Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mourinho thanks Van Gaal for United spirit

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jose Mourinho’s depleted Manchester United side face Swansea at Old Trafford on Sunday with the manager praising the spirit shown by his exhausted squad.

Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s predecessor as United manager, is not remembered with any fondness by the majority of the club’s supporters.

But Mourinho believes the Dutchman succeeded in pulling together a squad of strong characters, although their resilience is now being tested as United maintain their bid for a top-four finish in the Premier League and success in the Europa League.

“The group was a nice group, honestly,” said Mourinho, who served as a novice coach under then Barcelona manager Van Gaal at the Spanish giants in the late 1990s.

“Good people, good boys, committed people.

“I think Mr Van Gaal left a good group of boys with very good relations between them and I got that in my hands.”

The Portuguese added: “I think they missed happiness, they missed trust, they missed belief. They missed this extra bit that brings resilience, brings you fight. They have it. 

“So next July 9, when we meet again for next season, it’s a stronger group. So the new players when they arrive will find a group more ready to go for big things,” the former Chelsea manager explained. 

“But the reality is that we are fighting to win the Europa League and we are fighting to try to finish fourth, so let’s go.”

The arduous season, which has also seen United reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and win the League Cup, has taken its toll on the team physically.

Central defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling remain out injured for the Swansea game, with Marcos Rojo having suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury.

That led Mourinho to joke he might name himself in the starting side, along with youngster Axel Tuanzebe whose entire first-team experience amounts to 22 minutes as a substitute against Wigan in the FA Cup.

United may have Juan Mata, sidelined since the middle of March, available for Swansea but France international Paul Pogba remains out with a leg muscle injury and is being saved for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final with Celta Vigo.

Mourinho will also be without Belgium international Marouane Fellaini, who starts a three-match suspension, after his red card for head-butting Sergio Aguero in the midweek goalless derby draw away to Manchester City.

– ‘Play every few days’ –

Amazingly, given their schedule, the Etihad stalemate extended United’s unbeaten league run to 24 games — equalling their best such sequence in a single top-flight season.

For all the fatigue within the squad, United defender Matteo Darmian has insisted he and his team-mates will not use tiredness as an excuse for any poor results between now and the end of the campaign.

“Yes, we haven’t got too much time for recovery and to prepare for the game but, from now until the end of the season, we play every few days, so we have to be ready,” he said. “It’s our objective to finish in the top four. 

“We have to win and put pressure on Manchester City and Liverpool,” he added.

Swansea will kick off in the relegation places and, with Burnley and Hull playing 24 hours earlier, could be as many as five points from safety by the time they take the field.

Paul Clement, the Swansea coach, sympathised with Mourinho’s injury problems but stressed the Welsh club would be the underdogs at Old Trafford. 

“United have been playing Thursday and Sunday for many weeks now and they have an injury list which I’m sure the manager is not happy with,” he said.

“But we know it will not be easy. You always hope when you play a big team at their stadium that they have a slightly off-day and you have a chance.”

Clement hopes that midfielder Jack Cork (ankle) and defender Martin Olsson (hamstring) recover from their respective injury problems in time for Sunday’s match.

But Wayne Routledge has been ruled out after the winger had a hernia operation this week.

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City can drive home edge over United – Toure

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Yaya Toure believes Manchester City can prove they are the number one team in Manchester if they finish the Premier League season above their old rivals United.

A 0-0 draw against United in Thursday’s derby at the Etihad maintained City’s one-point advantage over Jose Mourinho’s side in the race for a top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League.

Victory for City against struggling Middlesbrough would help Toure’s team ensure they finish above United for the fifth time in six seasons.

“Yes, of course, all the time we finish above them in the season, it shows City are doing very well,” said Toure when asked about the shift in the balance of power.

“United are building something very interesting. We have to be aware of that but I think City are going to be much much stronger next season as well. 

“Next year we are going to expect more and I hope United are going to attack a little bit more.

“City are always fighting for the title and this year was quite difficult, quite disappointing, because we have been frustrated at playing well, control the opponent, dominate the game, but then you see the result at the end and we’ve lost or we win by a small gap. 

“We need to work on our finishing to be honest.”

That finishing — badly lacking against United — may be improved if manager Pep Guardiola decides to hand a start to Brazilian star Gabriel Jesus who came on as a substitute in the derby.

