaders Bordeaux in fifth place – albeit with a game in hand after their match with Paris Saint-Germain last Sunday was postponed.

    Marseille will now confront PSG on November 20 but their opponents on Saturday are 11th-placed Toulouse, who have struggled to recapture the form that saw them to a fourth-placed finish last term.

    Andre-Pierre Gignac, the league’s top scorer last season, is yet to fire for Toulouse but he notched his second goal of the campaign in the 2-0 win at Lens last weekend and is looking forward to returning to a ground where he has enjoyed success in the past.

    “The Velodrome is a magnificent stadium,” he said.

    “Last season I scored twice there and I also scored the winning goal there for Lorient three years ago.

    “I’ve never lost against OM and I don’t think it’ll happen this weekend. The pressure is on them, we have nothing to lose.”

    Saturday’s late game is the local derby between Saint-Etienne and Lyon, who are seeing to bounce back from a shock 4-1 defeat at Nice that knocked them off top spot.

    “The derby is a special match in the league schedule,” said Lyon captain Jeremy Toulalan.

    “I was able to take part in a number of Nantes-Rennes derbies, but the intensity of the Saint-Etienne-Lyon derby is multiplied by two or three.

    “This match looks complicated because Saint-Etienne are also on a poor run of results, but in difficulty we have always stood up to be counted.

    “We are aware that this week will be important on a points level. We mustn?t get too far behind.”

    PSG travel to Sochaux on Sunday, with Mamadou Sakho, Ludovic Giuly and Jeremy Clement having all returned to training following the swine flu outbreak that prompted the postponement of their match at Marseille.

    Fixtures

    Saturday (1700GMT unless otherwise stated)

    Auxerre v Montpellier, Bordeaux v Monaco, Boulogne-sur-Mer v Nancy, Grenoble v Lille, Lens v Lorient, Marseille v Toulouse, Saint-Etienne v Lyon (1900GMT)

    Sunday (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)

    Nice v Le Mans, Rennes v Valenciennes, Sochaux v Paris Saint-Germain (1900GMT)

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Celtic hope for home comfort against Kilmarnock

    Celtic will hope to quickly bury the memory of their mid-week League Cup exit when they host Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday.

    The holders crashed out of the cup competition on Wednesday after a 1-0 defeat at home to Hearts.

    New coach Tony Mowbray is already under pressure, despite the Hoops topping the table, after leading his side to just two wins out of nine games at home this season.

    The Hoops have come under fire from their supporters for their indifferent form at Celtic Park, a venue that was previously a fortress in domestic and European competition.

    Celtic’s strikers have also come in for criticism, having failed to find the net in three successive home games, but midfielder Barry Robson says it is up to every player to chip in with goals.

    “I think we have been playing well in a lot of games and we are still top of the league,” he said. “And if we win our next three European matches as well then we will qualify from our Europa League group.

    “But it’s down to every player. The defenders should be aiming to score at set-pieces, the midfielders should be chipping in and I’m sure the strikers will score goals in the future.

    “It’s just about trying to turn good play into goals. We could have won by a few if we’d taken our chances against Hearts so the boys are working hard in training to try and get things going.”

    The mood amongst the supporters at arch-rivals Rangers is not much better.

    Speculation has surrounded the future of the club all week since manager Walter Smith announced after last weekend’s draw with Hibernian that the Lloyds Banking Group were in charge of the Old Firm giants following David Murray’s decision to step down as chairman.

    Bank officials moved quickly to deny this but the failure to sign any players for the past 18 months led Smith to say his side has stagnated.

    Even a mid-week win against Dundee to secure a place in the semi-finals of the League Cup has not lightened the mood at Ibrox.

    Smith’s own future, along with the rest of his backroom staff, is in doubt with his contract due to expire in January and his injury problems are mounting with Madjid Bougherra, Pedro Mendes and Lee McCulloch all out for Sunday’s visit to Dundee United.

