Tottenham, Newcastle, Blackburn stand on the bring of UEFA Cup group stages, while West Hap travel to Palermo facing elimination. Previews, scores, match reports and a healthy dose of Premiership bias.
UEFA Cup Fixtures (Premiership Sides)
Blackburn v SV Red Bull Salzburg (agg: 2-2), 19:45
As Richard has observed, Blackburn have had a decent run of form since that 2-2 draw away to Salzburg and are the only side out of four to be going into the midweek European clash with a win to their name.
Blackburn have new signing Jason Roberts and key midfielder Steven Reid out with injuries, but they have enough depth in their squad to win a home tie. Considering the score from the first leg and Blackburn’s away goals advantage, the Rovers could sit back and play for a draw but defensively Blackburn are still suspect and Salzburg would fancy their chances of an away goal.
Benni McCarthy has had enough time to settle, and he could well choose this European tie to make his mark at Blackburn.
Blackburn vs Salzburg (BBC Report)
Newcastle v Levadia Tallinn (agg: 1-0), 19:30
Newcastle United got a vital 1-0 win in the previous tie against a poor but industrious team, but at home the Toons should be a lot more attacking, penetrating and generally more successful. I can’t see Newcastle losing this one although with their luck and their history (how do you motivate Newcastle United? what do you say to a side that refuses to play to potential? Food for thought…) they could mess it up, get a 0-0 draw and progress with the sword hanging over their heads.
Newcastle have Given, Solano and Babayaro out injured and loan signing Rossi is ineligible for Europe. Duff seems to have recovered from a knock to his thigh but at best will start on the bench.
Scott Parker will go all out in order to improve his chances of a national team call-up while Martins has a lot of ‘potential’ to realise – the two will be Newcastle’s best players on Thursday.
Newcastle vs Levadia Tallin (BBC Report)
Palermo v West Ham (agg: 1-0), 19:45
Can Tevez finally, finally stand up and deliver? West Ham are under pressure to repeat last year’s form, and the addition of Tevez has put them under even worse pressure. Alan Pardew is no miracle worker but on Thursday night he should be able to squeeze out the best performance yet in blue and claret from one Carlos Tevez.
Anton Ferdinand is injured and will not travel to Palermo with West Ham.
Palermo are a decent side and considering that they have an away-goal, they will defend deep and look to hit West Ham on the counter (or storm out of the blocks, try to score and THEN defend). In either case, West Ham will need to find a couple of goals, and for that Tevez and Zamora will have to fire on all cylinders. Palermo’s play should suit Tevez more than the direct style of the Premiership and Mascherano, if he plays, will also have more space from which to pull strings in West Ham’s midfield.
It’s all about Tevez and Mascherano tonight, even if they’ll be looking at Bobby Zamora for the goals. Tevez baby, Tevez.
Palermo vs West Ham (BBC Report)
Tottenham v Slavia Prague (agg: 1-0), 20:00
Slavia Prague are a decent team but no match for Tottenham, even if Lennon is injured.
Tottenham assistant boss Chris Hughton says:
“The most important thing is not to concede and if that’s the case, we win the tie.”
It’s a case of banging on about the obvious but what Jol will be focusing on is Tottenham’s inability to score, even if they have had to play away to Manchester United and Liverpool. The Spurs are a quality side and they should bounce back in the Premiership soon enough.
Where Tottenham have a problem is in defining the right roles for Keane and Defoe. If Tottenham play 4-4-2 again (with Defoe and Mido upfront), it would be a worthwhile experience putting Keane on the left flank and giving him a license to roam (a la Ronaldo). A 4-3-1-2 would not be bad either, although it would make the game very narrow and expose Tottenham on the flanks.
Defoe is guaranteed inclusion in the England squad but his starting berth is under threat from the inform Andrew Johnson, and he will want to be on the scoring sheet on Thrusday night.
The other man to watch will be Didier Zokora, assuming he starts. About time the player who ‘turned down United and Arsenal’ starting playing to his potential.
Tottenham vs Slavia Prague (BBC Report)