The 20-year had been out for over two months after surgery on a broken foot although veteran Sergio Aguero had responded with 12 goals in as many games in his absence.

“No, Aguero is doing very well to be honest,” said Toure when asked if City had missed the youngster. 

“Gabriel is coming. At the moment it is quite difficult because we are missing the goal but if we have a striker who is going to score a goal it is going to make quite a difference for us.”

– ‘We have to win’ –

For City, who will end the season without silverware, it has proved a frustrating campaign after Guardiola opened his English career with 10 successive victories in league and cups.

Toure, who spent the first part of the season in a stand-off with the manager on account of remarks made by his agent, said the level of competition in England meant winning trophies was not a given right. 

“As a professional, I’ve been here for seven years and I understand how the game is,” said Toure, who turns 34 next month.

“Sometimes you have to cope with that. Teams are always thinking of counter attacking and that is the difficulty. 

“That is why the Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world. So demanding, so hard, and you always have to fight against yourself to succeed.”

Middlesbrough caretaker-manager Steve Agnew meanwhile looks set to keep Gaston Ramirez on the sidelines following his senseless dismissal in Middlesbrough’s defeat at Bournemouth last weekend.

The Uruguayan has served his one-match ban, but Agnew is still upset over his red card, which contributed to a 4-0 whipping.

City represent the start of a difficult run-in for Middlesbrough, who also face trips to Chelsea and Liverpool and a home game against Southampton. 

“We’ve got to beat one of the big teams and the first that comes along is Manchester City,” said Agnew.

“It’s pretty simple — we play City and have to take on the challenge and we have to win.”

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Pochettino looks beyond ending Arsenal hex

London (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur can end 22 years of mockery from the supporters of arch rivals Arsenal on Sunday, but for their ambitious manager Mauricio Pochettino it is a minor concern.

Arsenal have finished above Spurs every season since 1994-95 and their fans have taken to calling the day when they can no longer be overtaken by their local foes ‘St Totteringham’s Day’.

Spurs will finish above Arsenal if they beat them at White Hart Lane, but with Premier League leaders Chelsea currently just four points above them, Pochettino has weightier objectives in mind.

“My challenge and my aim is not to be above Arsenal,” Pochettino said in Friday’s pre-game press conference at the Spurs training ground in Enfield, north London.

“My challenge and my aim is to be above 19 teams and be on the top. That is my challenge, my aim, my dream.

“I don’t care what happens with Arsenal, with all my respect. What I care is what happens with us. That’s our big, big challenge at Tottenham.”

St Totteringham’s Day arrived in cruel fashion last season, after Spurs had emerged as the closest rivals to eventual champions Leicester City.

They needed victory at relegated Newcastle United on the final day to secure second place, but capitulated to a humiliating 5-1 defeat, enabling Arsenal to pip them after a 4-0 home win over Aston Villa.

Sunday’s game will be especially poignant for the home fans as it is due to be the final north London derby played at White Hart Lane.

Spurs will play their home games at Wembley next season before moving into their new home, which is being built on the site of their current stadium, in August 2018.

“Maybe it will be the last derby, but we are playing from the beginning of the season as if it’s the last game at White Hart Lane,” said Pochettino.

“Everyone behaves with an energy that is amazing and you can be sure Sunday is a special game and we will try altogether to win.”

It could also, potentially, be Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s final derby, amid ongoing uncertainty about his future at the club.

– Power shift –

The Frenchman has previously overseen 49 derbies, winning 22 and losing only seven.

Arsenal have been buoyed by victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend and a late 1-0 win at home to Leicester in mid-week.

They lie five points off the Champions League places in sixth place, but with a game in hand, and their cause was helped by Thursday’s 0-0 draw between Manchester City and Manchester United.

Spurs are 14 points ahead of them, having played a game more, but Wenger gave short shrift to talk of a power shift.

“You cannot say that the weight of one year has the weight of 20,” he said.

“The priority for us is to finish in the top four. After that, for the pride and the continuity or our achievements, yes we want to fight to be in front of Spurs.

“We have to focus on what is really important to us at this moment, which is to finish in the top four.

“Let’s be honest, I’ve answered that question about a shift in power over 18 consecutive years. Nothing changes in that.”

