Thursday, November 5, 2009

Puel makes Liverpool promise

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Lyon coach Claude Puel says they will be doing their all to beat Fiorentina, despite already booking their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Reds' bid to progress is out of their hands after Lisandro Lopez's late goal denied the English side all three points in France on Wednesday night.

Rafael Benitez's men need results to go their way if they are to have any chance of progressing as a win for Fiorentina against Lyon next time out would dump the Merseysiders out of the competition.

However, Puel has vowed Lyon will do their best to help Liverpool's cause by trying to beat Fiorentina in Florence later this month.

"We will play fair, we want to win the group and avoid getting a tougher draw in the next stage," said Puel.

"Liverpool have no need to fear what may happen.

"We will play to win the game and that will leave the situation in Liverpool's hands to win their last two games and go through themselves."

Benitez: I don't fear for my job

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Rafael Benitez insists he does not fear for his job even though Liverpool now need a miracle to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Liverpool boss had seen victory snatched from his team by Lyon, who equalised through Lisandro Lopez in the dying seconds of their Group E clash at the Stade Gerland on Wednesday night.

Ryan Babel had fired Liverpool ahead with just seven minutes to go, but they still left with a 1-1 draw despite a vastly improved performance.

Liverpool now must rely on Lyon winning away to Fiorentina in their next match, and hope they will still have their destiny in their own hands in their final group matches against Debrecen and the Florence club.

Benitez's own position has been under threat during Liverpool's recent horror run, but when asked if he feared for his job, the Spaniard was quick to respond.

"No, I am only thinking about the next game, nothing else," he said.

Benitez, who also revealed that striker Fernando Torres played through the pain barrier for the 87 minutes he was on the pitch, remains hopeful his side can still progress even though the odds are stacked against them.

He said: "We have to be really disappointed, we had so many chances and we were almost there.

"But again it was a late goal by Lyon, and it is a massive difference for us.

"Clearly it is difficult now, but not impossible. We have to win our next game in Debrecen and wait to see what the result is between Fiorentina and Lyon.

"We have to keep going and try to win. We have achieved miracles before and we can do it again."

On his own feelings and the pressure he is under, Benitez said: "It is simple for me to keep my head high, and that is by watching the players on the pitch and see their performances. Hearing the fans singing after the game because they know that we are improving and getting better.

"But football is like this, sometimes you have to have some luck and we did not have any luck at the end of the match.

"We were not caught out by them at the end, we were not caught on the break and had plenty of players in the box to defend.

"We just made a mistake, but not because we were thinking about attacking and caught out.

"I have not seen the replay so I do not know whether (Michel) Bastos was offside in the build-up to their equaliser. We just had to do better, we had too many players around the scorer and should have stopped him.

"It is something we have to improve on because it has happened before. When we are winning we have to close the game out and stop teams scoring against us at the end of matches, like Lyon have done in both games against us.

"We have to learn to keep the ball at times and be stronger in the challenge."

He added: "Torres was playing with pain, and that is not easy. He was inconsistent, he had to keep stopping and starting again because of the problem.

"He was playing with pain, hopefully he will now have some time for us to work with him and we will see how he progresses.

"The players must not give up hope, Lyon can win away to Fiorentina. We need to win against Debrecen and not talk too much about the other game.

"We must do our job properly first, then we will look at the other result. We will see what happens and hope to take it to the last game when we are at home to Fiorentina."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ferguson: We're almost there

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Sir Alex Ferguson believes Man United are now well on course for the Champions League knock-out stages after edging past CSKA Moscow.

United maintained their 100% record in Group B after Antonio Valencia struck a late goal to secure a 1-0 win in the Russian capital on Wednesday evening.

With three games still remaining, Ferguson hopes his side can now secure their passage with something to spare.

Ferguson said: "We are very pleased with our performance.

"The situation in the group is now nine points. I have always maintained that you need 10 to qualify.

"We now have a home game against CSKA in two or three weeks' time which we hope can take us to the next stage."

Ferguson felt his team had produced a professional performance on the Luzhniki Stadium's artificial pitch.

He added: "In the first half I think we played with a lot patience, which is necessary when you are playing away from home.

"Experience in these sort of situations is always vital.

"In the second half I think we increased the tempo of the game and got more penetration.

"We created some good goal opportunities and if we have to wait to the 86th minute, so be it.

"We had to have the patience to win, and we did that."

He added: "The issues of the surface were not a problem. As I said before the game, good footballers can play on that quite easily."

Ferguson expressed his satisfaction with the performance of former Wigan star Valencia, who moments before his goal had rattled the crossbar.

It was Valencia's second goal for the club, following on quickly from his first in last weekend's win over Bolton.

Ferguson said of the Ecuador international: "He has been the plus point for the last two weeks.

"He is settling into the club, his confidence is stronger and he has tremendous assets for a wee player - strength, balance, feet and a good crosser of the ball.

"The area he hadn't shown was goalscoring ability.

"We said when we signed him this was his challenge to progress as a footballer.

"Now he has scored two in two games and that will help him."

Ferguson confirmed his decision to substitute Rio Ferdinand just before the hour was merely precautionary ahead of Sunday's Premier League trip to rivals Liverpool.

United had already travelled to Russia without the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung.

Defender Fabio, who impressed on the left, was carried off late on but Ferguson said his problem was only cramp.

Defeat left CSKA Moscow with three points from their opening three games in the competition but new manager Juande Ramos remains hopeful of progress.

Ramos, the former Tottenam manager who took charge last month, said: "We had our chances but we didn't take them.

"I think we had a very good first half and in the second half we had chances in the first 10 minutes.

"We made it very hard for them for an hour.

"We have lost but we still have three games and we are going to fight for our chances."

Pellegrini worried by big-match failures

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Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini
Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini admits he is concerned that his team have failed in the big matches so far this season.

This follows losses to both AC Milan and Sevilla - in the Champions League and Primera Liga respectively.

Madrid have won eight of their 10 competitive games this season, but in arguably their toughest challenges they have come unstuck, going down 2-1 to Sevilla in La Liga earlier this month and then losing 3-2 at home to Milan in the Champions League last night.

When asked about this following the Milan loss, Pellegrini said: "Every defeat is worrying. Both teams (Sevilla and Milan) are more settled than we are and they've played together for a lot longer. I don't consider it something normal, it's worrying and we have to continue improving."

The loss to Milan came after Madrid had beaten FC Zurich 5-2 and Marseille 3-0 in their opening two games, but they surrendered top spot in Group C to the Italians following last night's result, with the other two sides now three points behind at the midway point of the group stages.

Pellegrini said: "We have two objectives: To qualify for the next round of the Champions League, and we will try to recover the points in the return game against Milan; and in the league, where we are on the right path but know that we have to work harder."

Madrid had looked on course for their third successive win in Europe when Raul took advantage of a bad mistake from visiting goalkeeper Dida to give the home side a half-time lead, but Milan turned the game on its head after the break when, against the run of play, they scored twice in a four-minute spell through Andrea Pirlo and Alexandre Pato to go 2-1 ahead.

Royston Drenthe brought Madrid back on level terms with 14 minutes to go when he drove home a low shot from the edge of the box, but it would be Pato who had the final say as he volleyed home at the far post to earn Milan an 88th-minute winner.

Madrid have now lost two of their past three games including the Sevilla match, but Dutchman Drenthe insists there is no reason to press the panic button.

"It's not a crisis, we can also lose games. We will play in Gijon and then against Milan over there. Why talk of crisis? We are fine in the league and the Champions League," he said in AS.

"The people don't understand that the Madrid players are people and that we can also lose.

"This is football, anything can happen."

A delighted Leonardo, the Milan coach, said of his side's victory: "I`m very happy and I have a very positive feeling. The second half was much better than the first.

"After Raul`s goal it was difficult to reorganise the team and the second half was incredible. We created chances, we went 2-1 ahead, they drew level but we never thought about losing and that was key. The result was fair."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pato blow decides heavyweight contest

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Real Madrid CF and AC Milan played out a UEFA Champions League classic as the Serie A side recovered from Dida's early error to breathe life into their Group C campaign with a 3-2 win.

