Newcastle United v Manchester United
Last season: 0-1
IF THERE is such a thing as a good time to play Manchester United, then today might be it. With two gruelling FA Cup ties in four days against Chelsea - the Reds winning Wednesday night's replay at Stamford Bridge 2-0 - and the looming European Cup quarter-final second leg at the San Siro on Wednesday night against Internazionale, Alex Ferguson's players might be excused for being distracted. By everyone except Ferguson himself that is.
The man that Ruud Gullit, his opposite number at St James' Park today, has called the best manager in English football, has hinted that Manchester United will be at full strength against Newcastle. And if Ferguson is taking the fast-improving Magpies that seriously, then you can be sure his players will. Ferguson has virtually a full-strength squad to choose from, with only Nicky Butt and Ronny Johnsen under treatment, though both are expected to be fit for Wednesday.
Gullit may admire Ferguson, and the feeling is definitely mutual. The Dutchman won praise from his counterpart for his tactical acumen when the Magpies earned a deserved 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in November, and Gullit is expecting another testing afternoon: "I think they will come with their strongest team because they want to win the championship, so they need to win, and that's what my team is prepared for."
Those preparations have been undermined by the absence of defender Steve Howey with a calf injury, leaving the rest to try and prevent Dwight Yorke (right) and former St James' deity Andy Cole - assuming Ferguson doesn't shuffle his pack of aces- from adding to their 29 goals in the Premiership this season. At least midfielder Gary Speed is winning his battle against flu, while striker Temuri Ketsbaia and Peruvian Nolberto Solano, rested for Wednesday night's 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest, will be refreshed and hoping for recalls.
Submerged in all the salivating over the Yorke 'n' Cole show is the goalscoring prowess that Alan Shearer (left) offers to Newcastle. There have been voices suggesting that the England captain has passed his sell-by date but Yorke, with three of his last four goals resulting from crosses, is proof that top quality strikers can only thrive if given top quality service. Newcastle cannot quite hope to match the skills of papa David Beckham or Ryan Giggs, but having players such as the in-form Dietmar Hamann in support will ensure that Shearer's name is one the scorers will still need to inscribe.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (from) Given, Harper, Barton, Charvet, Dabizas, Hughes, Domi, Speed, Lee, Hamann, Solano, Maric, Brady, Georgiadis, Ketsbaia, Shearer, Saha, Griffin.
MANCHESTER UNITED (from): Schmeichel, G Neville, Berg, Stam, Irwin, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer, P Neville, Sheringham, Blomqvist, Brown, Curtis, Van der Gouw.
Referee: D Elleray.
Chelsea v West Ham United
Last season: 2-1
DEFENDER FRANCK Leboeuf is Chelsea's main injury doubt before the game against West Ham at Stamford Bridge. The Frenchman was taken off at half-time in the club's midweek FA Cup quarter-final replay defeat at the hands of Manchester United with a thigh muscle injury but Michael Duberry, Bernard Lambourde and Andy Myers are on standby. Player-manger Gianluca Vialli completes a three-match suspension today, while Albert Ferrer and Dan Petrescu, on international duty with Romania in midweek, are available again.
Paolo Di Canio is ruled out for West Ham with a groin problem aggravated in the 1-0 loss at Southampton last week, while Joe Cole is unavailable after turning out for England Under-18 duty against Israel last night. Manager Harry Redknapp will be hoping there is no repeat of the dire performance at The Dell, or of the dressing-room shenanigans that resulted afterwards, when midfielder John Moncur, a non-playing substitute, took offence at Redknapp's ticking-off by kicking a plate of sandwiches across the room and storming off.
CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Hitchcock, Kharine, Ferrer, Le Saux, Desailly, Leboeuf, Duberry, Terry, Myers, Lambourde, Babayaro, Petrescu, Wise, Morris, Di Matteo, Goldbaek, Newton, Nicholls, Zola, Flo, Forssell.
WEST HAM UNITED (from): Hislop, Ferdinand, Pearce, Dicks, Ruddock, Minto, Keller, Lazaridis, Potts, Foe, Berkovic, Lampard, Lomas, Sinclair, Kitson, Moncur, Hodges, Abou, Forrest.
Suspensions: Chelsea: Vialli. Referee: S Lodge.