Wenger has indicated he could persevere with the three-man defence he has been using of late, despite having jettisoned it during the second half of Wednesday’s win against Leicester.

Arsenal are certain to be without Shkodran Mustafi due to a thigh injury and his central defensive partner Laurent Koscielny is a doubt with a knee problem.

Spurs midfielder Mousa Dembele faces a race against time to be fit after sustaining an ankle injury.

Left-back Danny Rose is unlikely to feature despite having resumed training following a three-month lay-off with a knee problem, so Ben Davies could continue to deputise.

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Chelsea boss Conte wants ‘fairer’ fixture run-in

Liverpool (AFP) – Antonio Conte called for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur to play at the same time in the critical Premier League title run-in to avoid giving an unfair advantage.

Conte’s Chelsea are four points clear of second-placed Tottenham with just five games remaining in a tense battle to be crowned English champions.

The Blues retain control of the title race after beating Southampton on Tuesday, but Tottenham are hot on their heels following their victory at Crystal Palace 24 hours later. 

Chelsea appear to have a favourable run-in compared to Tottenham, who host north London rivals Arsenal shortly after Chelsea’s clash at Everton on Sunday.

Conte doesn’t believe Chelsea have an advantage with the fixture schedule and said it would be fairer if the two title contenders played all their matches at the same time.

“At the end of the season when you have two teams in contention for the title, you must have the two fixtures at the same hour, on the same day. Don’t give the advantage to one team or the other,” he said on Friday.

“When you can see there are two or three teams very close in the fight, you have to find a solution. Then you can really see who is the best.”

With no margin for error, Conte knows his players might be vulnerable to feeling stressed and anxious as the pressure mounts.

But the Chelsea manager has tried to combat that problem by telling them to revel in the experience of playing for such high stakes.

“We are ready and we have worked hard to arrive here to fight for the title,” Conte said.

“For this reason we want to reach this target with all our strength.

“We have to do our job with the right pressure but at the same time to enjoy it.”

After recent defeats against Manchester United and Crystal Palace raised questions about Chelsea’s ability to get over the finish line, the west Londoners were revitalised by their FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham and the midweek success against Southampton.

– Lukaku threat –

The biggest threat to Chelsea on Sunday will come from their former striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge after scoring 25 goals in all competitions for Everton this term.

The 23-year-old Belgian left the Blues for Everton three years ago and reports claim Chelsea would have to pay £100 million ($129 million, 119 million euros) to re-sign him.

Asked if playing a potential suitor might unsettle Lukaku, Everton boss Ronald Koeman said: “I don’t know. We will see. Normally not. The players always like to show the best of themselves.

“We like to keep the best players but we know it is difficult. I don’t know if it is possible at the moment.”

Seventh-placed Everton could clinch a spot in the Europa League this weekend, but Koeman is looking for a more dynamic display after last weekend’s drab goalless draw against West Ham.

“Maybe we need to change our mentality a bit because I felt a bit less intensity in the game last week, maybe a bit less motivation,” he said.

“It is always difficult if you have already the seventh position in the pocket and maybe they get a little bit more holiday or end-of-season feeling. That is what I don’t like.”

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Friday, 28 April 2017

Last-gasp Atalanta snatch point from wasteful Juve

Milan (AFP) – Swiss midfielder Remo Freuler bundled a timely leveller past Gianluigi Buffon at the death to grab a deserved share of the spoils for Atalanta in a 2-2 draw with Juventus on Friday.

A great diving header from Dani Alves looked to have secured the three points for Juventus after Massimiliano Allegri’s treble-chasers fought their way back when Atalanta midfielder Leonardo Spinazzola’s own goal levelled Andrea Conti’s first-half opener for the hosts.

But Atalanta would not give up the fight, and when Buffon first pushed away Freuler’s last-gasp drive, he could do little when the midfielder pounced on the rebound to fire in a last-gasp equaliser.

Juve’s third draw of the campaign left the Turin giants, on course for a record sixth consecutive scudetto, nine points ahead of Roma, who face Lazio in the derby on Sunday.

Juve travelled to Bergamo well aware of the danger from Atalanta, who took full points from Napoli, Roma and Inter Milan at their Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium earlier this season.

And by the end of a confident first-half, Juve — who face Monaco away in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final next week — had reason for concern.