European heavyweights
With 16 European Champion Clubs' Cups between them and a plethora of stars on display, fans flocked to the Santiago Bernabéu expecting something special – they were not disappointed. Raúl González opened the scoring midway through the opening period but two second-half goals in four minutes from Andrea Pirlo and Pato turned the game on its head. Royston Drenthe's low drive restored parity before Pato decided the contest with a dramatic volley two minutes from time.

Last-minute change
So Madrid's night ended as it had begun – on a sour note. Gonzalo Higuaín picked up an injury during the warm-up to join a daunting list of absentees. Yet Manuel Pellegrini is hardly short on talent and, with Esteban Granero handed his UEFA Champions League debut, the hosts set the early pace. Granero and Karim Benzema bristled with intent and the pair were in the thick of things as Madrid broke the deadlock on 19 minutes. Benzema drew defenders on the edge of the Milan area before teeing up Granero for a speculative effort. It was straight at Dida yet the Brazilian, playing in place of the injured Christian Abbiati, let the ball slip on to his knee and into the path of the prowling Raúl who clipped in his 66th UEFA Champions League goal.

Madrid pressure
The Rossoneri were stunned, and as they allowed their opponents more possession they might have been punished further had Lassana Diarra applied more finesse to his chip. The French international sent another attempt just wide from distance and Marcelo also warmed Dida's hands. Milan threatened only once in the first half, Clarence Seedorf's cross needing a timely Raúl Albiol interception to deny the lurking Filippo Inzaghi with the scores at 0-0, and the second period started in a similar fashion. Raúl flashed a left-footed drive wide before Kaká measured a teasing pass across goal to no avail.

Casillas culpable
Dida was getting plenty of opportunity to atone for his error, denying Benzema and then, following a defensive lapse, Raúl. It all looked so comfortable for Madrid but, in the space of four minutes, they were behind. Receiving possession 30 metres from goal, Pirlo unleashed a blistering strike that crept inside Iker Casillas's near post. The goalkeeper could do nothing about that, yet was culpable when he opted to come out to meet Massimo Ambrosini's lofted pass soon after but misjudged the bounce, leaving Pato to slide the ball into an unguarded net and give Leonardo's side the lead.

Sting
It was merely the beginning of the drama. With 14 minutes left, Drenthe met Raúl's corner with a crisp low shot that levelled matters, yet these sides had played enough European Cup football – 526 matches between them – to suspect another sting in the tail. It duly came: Pato latching on to Seedorf's flighted pass with an emphatic volley to finally settle a thrilling contest.

Champions League Wed Review

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AC Milan edged a thrilling contest with Real Madrid 3-2 at the Bernabeu in the pick of Wednesday's Champions League games.

Raul put the home side ahead after pouncing on a dreadful blunder by Milan goalkeeper Dida, but Andrea Pirlo (62) and Alexandre Pato (66) turned the match around.

Substitute Royston Drenthe made it 2-2 after 76 minutes but Pato's second two minutes from time sealed a memorable win.

Also in Group C, a moment of quality from Gabriel Heinze settled a poor contest between FC Zurich and Marseille, Heinze volleying home after 69 minutes to give the visitors a 1-0 win.

Marseille had Laurent Bonnart sent off for a second yellow in stoppage time.

Michael Ciani scored at both ends and Bordeaux missed two penalties as the French champions leapfrogged Bayern Munich to move to the top of Group A with a 2-1 win.

Ciani put Bayern ahead with an own goal in the sixth minute before making amends with a fine equaliser in the 29th minute.

Bayern were reduced to 10 men when they lost Thomas Muller and Marc Planus then scored the winner in the 41st minute.

Bordeaux could even afford to miss two penalties with Hans-Jorg Butt saving from both Yoann Gourcuff and Jussie, while the visitors ended the game with only nine men as Daniel van Buyten was sent off for the foul which led to the second penalty in the 88th minute.

Elsewhere in the group, Juventus made life hard for themselves but held on to defeat 10-man Maccabi Haifa 1-0.

Giorgio Chiellini's header early in the second half was enough to hand the Bianconeri all three points in Turin.

Chelsea put themselves on the brink of qualification from Group D with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

A goal in each half from Ivory Coast international Salomon Kalou, a fine drive from Frank Lampard and an own goal from Luis Perea maintained Chelsea's 100% record.

Porto are three points behind Chelsea after coming from behind to beat Apoel Nicosia 2-1, Hulk scoring twice - one a penalty - after an own goal from Alvaro Perreira gifted the visitors the lead.

In the early evening kick-off, Antonio Valencia struck a late winner as Manchester United maintained their 100% record in Group B at the expense of CSKA Moscow.

The other Group B game between Wolfsburg and Besiktas finished in a goalless, yet entertaining, draw.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rubin Kazan silenced the Nou Camp

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Gokdeniz Karadeniz stuck a second-half winner as Rubin Kazan claimed a shock Champions League victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Karadeniz netted with 17 minutes to go to earn the Russian champions their first win in Group F and inflict a first competitive defeat over Barcelona since May.

It was also the first European defeat Pep Guardiola's men had suffered since losing at home to Shakhtar Donetsk last December having already qualified for the last 16.

An upset had been on the cards from the opening two minutes when Rubin took the lead through Alexander Ryazantsev's long-range piledriver out of the blue, and although Barca levelled up through a fine Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal just after half-time, it was the visitors who went on to claim a memorable victory thanks to Karadeniz.

The result meant Rubin joined Barca on four points in Group F, with Dynamo Kiev on the same number following their 2-2 draw with Inter Milan, who have three points.

Some of the fans at the Nou Camp probably had not even taken their seats when Rubin claimed a shock lead through Ryazantsev with just over a minute on the clock.

There appeared little danger when the ball ran loose 35 yards from goal but Ryazantsev had other ideas and his first-time strike fizzed past Victor Valdes into the near top corner of the net.

That was the first time Barca had fallen behind in either Europe or the Primera Division this season, and whether it was a mixture of surprise or Rubin getting plenty of men behind the ball, the home side found it hard to get going in the remainder of the first half.

Ibrahimovic had two efforts that were saved by Sergei Ryzhikov but the Rubin keeper would have been disappointed if he had let either in, while Dani Alves' 25-yard effort hit the side-netting when a foot to the left would have brought a certain goal.

Ryzhikov had to work harder to save further efforts from Pedro Rodriguez and Lionel Messi but otherwise the visitors successfully kept their hosts at bay before the break, whilst they might even have netted a second goal themselves after winning a dangerous free-kick 20 yards out but Valdes was equal to Karadeniz's curling shot.

It was a frustrating period for Barca, but they needed just three minutes of the second half to get that out of their system as Ibrahimovic scored a fine equaliser.

Xavi's chip over the Rubin defence was chested down by the giant Swede on the edge of the area and with his next touch he drilled an unstoppable shot in off the far post.

The home supporters must have felt that would be the catalyst for a much improved performance by their side, but hard-working Rubin refused to capitulate and they made it just as difficult for Barca as they did before the break.

Pedro went close for the Spanish champions while Ibrahimovic saw a free-kick whistle just past the post.

Barca continued to push for an opening, but they were left shellshocked for the second time in the match when Rubin retook the lead through Karadeniz - and this time there was no way back for the Catalan giants.

A quick break by the Russian side resulted in Alejandro Dominguez putting Karadeniz through on the right of the area and the Rubin forward left Valdes with no chance with a well-struck effort into the far corner of the net.

That proved to be the winning goal, although Barca twice came agonisingly close to equalising in the closing stages as they hit the woodwork through Ibrahimovic and Yaya Toure.

Alves and Messi combined to give Ibrahimovic his chance but his volley from near the penalty spot crashed against the crossbar, and then in the final minute of injury time Toure headed Xavi's corner against the post as Barca slumped to a rare defeat.

Liverpool sunk by Lyon

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Lyon deepened the sense of crisis surrounding Liverpool and manager Rafael Benitez as Cesar Delgado's injury-time winner left their Champions League ambitions hanging in the balance.Liverpool conceded an injury-time goal which puts their Champions League future in grave doubt.

An injury-ravaged home side had produced a display of spirit and effort which did not deserve to see them finish as losers.

But they have now lost four games in succession for the first time since 1987 as their season plunges into despair.

Captain Steven Gerrard's groin problem forced him off in the first half, as Liverpool lost this Group E match to a side who now top the group with nine points.

Liverpool led at the break through Yossi Benayoun, but Lyon slowly edged their way towards victory with goals from substitutes Maxime Gonalons and Cesar Delgado.

