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Ajax and Milan aim to stay upwardly mobile

Published: Friday 21 December 2012, 9.00CET
This weekend AC Milan and AFC Ajax aim to maintain mid-season momentum while Manchester United FC defend their Premier League lead at swashbuckling Swansea City AFC.

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Published: Friday 21 December 2012, 9.00CET

Ajax and Milan aim to stay upwardly mobile

This weekend AC Milan and AFC Ajax aim to maintain mid-season momentum while Manchester United FC defend their Premier League lead at swashbuckling Swansea City AFC.

Spain: Real Betis Balompié CF v RCD Mallorca (Saturday 16.00)
Their best start to a domestic campaign since 2001/02 has fans of Betis dreaming of a return to European competition, level on points with Málaga CF in fiftyh. They face a Mallorca team who, alarmingly, have failed to win in 14 matches, losing ten. Jorge Molina – scorer of Betis's 81st-minute winner at RC Celta de Vigo last week – is urging the Verdiblancos to pick up three more points. "We need the win in order to feel more calm and confident," the forward said. "We are having a really good season and the Liga table reflects that, but we must keep our feet on the ground and keep going step by step."

France: Olympique Lyonnais v OGC Nice (Saturday 20.00)
Sandwiched between Paris Saint-Germain FC and Olympique de Marseille, Lyon are one of three sides at the top of the French table on 35 points, vying to be 'champion d'automne' (autumn champions) after the final Ligue 1 fixtures of 2012. The challenge for Lyon is complicated somewhat by the fact they will be taking on their old coach Claude Puel at the Stade de Gerland. The 51-year-old left Lyon amid some acrimony in June 2011, and led Nice to a fifth-placed finish last term. His new team also beat his old one 3-1 in the League Cup in October, though he insisted there will be no extra spice in Saturday's match. "For me, it's just Nice's coach who is travelling to Lyon," he said. "I just want my team to play well and have a good game."

Italy: AS Roma v AC Milan (Saturday 20.45)
Milan will try to keep clambering up Serie A when they visit Roma on Saturday, knowing a fifth consecutive win would allow them to leapfrog the Giallorossi into sixth place. "We want to finish the year with a victory," said Stephan El Shaarawy, Serie A's top scorer with 14 goals. "Roma have great players, especially in attack, but we have to exploit the spaces they will leave for us." The Giallorossi have the best attacking record in the division, with 38 goals, yet failed to register for the first time this season when they lost 1-0 at AC Chievo Verona last Sunday. That will be of little concern for El Shaarawy. "All I want for Christmas is to finish the year above Roma and remain top of the scoring chart," he explained.

Netherlands: FC Utrecht v AFC Ajax (Sunday 12.30)
A run of six straight victories has brought Ajax to within a point of PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente at the Eredivisie summit, but on Sunday Frank de Boer's men face what is traditionally one of their toughest trips of the campaign. Without a win in the league at Utrecht since 2009, the Amsterdam club have lost on their last three Eredivisie visits to the Stadion Galgenwaard. Sitting in sixth, Utrecht are yet to lose against any of the front three this term, recording a 1-0 home success over PSV as well as a draw at the Amsterdam ArenaA. Striker Leon de Kogel, who scored twice in the last weekend's 3-1 triumph against sc Heerenveen, is spying another scalp. "For us this is always the match of year. We have already played them twice this season, but this has got to be the one."

Belgium: R. Standard de Liège v Club Brugge KV (Sunday 14.30)
On the day fifth-placed KRC Genk host Eerste Klasse leaders RSC Anderlecht, two of Belgium's other elite clubs face off in Liege. Like Genk, both these teams have 35 points, 11 less than Anderlecht, and both have also fought their way back into the top six after a change of coach in recent months. Club Brugge appointed Juan Carlos Garrido as successor to Georges Leekens, with Standard swapping Ron Jans for Mircea Rednic. For Club Brugge forward Mohamed Tchité the game represents a return to the stadium where he played from 2003–06 and 2010–12. "This match is important," he said. "Standard and Club [Brugge] are on equal points and we share third place. A victory can be very important for our position in the table."

England: Swansea City AFC v Manchester United FC (Sunday 14.30)
With United an ominous six points clear at the Premier League summit, you may be deceived into thinking Sir Alex Ferguson's side have enjoyed an easy ride this season. The case against that assumption is presented in the fact they have conceded the first goal on five occasions. Midfielder Darren Fletcher attributes their uncanny ability to haul themselves out of trouble to a "never-say-die attitude ingrained in the club". "We have a great bunch of players with a great attitude," added the Scotland captain.  Tenth-placed Swansea, who have nurtured a reputation for probing, patient football, will not be daunted by the arrival of the 11-time Premier League champions having lost just one of their last seven home fixtures in all competitions. 

All kick-off times CET, England is one hour behind

Last updated: 04/12/13 7.36CET

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