    Despite the storm clouds gathering over Ibrox as the club seeks a new owner, Smith has guided Rangers to second place in the SPL and they have yet to lose in domestic competition.

    With important games against Dundee United and Unirea Urziceni in the Champions League coming up this week, midfielder Kevin Thomson says the club’s unbeaten start to the season shows the players are unaffected by the speculation.

    “The whole thing surrounding the club is behind the scenes at the moment,” Thomson said. “We are the players and we need to do what is right on the park, that’s what we are paid to do.

    “We know what’s going on, but it doesn’t affect the players. We still have a job to do – that’s what we get paid for and I think we have shown there is still hunger within the dressing room, regardless of what is going on behind the scenes.”

    Elsewhere on Saturday, third-placed Hibernian, who sit just three points off the top of the league, entertain Aberdeen at Easter Road.

    Motherwell take on Hearts looking to put their League Cup exit behind them and compound Hearts’ miserable start to the league which sees them lying in ninth place.

    Bottom club Falkirk travel to St Johnstone still looking for their first win of the season and St Mirren take on Hamilton.

    Fixtures (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)

    Saturday

    Celtic v Kilmarnock, Hibernian v Aberdeen, Motherwell v Hearts, St Johnstone v Falkirk, St Mirren v Hamilton

    Sunday

    Dundee United v Rangers (1230GMT)

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Bayern buoyant, Leverkusen´s Heynckes splutters

    League leaders Bayer Leverkusen may have to do without coach Jupp Heynckes for Saturday’s trip to Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga with buoyant Bayern Munich in the chasing pack behind them.

    Leverkusen are at Schalke’s Veltins Arena on Saturday night, but flu-victim Heynckes has been unable to train the team this week and his doctor will tell the 64-year-old on Friday whether he can sit on the bench at Schalke.

    Both midfielder Renato Augusto (calf strain) and Germany star Simon Rolfes (knee) are definitely out with injury.

    “The knee still needs a little time,” said Rolfes, who is set to miss Germany’s friendlies against Chile on November 14 and Ivory Coast on November 18.

    “Giving a date when I will play again will help nobody, I am not overly concerned.

    “I regained my fitness very quickly in the summer.”

    Reports broke here last Sunday that Schalke on on the verge of bankruptcy with substantial debts in excess of 100 million euros, but the club replied on Thursday saying they have sliced 25.5 million euros off their debt.

    They have sold part of their Veltins Arena’s stadium for 15 million euros, while they have secured a loan for 10.5 million euros in a bid to balance their books.

    The Royal Blies are fourth in the table and only two points behind Leverkusen with Hamburg and Werder Bremen also capable of taking over the lead this weekend should results go their way.

    Fifth-placed Bayern are four points off the pace and they have a chance to close the gap at Stuttgart on Saturday having been buoyed by the 4-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Cup on Wednesday.

    Strikers Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni both scored their first goals of the season with Klose in superb form having scored the first two himself before setting up the third.

    Stuttgart are facing their sixth consecutive defeat after crashing out of the German Cup at Greuther Fuerth on Tuesday which led to a crisis meeting where it was decided coach Markus Babbel would keep his job.

    But Babbel can ill afford more defeats with his side hovering above the relegation zone.

    Bremen are on a run of good form having been beaten just once all season and they should have few problems against struggling Nuremberg, who were beaten 3-0 by Hoffenheim last weekend.

    Defending champions Wolfsburg are up to seventh in the league and are beginning to find the way back to home strength with two successful recent wins on their own turf against Hannover 96 and Borussia Monchengladbach.

    They are looking for a third over Mainz who are holding their own in midtable after being promoted last season, but are erratic in the league.

    Having been robbed of the chance to go top by Kevin Kuranyi’s last minute header for Schalke, second-placed Hamburg are hosting Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday with Bruno Laddadia expecting to have key players David Jarolim, Jerome Boateng and Ze Roberto fit from minor injuries.

