Weekend Football Matches

Scotland: Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC v Celtic FC preview (Saturday 13.00)
Celtic head for the Highlands looking to extend their 15-point lead in the Scottish table before Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League last-16 tie with Juventus. Giorgos Samaras and Emilio Izaguirre are likely to miss out with hamstring injuries and manager Neil Lennon will be anxious to see 16 first-teamers return unscathed from international duty. Defender Efe Ambrose is absent again as he prepares for Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations final against Burkina Faso, but goalkeeper Fraser Forster should return from a neck injury.

“I have only played there once and scored two goals, so hopefully I can keep it going at the weekend,” said forward Tony Watt, referring to Celtic’s 4-2 victory at second-placed Inverness’s Caledonian Stadium in August. “We just want to win every game and hopefully I can play my part on Saturday.”


Germany: FC Bayern München v FC Schalke 04 preview (Saturday 18.30)
Bayern’s stately procession towards a 23rd Bundesliga title continues, but Schalke are enjoying a much less serene campaign, with a disastrous 2-1 home defeat by bottom team SpVgg Greuther Fürth last weekend leaving them with one league win in their last eight attempts. Sixth in the table – fully 22 points off Bayern’s total – the Gelsenkirchen club are now scrapping for a UEFA Europa League place.

Goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, however, is cautiously optimistic about facing Bayern, who have won the teams’ last four meetings. “Of course Bayern are clear favourites,” he said. “We go to Munich like Fürth came to us last week: without pressure. Nobody expects anything from us. We have nothing to lose. Maybe we’ll put in a performance and recover some energy for the upcoming weeks.” It may, though, be another body blow for out-of-form Schalke, who crashed 5-0 to Bayern in a January friendly in Qatar.

Italy: S.S. Lazio v SSC Napoli preview (Saturday 20.45)
Second play third in Italy, with Napoli striker Edinson Cavani eager to keep the momentum going as he tops the Serie A scorers chart with 18 goals. “We work hard every day for the dream we all have – winning the Italian title,” said the Uruguayan international.

Napoli are just three points behind leaders Juventus after winning five of their last six games, with Lazio a further six points off the pace after failing to win in their last three – having lost talismanic forward Miroslav Klose to injury. The German international could be replaced by new signing Louis Saha. “I’m here to help Lazio win everything it’s possible to win this season,” said the 34-year-old Frenchman.

Spain: Rayo Vallecano de Madrid v Club Atlético de Madrid preview (Sunday 21.00)

If this fixture was at the Vicente Calderón, Rayo would have reason to worry given that the Liga’s second-placed side Atlético hold a 100% home record in all competitions this term. The Rojiblancos have had six defeats on the road, however, and coach Diego Simeone is calling for caution ahead of Saturday’s trip to a Rayo team lying seventh and keen to get back among the European spots.

“They are a great side, continuing to grow and show courage under their coach [Paco Jémez],” Simeone said. “They don’t have a single player who isn’t comfortable in possession and they want to be the main men in their own backyard. This Rayo team are in good form and are delivering a very good campaign.”

Switzerland: FC Basel 1893 v FC Sion preview (Sunday 16.00)
The Swiss season resumes with Basel four points behind table-topping Grasshopper-Club, who visit basement side Servette FC in their first competitive game of 2013. Basel’s guests Sion, meanwhile, began the season with big expectations and will seek to rekindle their championship bid after bringing in midfielder Gelson Fernandes along with experienced new manager Víctor Muñoz during the winter.

The 41-times Swiss international Fernandes fills the gap left by Serey Die, who moved from Sion to Basel in January. “It’s pretty special to face Sion straight away,” said Die. “They will be up there right until the end.” Murat Yakin’s men really need the win and the coach added: “Sion are always a test.”


England: Manchester United FC v Everton FC (Sunday 17.00)
Wayne Rooney was filmed interviewing Everton’s Leighton Baines and Leon Osman en route to England’s midweek friendly with Brazil, but the former Blue must forget his Goodison connections in this north-west derby. United, nine points above champions Manchester City FC in second, will again look to Rooney after his goal against Brazil at Wembley made it five in four matches. 

However, the hosts should also beware Everton’s Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian not only got the opening-night winner against United in August, but last April scored two as Everton held United 4-4 in this fixture – a result that was ultimately fatal to United’s title charge. Ex-United striker Frank Stapleton reckons “there are only two teams better” than the fifth-placed Merseysiders at present – adding: “I’m sure Everton won’t go there feeling underdogs.”

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