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Free-scoring champions hit the road

Werder Bremen vs Bayern Munich

Fresh from seven UEFA Champions League goals on Wednesday, Bayern Munich head to Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga in high spirits.

Werder Bremen will surely have winced at the sight of a free-scoring Bayern Munich in the build-up to Saturday's Bundesliga clash.

The Bavarian giants thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk 7-0 on Wednesday to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in stunning fashion.

Shakhtar's Olexandr Kucher was shown the quickest red card in the history of Europe's premier club competition and his third-minute dismissal paved the way for Bayern's win, which saw six different players score.

And it was bad news for a Werder side who have conceded at least five goals in all of their last four matches against Bayern.

Pep Guardiola's men have won their last nine meetings against Werder in all competitions, but have stepped the victories up a notch since a 6-1 home triumph in February 2013.

A 7-0 away win followed in the December of that year and Bayern have backed it up with 5-2 and 6-0 successes in front of their home fans.

Thomas Muller scored twice in the Donetsk drubbing and acknowledged afterwards that his side were at the top of their game.

"We're very hot [at the moment]," Muller told UEFA's official website. "We're looking forward to the future."

Bayern's win was somewhat soured by Arjen Robben's withdrawal with a trapped nerve after 19 minutes, while Franck Ribery sustained a sprained ankle during the second half.

The injuries have ruled the pair out for the weekend, but Muller is confident Bayern can cope with the absences.

"We have a great squad but of course every single injury hurts us," he added. "We were hoping that nothing major would happen but, as far as I know, things are not dramatic."

Although a third consecutive Bundesliga crown was always likely, Wolfsburg's defeat at Augsburg last week handed Guardiola's men a major boost.

The second-placed Wolfsburg are now 11 points behind Bayern with just 10 matches of the season remaining.

Bayern won 3-1 at Hannover last week, with Muller scoring another double in the come-from-behind win.

Werder were also victorious on the road, as Franco Di Santo's stunning strike handing them a 1-0 success at Freiburg.

The ex-Chelsea and Wigan Athletic forward has been a key figure in Werder's resurgence, which has seen them win six of their last eight Bundesliga matches.

In that run, Di Santo has scored six goals, taking his season tally to 13 in 19 matches in all competitions.

Werder have risen to eighth and are now dreaming of European football next season, just five points off a UEFA Europa League berth and six from a Champions League spot.

They will have to buck the trend of recent history if they are to avoid a dent in those aspirations on Saturday, though.

Philipp Lahm returned to Bayern's matchday squad on Wednesday following more than three months on the sidelines with an ankle injury and could play a part for the visitors.

 

 

 

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Strugglers aiming to avoid another nightmare start

Sean Dyche

Burnley host Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday, hoping to avoid a repeat of the shocking start they suffered when the teams last met at Turf Moor.

In the corresponding fixture in April 2010, City blew Burnley away with a devastating attacking display - featuring three goals in the first seven minutes - as they enhanced their hopes of a top-four finish and heightened Burnley's relegation fears.

Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez all found the net in a flying start, before Patrick Vieira and Adebayor's second gave City a 5-0 lead at the break.

The match finished 6-1 as Burnley slipped towards the drop, while City were eventually pipped to fourth by Tottenham.

Saturday's meeting sees Burnley scrapping against relegation again following their promotion last season, while City have raised their sights in the intervening five years and are now regular challengers for the Premier League title.

Sean Dyche's side have taken just two points from their last seven league outings and find themselves second-from-bottom in the table, three points adrift of safety.

They stunned reigning champions City in the reverse fixture back in December, coming from two down at half-time to rescue a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium.

City, meanwhile, are five points behind league leaders Chelsea having played a game more, and can ill-afford any slip-ups as they enter the final stretch of the season.

Manuel Pellegrini's men have stuttered slightly in recent weeks, but one positive for City fans has been the performances of David Silva, who has scored four goals in his last six league appearances.

"I'd put him right in the top bracket of the best players I've played with in my career," Frank Lampard said of the Spaniard.

"From the moment I arrived and started training with him in pre-season I could better appreciate his weight of pass, movement, and his touch and he could play in any team in the world.

"It's been a pleasure to play and train alongside him or even just to watch him.

"The way he holds himself, too, impresses me because he's one of the most humble top players I've ever come across - that's something I love because it's refreshing to see."

Burnley's Matt Taylor continued his rehabilitation from an Achilles injury with a 70-minute appearance for the development squad on Wednesday, but is unlikely to feature, while Dyche has said that new signing Fredrik Ulvestad is not yet ready for Premier League football.

City, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health as they look to put pressure on Chelsea, who are not in action until Sunday when they welcome Southampton.

 

 

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Wenger calls on players to stand up and be counted

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger has called on Arsenal to stand up and be counted ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash with West Ham.

Arsenal battled to a 2-1 victory at Manchester United on Monday to book their place in the FA Cup semi-finals, but face the daunting task of coming from 3-1 down at Monaco in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie next Tuesday.

With his side sitting third in the top flight, Wenger recognises the pressures that come with fighting for silverware on three fronts, but says it is time for his players to make a name for themselves.

"We can only help so much, 99 per cent is down to the individual," he told www.arsenal.com. "We can push them over the line with the one per cent we can give, but 99 per cent is them having the responsibility to make their own life.

