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Victory visit Adelaide in key clash

Victory visit Adelaide in key clash

Rivals Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory meet in a crucial A-League clash as the race for a top-two finish nears a thrilling conclusion.

Only three points separate league leaders Wellington Phoenix and fifth-placed Adelaide.

A top-two finish guarantees a home semi-final, while the Premier's Plate - awarded to the best regular-season side - is also on the line.

A loss for either Victory or the Reds at Coopers Stadium on Saturday night would prove a huge blow to their chances.

Kevin Muscat's Victory ended a three-game winless run by beating Western Sydney Wanderers 3-0 last time out.

They have one of the league's form players in Fahid Ben Khalfallah, and Albanian striker Besart Berisha is up to 11 A-League goals this campaign.

Adelaide's recent form has been scratchy, but they did also return to winning ways last time out - overcoming Central Coast Mariners 2-1.

Josep Gombau's men have failed to beat Victory in their past five meetings, with three of those resulting in wins to the Melbourne side.

Expect two desperate teams in front of a passionate Adelaide crowd in what is a key clash late in the season.

Wellington Phoenix welcome back Nathan Burns for their trip to seventh-placed Brisbane on Sunday.

Sydney FC, a point behind Ernie Merrick's men, are likely to go top momentarily at least when they host Melbourne City on Friday.

Graham Arnold's men have been one of the most entertaining teams this year, with Austria captain Marc Janko up to 16 league goals in 2014-15.

Once league leaders, Perth Glory desperately need to end an eight-game winless run when they visit Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.

In a clash that could decide who finishes bottom of the table, Western Sydney Wanderers host Newcastle Jets on Saturday.

 

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Garcia focusing on Europa challenge after domestic woe

Rudi Garcia

Roma host Fiorentina in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday, with the two sides experiencing contrasting fortunes in recent times.

Rudi Garcia's Roma have been in second place in Serie A for much of the season, but a run of just one win - and eight draws - in their last 10 matches have seen Juventus pull 14 points clear at the top.

Monday's 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria - their first at home in the league since May 2014 - was a further blow, but Garcia's men at least head into Thursday's clash at the Stadio Olimpico with a slender advantage in this tie following a 1-1 draw in Florence last week.

Josip Ilicic opened the scoring for Fiorentina on that occasion but, after Neto saved Adem Ljajic's penalty, Seydou Keita netted an all-important equaliser for Roma.

Keita was sent off against Samp on Monday for sarcastically applauding the referee, but his suspension does not affect his availability for Thursday.

"We need to look forward, get over this defeat and try to go through against Fiorentina on Thursday - also because we'll be playing at home," Garcia said following the loss to Samp.

"Of course you expect a lot from talented players, and we've got talented players. They're the guys who win games for you when the chances present themselves.

"Am I worried that Lazio are just a point behind us [in the league]? For now our only concern is beating Fiorentina and getting through to the next round. We'll think about Serie A again after this Europa League match."

Roma's opponents, meanwhile, have lost just once in their past 10 league outings, and have climbed to within five points of Garcia's side.

Monday saw them come from behind to defeat Milan 2-1 at home, thanks to goals in the final seven minutes from Gonzalo Rodriguez and Joaquin.

"It's a great moment and I'm really happy for the team," Joaquin told.

"We're still some way off third place so we just need to take things one game at a time.

"We have a massive one coming up on Thursday and tonight's win will fill us with energy and enthusiasm for our Europa League match."

Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan is suspended for the game, while Maicon (thigh) and Victor Ibarbo (calf) are doubtful.

The visitors have fitness concerns over goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu (back) and defender Stefan Savic (thigh) while striker Mario Gomez (ankle) is unlikely to feature.

A 0-0 draw will see Roma progress to the quarter-finals via the away goals rule, but Fiorentina will take heart from a 2-0 win in the Stadio Olimpico in the Coppa Italia last month.

 

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Klopp would welcome dramatic conclusion

Jurgen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp says he would welcome a dramatic conclusion to his side's UEFA Champions League last-16 clash with Juventus.

The Bundesliga side fell to a 2-1 defeat in Turin three weeks ago, with Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata scoring either side of an 18th-minute Marco Reus effort.

The result leaves Dortmund needing to beat Juve on Wednesday, but the German side have suffered defeat in their last three home meetings with the Serie A giants.

"I don't know if it needs to be exciting until the end, but if it gets dramatic, that means we are still in the race at that point – and that would be positive," Klopp told.

Until that first-leg clash with Juve, the Champions League had been a rare source of positivity for Dortmund, who spent the first half of their domestic campaign battling at the bottom end of the table, but Klopp insists he never questioned his side's playing style.

"Well, it's okay to ask questions [of yourself], but not to put our system into question," he added. "It's not as dogmatic as it may seem: the players are not told to give the ball to the opposition so we have a chance to win it back – that's just nonsense.

