sâmbătă, 28 decembrie 2013

Rodgers relishing Chelsea test

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has no complaints as his side heads to Chelsea for the second part of a double-header he claims could not be harder.

Liverpool, which topped the Premier League at Christmas, travels to Stamford Bridge to face another title challenger just three days after a battling loss at Manchester City.

Liverpool impressed at the Etihad Stadium but was edged out 2-1 in a thrilling game of chances and controversy and the challenge is now to maintain that intensity against Jose Mourinho's men.

Rodgers said: "For us it couldn't be any tougher. We're playing against the two teams who arguably have the two best squads in the league.

"They can change all 11 players and still have a team that challenges at the top of the table.

"We'll go into the game and do our best, that's what we have done.

"Of course this period is always difficult, no matter what way you look at it.

"It's not ideal but it's what happens and it's what makes it exciting to be in the country at this time. We embrace it and we'll look to get a result."

Rodgers knows Mourinho well having worked under him as a youth-team coach during the Portuguese's first spell with the London club.

Mourinho returned in the northern summer amid high expectation but his team has been criticised of late for playing without spark and lacking a cutting edge.

Yet it remains firmly in title contention and Rodgers feels that could be an ominous sign for rivals.

He said: "They have a lot of quality. Over the last 10 years they have been one of the most successful clubs in the country and in Europe.

"How they have been building up that squad and changing it has been remarkable.

"They have got a host of talented players and a world-class manager. We understand how difficult it will be.

"They are getting the results and that is all that will concern Jose and the supporters.

"Every team will always look to improve their performance level.

"Certainly with him coming into a new group of players, it will take him time to understand the method of how they work.

"But they are up there in that top four, where they would expect to be."

Liverpool is short on numbers with forward Victor Moses ineligible to play against his parent club and the likes of Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Joe Enrique and Jon Flanagan sidelined.

But Rodgers is happy with the standards being set and found many positives in the Boxing Day reverse to City.

The result may have left it fourth after the game but the platform is still there for a possible title challenge.

Rodgers said: "The last game gives us confidence and belief, but we arrive into this game knowing it's going to be equally difficult.

"Over my time here, whatever squad we are working with, we have always been able to galvanise the group.

"The team has been able to go again and that's something that we'll look to do for the weekend.

"We've been improving as the season has gone on. If you look at the last number of weeks, the performance level and the standard has been at a real high level.

"I think we're a team that shows great confidence and belief in how we're training and how we're working.

"We're taking that confidence into any stadium, home or away, and that's always difficult for an opponent.

"I think you've seen the aggression, the charisma, the confidence and the consistency over these last 12 months.

"I think (our position) will fluctuate between now and the end of the season - one day you're first, then you're fourth.

"But as long as we're in the conversation with 10 games to go, then it will be all to play for.

"That's the idea, to arrive at that point in a position where we are going to be able to challenge."

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Wenger: We must stay focused

Arsene Wenger has warned his side their championship ambitions will be "in trouble" if they lose focus on the Premier League title race.

The Gunners head to Newcastle on today looking to maintain their place at the summit after coming from behind to beat West Ham 3-1 on Boxing Day.

However, there is now little room for error if they are to keep ahead of the chasing pack, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all looking to exploit any weakness heading into the new year.

"We want to stay in the race," said Wenger, who could be without midfielder Aaron Ramsey for several week's if scans confirm a serious thigh injury which forced the Wales midfielder off at Upton Park on Boxing Day.

"We have won at West Ham and we go game by game with a big ambition - but we know as well that in the Premier League you always set high standards, and as soon as you drop a fraction, you are in trouble."

The Gunners boss continued: "It is down to consistency and until now we have been consistent.

"You are always judged on your last result, but at the end of the day it is down to how consistent you will be.

"We have just had some games that were very difficult because we played against Everton at home, we played in Naples (in the Champions League), we played at Manchester City and against Chelsea, so you know that you could drop some points there.

