Friday, March 12, 2010

Mourinho confident of glory at Stamford Bridge


José Mourinho will be the centre of attention when FC Internazionale Milano visit his former club Chelsea FC in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie. The coach, though, hopes his players steal the limelight as they seek to press home a 2-1 advantage and reach the quarter-finals for the first time in four years.

"The good thing is that I don't have far to walk," he told as he looked forward to Tuesday's encounter. "From the dressing room to the bench is five metres – I don't have to cross the stadium, I don't have to feel the emotions and reactions from the crowd. I will just sit there and play my game.

"The players play on the pitch, I play outside," he continued. "They are much more important than me, because on the pitch you win matches, not on the bench. But I will be there with my heart fully on either side. That's what a professional does. I don't hide that Chelsea are a very important part of my life."

Mourinho can nonetheless be confident of getting the required result in west London. As Chelsea manager, he went 60 league games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge and won back-to-back Premier League titles. He also claimed the Scudetto in his first year in Milan last season, although the Nerazzurri fell short in the UEFA Champions League – losing to Manchester United FC at this stage. Mourinho, a European champion with FC Porto in 2004, believes Inter are now better placed to advance, because "year after year, the tendency is to improve".

"If the coach does well and the club supports [him], and this is the case; we always modify to improve," the 47-year-old explained. "We bought a few players, the type of player we did not have last year – a purely creative attacking midfielder in Wesley Snijder. We have more solutions in attack with [Diego] Milito, [Samuel] Eto'o and [Goran] Pandev.

"Of course we lost Zlatan Ibrahimović, but with these three players we have more solutions and more options. Also, Lucio is the type of central defender we didn't have – tall, strong in the air. I think we are more adapted to the needs of the modern game."

Lucio was outstanding in the 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on 24 February, keeping a close watch on Didier Drogba, while Sneijder, a close-season capture from Real Madrid CF, also caught the eye. "He is an Ajax player, and normally Ajax players – with the coaching they have since they are kids – are technically superb," Mourinho said.

"The left and right foot are exactly the same, the way they think about football is very smart, and they have their eyes open to read the game. It is the consequence of the youth work in that beautiful culture that is Ajax. [At Inter] now there is a structure that can give Sneijder the freedom to play as he likes. Sometimes I think he is a striker because he has so much freedom to play. Here he has found the environment to express his potential."

Inter's improvement is not just down to recruitment. According to Mourinho, they are also mentally stronger. January's derby victory against AC Milan was one example – achieved despite finishing the game with nine men. The 4-3 win against AC Siena was another marker, resulting from a stoppage-time goal by a centre-back, Walter Samuel, playing as a centre-forward. Even the goalless draw with UC Sampdoria on 20 February, when Inter played with nine men for more than an hour, showed an ability to a grind out results.

"The Siena match is a good example of what we are," Mourinho said. "We were losing and scored the equaliser for 3-3 in the 91st minute. A normal team, normal players and coaches, would have said: 'Okay, we did it, we have a point, we did not lose, it's done.' But I was shouting to the players: 'Three minutes to go, three more minutes.' You can win or you can lose. We won.

"Samuel was asking me, 'Do I go back?' My reply was, 'No, don't go back – stay up for three more minutes and see what happens.' It was my decision, but a coach can only be arrogant, can only have this winning mentality, if he knows the players' response is good." The Portuguese recognises, however, that not even a winning mentality will guarantee UEFA Champions League glory.

"It's really about details – lucky or unlucky in the draw, if the ball that hits the post goes in or out, the player that is suspended and cannot play a crucial game, the timing of injuries whereby a team goes into a game missing two or three key players, a refereeing decision that can go for or against you. Of course, only a very good team can win the Champions League, but I can find seven, eight, nine teams who can win the competition. It's so hard to predict."

