Stoke City confirm interest in Ivica Olic; Maxwell inks PSG extension

Stoke City boss Mark Hughes has confirmed the club’s interest in Croatian forward Ivica Olic after the player revealed he has an offer to move to the Britannia Stadium in the summer.

The Croatia international, whose current contract at Wolfsburg expires at the end of the season, has been offered a new deal at the Volkswagen Arena but has yet to decide his future.

At 34, Olic is intrigued by the prospect of playing against the giants of English football — namely Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United — one last time.

The former Bayern Munich star, who helped the Bavarian giants knock Manchester Untied out of the UEFA Champions League in 2010, told Jutarnji list, as per The Mirror:

“As I have said before, Wolfsburg have offered me a new contract which is for one year and then another optional year. The money is great but I haven’t made a decision yet.

“I have also got an offer from Stoke. I talked with the manager and president of that club and I saw that they really want me.

“I must admit, playing another year against the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United sounds good to me.

“So I will stay at Wolfsburg or I will move to Stoke.

“But at the moment I don’t know which. Maybe there will be other offers. I’m calm at the moment and soon I will make a decision.”

After a day or so of speculation, Stoke manager Mark Hughes has revealed he is interested in bringing in the Croatia international.

“There is an interest there and we’ll see how it progresses,” said Hughes.

Olic — priced at 10/1 to score two or more goals against Hoffenheim on Sunday — has tallied eight goals and three assists in 21 Bundesliga appearances for Wolfsburg this season.

Maxwell inks PSG extension

Paris Saint-Germain left-back Maxwell has signed a one-year contract extension at the club which will keep him at the Parc des Princes until the summer of 2015, according to Sky Sports.

The 32-year-old Brazilian, formerly of Barcelona, has played very well for the French champions this term, tallying two goals and two assists in 18 Ligue 1 matches.

Competition from Lucas Digne, who was recently called up by France national team manager Didier Deschamps for the friendly against Holland on 5 March, has failed to keep the experienced Maxwell out of the starting XI under first-year boss Laurent Blanc.

“I am very proud of the president Nasser Al Khelaifi’s confidence in me,” Maxwell told PSG.fr.

“I will continue to give my all for the club and our supporters to pay back this confidence. Dream bigger!”

 

Fri 28 February, 2014
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CAF Confederations Cup: Zerdab puts CS Constantine in control

Zahir Zerdab scored the only goal of the match to put CS Constantine in a commanding position in their first-round clash with Red Lions.

Neither side could find the net in the opening period of the first-leg clash, but Zerdab came up with the goods three minutes before the hour mark to send the Algerian outfit into the second leg with a one-goal advantage.

CS Constantine reached this stage with a 4-3 aggregate victory over Nigelec of Nigeria, while Liberian strugglers Red Lions were playing their first match of the tournament after preliminary round opponents Estrela de Cantanhez withdrew.

In Friday’s other clash, Kondzo and Bayelsa United played out a goalless draw to leave the tie wide open ahead of the reverse fixture.

Nigerian side Bayelsa could be forgiven for feeling rusty, having not played a competitive game since the end of their domestic season in October

The second legs of each tie will be played next weekend, while there are a number of other first-leg matches this Saturday as 12 more teams look to give themselves a fighting chance of reaching the next round.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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La Liga Preview: Barcelona v Almeria

Adriano says Sunday’s visit of Almeria will give Barcelona a chance to get over last week’s surprise defeat to Real Sociedad.

Despite Sociedad challenging strongly for a UEFA Europa League spot this year, Barcelona’s third league reverse of the season still came as a surprise and the result allowed Real Madrid to move three points clear at the summit.

Barca’s two title rivals, Real and Atletico Madrid, play each other on Sunday. A win for the latter would give Gerardo Martino’s men would have the opportunity to regain top spot with three points against Almeria.

Brazilian full-back Adriano sees Sunday’s game as an opportunity to move on from a disappointing defeat last week.

“We are very much looking forward to this chance to turn the page following the game at Anoeta,” he told the club’s official website.

“All we are thinking about is winning everything from now on.”

Gerard Pique, Cuenca and Jonathan dos Santos have all done recovery work in training after picking up slight knocks, while left-back Jordi Alba trained as normal on Friday after a hamstring injury forced him to miss the defeat at Sociedad.

Barcelona thumped Rayo Vallecano 6-0 in their last game at Camp Nou, and struggling Almeria will have to halt a worrying trend if they are to take anything from the game.

Barca have won each of the past five meetings between the sides, scoring 21 goals and conceding just once.

Almeria lie just two places and four points above the relegation zone, having thus far struggled in their first season back in the top flight.

A goalless draw with fellow strugglers Malaga last time out did little to help their cause.