    Saturday

    VfL Wolfsburg v Mainz 05

    VfB Stuttgart v Bayern Munich

    Hamburg v Borussia M’gladbach

    Cologne v Hanover 96

    Nuremberg v Werder Bremen

    Schalke 04 v Bayer Leverkusen

    Sunday

    Freiburg v Hoffenheim

    Eintracht Frankfurt v VfL Bochum

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    ManUnited in search of Rovers´ revival

    Sir Alex Ferguson wants a comprehensive performance from Manchester United against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday to prove they have from last weekend’s loss at Anfield.

    Liverpool beat Premier League champions United 2-0 in a thunderous atmosphere on Merseyside to not only keep their own threadbare title ambitions alive but also end their arch-rivals’ 11-match unbeaten run.

    A comfortable enough victory at Barnsley during the week put United into the last eight of the League Cup and seemed to prove the Liverpool result has not left any mental hangovers at Old Trafford.

    “Part of the challenge is how you react to disappointment,” said Ferguson. “We lost 4-1 to Liverpool at home last season, which was a travesty but the players buckled down and we went on to win the league.”

    During last Sunday’s Liverpool encounter, former Anfield star Michael Owen looked United?s most potent force and he also scored in the win at Barnsley.

    The England striker may have been a surprise pre-season acquisition by Ferguson but he continues to impress at Old Trafford.

    “Michael is always looking and always on the move,” United assistant manager Mike Phelan said. “That is the quality of Michael Owen and those qualities are of benefit to us.

    “Michael has come to Manchester United as it a fresh challenge for him and we can use him as and when we need to use him.”

    Blackburn will arrive at Old Trafford after one of the most testing weeks for a Premier League football club in recent memory due to the swine-flu problems that have affected their squad in the build-up to this encounter.

    Two players missed last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing by Chelsea due to the condition, while a further player and two members of staff have also contracted the illness to disrupt Sam Allardyce’s plans.

    The Rovers manager also knows he has significant problems on the pitch because his side is currently incapable of winning on the road, having lost their last nine encounters away from Ewood Park.

    Allardyce admitted: “The difference between the team at Ewood and the team away from home is unrecognisable.

    “If you beat Aston Villa with 10-men at home you are showing some real quality style, grit and determination.

    “But if you then lose 6-2 and 5-0 at Arsenal and Chelsea then you see a team you just can’t recognise.

    “It is a baffling problem that I need to resolve immediately before Manchester United.

    “I have to resolve it because, if I don’t, it becomes like the ‘yips’ (a nervous and uncertain putting stroke) in golf if you like.

    “The ‘yips’ can become a greater and greater problem as time goes on and on and on so we have to resolve it by the time we are at Old Trafford.”

    He added: “We need to be organised and resilient enough to make sure that no matter what happens, with 10 minutes to go we are still in with a chance.”

    United will be without Park Ji-sung (knee) while Darren Fletcher has yet to play since injuring his foot on international duty with Scotland but could be in contention.

    Blackburn defender Christopher Samba is still struggling with swine-flu, but Rovers say they are monitoring the situation day-by-day.

    Meanwhile right-back Pascal Chimbonda (calf) and midfielder Vince Grella (thigh) are also doubts.

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Keane words threaten to spur on Arsenal

    Robbie Keane couldn’t have teed up this weekend’s north London any better than he did when claiming Tottenham Hotspur now have a better squad than Arsenal.

    The striker has always worn his heart on his sleeve – a trait that means he is loved by Spurs fans and fills the role of pantomime villain in the eyes of Arsenal supporters whenever the two teams meet.

    Keane’s comments summed the growing belief at Tottenham they are finally in with a chance of closing the gap that has existed between the two clubs ever since Arsenal emerged as Manchester United’s main rivals in the late 1990s.

