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Montella out to rally the troops after testing week

Vincenzo Montella

Vincenzo Montella must re-energise his faltering Fiorentina side as they continue their last bid for silverware in Thursday's UEFA Europa League quarter-final first-leg tie at Dynamo Kiev. 

A run of just one defeat in 19 matches across all competitions left Fiorentina hopeful of a top-three finish in Serie A and subsequent Champions League football, as well as Coppa Italia glory.

However, Fiorentina's season unravelled in the space of five days. First a 3-0 defeat at home to Juventus last Tuesday saw them squander a 2-1 first-leg advantage to exit the Coppa.

It was the same scoreline in Sunday's league outing at Napoli, a loss that struck a blow to their Champions League ambitions and they now trail third-placed Roma by eight points with just eight matches remaining.

It remains to be seen if there will be any lasting psychological damage from those defeats, but Fiorentina must regroup quickly ahead of Thursday's encounter at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex - which is subject to a partial stadium ban for the fixture due to racist behaviour of supporters in their last-16 home tie against Everton.

"We came from a 3-0 defeat at home against Juventus and now a 3-0 defeat against Napoli," Fiorentina captain Manuel Pasqual told reporters after the Napoli defeat.

"We want to react. We are an important team and we want to prove it to everyone."

With the promise of Champions League football on offer for the victors of Europe's secondary competition, Fiorentina will be desperate to return to form.

But they face a Dynamo side who are flying and remain top of the Ukrainian Premier League – unbeaten.

They head into the match on the back of a 2-2 draw against Zorya, though, and Rebrov is expecting a difficult encounter

"We must concentrate on Fiorentina," he said. It will be a completely different game from the one played in the league [against Zorya].

"Fiorentina is a team that plays well in defence and on the counter-attack."

Dynamo are without the injured Yevhen Makarenko and Miguel Veloso, while Jose Maria Basanta is suspended for Fiorentina.


Ancelotti´s men eye derby upturn

Carlo Ancelotti

Real Madrid will aim to turn around a dismal recent record against city rivals Atletico when the clubs meet in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. 

Since overcoming their neighbours to lift an historic 10th European crown last May, Real have failed to beat Atletico in six attempts.

A 1-0 defeat at the Vicente Calderon in August gave Atletico a 2-1 aggregate triumph in the Spanish Super Cup, and Diego Simeone's side won by the same margin over 90 minutes when the teams met at the Santiago Bernabeu in La Liga three weeks later.

A 2-0 win on home turf for Atleti led them to a 4-2 victory across two legs in January’s Copa del Rey tie, and a 4-0 Liga humbling followed for Real in February.

The latter result and a haphazard negotiation of the Champions League last-16 encounter with Schalke served to increase discontent among the Real faithful with coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Nevertheless, there could still be a glorious conclusion to their season after Barcelona spurned a two-goal lead over Sevilla on Saturday to leave the door ajar in La Liga's title race.

But settling a local score is Real's immediate concern, and full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is confident Atleti's derby dominance can be brought to an end.

"There's a lot of hope and motivation among the squad," he told reporters after Saturday's 3-0 win over Eibar.

"We know we have not beat [Atletico] this year, but we believe we know why that is. There are good players on the [Real] bench who can change the game and on top of that we have the return leg at the Bernabeu."

The Champions League represents Atletico's remaining realistic chance to win silverware this term after the Liga title holders failed to gain ground on Barca and Real at the weekend.

Antoine Griezmann continued his rich vein of form with a brace in the 2-2 draw against Malaga, but fellow forward Fernando Torres believes coach Simeone holds the key to the team's ongoing success in showdowns with Real.

"It is his character as a player and his character as a coach that drives the team," Torres.

"He knows we are a team that needs to know what we are about, our weaknesses and our strengths, but above all our weaknesses so we can then implement our qualities.

"We don't have the options that Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern [Munich] or Chelsea have, we cannot drop points and make up for them later. We are a team that plays at our limit."

Real are ready to welcome back Gareth Bale from an ankle problem, while midfielders Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez will return having missed out against Eibar through suspension.

Atletico striker Mario Mandzukic has scored twice against Real this term but is set to miss out with an ankle injury. 


Sydney FC's Tavares cleared of serious injury

Mickael Tavares

Sydney FC midfielder Mickael Tavares has been cleared of a serious groin injury after undergoing medical scans on Monday but is still in doubt to play against Perth Glory on Friday. 

The Senegalese international sustained a groin strain and was forced off the field during Sydney's 1-0 loss to Adelaide on Saturday night but has been cleared to play again before the finals after scans revealed it was a minor strain. 

But the defensive midfielder might still not take part in Sydney's crucial match against second-placed Perth Glory on Friday given the short turnaround and travel associated with the match. With the finals on coach Graham Arnold's mind and less than a month away, Tavares might be spared from the trip to prevent further risk of injury. He did not train with the rest of the squad on Tuesday and underwent treatment and light work with the club's physio and medical staff. 

Should Tavares be rested for the trip to Perth on Friday, it could create a selection headache for Arnold with Terry Antonis ruled out for at least two weeks. Antonis is still a chance to play again this season after scans revealed no significant damage to his injured knee but won't be back until round 27 at the earliest when Sydney FC play Wellington Phoenix. 

The loss of the two midfielders for the match against the Glory will open the door for Rhyan Grant and Chris Triantis to push for a start in what is already a competitive fight for positions. Winger Chris Naumoff says the loss of internationals Antonis and Tavares is a blow but believes there is enough depth of quality to return from Western Australia with three points.

"Look, every player we have at Sydney plays an important role but they're two great players everyone knows about. It is disappointing but that's football, these things happen and we'll have to make do with what we have. We have enough talent still to finish our season on a high," Naumoff said.  "Mickael has a bit more experience playing in Europe as well so he helps the younger boys, he's obviously a great player and everyone can see and everyone knows how Terry is such an exceptional player."