Francisco’s men have lost four away matches in a row, shipping 10 goals and mustering just one in reply, but the head coach at least has a fully-fit squad to choose from on this occasion.

A positive result would provide a huge boost to Almeria, especially with the two teams immediately below them, Real Valladolid and Malaga, facing each other 24 hours earlier.

Adriano was on target – together with Lionel Messi – when Almeria and Barcelona last met in September, as the champions ran out 2-0 winners.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Prediction: Southampton vs Liverpool

This is clearly not the right time to be facing in-form Liverpool, who are not giving up on the Premier League title, but Southampton should have enough motives to put a dent into the Reds’ title bid having crashed out of the FA Cup and also lost last league game to West Ham. Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers’ charges enjoyed a hard-fought triumph over Swansea last time out.

Southampton have come a long way in just three years, having moved from League One to the Premier League, establishing themselves as a top table side in the elite division, with four Saints players called to England’s latest squad. Mauricio Pochettino’s side haven’t quite managed to realise their full potential this season, but at least the first top 10 finish since 2003 appears on the cards. The Saints have turned on the style in the New Year, scoring 16 goals in first 8 fixtures before suffering a slight dip in form of late. Following the 1-0 triumph over high-flying Hull City at KC Stadium, Southampton were eliminated from the FA Cup after missing a host of clear-cut chances against Sunderland, before allowing West Ham to come from a goal behind and record a 3-1 victory in London. As a result, Mauricio Pochettino will request a response from his players, whereas the likes of Lambert, Lallana, Rodriguez and Shaw will be especially motivated to impress Roy Hodgson after being called for England friendly against Denmark. The visitors will be without Jos Hooiveld through an eye injury, but Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez are again considered for starting places.

Despite considerably lacking strength in depth and quite a few first team regulars missing a significant portion of the season, Liverpool are still mere four points behind the Premier League leaders Chelsea and they do not seem ready to give up on the trophy just yet. With no European distractions, the Reds were able to fully focus on domestic competitions and while that did not yield results in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup, their league campaign is still going according to plan. Liverpool currently have a six-point cushion in the race for a top 4 finish, but the most important thing is they continue to score goals for fun. Even with star striker Luis Suarez suffering a serious dip in form, the Reds have been pretty impressive up front of late, bagging 12 goals in last 3 Premiership fixtures. The 4-3 triumph over Swansea should give us a clear idea as to what to expect from the clash at St Mary’s, especially since Southampton won’t hesitate to attack their more illustrious opponents every time an opportunity presents itself. Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho have resumed training, but they are unlikely to feature at St Mary’s, just like Jose Eqnrique, who remains sidelined with a knee problem.

Conclusion

With top 10 finish all but secured, Southampton can play without any pressure and they will certainly aim to prove once again they can match even England’s top sides. Meanwhile, Liverpool need a win if they are to remain in the title chase, which is enough to suggest we are likely to see a high-scoring match at St Mary’s.

Verdict: Over 2.5 goals

Best Odds: 3/5

Bookmaker: bet365

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Premier League Preview: Tottenham v Cardiff City

Tottenham aim to buck a trend of poor results after European games when Cardiff City visit White Hart Lane in the Premier League on Sunday.

In the nine league matches that have immediately followed a UEFA Europa League tie this season, Spurs have taken just 10 points, losing on five occasions, including the 5-0 reverse at home to Liverpool in December that eventually cost Andre Villas-Boas his job.

Tim Sherwood took the reins thereafter and his side have lost just twice in 11 league matches since then.

Thursday night saw Spurs come from two goals down in the tie against Dnipro to eventually prevail 3-2 on aggregate and progress to the last 16 of the competition, but Sherwood and his players hold loftier ambitions for next season.

A win against Cardiff is crucial if Tottenham are to maintain their hopes of a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Spurs are currently fifth, six points adrift of Liverpool, and Christian Eriksen, who scored the first goal in Thursday’s comeback win, knows the importance of Sunday’s game.

“We need to continue winning to get closer to what we want next season, which is the Champions League,” he told the club’s official website.

“It’s my first season in the Premier League and I can see how close all the teams are.

“There are no easy games, but we have to try and make this one by scoring goals again.”

One of Tottenham’s wins following a European tie did come in the reverse fixture, when Paulinho’s stoppage-time goal sealed a 1-0 victory in Wales.

Cardiff, in the bottom three, desperately need to find form to avoid an instant return to the Championship.

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Cardiff have picked up just four points from seven Premier League outings and the Norwegian insists his players are fully aware of the perilous position they find themselves in.

“When you get disappointing results you regroup, correct mistakes, work hard and get a response and I have this week,” he said.

“We know where we are. We are in this situation with other teams. Some have had a good run, but they are still in it.

