Friday, October 31, 2014

Spanish La Liga's BEST XI so far this season

With the quarter mark of the 2014/15 Spanish La Liga campaign all but upon us, we take a look back at the season so far, to compile a ‘Best XI’ of the the league’s stand-out performers up until this point.‎
GK – Claudio Bravo, FC Barcelona: It would be fair to say the Chilean goalkeeper’s summer signing wasn’t initally met with a great deal of enthusiasm in Catalonia. Barcelona had already signed Marc-André ter Stegen earlier in the year, while the €12 million fee that the club paid for him was deemed to be ‘overpriced for a back-up’. As of week nine in La Liga, Bravo has started all nine games and conceded just three goals, all of which came in last weekend’s Clásico. Before that particular game, the 31-year-old had gone 754 minutes without conceding a goal from the opening day against Elche – while in turn, breaking a club record previously held by Pedro Artola for over thirty years. Of course, a large portion of the credit must also go to the Barcelona defence for Bravo’s record, but the Chilean has undoubtedly played his part. After making a couple of mistakes in pre-season, the former Real Sociedad man has been largely impeccable since the start of the league campaign – adapting extremely well to the alternative requirements that must be adhered to when wearing the goalkeeper shirt of Barcelona, while seamlessly continuing the excellent form that he displayed for Chile at this summer’s World Cup.
RB – Mario Gaspar, Villarreal CF: The young full-back has become renowned for his under-the-radar consistency at El Madrigal in recent seasons, and it’s been business as usual for him so far. Despite not even being 24-years-old yet, Mario has already amassed 182 appearances for Villarreal and looks set for many more in the future. Just a fortnight ago, he was handed a new four-year contract, extending his stay until 2019 at his boyhood club (previous contract ran until 2015). A glowing endorsement of just how highly he is valued at Villarreal. With seven starts to his name in the league so far, his selection is firmly one of Marcelino’s priorities in the current team. And even though he’s one of the younger players in the team, the right back is gradually taking on more of a leading role at the club, due to the exemplary commitment and consistency he continues to show. If it were not for the endless list of elite Spanish full backs currently knocking on Vicente Del Bosque’s proverbial door, Mario would surely be staking a genuine claim to earn his first senior cap. Whether the call ultimately comes or not, it doesn’t take away from the fact he continues to be one of La Liga’s standout performers in the right back position.
CB – Nicolas Otamendi, Valencia CF: With the glitz and glamour surrounding Valencia’s electrifying form this season, it would be unfortunate for their defence to be overlooked – a group which Nicolas Otamendi has been firmly the heartbeat of. The fiery Argentinean has been nothing short of spectacular so far. Just nine games into his Valencia career, he is already a firm fans favourite at Mestalla, and has drawn speculative comparisons to fellow Argentine defender and Valencia legend Roberto Ayala. Had the 26-year-old not been ferried out on loan to Atletico Mineiro immediately after signing for Valencia in February (amid LFP registration issues), his form would surely have seen him play a part in Alejandro Sabella’s World Cup squad. Valencia is a club that has seen some outstanding players come and go over the years, but the desire and hunger that Otamendi has displayed so far, alongside his apparent quality, has made him an unexpected cult hero in Spain’s third largest city. And it’s just as well that Peter Lim’s presence in Valencia is now confirmed, or they’d be fending off some serious interest for him in coming transfer windows.
CB – Jeremy Mathieu, FC Barcelona: Much like Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu’s arrival at Barcelona in the summer wasn’t exactly celebrated in the streets outside Camp Nou. €20 million for a defender who was verging on 31-years-old, while there appeared to be a number of other compatible candidates available, hardly whetted the appetite of Culés worldwide. For people who had followed his time at Valencia ahead of the transfer, it was well-known that Mathieu was a dependable defender for a team at the healthier end of the table, but doubts remained if he was ready to begin a new chapter in his career (at his age), where he’d be expected to become an integral figure at a club with such expectations. Of the eight games that Mathieu has started at centre back for Barcelona so far, the team are yet to concede a goal. The Frenchman was deployed at left back by Luis Enrique in last weekend’s Clásico, while Barcelona subsequently went on to concede three goals. When operating in the middle, Mathieu has been excellent, bringing the centre back presence that the club have been screaming for, for a number of years now. And just like Claudio Bravo, his transition towards the Barcelona brand of football has been as smooth as Luis Enrique could have ever hoped.
LB – José Luis Gayá, Valencia CF: Despite a summer in which the club has seen multiple high-profile signings arrive for a considerable amount of cash, 19-year-old youth product José Luis Gayá has not been overshadowed in any way. The left back had just one league start to his name for Valencia ahead of the new campaign, but has started all nine of their games under new boss Nuno Espírito Santo. Even with the millions of pounds available to him via Peter Lim’s fortune, Nuno placed his trust in Gayá in the left back position from the beginning of his tenure, and has been handsomely rewarded thus far. Paterna (Valencia’s academy) has an ever-growing reputation for producing first rate left backs, with Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat being their most recent examples, while Gayá is also showing all the hallmarks of sharing similar status in the future. And even with the bar set very high in terms of his competition, many believe that Gayá has the potential to surpass those that have gone before him. From watching his consistently astute performances at the top level so far, it’s not difficult to see why the Mestalla faithful have tremendous hopes for Gayá.