"Even in the first part of the season there were a few good games, and we gained some confidence in the Champions League by winning matches.

"So we are not like a rabbit in the headlights, just standing there, shivering, unable to perform."

Meetings between Dortmund and Juve have been relatively rare, but the last one before the first leg of this tie proved memorable for the former, as Karl-Heinz Riedle scored twice and Lars Ricken was on target in a 3-1 triumph against Juve in the 1996-97 Champions League final.

Dortmund's name has not been engraved on the trophy since then, with their Wembley defeat to Bayern two years ago the closest they have come.

Juve's wait has been longer - the Italians were the holders when Dortmund won it - and Massimiliano Allegri will be without the services of the influential Andrea Pirlo after the midfielder failed a fitness test on Monday.

Martin Caceres is also sidelined having undergone ankle surgery last week, while Dortmund are unlikely to risk Kevin Grosskreutz (hamstring) and Nuri Sahin (groin).

 

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Koke key to unlocking Bayer defence

Koke

Diego Simeone hailed Koke's influence on Atletico Madrid's midfield set-up, ahead of their UEFA Champions League last-16 second leg against Bayer Leverkusen.

Koke-less Atletico lost 1-0 to Bayer in Germany in February, but the 15-time Spain international is fit again - having appeared in La Liga three times since overcoming a hamstring injury.

The 23-year-old has scored Atletico's only goal in their past four outings in all competitions, with the Spanish champions' title defence waning - they are nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

Simeone said the re-introduction of Koke should help Atletico's bid to end their scoreless run in European competition, as they have been goalless in their past 215 Champions League minutes.

"From a football point of view, Koke is possibly one of the midfielders that reads the game best, especially because he can play different positions in the midfield," Simeone said, ahead of the crucial fixture at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday. 

"With a 360-degree vision that is great always, he always thinks in ways that help us control the offence. 

"When he plays his best, he allows us to have a more dynamic game, not because of his body's speed, but because of his mental speed."

Simeone disagreed with the notion Bayer do not play the ball on the ground, claiming they are like many of their Bundesliga counterparts in packing plenty of attacking threat.

"Bayer are a very tall team, but they don't play the ball long, they play a direct game, and those are their strongest virtues, their three offensive players are really fast," the Argentinean said. 

"Because they are fast they always get second chances when they attack, and we will have to face and solve these situations efficiently, which proved hard for us in the first half in Germany."

While Bayer midfielder Simon Rolfes tried to claim the underdog tag, opposite number Mario Suarez said the German outfit is closer to the quarter-finals than Atletico.

"They [Bayer] are the ones with the advantage, they got a good result at home, what we have to do tomorrow is come out strong and score quickly, and from then on, our goal is evidently to go through, but we know we have to be at our best," Suarez said.

"It's going to be a good game, and we hope to come out as the winners."

 

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Huge ask ahead for battling hosts

Neymar

Barcelona forward Neymar says the outstanding atmosphere in camp fills him with confidence ahead of a crucial fortnight for the club, which begins at Eibar.

Barca will defend a 2-1 lead against Manchester City at Camp Nou on Wednesday in the second leg of their last-16 UEFA Champions League tie before welcoming fierce rivals Real Madrid next weekend.

With the Catalan giants one point ahead of Real in the Liga table with 12 matches remaining, the next edition of El Clasico could be season-defining.

But first Barcelona have to deal with an Eibar side in free fall on Saturday. 

Eibar, playing in Spain's top flight for the first time, have nosedived down the table after seven consecutive losses.

In stark contrast, Barca have won four in a row, scoring 13 goals in the process.

Their latest win - a 6-1 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano - saw Lionel Messi bag a hat-trick while Luis Suarez also scored twice.

Neymar said the squad are buoyant ahead of a potentially pivotal fortnight and told: "We are training hard.

"The way we get on together really helps. There's a great atmosphere [in the squad].

"We are playing our game better every match and we are looking strong."

A small town with a population of under 30,000, Eibar's tiny Ipurua Municipal Stadium has a capacity of 6,000.

And while the visit of Barcelona is a significant occasion for the club, it could hardly come at a worse time.

Eibar have scored just two goals in their last seven matches and appear certain to be dragged into a relegation dogfight.

They still sit 14th in the table but are now just three points above the bottom three.

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique is likely to rotate his squad, given the tough week ahead for his side.

Another start for Pedro, whose opportunities have been limited this season after the arrival of Suarez, seems likely. 

Pedro started in place of the suspended Neymar against Rayo Vallecano but has begun just 12 league games this season.

The two sides have met just once, with Barcelona holding the ascendancy.

They won the earlier meeting this season 3-0 at Camp Nou but were made to work for their success.

All three goals were scored in the last 30 minutes as Eibar's resistance folded in October.

 

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