Coventry City v Blackburn Rovers
Last season: 2-0
JOHN ALOISI is expected to be left out of Coventry's line-up against Blackburn to make way for George Boateng to return from suspension, even though the Australian international, a mid-season signing from Portsmouth, has been in good form. Boateng scored twice against Aston Villa two weeks ago but was suspended for last weekend's 2-1 win against Charlton when Noel Whelan returned to score.
Chris Sutton may find himself back in defence for Blackburn in the crucial relegation battle at Highfield Road. With Darren Peacock and Marlon Broomes suspended, and Christian Dailly still out, Sutton may be the only option in Rovers' injury-hit squad to partner Stephane Henchoz. Manager Brian Kidd also has midfield problems with David Dunn (virus) still doubtful after missing the midweek defeat by Everton and Jason McAteer set to deputise at right-back in the absence of Jeff Kenna and Gary Croft. Jason Wilcox is likely to feature in a central role alongside either Dunn or on-loan Italian Dario Marcolin.
COVENTRY CITY (from): Hedman, Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Burrows, Boateng, Telfer, McAllister, Froggatt, Whelan, Huckerby, Aloisi, Soltvedt, Clement, Konjic, Gioacchini, Ogrizovic.
BLACKBURN ROVERS (from): Filan, McAteer, Henchoz, Taylor, Konde, Coughlan, Davidson, Gillespie, Johnson, Marcolin, Dunn, Wilcox, Duff, Sutton, Davies, Blake, Ward, Jansen, Williams.
Suspensions: Coventry: Cudworth. Blackburn: Peacock, Broomes.
Referee: M Riley.
Derby County v Liverpool
Last season: 1-0
DERBY HAVE new signing Vas Borbokis available for the home match at Pride Park with Liverpool but manager Jim Smith could name an unchanged side. Borbokis, signed from Sheffield United, has been struggling with a thigh strain but is named in the squad. However, he is likely to start on the bench as the Rams step up the chase for a European place. Derby moved into the top six and a possible Uefa Cup place with their victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday night.
Liverpool play their first game for a fortnight, and their only Premiership match in March today, but captain Paul Ince is doubtful with a sore toe, with youngster Stephen Gerrard a possible replacement in midfield. Michael Owen, Veggard Heggem and Steve Staunton should all have recovered from injuries sustained in the defeat at Chelsea. Internationals, plus major fixture changes, mean that Liverpool's next match is the Mersey derby against Everton on Easter Saturday. Jamie Carragher will not have completed his three-match ban until the Easter Monday game at Nottingham Forest.
DERBY COUNTY (from): Hoult, Prior, Stimac, Laursen, Eranio, Bohinen, Powell, Schnoor, Baiano, Burton, Wanchope, Borbokis, Poom, Carbonari, Harper, Elliott, Christie.
LIVERPOOL (from): James, Heggem, Staunton, Song, Bjornebye, Gerrard, Redknapp, Berger, Owen, Fowler, Riedle, Babb, Matteo, Kvarme, Ferri, Friedel, Ince, Thompson.
Suspensions: Liverpool: Carragher, E Jones.
Referee: S Lodge.
Everton v Arsenal
Last season: 2-2
NICK BARMBY is doubtful for Everton's Goodison Park match with title-chasing Arsenal. The former England player injured a shin in the 2-1 away victory at Blackburn on Wednesday. Manager Walter Smith will recall French midfielder Olivier Dacourt following a two-match ban and will keep Ivory Coast striker Ibrahima Bakayoko up front after his two goals at Ewood Park.
There is good news for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, however, with Emmanuel Petit and Nigel Winterburn returning to the starting line-up. French midfielder Petit has had no reaction to the ankle injury which kept him out for six matches before he appeared as a second-half substitute to inspire Arsenal's 3-0 midweek win against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night. Left-back Winterburn was rested for that match because of a throat infection but will now take over again from Nelson Vivas. Petit's return allows Ray Parlour to switch back to his familiar wide-right role and replace Fredrik Ljungberg. Stephen Hughes (broken arm), Steve Bould and Remi Garde, both with twisted ankles, are the only other casualties.
EVERTON (from): Myhre, Dunne, Short, Watson, Materazzi, Unsworth, Ball, Weir, O'Kane, Dacourt, Grant, Barmby, Hutchison, Bakayoko, Jeffers, Branch, Cadamarteri, Oster, Jevons, Simonsen.