An air of nervous tension hung over Anfield, such were the levels of distress from fans unused to their side losing with such regularity.

The beach-ball embarrassment of the defeat at Sunderland just about summed up Liverpool's indifferent season.

Their form has been poor, a situation made worse by having their squad systematically deprived of its best players.

Fernando Torres was again out, while Glen Johnson was missing with a groin injury. At least Gerrard was back - but that lasted only 25 minutes.

Teenager Martin Kelly, Whiston-born and academy produced, made his full debut at right-back, having had just a handful of minutes prior to this as a late substitute against PSV Eindhoven in Holland last December in this competition.

Facing them were a clever, experienced team - full of neat passing, solid possession and pacy movement which threatened a fragile Liverpool.

It needed a close-range save from Jose Reina to keep out a powerful header from Argentina striker Lisandro before patched-up Liverpool - who had David Ngog in Torres' role - continually wasted possession.

Former Liverpool and Lyon boss Gerard Houllier watched from the directors' box as the Reds struggled, while co-owner George Gillett was also in the posh seats, fresh from his trip to Saudi Arabia.

And there were signs of Liverpool defiance, a Dirk Kuyt headed disallowed for offside from Gerrard's deep cross.

That was virtually the only contribution from the skipper, who trudged off to be replaced by Fabio Aurelio. The groin injury sustained on England duty had given way again. No real damage we were told, but facing Manchester United on Sunday looks a long shot.

It needed a performance of defiance, spirit and sheer desire from Liverpool to survive this. And there were signs to warm the Kop.

Defender Cris was booked for a foul on Kuyt, the Dutchman's knee crashing into his head as he fell. The Brazilian did not last much longer, carried off in a daze.

Liverpool were beginning to show genuine fight now, and somehow France number two 'keeper Hugo Lloris kept out an Ngog effort after fine work by Kelly, Kuyt and Aurelio.

Aurelio had a powerful header saved by Lloris' left-hand from Kelly's run and cross, before Liverpool took a 41st minute lead.

Benayoun showed calmness to lift the ball over Lloris from eight yards, after Aurelio's cross evaded Kelly in the six-yard box.

Ngog was booked for a foul on Jeremy Toulalan, then Lyon skipper Sidney Govou was cautioned for flattening Emiliano Insua.

Benayoun, with a fine header, and Ngog - from eight-yards - could have stretched Liverpool's lead in the second period, while Lloris needed to be at full stretch to keep out Kuyt's header from Aurelio's cross.

Lyon sent on striker Bafetimbi Gomis to partner Lisandro in place of Ederson - and they began to stretch Liverpool.

Bosnian teenager Miralem Pjanic, followed relentlessly by Lucas, was starting to find space to produce the sort of tricks which have helped his country into the World Cup play-offs.

The pressure increased and Lyon equalised in the 72nd minute.

Liverpool failed to clear a corner, Reina made two outstanding saves from Toulalan and Govou before the ball reached substitute Gonalons, who dived to head home.

The hosts then lost young Kelly with an ankle injury, with Martin Skrtel taking over in a defence under increasing pressure.

Benitez sent on Andriy Voronin for Benayoun, to boos from the Kop, as Liverpool searched for a second.

But the decider came in injury-time from substitute Cesar Delgado, arriving at the far post to sidefoot past Reina from Govou's cross.

Champions League Tuesday Review

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Rubin Kazan silenced the Nou Camp in their Champions League clash with Barcelona as the holders slipped to a shock 2-1 defeat.

Alexander Ryazantsev's 35-yard rocket gave the Russians the lead in the Group F encounter - and left Barca trailing for the first time this season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic levelled in the 48th minute, controlling the ball on his chest and firing home via a post, but there was another twist to come as Gokdeniz Karadeniz grabbed a 73rd-minute winner.

Another major upset looked on the cards at the San Siro as Dynamo Kiev twice led against Inter Milan only for Jose Mourinho's men to fight back to draw 2-2.

Taras Mykhalyk put Dynamo Kiev in front after five minutes and Lucio powered a header into his own net to restore their lead after Dejan Stankovic had levelled.

But Walter Samuel headed in at the right end two minutes after the break to make it 2-2.

Barca, Rubin and Dynamo are now all level on four points, with Inter bottom of the pool on three.

Liverpool's woes continued as they conceded an injury-time goal to lose 2-1 at home to Lyon in Group E.

The Reds survived early Lyon pressure and the loss of captain Steven Gerrard to injury midway through the first half to go ahead in the 41st minute through Yossi Benayoun.

But Maxime Gonalons headed an equaliser for the French giants after 72 minutes and Cesar Delgado struck a minute into added time to win it for the visitors, who top the group with three wins out of three.

Fiorentina are three points further back after a 4-3 win away to Debrecen, with Liverpool third a further three adrift.

There was a flying start in Hungary between Debrecen and Fiorentina as the Italian side led 2-1 after 10 minutes and 4-2 at half-time.

Peter Czvitkovics put Debrecen in front after two minutes but a brace from Adrian Mutu either side of an Alberto Gilardino effort put the visitors 3-1 in front.

Gergely Rudolf struck a second for the home side before Mario Santana scored the sixth goal of the half in the 37th minute.

There was only one goal in the second period, Adamo Coulibaly netting two minutes from time to bring Debrecen to within one of Fiorentina, but the Italians claimed the win.

Sevilla won 3-1 at Stuttgart to extend their 100% record in Group G and strengthen their position at its summit.

Sebastien Squillaci scored twice either side of a Jesus Navas goal as the visitors took command of the match before Elson scored a consolation for Markus Babbel's men.

Two own goals and a missed penalty sent Rangers on their way to a 4-1 home defeat to Romanian side Unirea Urziceni, who now lie second, five points behind Sevilla.

Fortune looked like it would favour the Scottish side when Ricardo Vilana deflected Pedro Mendes's shot into his own net to give them a second-minute lead.

But from there it went downhill for the home side, Marius Bilasco equalising in the 33rd minute and Steven Davis missing a penalty five minutes later.

Own goals from Kyle Lafferty and Lee McCulloch put Unirea in control, Pablo Brandan adding their fourth in the 65th minute.

Arsenal saw their 100% record in Group H ended as David Mendes Da Silva volleyed an injury-time equaliser for AZ Alkmaar to cancel out Cesc Fabregas' opener and earn a 1-1 draw for Ronald Koeman's men.

Ieroklis Stoltidis headed an injury-time winner for Olympiacos as they came from behind to beat Standard Liege 2-1 and strengthen their position in second behind the Gunners.

Igor De Camargo scored first for the Belgian side before Kostas Mitroglou levelled two minutes before the break.

Walcott out for four weeks

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Arsenal forward Theo Walcott is facing three to four weeks on the sidelines with knee ligament damage.

Walcott was hurt in a challenge with Birmingham's Liam Ridgewell during the Gunners' 3-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday and limped out of the action in the 33rd minute.

The England international was making his first start of the season having been unavailable since the summer with a back problem but is now facing another spell in the treatment room.

Walcott is certain to miss Tuesday's Champions League trip Holland to face AZ Alkmaar and is unlikely to be back in time for the reverse fixture against the Dutch side on November 4.

He will also miss Sunday's trip to West Ham, the Carling Cup fourth-round clash at home to Liverpool and the North London derby date with Tottenham.

Arsene Wenger will also be without midfield playmaker Tomas Rosicky for Tuesday's Group H clash, but left-back Gael Clichy is available again.

Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson, Eduardo, Lukasz Fabianski and Johan Djourou remain out of action and will not travel to Holland.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fabregas aware of Alkmaar threat

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Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas has warned against taking Champions League new boys AZ Alkmaar lightly.

The Gunners head to DSB Stadium for Tuesday night's European tie in good form, having recorded successive victories to top Group H.

However, it could have been so different had Arsene Wenger's youngsters not recovered from a shocking opening to their last away game in Liege, where they trailed 2-0 inside the opening four minutes.

Yet having come through such a test of character at the compact Maurice Dufrasne Stadium, Fabregas maintains Arsenal will not be caught cold again.

"We have six points from two games in the group and if you think about the position we were in after just four minutes of our opening game, it shows how quickly football changes," the Spain international said.

"You must stay focused every day to be the best, because everyone else out there wants to be the best too.

