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


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


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


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


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


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.