ARSENAL (from): Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Bergkamp, Anelka, Kanu, Diawara, Grimandi, Upson, Vivas, Manninger.
Referee: U Rennie.
Leicester City v Charlton Athletic
Last season: N/A
LEICESTER TAKE on Charlton at Filbert Street boosted by the news that their striker Emile Heskey is back to full fitness. Heskey had been suffering with a back problem but will resume his attacking partnership with Tony Cottee, who is still in search of his 200th League goal. Defender Frank Sinclair is also available after recovering from a thigh injury but Theo Zagorakis serves a one-match ban.
Charlton goalkeeper Simon Royce is set to start against Leicester despite receiving a knock during training on Thursday. Manager Alan Curbishley has Sasa Illic in reserve should he need cover for Royce. Richard Rufus makes a much-needed return to bolster the centre of defence following a two-month lay-off with a broken wrist, but Eddie Youds is still not ready to come back from tendinitis of the knee. Defenders Carl Tiler and Chris Powell are expected to come in despite late fitness tests but winger John Robinson serves a one-match ban for his eight bookings.
LEICESTER CITY (from): Keller, Arphexad, Sinclair, Taggart, Walsh, Elliott, Ullathorne, Izzet, Lennon, Heskey, Parker, Guppy, Gunnlaugsson, Savage, Kaamark, Campbell, Marshall, Impey, Wilson, Cottee, Oakes.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (from): Royce, Ilic, Barnes, Barness, Beale, Bright, Brown, Fortune, Holmes, Hunt, Jones K, Jones S, Kinsella, Konchesky, Mendonca, Mills, Mortimer, Newton, Parker, Powell, Pringle, Redfearn, Rufus, Tiler.
Suspensions: Leicester: Zagorakis. Charlton: Robinson.
Referee: A Wilkie.
Sheffield Wed v Leeds United
Last season: 1-3
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY striker Benito Carbone will sit out the Yorkshire derby with Leeds at Hillsborough through suspension. The Italian has picked up eight cautions this season which means a one-match ban and increases the likelihood that Ritchie Humphreys will return to partner Andy Booth up front. With no injuries to key players, Humphreys' starting role is almost certain to be the only change to the side despite two straight defeats.
Leeds midfielder David Hopkin is available after serving a one-match suspension. The Scotland international could face a battle to get back in the side, however, following the performances of David Batty and Alf Inge Haaland in the 2-0 victory over Tottenham in midweek which gained a measure of revenge for the FA Cup defeat. With Stephen McPhail and Bruno Ribeiro also fit after recent injury lay-offs, manager David O'Leary has strong competition for places in the midfield. Winger Willem Korsten should also be passed fit.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (from): Srnicek, Atherton, Jonk, Newsome, Walker, Booth, Sanetti, Cobian, Humphreys, Briscoe, Stefanovic, Hinchcliffe, Emerson, Agogo, Rudi, Alexandersson, Sonner, Morrison, Clarke.
LEEDS UNITED (from): Martyn, Haaland, Radebe, Wetherall, Korsten, Wijnhard, Hasselbaink, Ribeiro, Bowyer, Hopkin, Granville, Halle, Kewell, Harte, Batty, Woodgate, McPhail, Smith, Jones, Robinson.
Suspensions: Wednesday: Carbone.
Referee: G Poll.
Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
Last season: 3-2
TOTTENHAM MANAGER George Graham will be without Justin Edinburgh and Steffen Freund for the match with Aston Villa at White Hart Lane as they must both serve one-match suspensions. Andy Sinton or Mauricio Taricco will replace Edinburgh at left-back, while Allan Nielsen should play in central midfield in place of the German Freund. Graham again has the luxury of picking from three strikers - Les Ferdinand, Chris Armstrong and Steffen Iversen - to play up front.
Aston Villa will hand an immediate debut to new pounds 5.5m signing Steve Stone. The winger will step into the right of midfield as Villa seek to end a run of one point from a possible 18. They are without England international striker Dion Dublin, who is serving a one-match ban, but manager John Gregory is also hampered by injuries for the trip to London. Striker Julian Joachim has been struggling with a hamstring strain, while right-back Steve Watson (ankle), midfielder Ian Taylor (thigh) and utility player Simon Grayson (knee) are all under treatment. Grayson will be out of action until the end of the month.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (from): Walker; Carr, Vega, Young, Campbell, Taricco, Fox, Anderton, Nielsen, Calderwood, Sinton, Sherwood, Ginola, Ferdinand, Iversen, Armstrong, Dominguez, Baardsen (gk).