"But the most important thing is to come back and be consistent, as you would expect from us."

Arsenal secured a place in the top four and another shot at Champions League football with a 1-0 victory at Newcastle on the final day of last season, a result which was greeted with jubilation by the players and fans alike.

Wenger, though, maintains the stakes are different this time around.

"We celebrated because it was that or play in the Europa League, so when you see the players today, they extended their contracts on condition that we play in the Champions' League," he said.

"What you want is to fight for the championship and at the moment we are in the race and what can keep us in the race is consistency."

Wenger now has some real options within the squad.

German international Lukas Podolski returned from a four-month hamstring injury lay-off to score the third goal at West Ham, while Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky rested completely on Boxing Day.

England international Jack Wilshere is back from his two-game ban on today, which will go some part to offset the loss of Ramsey.

Nevertheless, Arsenal are expected to bring in some reinforcements in January, and have been linked with a move for Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa.

Wenger, though, again refused to be drawn on any of his plans for when the sales open up again next week.

"I am happy with what I have and at the moment the transfer market is closed," he said.

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luni, 23 decembrie 2013

Joe Hart to keep his place for Manchester City against Liverpool

After returning to Manchester City’s starting XI for the first time in eight Premier League games, Joe Hart will keep his spot for Thursday’s game against Liverpool, the England international having done enough on Saturday at Fulham to win over Manuel Pellegrini.

Satisfied with his former No. 1′s performance in the Citizens’ 4-2 win at Craven Cottage, Pellegrini is ready to give Hart his first back-to-back starts since benching him after Oct. 27′s loss at Stamford Bridge.

“Joe did well and it was not easy,” Pellegrini said after Saturday’s . “The pitch was very quick and there was a lot of wind but he had a very good game.”

“He deserved to play and he also deserves to continue.”

Back in October, the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea was decided when Hart’s late misread allowed Fernando Torres to win a ball at the edge of the penalty area. New the end of regulation time, the Spanish international was granted an empty net for the match-winner. Since Hart had only made three appearances before Saturday’s start: two games in Champions League, one in League Cup. Though Hart allowed five goals in that span, City went 3-0-0, a run that featured a win in Germany over Bayern Munich.

Hart conceded two more goals against Fulham, but one came off the foot of City defender Vincent Kompany, whose shanked clearance looped into the Citizens’ net in Saturday’s second half. When not being scored on by his teammates, Hart made three saves and only conceded when Kieran Richardson was given a sitter in the 50th minute. Had Pantilimon been in goal, Fulham would have still been left with two goals.

In his nine matches, Pantilimon conceded nine times and kept four clean sheets, that Citizens going 7-1-1 in that time. The 26-year-old Romanian’s last appearance was Dec. 14 against Arsenal, a game Manchester City won, 6-3.

As for whether Pantilimon might be back in net after Thursday’s match, we can only assume Pellegrini sees the situation as evolving.

“In every match, we could play with 11 different starters, but at the moment Joe will continue to play.”

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sâmbătă, 21 decembrie 2013

Anigo seeks first Marseille Ligue 1 win

Jose Anigo will bid for the first Ligue 1 victory of his spell as caretaker boss of Marseille when Bordeaux visit the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.

The sporting director took charge of the side for the third time earlier this month following the sacking of Elie Baup.

In Anigo's first league game, OM fought back from two goals down to draw with Lyon while, midweek, they defeated Toulouse in the Coupe de la Ligue.

After the win, the Marseille native revealed he could continue in the role for the rest of the season.

"The president spoke to me for a long time before the game. He's going to take his time to pick a new coach. It could take five months. I'm here until Christmas and I'll be here when we start again.

"I don't know what will happen after the season resumes. It wasn't what I had planned, but I'm at the service of the club. I expect the second half of the season to be difficult, but it's a great challenge."

Marseille are already 15 points behind leaders Paris St Germain and trail Sunday's opponents Bordeaux by two points.