CM – Grzegorz Krychowiak, Sevilla FC:After just eight starts in Spain’s top flight division, the Polish international is already proving to be another one in the long line of spectacular recruits by Sevilla’s Sporting Director ‘Monchi’. The void left by Ivan Rakitić in the summer was seen as a large cause of concern for the club at the time, but another summer of shrewd business by the 46-year-old has steadied the ship in Seville once more. At the forefront of said ship, lies the Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak. The imposing midfielder has been truly colossal for Unai Emery’s team through the first quarter of the campaign. The responsibility of covering Rakitić’s influence has been more dispersed around the team so far, leaving Krychowiak to concentrate on implementing his own game, as opposed to trying to individually replicate that of the former Sevilla captain. These are conditions that have allowed the 24-year-old to flourish in his first taste of Spanish football, dominating in his deep midfield role, while bringing real aggression and intensity to the team led by Unai Emery – a manager that has long been associated with his demand for those particular attributes.
CM – André Gomes, Valencia CF: Even considering the vast amount of quality that Valencia brought in during the summer, making a case for André Gomes being the pick of the bunch wouldn’t be far wide of the mark, in my opinion. The 21-year-old was fairly unheard of at the time of his switch from Benfica, but it hasn’t taken long for him to really demonstrate his abilities in La Liga. Gómes only had seven league starts for Benfica before his arrival, and considering his age and lack of experience at the top level, a settling in period for the young midfielder was certainly expected. But if it ever existed, it was a mighty short one. The recently-capped Portuguese international has been superb in every facet of his midfield play so far. Whether it’s passing, dribbling, tackling, or even adding goals to his game – Gómes appears to have some serious tools in his locker. His early understanding with Dani Parejo and Javi Fuego in Valencia’s midfield trio has been like clockwork from the moment they kicked off their season. The only game that Gómes has missed this season was simultaneously their only defeat so far, and a heavy 3-0 one at that. Of course, his absence wasn’t the sole reason for such a loss, but the dynamism of Valencia’s midfield clearly lacked its usual spark without the 21-year-old in there.
CM – Luka Modrić, Real Madrid CF: After a tough start to the season for Real Madrid, it’s taken some calm heads to steady the ship for the European champions. When that’s the order of the day, the little Croatian is arguably one of the best candidates in world football. Composure has largely been the focus of his time in Madrid as a whole, in fact. Cast your mind back a few seasons, back to a time when Modrić wasn’t appreciated at the Bernabéu and he was voted the “worst signing of the season” by readers of MARCA newspaper. The following season, he went on to scoop La Liga’s “best midfielder award”. So when early problems arose for Carlo Ancelotti, there were reasons behind why he remained so calm and confident in the resurgence of his team. And that’s because of players like Modrić. The midfield maestro has started eight of Real Madrid’s games so far, and while the likes of Isco have stolen the headlines in recent weeks, I can’t look past the balance and control that Modrić has exuded from the beginning of Real Madrid’s ruthless fightback.
ST – Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona: Whether either of them admit it or not, the Argentinean maestro has seen a slight tweaking of his role under Luis Enrique, but his impact has been as devastating as always. As we approach the quarter point of the season, Messi has seven goals (second best in the league) and seven assists (best in the league) to his name. While players at the pinnacle of footballing world like Messi are often increasingly adjudged on stats alone, the 27-year-old’s overall influence on this current Barcelona team cannot be deciphered purely through numbers. For example, in his slightly deeper, more creative role, the impact that he has had on Neymar’s game (nine goals so far) is best appreciated when watched in it’s live workings. Stats simply cannot capture the wonderful synchronicity that the pair have displayed so far this season. And while Messi’s goalscoring numbers are down from his usual remarkable tally, his role in this team is still as instrumental as ever, no matter what aspect he’s contributing in.
ST – Paco Alcácer, Valencia CF: There have been few quicker rises to the Spanish football spotlight than Paco Alcácer in recent times. The 21-year-old laid the groundwork at the back end of last season – especially in Valencia’s Europa League campaign – but his progress has rocketed under the fresh guidance of Nuno Espírito Santo. Alcácer scored six league goals in the entirety of last season but already has four to his name playing as the lead striker in Valencia’s devastating 4-3-3 formation. His movement and understanding of his role has always been a feature of his game, but that appears to have reached a new level in 2014. He has displayed the intelligence of a striker way beyond his years so far, something that recently saw him become a fully fledged Spanish international under Vicente Del Bosque, while some even see him as the more effective option than Diego Costa at present. The way that he has led the line for La Liga’s surprise package so far, at barely twenty-one years of age, is something that I just can’t look past in regards to his inclusion.
ST – Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF:Sixteen goals in eight league starts. I could probably end this here. Even by the standards that himself and Lionel Messi have set in recent seasons, his record still remains nothing short of outrageous. After a difficult World Cup with Portugal, there had been lingering doubts about whether Ronaldo’s health was impacting the trajectory of his career, but those doubts have been answered with utter conviction so far. Even when they had got off to a stuttering start at the beginning of the campaign, Ronaldo’s performance did not dwindle, scoring at least a goal in every game he played in, including two hat-tricks and one four-goal haul against Elche. All that within nine games of the season. If the 29-year-old were to carry on in the same vein for the rest of the season, he would call it a day with 74 league goals to his name. It sounds near-impossible, but there was once a time when we thought that about the goalscoring tallies he and Lionel Messi have produced in recent years.