"People expect the so-called smaller teams to be easy, but especially away from home those games are tough.

"They are usually fresher than the English or the Spanish teams because maybe their own league is not as intense."

Click here for more Champions League news

Arsenal had to be patient in their last Champions League fixture, eventually breaking down a stubborn Olympiacos side with late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.

Fabregas, 22, believes keeping faith in their passing game is the only way to deal with such frustration and make sure of a positive result at the final whistle.

"Even if the chances were not going in, I was not worried because you could see the focus of the players," he said.

"Sometimes when things do not go so well for you, it can get into your head and you do not play your normal game.

"But against Olympiacos we carried on playing football, and kept it simple. As a result, eventually the goals came.

"There are so many players who can make the difference, and it has always been like that since I have been here.

"We have to keep doing that - be strong going forward while also defending as a team. We need the balance."

Holland international van Persie remains a keen follower of football in his homeland.

Alkmaar, now under the guidance of legendary Dutch defender Ronald Koeman, saw their hopes of a first win in the Champions League dashed following a stoppage-time equaliser by Standard Liege and are currently bottom of the group with just one point.

However, van Persie maintained: "AZ have lots of potential in their side - they really try to play football, they are not scared and they have a few good strikers there.

"I am convinced, though, if we give everything, close them down and play sharp, we will beat them."

Triple setback disrupts Sevilla

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Andrés Palop
Sevilla FC will travel to Germany to take on VfB Stuttgart in UEFA Champions League Group G without the injured Renato, Andrés Palop and Abdoulay Konko.

Injured trio
Brazilian Renato, who has scored two goals in five Liga appearances this season, ended his side's 1-0 weekend defeat against RC Deportivo La Coruña complaining of calf cramps prompting coach Manuel Jiménez to leave the midfielder out of the squad for Stuttgart. Also missing will be goalkeeper Palop who took no part in Saturday's league defeat because of a calf injury while Konko has failed to recover from a virus. On a brighter note for Los Rojiblancos, forward Luis Fabiano returns to the set-up after a late arrival from international duty with Brazil forced him out of the Deportivo defeat. Sevilla have enjoyed a 100 per cent start in Group G following victories against FC Unirea Urziceni and Rangers FC.

Rangers v Unirea Urziceni

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Rangers midfielder Pedro Mendes is doubtful for Tuesday's visit of Unirea Urziceni with a thigh strain.

The Portuguese missed the league win over St Johnstone and is struggling to face the Romanians.

Manager Walter Smith recalls defender Madjid Bougherra to the squad after accepting his explanation for his late return from World Cup duty.

Defender Sasa Papac says Rangers must win to retain hope of progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Rangers (from): McGregor, Whittaker, Papac, Weir, Smith, Naismith, Davis, Thomson, McCulloch, Rothen, Novo, Lafferty, Boyd, Miller, Loy, McMillan, Fleck, Alexander, Bougherra.

Gerrard return boosts Liverpool

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Liverpool v Lyon

Champions League Group E
Venue: Anfield
Date: Tuesday 20 October


Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is fit to play against Lyon in Tuesday's Champions League Group E clash but striker Fernando Torres misses out.

Midfielder Gerrard sat out Saturday's controversial Premier League defeat to Sunderland with a groin injury but returned to training on Monday.

Torres is still recovering from an abdominal problem.

Liverpool lie third in the table after a win and a loss while Lyon have won their opening two matches.

Rooney among absent United five

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Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra
Wayne Rooney is among five key Manchester United FC players ruled out of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League fixture at PFC CSKA Moskva.

Hope over duo
Rooney misses out with a calf strain and remained in England along with Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra, Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher as the rest of the United squad headed to Russia on Monday afternoon. Giggs and Evra picked up knocks in Saturday's 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers FC, while Park and Fletcher both sat out that match. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson is nonetheless hopeful that striker Dimitar Berbatov and defender Nemanja Vidić will recover from minor complaints as United aim to keep up their perfect record in Group B.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sneijder hopes to meet Real in final

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Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder hopes to meet his old club Real Madrid in the final of the UEFA Champions League this season.

The Dutchman was surplus to requirements after Real went on a world-record buying spree that saw the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka join the Whites.

Sneijder has since jumped ship to join Jose Mourinho's Inter and has taken Serie A by storm. Despite his good start in Italy, Sneijder told Sky Sports News that he cannot stop thinking about Real.

"I played there for two years, I always follow their results. I had a very good relationship with all my team-mates and I wish them all the best, but I feel really good in this city and this team, now is not the time to look back," said the Dutchman.

"Playing against them would obviously be special and I hope it happens in the Champions League final. It would be nice and I would hope to win it."

On the differences between the Spanish and Italian leagues, Sneijder said, "I don't think there are major differences. They are both difficult leagues. Perhaps in Spain there's more technique, but in Italy it's very tough, there's a lot of battling and, especially for us midfielders, it's very difficult, you have to find the right solution quickly or you are fouled."

Asked if there are many teams stronger than Inter in the Champions League, he said, "No, I don't think there are many teams stronger than Inter, because everyone in the world talks about Barcelona, but they only managed a 0-0 draw against us.

"I think it was a good result. If everyone says Barcelona is the strongest team in the world, then we are also one of them because we drew against them. The Champions League is different from the Italian league, certainly because there are many strong teams, but to win it you need a great team, as well as a bit of luck.

"Why can Inter win the Champions League? Because I think we have a very strong defence, a good midfield and fantastic strikers. With this combination you can win the Champions League."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ancelotti reignites feud with Jose

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Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has again showed his indifference to Inter coach Jose Mourinho.

Ancelotti, who was Mourinho's rival manager when the Italian was in charge of Milan last season, has stated that he is not a fan or 'disciple' of Mourinho.

According to skysports.com, Ancelotti appeared on an Italian television programme that the Portuguese coach appeared on last year, when he famously compared himself to Jesus.

However Ancelotti insisted that he is his own man and would not be prescribing to the Mourinho school of coaching.

"I don't know the Special One," he said in the Daily Mirror.

"And if he thinks he is Jesus, I am certainly not one of his disciples."

Golasa to miss Juventus trip

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Eyal Golasa
Maccabi Haifa FC midfielder Eyal Golasa will be out for several weeks after being diagnosed with a stress fracture of his hip.

Juve absence
The 18-year-old has been injured since the Israeli side's 1-0 loss to FC Girondins de Bordeaux in the UEFA Champions League at the end of last month and will now miss next week's trip to Juventus and possibly the return at the Ramat Gan Stadium a fortnight later. Golasa started both of Haifa's first two matches in Group A, where his team lie bottom without a point or a goal for their efforts.

Metzelder adds to Madrid concerns

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Madrid defender Christoph Metzelder
Christoph Metzelder is a serious doubt for Real Madrid CF's UEFA Champions League meeting with AC Milan after suffering a ligament sprain in his right ankle during training.

Mounting injuries
The German international defender, who has featured just once in the Liga this season, was taken to hospital for tests on the injury on Tuesday evening and is expected to be out of action for between a week and ten days. Midfielder Guti, meanwhile, will begin a specific recovery programme after suffering a twisted left ankle. Madrid can ill afford more injuries ahead of the Group C meetings against Milan on 21 October and 3 November. Cristiano Ronaldo has already been ruled out of both matches with an ankle problem while Fernando Gago and Ruud van Nistelrooy are struggling with thigh injuries and may miss the first game at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ronaldo hopes for short absence

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Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is confident he will be back sooner than expected despite being told he faces around a month on the sidelines.

Ronaldo returned to Madrid on Sunday after limping out of Portugal's 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Hungary and medical tests indicated he would be out of action for "three to four weeks".

The injury is on the same ankle he was operated on last year, but the world's most expensive player has reassured fans it is in no way related and expects to be back sooner rather than later.

"I will work very hard to try to shorten the length of time I'm out, even though now what's important is to recuperate perfectly so as not to return to having problems," Ronaldo told AS.

"It's a different injury to that which I was operated on. It's got nothing to do with that.

"I'm calm because I know that with the desire I have to get better and the good work of the physiotherapists at Madrid everything will go very well."

Ronaldo's absence is a big blow to Madrid as the 24-year-old has scored nine goals in his seven competitive games since moving from Manchester United, and their dependence on him was evident as they slumped to defeat in their first match without him.