The Sky Blues face a Perth Glory side embroiled in the A-League's greatest salary cap scandal with uncertainty hanging over the club as to whether they will face severe sanctions from Football Federation of Australia including having points deducted. The club must respond to the FFA by Wednesday evening in response to a second show-cause notice of serious salary cap breaches before any potential penalty will be imposed by the governing body. 

The FFA board will determine if and what penalty will be imposed which could have a significant bearing on the composition of the top six. Sydney FC could know the fate of Perth before Friday's match but Naumoff says the club's football department hasn't discussed this issue in their preparations. 

"Personally I feel that wouldn't have an effect on us as a team. That's off the pitch and out of our control so there's not much we can do about it," Naumoff said. 

Perth's players showed their strength in testing times by defeating Newcastle Jets 2-0 at a soaked Hunter Stadium on Monday afternoon and Sydney say they are expecting a strong showing from the Glory irrespective of what happens this week in relation to their salary cap drama. 

"Every team requires a different analysis that we go through every week but in terms of training, we'll go through our game plan and the boys will work hard for the weekend as usual," Naumoff said. 


Kompany: United should be wary of us in derby

Vincent Kompany

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany claims it is a good time to be going into a derby against United but the statistics suggest otherwise.

Manuel Pellegrini's side have lost three of their last five Premier League matches, two of which came against teams in the bottom half of the table in Burnley and Crystal Palace.

Their away record is particularly poor with one just win in six and the defending champions next stop is Old Trafford on Sunday, having dropped from second to fourth to now sit a point behind their neighbours.

It is United who are finishing the season looking like title challengers with only second-placed Arsenal ahead of them in the form table over the last six matches.

Arsene Wenger's team have a 100 per cent record during that time but United have five wins in a row since a defeat to Swansea on February 21.

The Red Devils appear to have finally clicked and found another gear after getting results but failing to impress in Louis van Gaal's maiden season.

Captain Wayne Rooney has rediscovered his goalscoring touch with six in his last eight matches in all competitions, having gone nine games without finding the net as Van Gaal utilised him in a variety of positions and not always as a striker.

By contrast, City's leading scorer Sergio Aguero has not scored in his last six appearances in all competitions and has only netted three league goals in his last 12 matches, having previously scored 11 in 14.

Another problem City have is their leaky defence. With the usually ultra-reliable Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta far from their best this season they have suddenly found themselves exposed far too often.

They have kept only three clean sheets since Christmas in all competitions, with those coming against West Brom, Leicester and Newcastle.

United, in the same time period, have had eight despite rarely having a settled defence, and they have also turned Old Trafford into something of a fortress with five successive league victories.

That record, added to the fact City have scored more than once in an away game on a single occasion since Boxing Day, the 4-1 win at Stoke, would suggest Kompany's confidence may be misguided.


FA Cup Preview: Blackburn vs Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool will hope to return to winning ways when they visit Ewood Park for an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday.

The Reds were held to a 0-0 draw in the original fixture at Anfield almost a month ago.

Prior to that game, Brendan Rodgers’ side were flying both domestically and in the FA Cup but that stalemate marked the beginning of a dip in form at a critical time for Liverpool.

The Reds followed that with an unconvincing win at Swansea, where they were out-played in the first-half, before defeats to top-four rivals Manchester United and Arsenal. That recent run means Liverpool come into this game sitting fifth in the Premier League – seven points outside the top-four.

On top of their fading Champions League qualification hopes, Liverpool have key personnel missing due to suspensions and injuries, plus Rodgers had to deny reports of dressing room rift after they suffered a 4-1 humbling at Arsenal.

A win in this game though could be a turning point for Liverpool as they would book a place at Wembley for the semi-finals, where they will be favourites to go all the way.

Blackburn also find themselves in a similar position domestically as they have lost two of their last three games leaving Gary Bowyer’s men 10th in the Championship table. Rovers are now 14 points away from the promotion play-off places.

They will still approach this game with some confidence after defeating Swansea City and Stoke City on their way to the quarter-finals. Bowyer is also hopeful that the pitch at Ewood Park will help his side because Liverpool should find it harder to impose their usual game-plan.

Rudy Gestede, Chris Brown, Simon Eastwood and Chris Taylor are all doubts while Craig Conway, Grant Hanley, Josh King and David Dunn are sidelined.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing is cup-tied, while Paul Taylor, David Raya and John O’Sullivan are also ineligible.

Mario Balotelli (knee) and Adam Lallana (groin) are doubts for this clash.

Liverpool will be without Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Emre Can, who are all suspended.

Jordan Rhodes is in good form after scoring his 17th goal of the season against Leeds so he will probably partner Rudy Gestede up top in a 4-4-2 formation. Corry Evans and Lee Williamson may be the sitting midfielders allowing the wide midfielders – Tom Cairney and possibly Ben Marshall – to join the strikers in direct attacks.

Liverpool should keep faith in their usual 3-4-3 formation. Injuries and suspensions may force Rodgers to retain the majority of the players who started at the Emirates Stadium despite the disappointing defeat.

Daniel Sturridge could return to the starting line-up though. The England international could lead the attack, with Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho as the wide forwards. At the back, Dejan Lovren may get a rare start as one of the three central defenders since both Can and Skrtel are suspended.

After a cautious approach at the Emirates, Liverpool should revert back to their high pressing game and enjoy more possession despite the concerns about the Ewood Park pitch.

Both sides are struggling for form so Liverpool’s quality could be the decisive factor though Rodgers’ men should fight it difficult to penetrate the Rovers again.

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