Thursday 07 March 2013
Three Barclays Premier League clubs are in action this evening as the UEFA Europa League reaches the last-16 stage. Tottenham Hotspur host Inter Milan in the first leg, while Chelsea and Newcastle United are away to Steaua Bucharest and Anji Makhachkala respectively.
Andre Villas-Boas is hopeful Gareth Bale can maintain his superb form when Tottenham Hotspur take on Inter Milan in the UEFA Europa League round-of-16, first-leg tie tonight.
"He is a tremendous player and inspires everybody"
Bale is in the form of his life, having scored seven goals in his last nine matches to help Spurs push for a top-three finish in the Barclays Premier League standings.
"He is the difference to the team at the moment," said Villas-Boas, who was on Inter’s coaching staff for an 18-month spell under Jose Mourinho. "He is a tremendous player and he inspires everybody. It has a direct influence on every single player when you see Gareth playing at this level."
Bale also has previous with tonight’s opponents, having scored a hat-trick in their 4-3 defeat at San Siro in the UEFA Champions League group stage in October 2010, and starred in the Londoners’ 3-1 home win the following month.
Striker Jermain Defoe is set to return up front for Emmanuel Adebayor, who has a knee problem, while goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is expected to make way for Brad Friedel.
Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez is intent on maintaining his side’s two-pronged challenge for silverware as they prepare to take on Steaua Bucharest in the Romanian capital this evening.
"If we can finish in the top four everybody will be happy"
Benitez’s side take on Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday but, as far as he is concerned, tonight’s match is just as important.
“As a manager you have to think about both [matches] but the priority is this one,” said Benitez. “On Sunday we’ll be at Old Trafford and afterwards we’ll be at West Ham. We know that all the competitions are important and if we can finish in the top four, everybody will be happy.”
Benitez is expected to recall captain John Terry and partner him with Gary Cahill in central defence, and may deploy David Luiz in midfield in the first of three cup games in eight days.
Both Ramires and Victor Moses have been rested and remain in England, while Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are likely to start on the bench with one eye on Sunday's trip to Old Trafford.
Hatem Ben Arfa could appear for Newcastle for the first time since December for their to Moscow to play Anji Makhachkala.
"Having the second leg at home is an advantage"
The France midfielder has been out of action since tearing his hamstring during his side’s 2-1 defeat by Fulham on 10 December but is expected to be a substitute for the encounter with Guus Hiddink’s side this afternoon.
Pardew’s options have been limited by illness to striker Papiss Cissé, injury to Tim Krul and Fabricio Coloccini and the ineligibility of Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Goufrran, although Jonas Gutiérrez has been rested. However, the Newcastle manager believes his side have the mental fortitude to come through against a side who beat Liverpool in Moscow in the group stage.
“You need some luck, but you need a good technical game and you need to have the right mentality in the group,” said Pardew. “I think our mentality is strong.
"This tie is going to be close and the result here will have a huge reflection on St James' Park because that is an advantage for us, that the second leg is there, for sure."
First -team opportunities beckon for Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Sylvain Marveaux, Gabriel Obertan and Shola Ameobi, while Barclays Under-21 Premier League regulars Jak Alnwick and Adam Campbell have also been included in the squad.
Anji Makhachkala v Newcastle United, 5pm
Steaua Bucharest v Chelsea, 6pm
Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan, 9.05pm