Woodgate could return before season ends

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Woodgate could make his competitive debut for Real Madrid before the end of the season. The England defender joined the Spanish side from Newcastle last year but has yet to kick a ball competitively after suffering long-term injury problems.

Jonathan Woodgate could make his competitive debut for Real Madrid before the end of the season. The England defender joined the Spanish side from Newcastle last year but has yet to kick a ball competitively after suffering long-term injury problems.

The club said he would not play again this season. However, tests in Finland revealed that his injured left leg has healed. He will now begin a fitness and rehabilitation plan that the club hopes will make him eligible to play before the end of the season. A club statement said: "[Woodgate], who returned to Madrid on Thursday, will follow the plan outlined by Dr Orava with the objective of being fully recovered before the end of the season."

Real, in second place behind Barcelona, play Levante tomorrow with spirits high after last weekend's 4-2 win over Barcelona. Their Argentinian centre-back Walter Samuel and midfielder Guti return from suspension and the Spain international could provide cover for Thomas Gravesen if the former Everton player fails to recover from an ankle strain. Michael Owen looks certain to retain his starting place after scoring his 11th league goal of the season against Barça.

The Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard, will be hoping his team can rediscover their form with a victory over Getafe at the Nou Camp tomorrow.

The Dutchman issued a severe reprimand to his players after last weekend's defeat at Real Madrid.His team's previously watertight defence has started to look dangerously leaky, conceding seven goals in the last two games. His defensive linchpin Carles Puyol will have to sit out the Getafe match through suspension.

Up front, leading scorer Samuel Eto'o looks certain to miss out after damaging a knee cartilage at the Bernabeu, making way for the young Argentinian striker Maxi Lopez. But Deco returns from suspension after missing the Real match.

In Italy, police are braced for crowd trouble. A particularly heavy police presence is expected in Brescia where the bottom-placed club face their local rivals Atalanta. The derby has seen frequent violent clashes between hardcore "ultra" gangs and police.

Referees across Italy have been told to take a tough line against hooliganism. The instruction follows a week in which Tuesday's Champions' League quarter-final between Milan and Internazionale was abandoned after Inter fans rained flares on the pitch, one of which hit the Milan goalkeeper, Dida.

On the field, two teams competing for places in the Champions' League, Sampdoria and Palermo, meet in Genoa today.

At the top of the table, the joint leaders, Milan and Juventus, both have games tomorrow they would expect to win with champions Milan away to lowly Siena and Juventus at home to mid-table Lecce.

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