The hosts started with a flurry, Hans Hateboer narrowly failing to reach captain Alejandro Gomez’s inviting low cross in from the left in the opening minutes.

Juve struggled to find their rhythm, and after Rafael Toloi forced Buffon into action with a long-range effort the visitors had to wait until after the 25th minute to catch a sight of goal.

A cross fell kindly for Gonzalo Higuain, but the Argentina striker’s volley was no trouble for Etrit Berisha in the Atalanta net.

Making his 300th Serie A appearance, Giorgio Chiellini was caught out by Freuler, who forced Buffon to save with his legs.

Juve finally awoke from their slumber, but after Chiellini swept a great cross towards the back post Juan Cuadrado missed the target with his side-footed volley.

Chiellini was involved again with a great block on Leaonardo Spinazzola, but the veteran defender was powerless when the ball fell to Gomez to fire over for Conti, who jumped to meet the ball and fire inside the near post.

When Juve levelled five minutes after the restart they had Spinazzola to thank after he headed past Berisha from Miralem Pjanic’s free kick, following a scything tackle on Dybala from behind.

Juventus took command, two efforts in quick succession from Dybala and Higuain keeping Berisha on his toes.

But Allegri’s men were ultimately wasteful.

Juve’s penalty claims just before the hour, when Toloi jumped to challenge Bonucci at a free kick and caught the ball with his raised hand, were waved away despite protests because Mario Mandzukic was in an offside position.

Gasperini added some firepower when he replaced Jasmin Kurtic with Franck Kessie on 66 minutes, but Juve remained a threat.

Sami Khedira almost produced a stunner, his well-struck volley spinning towards the top corner before Berisha came to the rescue.

The German came close again with a header from Miralem Pjanic’s corner that forced Berisha to parry.

Juve were finally celebrating when Alves, timing his run to perfection to meet Pjanic’s delivery towards the back post, dived to head past a flailing Berisha.

But all the good work was undone when Freuler kept his cool to fire off Buffon, collect the ball after it came off Andrea Barzagli and bundle home an 89th minute equaliser.

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Antonio Conte confident Eden Hazard will stay despite Real Madrid rumours

• Spainish club weighing up a world record bid for the Chelsea star
• Manager insists Hazard is ‘happy’ but player’s future is out of his hands

Chelsea have no desire to sell Eden Hazard to Real Madrid regardless of whether the Spanish club’s long mooted interest crystallises in a world record bid this summer, though Antonio Conte has admitted the player himself would end up determining his own future.

Related: Antonio Conte praises ‘psychological step’ in Chelsea’s title push

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Swansea look to profit from Paul Clement’s added decisiveness

• Manager speaks of missed trick when leading in the defeat to Tottenham
• Manchester United away is the next hurdle and trip to Anfield the spur

A trip to Old Trafford on Sunday will evoke some happy memories for Paul Clement. The Swansea City manager won at Manchester United with Chelsea during his time as Carlo Ancelotti’s No2, and ruined Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday when he tasted victory with Blackburn Rovers as assistant to Steve Kean, yet it is an evening spent in the away end with West Brom supporters that strikes a chord right now.

It was 2005, the penultimate weekend of the season, and Clement made the journey to Old Trafford to cheer on Neil, his brother who was playing for a relegation-threatened West Brom side who were on their way to pulling off what would become known as their great escape. “I was a coach at Fulham in the academy at the time, I went up from London on the train and I was sitting up in the corner with the West Brom fans,” Clement said. “It was 1-1 and proved to be a massive point.”

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Christian Atsu fires up Newcastle to keep title hopes alive

Newcastle kept their Championship title hopes alive at Cardiff after second-half goals from Christian Atsu and Isaac Hayden gave Newcastle a 14th away league win – a club record – and ensured that Brighton must beat Bristol City on Saturday to be crowned champions on the penultimate weekend of the season on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Atsu broke the deadlock with a delightful 55th-minute free-kick before Hayden struck his second Newcastle goal 10 minutes later from 20 yards.

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Atsu strike fires up Newcastle to keep their title hopes alive

Newcastle kept their Championship title hopes alive at Cardiff after second-half goals from Christian Atsu and Isaac Hayden gave Newcastle a 14th away league win – a club record – and ensured that Brighton must beat Bristol City on Saturday to be crowned champions on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Atsu broke the deadlock with a delightful 55th-minute free-kick before Hayden struck his second Newcastle goal 10 minutes later from 20 yards.