Les Girondins have recovered from a poor start to climb to fourth on the table and are bidding for a fifth straight league win.

Goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso said on ligue1.com: "We almost couldn't have hoped for it when you see the start to the season we made.

"There's a certain pride. We're going to Marseille without too much pressure. We've been able to pick ourselves up and we have a bonus match to play against OM."

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Benitez pleased with Napoli results

Rafa Benitez is proud of Napoli's achievements this season but is demanding focus ahead of Saturday's Serie A clash against Cagliari.

Benitez's men collected 12 points in the UEFA Champions League but failed to get out of its group.

It is third on the Serie A table and Benitez stressed the importance of another victory before the winter break.

"We know that this is a special game (against Cagliari)," he said.

"Obviously it is a difficult one, as we know that the last game before Christmas always is.

"We have spoken about this, especially during the last two training sessions, which the team has performed wonderfully in, and even today we tried to reiterate the point to our players.

"So both the team and the manager are completely ready and we will see during the match how it goes, but we know for certain that it is going to be a very, very difficult match."

Pressed on his side's hopes of winning the Serie A this season, he replied: "Well, it's not really (easy to predict) because in the end we are talking about a path we are undertaking, not a single match.

"Obviously if we win it will be even better but I think that achieving what we have in the Champions League where we collected 12 points against great teams, but also in the league, in only five months is very positive.

"Could it be better? Obviously, but we have faith that the next year will be even better."

Benitez revealed he will explore his options ahead of the January transfer window but knows it will be difficult to find players better than he already has.

"I think that all managers at this time of the year say the same thing: 'We expect a few gifts'. It is normal," he said.

"In our case we have worked a lot to be prepared for this transfer window because the winter transfer window is not an easy one.

"It is hard to find players that are better, or can do certain things better, than the ones we currently have in our squad.

"But we are currently still working and we will see if someone comes. If not, we will work even harder."

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Key clash for Schalke coach

Schalke coach Jens Keller will discover after Saturday's trip to Nuremberg whether he still has a future at the Gelsenkirchen club.

Pressure is mounting on the Royal Blues' coach with five points currently separating them from fourth place and qualification for the Champions League next season.

Furthermore, they have already been knocked out of the DFB-Pokal and face a challenge to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League after being drawn against Real Madrid in the last 16.

Schalke's director of sport Horst Heldt has admitted the coach's position is hanging in the balance, and that a decision one way or the other can be expected this weekend.

"We live in a performance society and we've made ourselves open to attack by not obtaining the desired results," he said in the Bild newspaper.

"Speculation is therefore inevitable.

"I don't want to give any false promises or lies, but I'd rather just be respectful with everybody.

"We're sticking to the plan, which is to make an analysis on Sunday after the Nuremberg game.

"Every single player will be examined, and that includes the coaching team too. It will all come down to how we summarise the first half of the season."

Roughly translated, Heldt's words indicate that Keller is dependent on how his side performs at the Frankenstadion, whereas the result rather than the actual performance is the priority.

The under-fire coach seems to have understood that, making his one wish for the festive season "three points in Nuremberg".

"We want to end the year on a high and that means we'll put all we can into getting the three points," he added at a press conference.

Getting three points in a single game has remained elusive to Nuremberg so far this season, so there are no prizes for guessing what their aim will be on Saturday.

"We want to win the game," said coach Gertjan Verbeek. "I'm convinced that the first game we win will open the floodgates."

Verbeek is without the suspended Emanuel Pogatetz, but Verbeek says there will be "no other change" to the team he sent out against Hannover a week ago.

There may be a change to the squad this winter, though, with the Dutch coach revealing his interest in signing defender Jan Kirchhoff from Bayern Munich.

"Everybody knows we need a player for this position and one of the names we've looked at is him," said Verbeek.