The Spanish giants will feel somewhat aggrieved with Portugal for utilising Ronaldo despite him missing the Sevilla match the previous week with injury and being a major doubt right until the day before the qualifier.

However, Ronaldo insists there was never any question of him missing out.

"I felt very good, but I wasn't at 100%, I had a bit of discomfort," he added. "But I wanted to push myself to help my country go to the World Cup.

"I'm upset because I was in a good period of form and so being injured again is something that affects me even more.

"I'm not the country's savour, but after the defeat against Sevilla, I wanted to help my Real Madrid team-mates win the next few games."

Ronaldo is almost certain to miss the Primera Division games against Valladolid, Sporting Gijon and Getafe as well as the Champions League home clash against AC Milan and the Copa del Rey match at Alcorcon.

He is also likely to be absent from Madrid's visit to the San Siro and the derby against Atletico Madrid.

Monday, October 5, 2009

UEFA reduce Gilardino ban

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Alberto Gilardino's
Alberto Gilardino's two-match Champions League suspension was reduced to one game by UEFA following an appeal.

The Italy international was dismissed for going into a challenge with Jeremy Toulalan with his elbow raised during last month's 1-0 defeat at Lyon.

A statement from Fiorentina read: "Alberto Gilardino's European ban has been reduced to one game and the player will return to play at Debrecen on October 20."

Gilardino, who has already served the one-match ban in last week's clash against Liverpool, will be available for the meeting in Hungary against Debrecen on October 20.

Fiorentina lie second in Group E, level on three points with Liverpool.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Champions League Wed Review

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Inter and Barcelona scrapped to a 0-0 draw while Arsenal fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Standard Liege.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o were both kept under wraps by their former team-mates as Inter Milan held Champions League holders Barcelona to a goalless draw at the San Siro.

The quick return of the two strikers to their old clubs dominated talk in the build-up to the match, with Barca having this summer given Inter 46 million euros (over £41million) plus Eto'o in exchange for Ibrahimovic.

The Swede was much more involved than his Cameroon counterpart as treble winners Barca spent large parts of the game going forward, but neither player, nor anyone else for that matter, was able to find the breakthrough as defences came out on top.

The result means Dynamo Kiev top Group F after they scored three goals in the final 20 minutes to beat Champions League debutants Rubin Kazan 3-1.

The Russian champions stunned their hosts when they took the lead against the run of play through Alejandro Dominguez's free-kick.

Dynamo's frustration grew as they toiled deep into the second half in search of a reply, but once Ayiila Yussuf made the breakthrough, goals soon followed from Junior Gerson Magrao and Oleg Gusev to secure victory.

Arsenal also came from behind, fighting back from going 2-0 down inside five minutes to triumph at Standard Liege in their Group H opener.

Fans had barely taken their seats when Eliaquim Mangala smashed a low drive into the bottom corner to give Liege a shock lead in just two minutes and moments later William Gallas was adjudged to have tripped Milan Jovanovic, who stepped up to send rookie goalkeeper Vito Mannone the wrong way.

Arsene Wenger's men fought back superbly with a well-taken goal from Nicklas Bendtner on the stroke of half-time, before Belgium international Thomas Vermaelen bundled in an equaliser and Eduardo completed the revival 10 minutes from time.

View: Champions League Wednesday Gallery

Olympiacos, who named Zico as their new coach tonight in succession to Temuri Ketsbaia, also got off to a winning start thanks to Vassilis Torosidis' 79th-minute header which was enough to see off AZ Alkmaar.

Lyon triumphed by the same result over Fiorentina at the Stade Gerland but the Italians can only have themselves to blame for the defeat.

A red card for Alberto Gilardino in stoppage time of the first half allowed Lyon to impose themselves on the game after the break and Miralem Pjanic scored the winner in the 76th minute.

Elsewhere in Group E, Dirk Kuyt's 12th goal in 35 Champions League games gave Liverpool a slender 1-0 victory over Hungarian champions Debrecen.

Meanwhile, Sevilla comfortably saw off Unirea Urziceni 2-0.

With their opponents defending in numbers, Sevilla made hard work of the first half before Luis Fabiano opened the scoring in stoppage time.

Renato added a second for the hosts in the 70th minute and they were rarely troubled by a Unirea side who are playing in the competition for the first time.

The Spanish outfit top Group G following Rangers' 1-1 draw against Stuttgart.

Madjid Bougherra rescued a point for the Scottish champions in the 77th minute after Pavel Pogrebnyak had opened the scoring in the 18th minute.

Round-up of the games

Liverpool 1-0 Debreceni

Lyon 1-0 Fiorentina

Inter 0-0 Barcelona

Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Rubin

Stuttgart 1-1 Rangers

Sevilla 2-0 Unirea

Olympiacos 1-0 AZ

Standard Liege 2-3 Arsenal

Monday, September 7, 2009

Giggs : I will not play on till 40

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Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs
Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs wants to move into coaching once his playing days are over.

The 36-year-old winger is still very much part of Sir Alex Ferguson's plans but the Welshman knows his playing career is possibly coming to an end despite his willingness to carry on.

The Daily Mirror reported, "I know football is my life and I will look for another challenge in the game,

"What I do accept, though, is I'm not going to be playing at 40 and when my body tells me I can't sustain playing at this level any more I know it will be time to call it a day,"

Signaling his intent to continue being involved in the game, Giggs also revealed his biggest regret in an otherwise illustrious career spanning over two decades.

"I don't consciously think about finishing my playing career but at the same time it's important to make the necessary adjustments for when it eventually arrives.

"I have done my coaching courses and would like to stay in the game in some capacity.

"But if you are asking me if I have a direct plan of action when I retire, I couldn't say one way or another.

"I feel as good as I have been because I don't play as much. When I do play I feel a lot more refreshed.

"It's about getting the balance right so you can sustain your career.

"I've been lucky that since my career began I have had sustained periods of rest.

"Playing for Wales, we never qualified for a major championships, which I deeply regret, but it has helped me as I got older."

Giggs also touched on his change in mentality when it comes to winning and losing games.

"I do deal with it totally differently now," he said. "When I was younger it would take me an age to get over it.

"It hurts as much now but you get over it quicker. When you're a younger player you think it's the end of the world.

"As you get older the recovery period accelerates because you need to move on quicker. But it's down to character.

"Some players get over defeat quicker. I'm one of the elder statesmen now so I assist players if I feel it's needed.

"I used to sit at the back of the coach when I was younger and feel it was the end of the world. The likes of Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce would always pick me up so I try to do the same for other players.

"When you're playing for Manchester United winning is the be all and end all. It's the only thing that counts.

"Nothing else matters. There are great expectations and pressure to sustain success but it comes with the territory and you deal with it."

The evergreen winger was also determined to quash rumours that things are going downhill at United since the departure of stars like Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"The club won't stand still because players have left," he said. "We will continue to evolve under the manager and maintain our challenge for silverware.

"People are making a far bigger thing about it outside of the club than we are.

"Obviously Cristiano was a world class player and will be missed but how many times have players left United and we have been written off only to prove the critics wrong?

"I have seen many great players come and go over the years but the drive and determination to succeed remain the same.

"You can never underestimate the manager because as I have discovered over the years he always seems to come up with the answers."

Barcelona Will Beat Inter - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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The Swede has cranked up the war of words between the two clubs by saying that he already knows who will win when they meet next week.Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has insisted that the Catalan giants will beat Inter at the San Siro in next week's mouth-watering UEFA Champions League clash.

Ibrahimovic said that although he admires Inter, Barcelona are the stronger side.

"We have better players, we play a much more beautiful style of football, possessing the ball and we always play on the attack," stated the Swedish superstar.

"We practice a far more offensive game than Inter. That makes us better, and I have no doubt we will win. I know we will. We are stronger," he continued.

Despite these claims, Ibrahimovic also said that he is looking forward to returning to the San Siro for the first time with his new club.

"I cannot wait to return to my old stadium with a different shirt. It will be very exciting," he claimed, before admitting that he was relieved to score his first goal for the Blaugrana against Sporting Gijon last week.

"I can't deny that it has taken away some of the pressure, but I knew I would score some time," he added.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fergie: Eduardo ban will send message

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Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson claims Eduardo's two-match European ban for diving will have got the "message across".