Continue reading...

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Tottenham Waiting in the Wings as Barcelona Academy Star Rejects Contract Extension

​Tottenham's hopes of landing Barcelona youngster Marc Cucurella have been boosted by the news that the defender has rejected a new offer from the Catalan giants.  Spurs are understood to have been keeping a close eye on the left-back for several months now and Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo even suggest that the Premier League side have made Cucurella an offer of their own.  Cucurella espera una oferta mejor del Barçahttps://t.co/DcIuL8Kx1W Te lo cuenta @martinezferran...

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Rudy Gestede Breaks Curse of Most Consecutive Premier League Games Without a Win

Middlesbrough's hard-fought 1-0 win over Sunderland on Wednesday night broke a remarkable curse for Rudy Gestede. The former Aston Villa forward had gone 43 consecutive games without a win in the Premier League. The French-born Benin international came on as a substitute for Boro in the 76th minute of the game. He never looked like getting on the score sheet himself but the win was a much needed one for both him and Middlesbrough as they look to vacate the relegation zone. The curse is broken....

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VIDEO: Spinazzola Heads Into His Own Net to Bring Juventus Level Against Atalanta

​ Spinazzola's own goal 😏😏 http://pic.twitter.com/OxK9Ge0w34 — Khaledalnouss (@khaledalnouss1) April 28, 2017 ​​

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Football legend Zidane urges French to snub Le Pen at polls

Madrid (AFP) – French football star and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane called Friday on his countrymen to do their “utmost to avoid” voting far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen into office.

Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, was voted into the second round of French elections at the weekend and is now engaged in a fierce run-off with her centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron.

“The message is always the same, it’s that of 2002,” Zidane told reporters, referring to the year when then far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen — the current candidate’s father — reached the second round of France’s presidential elections.

That prompted many voters from the left and right to unite behind Jacques Chirac, the conservative rival in that runoff vote, to block Jean-Marie Le Pen from gaining power.

“I’m far from all those ideas, of the National Front,” Zidane, whose parents immigrated to France from Algeria, said during a news conference before Real Madrid plays Valencia on Saturday.

He added that people had to do their “utmost to avoid this. Extremes are never good,” without giving any specific voting indications.

Le Pen however dismissed Zidane’s statement, saying it was in his interest to vote for Macron as the former Rothschild banker was pro-rich.

“That’s his view. What do you want me to say? He can dispense advice about football, he’s good at it one has to admit,” she said. “But as far as politics goes, it’s not a certainty.

“With what he earns, I understand that he’s voting for Macron,” she said. “I presume that Mr Zinedine Zidane has a lot of capital and that therefore it is probably in his interest that Mr Macron gets elected so that he can guard his wealth which he has earned thanks to his talent,” she said. 

Zidane took a similar stance in 2002, participating in a video against the far-right candidate with several other celebrities like actor Gerard Depardieu and musician Jean-Jacques Goldman.

Jean-Marie Le Pen had then countered that Zidane was being “manipulated by people who are using his fame.”

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Out of Favour Man City Star Open to Joining Rivals Man Utd Should Huge Deal Take Place This Summer

​Manchester City's Joe Hart is reportedly open to moving to Manchester United if the Old Trafford side sell David de Gea at the end of the season, per the ​Independent. The goalkeeper is currently on loan at Serie A side Torino, but it's unlikely that he will ever play for City again. The thing is, the 30-year-old would prefer to remain in the north west, which makes United the best possible destination. Hart has been living in Manchester since joining the club from Shrewsbury in 2006, and...

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Paris Saint-Germain Make Reported Approach for Daniel Levy's Head of Recruitment at Spurs

​French giants Paris Saint-Germain have made an approach to acquire the services of Tottenham Hotspur's head of recruitment, Paul Mitchell, according to the ​Mail. Mitchell joined Tottenham in 2014 from Southampton, a club he helped massively in terms of  recruitment to consolidate their position in the Premier League, despite losing a lot of key players to rival clubs across England, Liverpool in particular.  Mitchell's good work at Southampton earned him a move to White Hart Lane in 2014 to...

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