Bayern 2-3 Florentina ( Agg 4-4 )


Cesare Prandelli was left to ponder how his ACF Fiorentina team managed to win six out of the eight UEFA Champions League games and still get eliminated on away goals. The difference, he concluded, was FC Bayern München's superior experience, though counterpart Louis van Gaal warned his side would not get away with so "many individual errors" in the quarter-finals.

Cesare Prandelli, Fiorentina coach
I have always said that when we have a full squad available we can do great things. We have only had problems [this season] when we have had a crisis with injuries. Vargas was injured but showed great spirit to play and score anyway. We are out of the competition despite winning six games out of eight and facing teams superior to us on paper.

We should really have defended better after twice taking a two-goal lead; most likely [Bayern's] experience at this level made the difference. I congratulated and thanked the whole team as I could not have asked for more tonight. I'm proud of what we achieved in the Champions League this term.

Louis van Gaal, Bayern coach
Under those circumstances [the strong winds] we played some good football, but made too many individual mistakes, especially at the back. It was not easy for us in this weather, but wasn't easy for Fiorentina either. We should have used the space better in the last ten minutes and really, we performed better than a 3-2 defeat suggests. But we made too many individual errors, which made life difficult.

Franck Ribéry put in a strong performance in the second half but for the second goal he did not mark his opponent. He played a big part in that success by brilliantly setting up our first goal. But today, we have also seen what we are still lacking. We have to improve on that. We can play a dominant game, but we did not do so over 90 minutes today, the way we should. But we are through, and in the end that's what counts

Arsenal thrashes Porto ( Arsenal 5-0 Porto [ agg 6-2] )


Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger played down talk of perfection but nevertheless reflected on "a very good performance" as Nicklas Bendtner scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 defeat of FC Porto which spectacularly overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit. The Frenchman is already looking ahead to the 19 March draw for the quarter-finals, and a potential meeting with another English club; opposite number Jesualdo Ferreira could only look back and pinpoint Arsenal's ruthlessness as the source of his team's demise.

Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager
It's never perfect but that was a very good performance, very strong. We had a very good first half. They played well for ten to 15 minutes at the start of the second, but after Nasri scored the third goal that made a big difference; from then on it was easy. Nasri's goal was individual brilliance but overall it was a good, solid team performance.

The hat-trick shows how quickly football changes. [Bendtner] played well on Saturday without scoring and had less chances today and scored three goals. I hope it will give him the desire to work even harder. I don't know [about the quarter-finals] but have a funny feeling that it would be good for us to play an English team. We haven't done well against Chelsea and Man United this year and it would be a good opportunity to put that right.

Jesualdo Ferreira, Porto coach
We started well but Arsenal capitalised on our mistakes. The result looks harsh given how the game developed; they took advantage of almost all their chances and we didn't take advantage of ours. We had to do what we could because at this stage it's about goals and not points. We had to attack to try to score but this made it easy for them to take advantage as they're a very talented and mature squad.

We could have closed down the spaces and defended better but we had to play our game and push. We made mistakes which were unusual for this team but we were never lucky at crucial moments and they didn't make the same mistakes we did.

Lyon puts the 'Million Dollar Baby' out of Champions League { Real Madrid 1-1 Lyon (agg 1-2) }


Claude Puel was basking in a "great achievement" as Miralem Pjanić's late goal took Olympique Lyonnais into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of Real Madrid CF. Cristiano Ronaldo's early opener had revived home hopes of reaching the final at the Santiago Bernabéu on 22 May but instead Manuel Pellegrini could only ponder a "very big setback".

Claude Puel, Lyon coach
It's a great achievement, especially considering how the game started. We escaped a disaster in the first half. The early goal lifted Madrid's confidence and put us on the back foot. That meant the first half was tough, and half-time was too. [Jean-Alain] Boumsong and [Jean II] Makoun had to be substituted with groin injuries, and Lisandro also had a problem but he was able to last the whole game. The substitutes were key, they did a fine job. We changed the system and totally reshuffled the team. Mire [Pjanić] moved up to support Lisandro and that made us more fluid. On top of that, he scored the goal.