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vineri, 20 decembrie 2013

Free In-Play bet on Arsenal v Chelsea

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duminică, 8 decembrie 2013

Everton set crosshairs on leaders Arsenal

The strength of Arsenal's grasp on top spot in the Premier League will be tested on Sunday when Manchester United's latest conquerors Everton visit the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal have bounced back from their 1-0 loss at United last month with three consecutive victories, culminating in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Hull City, but the chasing pack remain on their tails.

The London club could have had their lead whittled down to a single point by the time they take to the field on Sunday, if second-place Chelsea emerge victorious from their trip to Stoke City 24 hours earlier.

Third-place Manchester City and fourth-place Liverpool also have opportunities to close the gap, while Everton themselves know that a win would take them to within just four points of Arsene Wenger's side.

"They have played many of the big teams in the league and overall are in a very strong position in the league," said Wenger of Sunday's opponents.

"They have just come out of a win against Manchester United. We are lucky this season a little bit, because there is always a big warning before we play these teams, because they have exceptional results.

"That keeps us on our toes. We know for us it is a big game."

While Arsenal have twice tasted defeat this season, and both United and City have been beaten on four occasions, Everton have lost just once, at City on October 5.

Allied to their successes over Chelsea and United, it has seen Roberto Martinez's side emerge as the team most likely to muscle in on the traditional heavyweights' tussle for Champions League qualification.

Wednesday's 1-0 win at Old Trafford was Everton's first league success at United since August 1992 and will give them the belief that they can end a similar run of 17 games without victory at Arsenal that stretches back to January 1996.

Bryan Oviedo was Everton's match-winner at United, netting in the 86th minute to claim his second goal since coming into the team at left-back in place of injured England international Leighton Baines.

Baines has been linked with a move to United but manager Martinez rejected suggestions that the Costa Rica international was being groomed as his successor.

"Nothing changes," said the Spaniard. "We are in the middle of the season, we have just gone 14 games and the only thing we are thinking about is finishing the season with the strongest squad possible.

"The last thing we want is to lose experienced players, players who mean a lot to Everton and who represent a lot in terms of what we want to achieve."

While Martinez hopes to see Baines -- who has a broken toe -- return to action before Christmas. He has admitted that Ivorian striker Arouna Kone's knee injury is likely to keep him out for the whole season.

Wenger, meanwhile, is likely to restore Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud to his starting XI, having made five changes for the victory over Hull.

However, right-back Bacary Sagna and forward Lukas Podolski are not yet ready to return from their respective hamstring injuries.

Former Everton midfielder Arteta has been impressed by his old side's recent form and believes that their victory over United suggests they could be on the verge of a breakthrough campaign.

"Everton are having a great season and they have got great results against top teams, which is not easy," he said.

"It was a big result (at United), it was massively important for them and will boost their confidence, so we are going to face a really difficult team for sure."

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duminică, 1 decembrie 2013

Man United out to prolong Spurs pain

Manchester United will be hoping to move back into the top four of the Premier League as they head to White Hart Lane to take on under fire Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.

Spurs haven’t been on the best of runs in the league of late, and this was epitomised by their 6-0 loss at home to City last weekend, they did win in Europe on Thursday though, beating Tromso 2-0.

United on the other hand are in a rich vein of form despite throwing away two points in the league last weekend. On Wednesday they went to the BayArena and demolished Leverkusen; a side who were previously unbeaten at home since March.

Manchester United could welcome back a trio of players from injury today, including star striker Robin van Persie who has been out with a groin problem. Nemanja Vidic could also return after his spell on the sidelines due to concussion, and Rafael da Silva is in line for only his third start of the season in all competitions. Michael Carrick is definitely out of the game as he continues his recovery from a calf issue.

Our hosts have a few senior injury problems of their own. Christian Eriksen will definitely miss the game with an ankle problem, meaning Lewis Holtby will probably continue in the #10 role. Danny Rose will also miss out, with Jan Vertonghen probably staying at left-back in his place. There are also doubts about the fitness of Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane.

Tottenham will be looking to bounce back today, and United will be looking to continue their good form.

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