    A glance at the Premier League table shows just why this Saturday’s meeting at the Emirates Stadium is so important, even when local rivalries are put to one side.

    Arsenal currently sit third in the standings, ahead of fourth-placed Spurs on goal difference although the Gunners have a game in hand.

    But if Tottenham are to leap-frog their near neighbours this weekend, they will have to do something they haven’t managed in the league since 1993 and win in Arsenal’s own backyard.

    Arsene Wenger’s side haven’t lost to their local rivals in 19 league matches, a run Spurs must bring to an end if they are to harbour realistic chances of effecting a shift in the balance of power in that part of London.

    Both teams go into the game on the back of impressive victories to claim a place in the League Cup quarter-final, with Spurs comfortably beating Everton at home while Wenger fielded a youthful side in the 2-1 win over Liverpool.

    The changes routinely made by Premier League teams in that competition hardly make it an accurate barometer of form though, and the outcome of this weekend’s meeting could be determined by whether Arsenal can overcome their worrying habit of failing to kill teams off after dominating play.

    A loss in concentration allowed AZ Alkmaar to score an added time equaliser in the recent Champions League group game and days later Wenger’s side threw away a two-goal lead against a struggling West Ham in a match which showcased the best and worst of the Gunners.

    Tottenham and England striker Peter Crouch recognises the two sides of Arsenal’s game. “You saw at the start of the (West Ham) game when they went 2-0 up that they play great football, as they always do,” he said.

    “Hopefully, we can keep that to a minimum and, as West Ham proved, you can come back and you can score goals against them. Hopefully, we’ll be tight at the back and get a good result.”

    Arsenal have surprised a number of people with the way they recovered from away defeats at Manchester United and Manchester City that left an early dent in their title hopes.

    But Tottenham have also made an early case to be considered top four contenders by continuing the outstanding form they showed during the second half of last season.

    “I think we’ve also surprised a few people by the way we’ve started,” Crouch added. “We’re in the top four at the minute and we want to stay there as long as we possibly can.”

    The corresponding fixture last season produced a thrilling 4-4 draw that helped kick-start Tottenham’s transformation under manager Harry Redknapp.

    For this meeting, Wenger must decide whether to stand by young goalkeeper Vito Mannone or recall the experienced Manuel Almunia while Redknapp’s main selection dilemma is likely to be whether to start with Crouch.

    Sat 31 October, 2009
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    Portugual: FC Porto held by Belenenses

    FC Porto risk losing touch with the top of the Portuguese league following a surprise 1-1 draw with Belenenses on Friday.

    With only seven points from their first eight games, Belenenses haven’t been able to establish themselves in the top half of the table like they managed to do in recent seasons.

    Nevertheless, the Lisbon outfit caused Porto the necessary amount of trouble on Friday and even took the lead through Lima in the first minute after the break.

    Fans at O Dragao stadium weren’t left entirely empty-handed however, as Ernesto Farias netted the equalizer three minutes after the hour.

    The two leaders, Sporting Braga and Benfica, face each other on Saturday and the winner of that match will extend their lead over third-placed Porto to four points.

    Fri 30 October, 2009
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    Russia: Leaders Rubin Kazan cruise to victory

    Rubin Kazan remain on course to win the Russian championship following a 4-1 win over Krylya Sovetov on Friday.

    Ecuadorian Christian Noboa put the defending champions ahead after 48 minutes against Krylya, following a goalless first half.

    Alexander Bukharov made it 2-0 eight minutes later, but famous Czech striker Jan Koller struck back shortly after the hour, 2-1.

    Gokdeniz Karadeniz restored Rubin’s advantage another two minutes later however, and Bukharov netted his second of the night with 15 minutes to play.

    Rubin are now four points ahead of Spartak Moscow, who could bring the gap back to one in their home match with FK Rostov na Donu on Sunday. After this weekend, there will be three rounds left to play in Russia.

    Fri 30 October, 2009
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