"You have to stand up to be strong enough, to fight, to show that you have the courage and that you're not inhibited because you're under pressure, and that's the difficulty of the modern player.

"That has increased and the resistance to stress from the young players is immense today because everything is analysed. Every pass you make, every first touch, how far you run, how much you fight, everything."

Arsenal, aiming for a fifth successive Premier League win, received plenty of plaudits for their performance at Old Trafford on Monday and West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is braced for a tricky encounter at the Emirates Stadium.  

"I watched Arsenal's game away at Manchester United and everyone could see the quality they have," he said. "We know how difficult it is at the Emirates, where we've actually gone in front a few times but not managed to hold on.

"We'll go there and give it our best shot and see what happens. I think they have different threats from all over the team, which is why they are so difficult to beat, especially at home.

"We conceded two goals very quickly in the reverse fixture [Arsenal were 2-1 winners at Upton Park in December] which was the only difference between the two teams on the day."

Arsenal remain without the services of Gabriel Paulista (hamstring), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) and Serge Gnabry (knee), while there are doubts over the availability of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who injured a hamstring against United.

West Ham's biggest injury concern is Enner Valencia, who cut his toe on a broken cup in an accident at home, and Winston Reid is set to miss out due to a hamstring problem. Former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song is struggling with a knee issue and Carl Jenkinson is ineligible to face his parent club.

A run of one win in their last 11 Premier League games has left West Ham 10th. 

 

 

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Dnipro vs Ajax: UEFA Europa League Preview

Myron Markevych

Dnipro coach Myron Markevych is facing several fitness concerns ahead of Thursday's UEFA Europa League last 16 first leg against Ajax.

The Ukrainian Premier League side head into the contest in Kiev on the back of a 1-0 victory at Karpaty - their ninth match without defeat in all competitions.

However, Dnipro were left counting the cost of key trio Egidio Pereira Junior, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Matheus Nascimento picking up knocks.

And Markevych admits Dnipro's injury woes are a concern ahead of their meeting with the Dutch champions.

"There's nothing to say about whether we are ready for that game," he told.

"Egidio, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Matheus are all struggling with injuries. We have many problems."

Dnipro's options are further depleted by the fact that midfielder Jaba Kankava will sit out through suspension.

While Dnipro may be up against it, they have shown their ability to mix it in Europe's secondary competition this term.

Having come through a difficult group that included Inter and Saint-Etienne, Dnipro then defeated Olympiacos 4-2 on aggregate in the round of 32.

But Frank de Boer's Ajax have been the dominant force in Dutch football in recent years, having lifted the Eredivisie title in four consecutive years.

That run is in jeopardy this season, though, with PSV holding an 11-point lead at the top of the table with just eight league games remaining.

And De Boer, who recently stated that securing second place is his primary focus in the league, may see the Europa League as the last chance to collect major silverware this term after they were eliminated from the KNVB Beker in December.

Ajax endured a disappointing Champions League campaign, winning just once in six group-stage fixtures.

But a comfortable 4-0 aggregate victory against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League round of 32 showed that they could be a force to be reckoned with.

Striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (knee) is a doubt for the trip to Kiev, but De Boer is able to welcome fellow forward Arek Milik and captain Niklas Moisander back to his squad.

 

 

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Villarreal vs Sevilla: Europa League preview

Marcelino Garcia Toral

Marcelino Garcia Toral will be out to prove a point when Villarreal take on their coach's former employers Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

The 49-year-old managed Sevilla during the 2011-12 campaign, though he failed to see out the season before returning to football with Villarreal in 2013.

Marcelino acknowledged that his sacking hurt, but with the two Spanish sides - separated by just a point in La Liga - set to clash in the Europa League last 16, he has the chance to prove a point to those who doubted him at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

"I am very grateful to the Sevilla for giving me the opportunity to coach this great club," he said.

"Sometimes things don't go as you'd like, as with everything in life. You can suffer, but you always need to look forward.

"It hurt me at the time of the dismissal. Then, the immediate response was frustration. 

"From then you analyse the situation and try to find out what went wrong and not to repeat it."

After finishing second in Group A, Villarreal cruised past Red Bull Salzburg 5-2 on aggregate in the last 32.

Marcelino's men go into the first leg on the back of a 4-1 triumph over Celta Vigo on Sunday, with Luciano Vietto among the scorers to take his tally to 19 for the season in all competitions.

But, in Sevilla, Villarreal face a team who are used to success in this competition, having beaten Benfica to lift the trophy last season.

Unai Emery's men produced a devastating counter-attacking display at Borussia Monchengladbach in the previous round, winning 3-2 in Germany to secure a 4-2 aggregate win against the Bundesliga high-flyers.

However, midfielder Vicente Iborra accepts that Sevilla must get better defensively if they are to continue their run in this season's Europa League.

"We have to improve, obviously, because we have conceded lot of goals away from home. It's a bleeding we must stop," he said.

The return of Daniel Carrico should help matters for Sevilla, as the Portuguese defender comes back from a groin strain, but Beto (shoulder) and Sebastian Cristoforo (knee) are definitely out.

Marcelino also has a few injury concerns to take into consideration, with Eric Bailly (hamstring), Bruno Soriano (fibula), Bojan Jokic (knee) and the suspended Tomas Pina not involved. 

 

 

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