The first leg was good and we did the same job in the second leg. We were in trouble as they played quickly from deep, and had a bit of luck when they hit the post. We changed the system in the second half and played ten metres higher as Madrid were tiring having produced lots of effort before the break. We were more fluid, there was more quality in our game. We could play wider and made them run as they enjoy having the ball at their feet. When you look at the second half, we deserved to go through. This squad is writing its own story. We must now go on.

Manuel Pellegrini, Madrid coach
The first responsibility is mine, but we have to overcome this blow and keep fighting for the Liga title. It is a very big setback. We played well in the first half but had two chances and failed to convert them. After the break the team were growing anxious until the Lyon goal came. It was a dream for all of us to play the final at the Bernabéu. The players are hurt by a painful elimination, but we have to lift our mood and keep working. That's all I can do; keep working. It's a big blow but we must look ahead.

We had a great first half and could have scored a second. That would have opened Lyon's defence and made things easier. In the second half we tried more individual actions but that was because we were concerned about it only being 1-0, and then we began to feel the effort of the first half. The chances we missed in the first half are really to blame. It's a very strong setback suffered by Madrid for the sixth consecutive season but we have to keep fighting.

Manchester United 4-0 AC Milan ( Agg 7-2 )


Sir Alex Ferguson was in bullish mood after watching his Manchester United FC side overwhelm AC Milan 4-0 at Old Trafford, inspired by the "sensational" Wayne Rooney. Counterpart Leonardo bemoaned a succession of injuries but conceded the better side had won and is already turning attention to the Rossoneri's Serie A title ambitions. For United it is onto next Friday's draw, though for Sir Alex it "doesn't matter who we play next".

Sir Alex Ferguson, United manager
It was a marvellous second-half performance. We got the break with the early goal in the second half and after that we played very well. When we play with that tempo we're difficult to play against; it was a solid United performance.

It's a challenge [for Wayne Rooney to beat Cristiano Ronaldo's 42-goal haul of 2007/08]. I was happy with him getting to 30 to be honest with you. He just keeps improving and tonight again he was sensational. Ji-Sung Park showed sacrifice, intelligence and discipline and we needed that against [Andrea] Pirlo because he's a very good player for them. With the kind of team we've got it doesn't matter who we play next.

Leonardo, Milan coach
We will have to analyse many things about the game but this is not the time to do it. We deserved something more in the first leg but this time around United's victory was clearly deserved. They had a brilliant start, scored early on and everything became easier for them.

We did some good things in the Champions League this season. I thought we had a chance after our first-leg performance but we were up against a very good side. We lost [Alessandro] Nesta a few hours ahead of the game, than his replacement [Daniele] Bonera in the first half. I took a risk by fielding [Massimo] Ambrosini in defence, but it didn't pay off.

It will be impossible to quickly put this game behind us but we are just four points adrift of Inter in Serie A with 11 games to play and we have to try to catch them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Arsenal lose Ramsey to broken leg


Arsenal FC have confirmed that midfielder Aaron Ramsey will miss the remainder of this season after sustaining "fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg" in Saturday's win at Stoke City FC.
UEFA Champions League hopefuls Arsenal FC will be denied the services of Aaron Ramsey for the rest of the season after the midfielder suffered a broken leg in his team's 3-1 win at Stoke City FC on Saturday.

Ramsey, 19, was taken to hospital immediately after leaving the field on a stretcher in the 71st minute following a challenge by Ryan Shawcross. "During yesterday's match against Stoke City, Aaron Ramsey sustained fractures to the tibia and fibula in his right leg," read an official statement by Arsenal. "Yesterday evening he underwent surgery. The operation successfully reduced the fractures and whilst it is too soon to state an exact timescale for recovery, Aaron will certainly miss the remainder of this season."

The victory took the Gunners within three points of Chelsea FC at the Premier League summit and they will look to overturn a 2-1 deficit when they host FC Porto in their UEFA Champions League first knockout round decider on 9 March.

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