The Gunners are to appeal against UEFA's decision, which the Premier League club feel has "obvious errors" and was a "deeply flawed" ruling.

European football's governing body opened disciplinary proceedings against the Croatia international for "deceiving the referee" when he went down in the penalty box during last week's Champions League qualifier against Celtic at the Emirates Stadium, despite there appearing to be no contact with goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez awarded the spot-kick, which Eduardo converted himself to set Arsenal on their way to a comprehensive 3-1 win and into the lucrative group stages.

However, Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith was quick to call for action against the Croatia international, set to face England in their World Cup qualifier at Wembley next week.

UEFA subsequently began an investigation, which Gunners boss Arsene Wenger lambasted as a "witch-hunt" and resulted in the decision to ban Eduardo for two matches.

Wales manager John Toshack has hit out at the suspension, maintaining "a very dangerous precedent has been created".

Ferguson, though, believes the whole saga may actually help clamp down on the controversy of simulation.

"Quite rightly something should be done. You hope that message gets across," said Ferguson, speaking to the media following a UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum in Nyon, Switzerland.

Ferguson, though, believes Wenger is right to defend Eduardo, who has just come back from a year out with a broken leg.

"I wouldn't say it publicly but I wouldn't be pleased if it was my player who did that," the United manager added.

"When you make a public criticism of your players you are in danger of losing the morale of the dressing room.

"Your job is to protect the dressing room and keep it solid.

"You become insular and protective of your own players in your team. We're all selfish that way."

However, Ferguson feels education is the way forward to eliminate the concept of diving from the game.

"Not one coach is proud of the fact that they have players who simulate to get decisions," the Scot added.

"Coaches can't be proud if they have won the game that way. I certainly wouldn't be.

"We all agreed that education is the best way forward, from youth teams through to first team players.

"We all have a responsibility, particularly the players of today, on how it impacts on young people."

Should the ban be upheld, Eduardo would be forced to miss the opening two Champions League group matches, away at Standard Liege on September 16 and the home encounter with Olympiacos on September 29.

"Stars don't always win trophies"

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UEFA president Michel Platini
UEFA president Michel Platini has warned Real Madrid against assuming their player signings will automatically result in success.

Madrid have spent 250million euros this summer on superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema as part of returning president Florentino Perez's plan to get the Spanish giants back to the top of the football tree.

However, as was the case when Perez was previously in charge of Madrid and his expensively-assembled 'Galacticos' endured a spell without any major trophies between their title triumphs in 2003 and 2007, Platini warned that bringing in so many world-class players does not necessarily guarantee silverware.

"Perez wants to win everything and that's what he has signed so many stars...but we will see what happens in May, when the final of the Champions League is played in Madrid," Platini was quoted as saying in Marca.

"The history of football tells us that the great players do not always win the tournaments."

Platini this summer reiterated his concern at the amount of money being spent in the transfer market, admitting after Ronaldo's world-record move to Madrid that he was "embarrassed" how any club could spent 90million euros on a player.

Marca also spoke to Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson about Madrid's summer spending.

Ferguson believes that with so much talent on show the Bernabeu is sure to be in for some entertaining nights, although he pointed out that it is still early days under new coach Manuel Pellegrini.

"Of course these great players are going to assure good football and they will provide great days for the fans. The only thing is that Pellegrini still has to mould a team," said Ferguson, who was also asked about his relationship with the Spanish giants, which has not always been great over the years.

Ferguson said: "I don't believe in everything that this Real Madrid represents, although I respect them."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chelsea to appeal 'unprecedented' bans

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Chelsea have criticised FIFA's transfer ban as "disproportionate and extraordinary" and pledged to launch the strongest possible appeal.

FIFA's dispute resolution chamber found the English club guilty of inducing winger Gael Kakuta, 18, to breach his contract with French club Lens and banned the Blues from registering any new players for the next two transfer windows.

But Chelsea are astonished by the ruling, both in terms of the ban and the financial punishment, and in a brief statement the English club said they would be launching "the strongest appeal possible".

A statement from the club read: "Chelsea will mount the strongest appeal possible following the decision of FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber over Gael Kakuta.

"The sanctions are without precedent to this level and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence and the financial penalty imposed.

"We cannot comment further until we receive the full written rationale for this extraordinarily arbitrary decision."

Lens requested compensation for Kakuta as well as calling for sanctions to be imposed on the FA Cup holders and FIFA's DRC agreed that Chelsea had indeed been guilty of inducing the youngster to break his contract and announced their verdict in a short statement.

"The French club had lodged a claim with FIFA seeking compensation for breach of contract from the player and requesting also sporting sanctions to be imposed on the player and the English club for breach of contract and inducement to breach of contract respectively," said FIFA.

"The DRC found that the player had indeed breached a contract signed with the French club. Equally, the DRC deemed it to be established that the English club induced the player to such breach.

"As a result the player was condemned to pay compensation in the amount of EUR 780,000, for which the club, Chelsea, is jointly and severally liable, and sporting sanctions were imposed on both the player and Chelsea in accordance with art. 17 par. 3 and 4 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.

"A restriction of four months on his eligibility to play in official matches is imposed on the player Gael Kakuta while the club Chelsea is banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for the two next entire and consecutive registration periods following the notification of the present decision.

"Furthermore, Chelsea, has to pay RC Lens training compensation in the amount of EUR 130,000."

Kakuta, a skilful left-winger, is viewed as one of Chelsea's most promising young players. He ended his first season as top scorer in the youth side and was voted the academy's player of the year. However, last February his season was ended by a double fracture of his ankle.

Meanwhile the club's chief executive Peter Kenyon has hailed the new contracts signed by Ashley Cole, John Terry and Didier Drogba.

Kenyon says the new deals were a key part of Chelsea's summer activity and hinted that England midfielder Joe Cole would be next to sign a contract extension.

The Blues made only one big signing this summer, with Russian Yuri Zhirkov arriving from CSKA Moscow for £18million - and the new deals for their top stars could become even more important in the wake of FIFA's decision to ban the club from signing new players.

Kenyon insists that the new long-term contracts signed by Cole, Terry and Drogba are as important as signing three world-class players.

"We've concentrated very hard this summer in retaining the players we have. Inevitably in a transfer window it is all about who you bring in but we shouldn't overlook who we have got," said Kenyon.

"If you look at Drogba, Terry or Cole, they are world-class players that could walk into any other team in Europe and I am delighted that we have retained them."

And Kenyon believes Joe Cole will be next. He has been out of action since January following knee ligament damage and his current contract expires next June.

"Joe is just back in training and we are all delighted to see that. We want - and he wants - to remain at Chelsea."

Chelsea hammered by FIFA ban

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French teenager Gael Kakuta
Chelsea have been hit with a stunning transfer ban by FIFA which will prevent the club signing any new players until January 2011.

The London club have been found guilty of inducing French teenager Gael Kakuta to breach his contract with previous side Lens.

FIFA's dispute resolution chamber (DRC) today announced Chelsea will be banned from registering any new players for the next two transfer windows - effectively January 2011 will be the next time they can make a new signing unless they win an appeal.

A FIFA spokesman told Press Association Sport: "This decision confirms our aim to ensure contractual stability. It is an important ruling for football in general."

Chelsea have been ordered to pay £115,000 (130,000euros) training compensation to Lens, and are also liable for the £680,000 (780,000euros) compensation sum ordered against Kakuta himself, who is banned from playing any games for four months.

Kakuta, 18, joined Chelsea from Lens two years ago after which the French club lodged a complaint with FIFA asking for compensation and for sporting sanctions against the London side.

FIFA said in a statement: "The French club had lodged a claim with FIFA seeking compensation for breach of contract from the player and requesting also sporting sanctions to be imposed on the player and the English club for breach of contract and inducement to breach of contract respectively.

"The DRC found that the player had indeed breached a contract signed with the French club. Equally, the DRC deemed it to be established that the English club induced the player to such breach.

"A restriction of four months on his eligibility to play in official matches is imposed on the player Gael Kakuta while the club FC Chelsea is banned from registering any new players, either nationally or internationally, for the two next entire and consecutive registration periods following the notification of the present decision."

Chelsea have the right to appeal against the decision and take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

Given the severity of the punishment, it is almost certain the club will take that course of action.