“We have not had results we deserve, but we are still in with a chance.”

Jermain Defoe has this week left Tottenham to formally join Toronto, while Danny Rose (knee) Etienne Capoue (ankle) and Kyle Walker (thigh) remain doubts.

Gary Medel and Jordon Mutch are thought to be in contention for Cardiff after recovering from knocks, with Craig Bellamy available again after serving a three-match suspension.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Premier League Preview: Swansea City v Crystal Palace

Tom Ince’s performance will be closely scrutinised when Crystal Palace try to further compound a miserable week for Swansea City on Sunday.

The talented Blackpool winger was a confirmed transfer target for Swansea during the January transfer window before eventually opting to move to Selhurst Park on loan for the rest of the season.

Ince has wasted little time in making an impact, scoring on his debut in a 3-1 win against West Brom, and has suggested that Swansea will struggle to deal with Palace’s attacking players this weekend, comments that could see him singled out for a hostile reception at the Liberty Stadium.

“Swansea play nice football,” Ince told The South London Press this week. “But will they be able to handle the threat we give them with Glenn Murray, Marouane Chamakh, Cameron Jerome, Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon and myself?”

A look at the Premier League table suggests that Palace may not be as prolific going forward as Ince believes is the case.

In fact, no team in the top flight have scored fewer goals in 2013-14 than Palace, who have netted 18 times in 26 games. Nevertheless, the London club sit just two points behind Swansea thanks to the galvanising influence of Tony Pulis.

Pulis has won seven of his 16 games in all competitions since taking charge, a run that has propelled Palace out of the relegation zone.

The Welshman’s next immediate concern is addressing the team’s inconsistent streak as Palace have won and then lost the following game over an eight-match streak that stretches back to the start of January.

Swansea welcome Palace with coach Garry Monk desperate for a response following UEFA Europa League heartache at Napoli on Thursday.

Last season’s League Cup winners came agonisingly close to progressing to the last 16 of the tournament, only for two goals in the final 12 minutes at the Stadio San Paolo to leave Monk’s side deflated as Napoli won 3-1 on aggregate.

That setback in Italy followed a 4-3 defeat against Liverpool last Sunday when Swansea twice battled back to draw level at 2-2 and then 3-3 before being undone by Jordan Henderson’s late goal at Anfield.

A five-game winless streak has proved to be an eye-opener into the topsy-turvy nature of management for Monk.

Swansea can at least take heart from the fact that they have won the last four encounters between the two sides.

Nathan Dyer picked up a heel injury against Napoli, but should be fit to face Palace, for whom Jerome Thomas (back) is available again.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Serie A Preview: Milan v Juventus

Milan face a stern test to maintain their mini-revival under Clarence Seedorf on Sunday when Serie A leaders Juventus visit San Siro.

Under the stewardship of the Dutchman, Milan have played six league matches, winning four and losing just once in a 3-1 reverse at Napoli.

Despite the upturn in fortunes, a massive 31-point gap separates Milan, who have endured a massively disappointing campaign on the whole and sit ninth, from their fellow Italian giants.

In what has traditionally been a match that has helped determine the destination of the Serie A title, Juve will start as strong favourites having not been beaten in the league since October, a run that spans 17 matches.

There appears little reason to suggest that Juventus’ unbeaten run will end in Milan, but midfielder Riccardo Montolivo is determined to spring a surprise on Antonio Conte’s men.

“We need a victory against a big team, for reasons relating to the table, but also for our self-esteem,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“And with Juventus it is the right night in which to do it. We know that we have the capability and quality to play a great game and to cause them trouble.”

Milan have serious doubts over the fitness of striker Mario Balotelli, who picked up a shoulder injury in the recent UEFA Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid.

The Italy international trained separately from the rest of the squad on Friday.

Juventus are able to call on one of the league’s deadliest partnerships in the form of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente.

The duo have claimed 24 league goals between them this season and were rested for Juventus’ midweek 2-0 victory at Trabzonspor in the UEFA Europa League.

Tevez and Llorente can therefore expect to be fresh and ready, along with influential midfielder Paul Pogba, who was withdrawn in the first half on Thursday once Juventus had effectively confirmed their progression to the last-16.

Pablo Daniel Osvaldo is another forward option for Conte, the on-loan Southampton man having bagged his second goal for the club against Trabzonspor.

One disappointment for Juve is that influential midfielder Arturo Vidal will sit out the match through suspension, but the Chilean is confident his team-mates will rise to the challenge in his absence.

“I’m gutted I can’t play against Milan,” he told Juve’s official website. “But I know my team-mates will play well even without me.”

Fri 28 February, 2014
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La Liga Preview: Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid

Atletico Madrid can claim a first league double over city rivals Real since the 1950-51 season when the two meet at Vicente Calderon.

