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Holding out for a Hérault

Published: Friday 12 March 2010, 12.30CET
Spring is in the air at UEFA.com with the start of seasons in Norway and Sweden among the highlights of our round-up of the weekend's top fixtures, along with a big test for Montpellier Hérault SC.
Holding out for a Hérault
Joris Marveaux celebrates a goal for Ligue 1 stalking horses Montpellier ©Getty Images
Published: Friday 12 March 2010, 12.30CET

Holding out for a Hérault

Spring is in the air at UEFA.com with the start of seasons in Norway and Sweden among the highlights of our round-up of the weekend's top fixtures, along with a big test for Montpellier Hérault SC.

New seasons in Norway and Sweden herald the onset of spring and UEFA.com's survey of the weekend's European fixtures also finds Montpellier Hérault SC striving to become top dogs in France. Follow the scores from all the European leagues live on UEFA.com's MatchCentre.

Sweden: Kalmar FF v IFK Göteborg (Saturday, 16.00)
The 2008 champions host the 2007 titlewinners in the curtain-raiser to the Swedish season, with a poll of Allsvenskan coaches and local media showing that 32% of those in the know back the Gothenburg side to take the crown. "I'm not surprised we are favourites this year," said IFK's joint-coach Jonas Olsson. "It's nice that people feel we have a strong squad." A more modest 11% tip Kalmar for success, but Brazilians Ricardo Santos, Daniel Mendes and Daniel Sobralense all scored in their last pre-season friendly and could pose a real threat this term. Double winners in 2009, AIK Solna begin their campaign at home to newcomers Mjällby AIF on Sunday.

France: Montpellier Hérault SC v AJ Auxerre (Saturday, 19.00)
After Wednesday's 2-1 victory at Ligue 1 leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux, Auxerre face another tough assignment away to in-form Montpellier, who are a place and a point better off than their guests in second position. Having themselves drawn 1-1 in Bordeaux last weekend, Montpellier are eager to steal top spot from the champions, who visit AS Monaco FC. Yet although Auxerre have not scored at the Stade de la Mosson since 1998, Montpellier forward Souleymane Camara is taking nothing for granted. "They are a very good team, with fast forwards," he said, adding of opposing striker Ireneusz Jeleń: "He is a great talent who scores a lot of goals."

Austria: SK Rapid Wien v FK Austria Wien (Sunday, 15.30)
The 292nd capital derby in Austria finds two sides determined to pick up the pace after up-and-down results in recent weeks. "We haven't done so well this year and have taken only two points from the last four matches," said Rapid boss Peter Pacult. "We need to be more consistent if we want success." Second in the Bundesliga, Rapid struggled past third-tier FC Blau-Weiss Linz in the Austrian Cup on Tuesday, winning 2-1, but third-placed Austria – the holders – were eliminated 1-0 at LASK Linz. Both teams will hope a sell-out crowd at the Gerhard-Hanappi-Stadion can inspire them to a much-needed victory, with leaders FC Salzburg already six points clear of the Viennese titans.

Netherlands: AFC Ajax v PSV Eindhoven (Sunday, 16.30)
Last weekend's 3-0 win at Sparta Rotterdam, coupled with a 2-1 loss for PSV at NAC Breda, has revitalised Ajax's title dream. Martin Jol's men are four points short of second-placed PSV, and six behind pacesetters FC Twente, yet a victory in Sunday's classic would put them back in contention. Their 4-3 loss at PSV earlier in the campaign is further motivation for the Amsterdammers, with Jol admitting: "We still have a bad taste in our mouths from that match." Midfielder Demy de Zeeuw, meanwhile, is confident. "I have been saying for weeks that we can still be champions," he said. "We have a very good chance, especially if we beat PSV. We have been sharper since the winter break, we fight harder for each other, show more character and have stopped conceding soft goals."

Germany: Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Hamburger SV (Sunday, 17.30)
Having suffered their first Bundesliga defeat of the season last week, Leverkusen will attempt to bounce back against Hamburg, with a repeat of the teams' 0-0 autumn draw likely to be of little use to either side. "We need to wake up again," said Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling, whose club now trail leaders FC Bayern München by three points. "We have not been at our best in the last two matches and it's cost us." The game is equally important to fourth-placed Hamburg, with their chances of a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot dwindling. Seven points adrift of Leverkusen – the team directly above them – Hamburg coach Bruno Labbadia can only hope his side's UEFA Europa League exertions do not weaken them.

Spain: FC Barcelona v Valencia CF (Sunday, 19.00)
As Barcelona bid to regain the Liga lead from Real Madrid CF – who hold the advantage on goal difference – this weekend, defender Dani Alves warns that he and his team-mates will "fight to the death so that this club wins titles". Valencia, in third, visit the Camp Nou two hours before Madrid's away encounter with relegation-threatened Real Valladolid CF, and, with the Blaugrana enduring a slump in form, Alves believes it is time for a change in attitude. "We set the standard so high that now we are slaves to it," he said. "The difficulties we've been going through must be overcome, and what we need to do is stick the batteries in and really get moving."

Norway: Molde FK v Rosenborg BK (Sunday, 20.00)
The big game of the first weekend of the Norwegian season sees last year's runners-up Molde entertain local rivals Rosenborg, the side that marched to the 2009 title and are widely expected to do so again. Rosenborg clinched their 21st Norwegian championship with a 2-0 win at Molde's Aker Stadion, and though they have since lost midfielder Marek Sapara, Fredrik Winsnes could prove a more than adequate replacement for coach Erik Hamrén. The latter, meanwhile, will coach Rosenborg and Sweden in tandem before focusing on the Sweden post full-time from 1 August. "I see no difficulty in doing both jobs for a short period," he said. Molde sold striker Mame Biram Diouf to Manchester United FC, yet should still be among Rosenborg's main challengers along with Stabæk IF, Viking FK, Odd Grenland and Tromsø IL.

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Last updated: 18/03/10 16.28CET

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