Kakuta, a skilful left-winger, is viewed as Chelsea's most promising young player. He ended his first season as top scorer in the youth side and was voted the Academy's player of the year.

His second season was brought to an abrupt end in February by a double fracture of his ankle.

Chelsea have at least signed a number of their key existing players up on to long-term contracts, with Ashley Cole, John Terry and Didier Drogba all agreeing new deals recently.

Chief executive Peter Kenyon says the new deals were a key part of Chelsea's summer activity and hinted that England midfielder Joe Cole would be next to sign a contract extension.

"We've concentrated very hard this summer in retaining the players we have. Inevitably in a transfer window it is all about who you bring in but we shouldn't overlook who we have got," said Kenyon.

"If you look at Drogba, Terry or Cole, they are world-class players that could walk into any other team in Europe and I am delighted that we have retained them."

Kenyon is confident Joe Cole will be next. He has been out of action since January following knee ligament damage and his current contract expires next June.

"Joe is just back in training and we are all delighted to see that. We want - and he wants - to remain at Chelsea," Kenyon added.

Chelsea are not the first club to have been punished in such a way.

Roma were also given a ban for two transfer windows following defender Philippe Mexes' move from Auxerre in 2004.

Roma appealed to the CAS and had the ban cut to one transfer window.

If the same situation was repeated it would mean Chelsea being unable to sign players until next summer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Barcelona suffer Bojan setback

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Bojan Krkić
Bojan Krkić is a major doubt for FC Barcelona's UEFA Champions League Group F opener away to FC Internazionale Milano after tearing his left thigh in Monday's 3-0 Liga victory over Real Sporting de Gijón.

Liga opener
The 19-year-old headed in Barça's first league goal of the season after 18 minutes at Camp Nou but was substituted ten minutes from time after picking up a knock. The early prognosis suggests the forward will be sidelined for between 15 and 20 days, meaning a race against time if Bojan is to line up at Inter on 16 September. "We want to get [Bojan] back fit as soon as is possible because we need him," coach Pep Guardiola said. "I feel he has made a step up this season. He's a very intuitive player and I have a lot of confidence in him." Defender Maxwell, meanwhile, was taken off after eleven minutes of the second half because of a left thigh strain, but early indications suggest the injury is not serious.

Two match ban for Eduardo

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Eduardo
Eduardo has been banned for two matches by UEFA for diving to win a penalty against Celtic in a Champions League qualifier.

UEFA announced on Tuesday that their control and disciplinary body had suspended the Croatian international "for deceiving the referee".

Eduardo will miss Arsenal's Champions League group matches away at Standard Liege on September 16 and the home match with Olympiacos on September 29.

The Gunners have three days to lodge an appeal.

UEFA said in a statement: "The UEFA control and disciplinary body today examined the case of the Arsenal player Eduardo 'for deceiving the referee' during the UEFA Champions League play-off second leg match on August 26 against Celtic, and has suspended the player for two UEFA club competition matches."

Eduardo went down midway through the first half of the Champions League qualifier despite there appearing to be no contact with Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez awarded a penalty, converted by Eduardo who was subsequently condemned by Celtic.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last week branded UEFA's decision to charge Eduardo with diving a "complete disgrace" and accused them of staging a "witch-hunt" against the striker.

Wenger said: "I find it a complete disgrace and unacceptable. We won't accept the way we have been treated in this case for two reasons.

"I believe that you can debate whether it was a penalty or not. For me it's a witch-hunt that we see and not an objective judgement of a case.

"This charge implies there was intent and a desire to cheat the referee. Having watched the pictures again there was nothing conclusive.

"It singles out a player in Europe to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. UEFA has taken action that is not defendable."

Arsenal this evening released a statement on their website condemning the "arbitrary" nature of UEFA's decision.

It read: "The club is disappointed with UEFA's decision to suspend Eduardo for two Champions League matches starting with Standard Liege on September 16.

"We have been informed that we will receive a "reasoned decision" from UEFA by Thursday of this week.

"Once we receive UEFA's rationale, we will make a decision on the next steps.

"We have been deeply frustrated by the perfunctory and apparently arbitrary process that UEFA has followed in this instance.

"We believe it is imperative that UEFA's explanation for its decision provides clear and comprehensive standards that will be consistently enforced.

"It is also critical that UEFA provides specific details of the processes it plans to adopt in reviewing all games under its jurisdiction."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Robben hopeful of Real reunion

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Arjen Robben is looking forward to the possibility of meeting former club Real Madrid in this year's Champions League.

Robben quit Real Madrid for Bayern Munich last week after finding his first team opportunities at the Bernabeu limited.

And the winger wasted no time in sending a message back to the Madrid club as he scored two goals in his debut for the Bavarian giants.

Following his star performance the former Chelsea man spoke to Marca about the possibility of playing against the Merengues in the Champions League.

"It would be great to meet them in the Champions, if I scored two goals against Real Madrid it would be fantastic" he said.

Still, Robben insists there is no bad blood between him and the Spanish capital club: "No, I do not bear any grudge. That has nothing to do with it, it would be very beautiful to meet my former team-mates.

"I spent great moments with them. Playing against them in the Champions League and beating them would be strange."

Terry agrees to extend Chelsea stay

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Chelsea's John Terry, voted Best Defender of last season's UEFA Champions League
Chelsea FC have been handed a major boost with news that captain John Terry has signed a contract extension that ties him to the west London outfit until 2014.

Commitment
The England skipper was already under contract until 2012 but had been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in the summer, with Manchester City FC reportedly keen to acquire his services. The 28-year-old centre-back, however, has now reaffirmed his commitment to Carlo Ancelotti's side by agreeing a new five-year deal.

Fine start
Capped 54 times by his country, Terry graduated from the Blues' youth academy and has already represented the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League finalists 276 times in the Premier League, scoring 17 goals. His announcement will raise spirits further at Chelsea, who have made a fine start under Ancelotti, winning their first four Premier League fixtures. They begin their latest tilt for European glory against FC Porto on 15 September.

Ferguson preparing for torrid time

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Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that Man United face a grueling test in the Champions League after suffering a tough draw in the group stage.

The Red Devils have been drawn in Group B, and will have to travel far and wide to Besiktas in Turkey and CSKA Moscow as well as German champions Wolfsburg.

The finalists of last term seem to have suffered the most difficult draw of all the Premier League clubs involved, who all were fortunate enough to avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan.

Ferguson is not a fan of long away trips in Europe, and he told the club's official website: "These are difficult ties especially the trips to Russia and Turkey.

"CSKA have developed strongly in the last few years and games in Turkey are always difficult.

"We also know the quality that we're up against with Wolfsburg, with what they achieved in the Bundesliga last season."

Ferguson's mood will not have been lightened by the knowledge that United face two major Premier League clashes after their long trips - they are at home to Manchester City after travelling to Turkey and away at Liverpool four days after their Moscow journey.

David Gill admitted the draw could have been kinder to United.

He told Sky Sports News: "I think pot four was the interesting one, I think most clubs would have preferred not to get the German champions out of that, but we got it.

"But overall we have to be happy with it and look forward to starting in three weeks. Besiktas away, long trip first one, but we will see where we go from there."

United would have preferred to have avoided a trip to Istanbul first up, while a lengthy trek to Russia lies ahead when they face CSKA.

Gill, though, is adamant the Red Devils will have no problem coping with travelling to far-flung destinations and admits the club are looking forward to heading back to Moscow - the scene of their 2008 triumph.

"I think you can get psyched out by that sort of thing," he said.

"We are in the competition and we will get on with it and I'm sure it won't affect on the games either side in the Premier League.

"We will look forward to going back to Moscow, after those great scenes in 2008, so we have got to be excited about."

The first round of matches will be played on September 15 and 16.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal

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William Gallas
A deflection and an own goal helped Arsenal overcome Celtic to leave the Gunners with one foot in the Champions League group stages.

Arsenal took the lead two minutes before the break when William Gallas inadvertently diverted a Cesc Fabregas free-kick past Artur Boruc, and Gary Caldwell put through his own net in the 71st minute.

Only Barcelona and Dinamo Moscow, in the previous round, had beaten Celtic in the previous 36 European matches at Parkhead.

But Arsene Wenger's side enjoyed a comfortable second half to leave them in a commanding position ahead of next week's play-off second leg.

