Roland Lamah (front) of Swansea and Pablo Vincent Kompany (rear) of Manchester City vie for the ball during their English Premier League match at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Britain, on January 1.
LONDON: England’s frenetic festive period gives way to the romance of the FA Cup this weekend, with Tottenham Hotspur’s trip to north London rivals Arsenal the pick of the third-round ties.
Manchester United will once again look to the cups for consolation when they host Swansea City, while Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will all be seeking to avoid embarrassment at the hands of lower-league teams.
It is now nine years since Arsenal beat United on penalties in the 2005 FA Cup final to claim their last piece of silverware, but as Premier League leaders their star is in the ascendant once again.
However, in old foes Spurs they face a side bolstered by the arrival of new manager Tim Sherwood and bubbling with renewed self-belief after a 2-1 success at United on New Year’s Day.
Frozen out under former manager Andre Villas-Boas, Emmanuel Adebayor continued his impressive recent form with the opening goal at Old Trafford and team-mate Danny Rose has backed him to shine against his former club Arsenal on Saturday.
“He has been like a new signing,” said the Spurs left-back.
“He has scored four goals in his last five games, which is brilliant for us. Considering he didn’t play a game from pre-season until a few weeks ago, his energy levels have actually been brilliant.”
Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Cardiff City on Wednesday was tempered by an ankle injury to goal-scorer Nicklas Bendtner, but French striker Olivier Giroud could be fit to face Spurs after an ankle problem of his own.The two sides last met in the FA Cup in April 2001, when a Robert Pires tap-in earned Arsenal a 2-1 semi-final victory at Old Trafford.
United’s loss to Spurs on Wednesday was their sixth of the Premier League campaign and left them 11 points off the pace, but they have shown impressive form in the cup competitions this season.
David Moyes’s side have reached the Champions League last 16 and the semi-finals of the League Cup, and the FA Cup, which United last won in 2004, represents another means of salvaging their season.
Centre-back Jonny Evans says that the players are only slowly coming to terms with the impact of former manager Alex Ferguson’s retirement in May.
The third-round draw yielded few opportunities for genuine upsets, but Liverpool, Aston Villa and Sunderland all face third-tier opposition in the shape of, respectively, Oldham Athletic, Sheffield United and Carlisle United.
Chelsea, meanwhile, visit Derby County, who recently won seven games in a row in the second-tier Championship under former England manager Steve McClaren, while Manchester City travel to Blackburn Rovers. AFP
MADRID: After a short winter break, Spain’s top-flight clubs are back in action this weekend with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid jostling for position at the top of the table and a Basque derby also on the cards.
Reigning champions Barcelona and Diego Simeone’s Atletico are level on points at the top and are due to face each other in a mouthwatering fixture in Madrid next weekend.
Prior to that, though, Atletico go to Malaga today and Barcelona entertain Elche tomorrow before both sides have Copa del Rey ties to think about in midweek. Atletico, who have signed Argentine midfielder Jose Ernesto Sosa on loan from Metalist Kharkiv until the end of the season, will face a Malaga side who won their last two league games of 2013 to climb up into mid-table.
Brazilian full-back Filipe Luis insists that the Rojiblancos are fully focused on their trip to La Rosaleda as they look to keep the pressure on Barcelona.
“Knowing the coach and the squad, nobody is thinking about the Barcelona game. Maybe the supporters are, but we all know that the Malaga match is vital,” he said.
“We have not won there in two or three years and it is a difficult venue for us.”
Both Atletico and Barca have enjoyed stunning starts to the campaign, winning 15 and drawing one of 17 games in La Liga, but the Catalans have not always performed convincingly since Gerardo Martino took over as coach in the summer.
Nevertheless, the champions have been boosted by the return to the squad of goalkeeper Victor Valdes after injury, while Lionel Messi is also edging closer to a comeback. Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta is hoping a win against Elche - who sit just two points above the drop zone - can set his team up for a successful 2014.
“A good new year for us means winning everything” said the man who scored Spain’s World Cup-winning goal in 2010.
“When you have the chance to reach the top, you have to fight hard, and that’s the kind of ambition that we hope will take us into April and May in contention. The team is playing well, and we need to grow from here.”
Real Madrid, who sit third in the table, five points adrift of the top two, are in action on the Monday Three Kings Day holiday with a home fixture against Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The extra time to prepare for that game was used up playing in a glamour friendly against Paris Saint-Germain in Qatar on Thursday, which Carlo Ancelotti’s team won 1-0 thanks to a first-half goal from young striker Jese.
“We are coming from behind but we have the whole second half of the season to come back and win the league,” Ancelotti said. AFP