On that occasion, Atleti went on to claim the Liga title, and Diego Simeone will hope that proves to be a positive omen in an ever-intriguing battle for this year’s championship.

Real top the pile in La Liga with 63 points going into the fixture, just three above Gerardo Martino’s Barcelona and Atleti, who sit second and third respectively.

Simeone’s men triumphed 1-0 in the reverse fixture last September thanks to Diego Costa’s goal, meaning Atleti can end a 63-year wait for a league double on Sunday.

To do so, Atleti will have to end a run of six successive league defeats to Real on their own patch, and claim a first home Liga triumph over the Bernabeu outfit since a 3-1 victory in 1999.

Simeone can take confidence from an unbeaten home league record this season, but the most recent encounters between the two sides saw Real cruise to a 5-0 aggregate victory in the Copa del Rey semi-finals in January.

That win went a long way to avenging a 2-1 extra-time defeat to Atleti in last year’s Copa final and Carlo Ancelotti’s men have been in supreme form in La Liga recently.

The last time the Italian witnessed his side lose a league match was a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in El Clasico at the end of October.

Since then Real have dropped points on just two occasions and another win against Simeone’s charges would cement their title ambitions.

Furthermore, Real head into the encounter on the back of a 6-1 demolition of Schalke in their UEFA Champions League last-16 first-leg encounter on Wednesday.

Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo all notched twice in that match, and the Portuguese returns to league action after serving a three-match ban for a red card in the 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao at the start of February.

That means Sami Khedira (knee) remains the only absentee for Real, while Atleti have no any fresh injury worries, as they look for a swift response to the 3-0 defeat at Osasuna last weekend.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v Norwich City

Norwich City can inflict further misery on former manager Paul Lambert on Sunday by extending Aston Villa’s winless run to five matches.

Lambert spent three years at Carrow Road, leading the club from League One to the Premier League in successive campaigns before he walked out to join Villa.

He is unbeaten in meetings with his former employers since leaving, winning two of the three Premier League games played as well as a League Cup clash last season.

However, pressure is beginning to build on the 44-year-old after a poor recent run that has seen Villa slump to 13th – directly above Sunday’s opponents – and another defeat would only see that increase.

Lambert is at least likely to be boosted by the inclusion of Ashley Westwood after the midfielder was declared fit to play.

Westwood suffered a dead leg in the 1-0 defeat at Newcastle but has overcome that problem to make the squad.

“Ashley is fine,” said Lambert. “I thought he was fantastic on Sunday. To lose him at that time was a blow, but he is fit again.”

Ryan Bertrand is also in line to feature after shaking off a virus, although Jores Okore is still a long way short of a return despite making progress in his recovery from a knee ligament injury.

For Norwich, boss Chris Hughton has had to contend with less positive news after he revealed that Dutchman Leroy Fer is highly doubtful.

Hughton replaced Lambert in the Norwich hot-seat and after a tough season will be keen to build on the 1-0 win over Tottenham when they travel to Villa Park.

Those three points saw Norwich move up to 14th and open up a four-point gap on the bottom three with 11 games remaining.

Their record at Villa Park does not make particularly happy reading though, with their last win on the ground against Villa having come back in November 1992.

Midfielder Fer will be monitored before the clash, with Hughton confirming on Friday: “He picked up a hamstring injury but we’re still assessing it.

“It’s something that’s only just happened, so we need a bit of time to assess it.

“Of course, it’s a blow for us at this stage of the season but it’s one that we’ll have to work around as best as we can.

“The good news is that Ryan Bennett is fit and available for selection, but unfortunately Michael Turner and Jonas Gutierrez are still out.”

Fri 28 February, 2014
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Bet £5, Get £20 Welcome Offer at Coral

Coral_free_bet_optCoral has decided to shake things up and introduce a new and improved welcome offer for all first time depositors who open an account at Coral starting from 28th February 2014. Their £50 Free Bet bonus has been replaced with Bet £5, Get £20 offer that offers much better value for money than its predecessor.

Register an account with the highly regarded UK bookmaker, choose £ or € as your preferred currency, deposit using any method and make a first real money bet of £/€5 or more. You will immediately receive a £20 Free Bet token in your account. There’s no need to wait until your first bet is settled, the bonus cash will be added to your balance as soon as you have placed a qualifying wager.

This basically means all first time depositors will receive a bonus of up to 400% on their first real money wager, and they have 14 days since signing up to place their first bet and claim this excellent offer.

The offer applies to new UK and ROI customers using online, mobile or telephone to place their wagers. Free bet token is valid for 7 days since being awarded, whilst free bet stake is not included in the returns. Sign up for a Coral account now and take advantage of their new welcome offer.

Fri 28 February, 2014
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