Hartlepool v Portsmouth preview

Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain believes his side have the
individual talent to cause Manchester United a “a lot of damage” in
the Champions League on Wednesday.

Madrid’s desire to win a record 10th European Cup title has
turned into an obsession in recent years but their bid to lift the
trophy this year suffered a blow when they were drawn against
runaway Premier League leaders United in the last 16.

Higuain knows Sir Alex Ferguson’s side pose a serious threat to
their hopes of making the quarter-finals but also believes the
Spanish giants have the class and ability in their squad to really
hurt their English counterparts.

He told the Bwin website: “They (United) are quite a compact
team. They always make it to the knockout rounds in European
competition and we’re going to have to be on our toes.

“But we can do a lot of damage with individual quality and with
counter-attacks, although we can’t forget we need to have a solid
defence, a winning mentality and team-spirit.”

The 25-year-old Argentina international, who joined Madrid from
River Plate six years ago, also stressed the importance of trying
to keep a clean sheet in this week’s first leg.

He also urged the Bernabeu faithful to get behind Jose
Mourinho’s men, who are looking at the Champions League and Copa
del Rey for glory this season after seeing their Primera Division
title defence all but ended following a disappointing first half to
the season.

“Our goal must be to win and if we don’t concede then so much
the better. We know that an away goal can really influence things,”
he said.

“We also want our fans to get behind us. The team always tries
to do its best, sometimes it goes well and sometimes it
doesn’t.

“There’s no doubt we are going to go out and give it
everything.”

The 32-year-old France international, who joined Chelsea in the
summer of 2007 and is in the final year of his contract, was
excluded from the Blues’ 25-man first-team squad and has spent the
season training with the Under-21 team.

“The details I’ll explain when I’m free, but the strategy they
use is to make me look like a player seeking substantial
compensation,” Malouda told France-Guyane.

“It’s petty but more than anything else it makes me smile
because it shows how these people regard me.

“If you are excluded for one year, it is very, very long. You
must be armed mentally.

“All this is done to break me mentally, but in reality it
motivates me enormously.”

Malouda, who has been linked with a move to Anzhi Makhachkala,
with the Russian transfer window open until the end of this month,
declined to reveal more due to “confidentiality”, but may do so on
his anticipated release this summer.

Hartlepool manager John Hughes could be tempted to field an
unchanged starting line-up.

Hughes has no new injury or suspension worries after his side
extended their unbeaten league run to four matches with a 1-1 draw
at Swindon on Saturday.

Striker Steve Howard is not expected to be involved despite
returning to full training this week following a hamstring injury
and midfielder Antony Sweeney remains sidelined with a knee
problem.

But defender Jordan Richards is pushing for a recall. The
teenager returned to the bench as an unused substitute at the
weekend following a three-game absence due to a knee injury.

Winger Andy Monkhouse staked his claim for a return with the
equaliser after stepping off the bench at former club Swindon on
Saturday.

Victory for Pools would see them leapfrog Portsmouth off the
bottom of the table.

Portsmouth are still without David Connolly as they travel to
bottom-club Hartlepool.

Pompey are just a point ahead of John Hughes’ side and are on a
club record winless run of 19 games.

If they are to avoid dropping to the foot of the table it will
be without striker Connolly, who remains sidelined with a hamstring
problem.

John Akinde and Patrick Agyemang, who both made their debuts
against Bournemouth at the weekend, will continue in attack.

Bos Guy Whittingham also allowed youngster Frankie Sutherland to
return to parent-club QPR after he failed to break into the first
team at Fratton Park.

He made just one substitute appearance during his time at the
club – against Hartlepool – and he will not be involved against the
same opponents after his stay was ended early.