Barcelona have also lost at Celtic Park during that run, along with the likes of Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester United, but Celtic failed to put their latest visitors under serious pressure.

Although both sides had enjoyed comfortable away wins in their opening league wins on Saturday, Celtic manager Tony Mowbray opted for radical alterations to his frontline while Arsenal were unchanged following their 6-1 win at Everton.

Mowbray dropped Scott McDonald and Marc-Antoine Fortune and played Aiden McGeady up front alongside Georgios Samaras, who scored the stoppage-time winner against Dinamo Moscow in Russia in the previous round.

Scott Brown came into right midfield while Caldwell returned after missing Saturday's 3-1 victory at Aberdeen through suspension.

Arsenal looked more comfortable in possession from the start, finding space in front of Celtic's back four.

Andrey Arshavin was causing problems when he drifted in from his position on the left of Arsenal's three-man attack, and Fabregas and Denilson were always looking to break forward from midfield.

Arsenal were playing the ball through Celtic and it needed a last-ditch block by Caldwell on Robin van Persie to stop the Gunners profiting from one such move, with the offside flag raised before Arshavin fired home the rebound.

However, Celtic had a good chance to hurt Arsenal on the counter-attack when Shaun Maloney released McGeady down the left after Van Persie's free-kick was cleared.

The Republic of Ireland international rode one challenge and lofted the ball towards Brown but Thomas Vermaelen did enough to put the midfielder off.

Celtic tightened up in central midfield, although a slip by Massimo Donati allowed Arshavin the chance to run at the Celtic back four, with Boruc getting down comfortably to save his deflected effort.

Full-back Andreas Hinkel then created Celtic's best chance of the half when he burst into the box and cut the ball back for Maloney.

The Arsenal defence closed him down but the ball fell for Brown, whose low shot was well saved by Manuel Almunia.

Celtic looked like they would comfortably survive until half-time but luck was against them after Caldwell was penalised for a foul on Fabregas 30 yards out.

The free-kick was rolled short to the Spaniard, whose 30-yard drive bounced off the back of Gallas and spun into the opposite corner to where Boruc was heading.

The game almost drifted beyond Celtic within a minute of the restart after Landry N'Guemo miscontrolled a simple take in the centre circle.

Arshavin carried the ball to the edge of the penalty box before slipping the ball outside to Van Persie but the Dutchman shot past the far post.

Denilson soon curled just wide from 20 yards following another Arshavin run while Fabregas dragged a left-footed shot just wide from a similar distance after Gallas had easily won a 50-50 challenge with Donati.

McGeady had dropped deeper after the interval and Mowbray made a double switch in the 56th minute with McDonald and Fortune replacing Donati and Samaras.

Celtic struggled to create chances but Gallas made another crucial interception when he cut out Fortune's low cross as McDonald waited at the far post.

Abou Diaby replaced Arshavin and immediately played a key role in Arsenal's second goal.

The substitute burst forward and set up Gael Clichy for a low cross that was turned home by the outstretched boot of Caldwell.

Only McGeady looked capable of creating anything for Celtic and most of the final 20 minutes was played out in the middle third.

Celtic vs Arsenal Preview

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Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal could be without up to four of their key players for the first-leg of their Champions League play-off game with Celtic.

Winger Theo Walcott is ruled out of the game with a back injury, whilst there are serious injury doubts over Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas and Denilson.

Sagna took a knock in Saturday's 6-1 win over Everton while Denilson (groin) and Fabregas (hamstring) will also be assessed on Tuesday although Gunners boss Arsene Wenger believes the Spaniard has a better than 50-50 chance of playing.

Midfielder Abou Diaby has recovered from a groin injury but defender Johan Djourou (knee) remains on the sidelines.

Celtic have injury woes of their own with Dutch defender Glenn Loovens having limped out of Saturday's 3-1 win at Aberdeen with a knee problem and winger Shaun Maloney picking up a knock. Both will be assessed on Tuesday after training on Monday.

Gary Caldwell will return to the Hoops defence after being suspended for the trip to Pittodrie.

Celtic (from): Boruc, Hinkel, Naylor, Caldwell, Fox, O'Dea, Loovens, Scott Brown, N'Guemo, Donati, McGeady, McDonald, Samaras, Fortune, Killen, Maloney, Zaluska, Crosas, Caddis, Ferry.

Arsenal (from): Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Song, Diaby, Fabregas, Arshavin, van Persie, Eduardo, Mannone, Bendtner, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs, Silvestre.

Wenger paints a European picture

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Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger believes the unquenchable thirst for money among top clubs will lead to a European League being formed in 10 years time.

The Arsenal boss flew in to Glasgow today for the first leg of the Champions League play against Celtic tomorrow night and claimed that there was no financial pressure on him to get to the group stages of the competition.

However, in the context of discussing whether Celtic or Rangers would be a welcome addition to the Barclays Premier League, Wenger expanded his views on the future of the game.

And in doing so, the Frenchman claimed greed could eventually put an end to the Champions League.

"I believe you have two parts of Scottish club football; you have Rangers and Celtic and then the rest," the Frenchman said.

"I would say that Celtic and Rangers could compete, certainly, in the Premier League in the top eight. "The other teams at the moment are not equipped for that.

"But I see more of a European League developing in time anyway. "The national leagues will survive, but maybe in 10 years you will have a European League.

"The way we are going now financially, even the money coming in from the Champions League for some clubs who spend so much money will not be enough anymore because the income is basically owned by UEFA and they distribute the money to the clubs.

"I'm not sure 100% that I am right, but I feel that there are some voices behind the scenes in our game aiming to do something about a European league, especially if the rules become too restrictive for the big clubs as things currently stand."

Wenger continued: "If a European league (does happen) the question is whether clubs will transfer from a national league or whether it is a franchised European league.

"That's the question people will have to answer.

"I personally believe only in sporting merit, so if one league is created there has to be promotion up and down. "But that would be, practically, very difficult to resolve.

"I do not want to kill the national leagues so each team should have to play in the national league and in Europe.

"That means the Euro league taking place in midweek and the national league over the weekend.

"All this would mean having two teams, basically."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ballack likes the diamond

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Michael Ballack reckons it is up to the Chelsea players to make Carlo Ancelotti's diamond formation work.

New coach Carlo Ancelotti has abandoned the use of wingers and replaced them with two strikers and a midfield diamond that struggled to get the better of Hull in their opening game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Chelsea won 2-1 thanks to a late strike by Didier Drogba but at times the space afforded them by Ancelotti's midfield was exploited to the full by Phil Brown's side.

The system works superbly when going forward but if the midfield four are not tracking back when possession is lost, it leaves yawning gaps for the opposition to exploit.

Ballack was a half-time substitute for John Obi Mikel as Ancelotti looked for more aggression in the second half.

Now the midfielder is hoping for a place in the starting line-up against Steve Bruce's side at the Stadium of Light and he remains convinced the system can work.

"Everybody is a little bit expectant about what we can achieve this year," said Ballack.

"We have a new manager and we play a new system.

"We played it under Jose Mourinho when I arrived and it feels different not to play with wingers and to play with two strikers.

"So tactically things will be different for us but it depends how you implement it, by which I mean you can play any system with good players and they have to show their ability.

"It is not about the system, it is about how individuals perform on the pitch and whether they do the right things, so it is not as simple as just picking a system.

"In a diamond your attention is more on controlling the play, you have more ball in midfield and one more man there as well.

"So you gain a small advantage through the centre but there's more hard work for the four midfielders because they have a lot of work to do on and off the ball in this system.

"But there are many ways to win, there's not just one way to play football and you can have success with any system if you play it right.

"It is not all about the system we play, that's just a new thing for us that we have to adapt to."

Coach Ancelotti is pleased with the response from his squad and the way they are getting used to his diamond system. Their quality has prevented him from adding a 'marquee signing' to his squad as yet.

The Italian remains adamant that unless a top player becomes available at the right price, the current squad has enough ability to be successful this season.

"I have seen them playing in the system we want to use and I have options with so many great players to choose from," said Ancelotti.

"We have not had to spend lots and bring in many new players because we are happy with our squad."

Chelsea are unlikely to have any of their injured contingent back in time for the trip to Sunderland.

Juliano Belletti (Achilles), Alex (groin) and new signing Yuri Zhirkov (knee) are almost certain to miss out.

Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira are also sidelined with knee injuries.

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