Owen yet to convince Luxemburgo of credentials

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The Independent Online

Another goal, another snub. Michael Owen may have scored his 10th goal of the season as Real Madrid went out of the King's Cup in midweek but, as he feared, Wanderley Luxemburgo needs to be won over before Raul or Ronaldo can be displaced. Owen is thus again expected to be on the bench again tomorrow night when Real play struggling Mallorca.

Another goal, another snub. Michael Owen may have scored his 10th goal of the season as Real Madrid went out of the King's Cup in midweek but, as he feared, Wanderley Luxemburgo needs to be won over before Raul or Ronaldo can be displaced. Owen is thus again expected to be on the bench again tomorrow night when Real play struggling Mallorca.

David Beckham at least starts, but looks like being pushed on to the right with Figo spearheading a diamond midfield behind Raul and Ronaldo. The latter faces Hector Cuper, his coach at Internazionale, for the first time since his bitter departure from the Milan side. The Brazilian will hope to make a point with a goal but Cuper has tightened Mallorca's defence and Ronaldo will be marked by his old foe, Mark Iuliano, newly signed from Juventus.

The leaders, Barcelona, have dipped in form since the winter break but should defeat lowly Racing Santander at home tonight. Deco is back after suspension. Third-placed Valencia visit the form team, Valladolid, a fixture which features two ex-Premiership cult heroes. Claudio Ranieri's position as Valencia's coach has been steadied by their recent revival while Diego Forlan is currently the hottest striker in La Liga.

Snow may be forecast in Bavaria but the German season will emerge regardless from the winter break this weekend, the last major league to do so, with the leaders, Bayern Munich, hoping to maintain their pre-Christmas form.

Bayern, who meet Arsenal in the first Champions' League knock-out stage next month, overcame a slow start under their new manager, Felix Magath, to be crowned winter champions. The margin was slim, however, with Bayern only edging out Schalke 04 on goal difference after the Gelsenkirchen club had won 10 of their last 13 games. VfB Stuttgart and Wolfsburg, three and four points behind respectively, also harbour title ambitions. So do the holders, Werder Bremen, who are six points adrift in fifth.

Bayern reopened the campaign against Hamburg at the Olympic Stadium last night while the rest of the contenders are in action today. But for a late goal conceded to Freiburg, Schalke would have been winter champions, but they meet Werder without their new signing, the midfielder Mimoun Azaouagh because of injury. Bremen are without their own new recruit, Mohamed Zidan, the Egyptian having suffered a serious injury in a practice match.

Stuttgart, who play Mainz, had a unhappy holiday period. The goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand failed to reach agreement over a new contract - prompting speculation that the coach, Matthias Sammer, will move for Arsenal's Jens Lehmann - and their Swiss striker Marco Streller had to have another operation on his injured leg.

Wolfsburg's championship hopes have been hit by a groin injury to the Argentinian playmaker Andres d'Alessandro, but they are at least in better shape than Borussia Dortmund. Germany's best supported club - average gate 77,000 - won the championship in 2002, but are at risk of losing their professional licence after running up debts of £100m. They are also too close to the relegation zone so have somehow found the money to sign the Polish winger Ebi Smolarek and the Argentinian defender Juan Ramon Fernandez.

Fellow strugglers Borussia Möenchengladbach introduce two new signings who will be very familiar to British audiences. Kasey Keller, lately of Spurs and Leicester, and Craig Moore, formerly of Rangers and Crystal Palace, will make their debuts in the Bundesliga against Armenia Bielefeld. Liverpool's Champions' League opponents, Bayer Leverkusen, are in eighth place. They have recalled Landon Donovan, the American forward, from San Jose Earthquakes, but he is likely to be on the bench against Hanover.

In Italy the title already looks destined for either of the perennial contenders, Juventus and Milan. The Turin club lead Serie A on 44 points from 19 matches, two ahead of the defending champions. Both have lost just one match this season. The surprise team, Udinese, lead the chasing pack, but they are 10 points adrift of Juventus and unlikely to close the gap.

Both leaders play tomorrow, Juventus at home to relegation-threatened Brescia and Milan away to Livorno. Juventus recall David Trezeguet, but Milan are without the suspended Andrea Pirlo. Udinese host Reggina, another team outperforming expectations. Tonight's match should result in a home win for fourth-placed Internazionale against Chievo. Adriano has a calf injury but Roberto Mancini can still field a forward line of Obafemi Martins, Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba.

French football's match of the season will take place tomorrow when Lyon, the defending champions, visit Lille, who are six points behind in second place. Lyon are unbeaten in 21 league matches this season, but will be wary of a Lille team that knocked them out of the French League Cup in November. Lyon are without Sylvain Wiltord, who has proved more influential for them that he usually was for Arsenal.

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