ASTON VILLA (from): Bosnich, Scimeca, Southgate, Barry, Wright, Hendrie, Stone, Thompson, Merson, Draper, Collymore, Joachim, Oakes, Hughes, Samuel, Lescott, Standing.
Suspensions: Tottenham: Edinburgh, Freund. Villa: Dublin.
Referee: P Jones.
Wimbledon v Nottm Forest
Last season: N/A
WIMBLEDON'S RECORD pounds 7.5m striker John Hartson is due to return to the starting line-up start against Nottingham Forest at Selhurst Park. The infamous training ground incident involving former West Ham team-mate Eyal Berkovic cost Hartson a three-match ban and he then sat on the bench for an hour against Leicester last week before replacing Efan Ekoku.
Nottingham Forest have doubts surrounding Richard Gough and Stale Stensaas. Gough looks almost certain to miss out after suffering a back injury while making his debut in Wednesday's 2-1 defeat by Newcastle. Christian Edwards is on standby to deputise for him. Stensaas, meanwhile, is nursing a badly cut face and severe swelling after taking an accidental blow during that game. However, manager Ron Atkinson hopes he will be available as Forest continue what now appears to be a forlorn fight against relegation. Thierry Bonalair is the leading candidate to take over the right-wing berth vacated by Steve Stone following his pounds 5.5m move to Aston Villa.
WIMBLEDON (from): Sullivan, Heald, Cunningham, Kimble, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher, Jupp, Pearce, C Hughes, Earle, Euell, M Hughes, Roberts, Ardley, Hartson, Fear, Kennedy, Ekoku, Gayle, Goodman, Leaburn, Cort.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (from): Crossley, Louis-Jean, Stensaas, Edwards, Gough, Chettle, Mattsson, Bonalair, Johnson, Rogers, Palmer, Quashie, Van Hooijdonk, Freedman, Harewood, Woan, Bart-Williams, Darcheville, Shipperley, Gemmill and Beasant.
Referee: K Burge.
Middlesbrough v Southampton
Last season: N/A
MIDDLESBROUGH MANAGER Bryan Robson is facing a selection headache as he prepares for the visit of relegation-threatened Southampton to the Riverside Stadium tomorrow. Captain Andy Townsend, fellow midfielders Paul Gascoigne and Mark Summerbell, and defender Gary Pallister are all suspended. But striker Brian Deane, defender Gianluca Festa, midfielder Phil Stamp and long-term absentee Alun Armstrong are back in contention to help ease Robson's worries.
Southampton manager Dave Jones has injury worries rather than his counterpart's predicament, but he is still without four key players for their match at the Riverside Stadium. Strikers James Beattie and Egil Ostenstad are under treatment for groin injuries, while defenders Ken Monkou and Jason Dodd are also struggling. Saints captain Dodd has a swollen knee and Monkou is recovering from a hamstring injury which ruled him out of last weekend's win over West Ham.
Jones is desperate for his team to improve their form away from The Dell. Saints have won just once on their travels this season with a chronic shortage of goals the reason for their problems. The trip to face out- of-form Middlesbrough offers the chance to build upon the vital three points garnered from the Hammers.
"We seem to win one, then lose one, then win one. We don't seem to be able to find the consistency we need," Jones said. "It is a very big game for us because we know we've got a chance of getting something."
MIDDLESBROUGH (from): Schwarzer, Beresford, Stockdale, Cooper, Vickers, Festa, Gordon, Harrison, Kinder, Stamp, Mustoe, Maddison, Campbell, Ricard, Deane, Beck, Armstrong.
SOUTHAMPTON (from): Jones, Dodd, Benali, Monkou, Colleter, Hiley, Lundekvam, Le Tissier, Oakley, M Hughes, Ostenstad, Beattie, Bridge, Marsden, Kachloul, D Hughes, Ripley, Moss.
Suspensions: Middlesbrough: Townsend, Gascoigne, Summerbell, Pallister.
Referee: M Reed.Reuse content