Tell us what you think. Have there been players who you believe have stood out more so far in La Liga?‎
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Michael Owen: Mario Balotelli 'not the answer' to Liverpool's problems

Former Liverpool star Michael Owen has claimed that Mario Balotelli is 'not the answer' to the club's problems this season, despite the striker ending his goalless run last night.

The Italy international scored against Swansea City in the League Cup to set up a late comeback, finding the net for the second time in the colours of his new team.

However, Balotelli has still yet to score in the Premier League following his £16m move from AC Milan, and Owen believes that the Reds may need to look elsewhere to solve their current plight.

"I said it was harsh to make Balotelli the scapegoat," he tweeted following Liverpool's victory. "Still don't think he's the answer though. Big result tonight."

The Anfield outfit are currently seventh in the league table.
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Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti: 'It's impossible to shut Sepp Blatter's mouth'

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has slammed FIFA president Sepp Blatter by saying that it is "impossible" to shut him up after he reportedly dismissed Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of winning the Ballon d'Or.

Ronaldo, who is the current holder of the prestigious award, is favourite to clinch successive titles in January, but it is believed that Blatter wants German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to beat the Portuguese star to it.

During today's press conference, Ancelotti said: "It always surprises me what he does, but what are we going to do? It's impossible to shut the mouth of the FIFA president.

"There isn't much to think about. It is Cristiano's year, he scored goals and won important titles. There should be no doubt that he is the Ballon d'Or [winner]."

Ronaldo is among a 23-man shortlist, which also includes his teammate Gareth Bale, in contention for the gong this year.
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David Moyes emerges as candidate for Real Sociedad job

Former Manchester United manager David Moyes is reportedly one of a list of candidates to take charge at Real Sociedad.

The Spanish outfit are believed to be looking for alternatives to current coach Jagoba Arraste, who is believed to be on the verge of getting sacked.

Moyes has been out of work since getting dismissed by United back in April after the club fell from champions to seventh in the Premier League during the 10 months that the Scotsman was in charge at Old Trafford.

The 51-year-old recently claimed that he would prefer a job in England, but is open to coaching abroad.

According to Cope Radio, Moyes is a genuine contender for the position, while other reports have placed Juande Ramos and Pepe Mel as candidates.

As well as United, Moyes has coached at Preston North End and Everton, where he spent 11 years.
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Swansea City appeal against Federico Fernandez's red card

Swansea City have confirmed that they have lodged an appeal against Federico Fernandez's red card following last night's Capital One Cup defeat to Liverpool.

Manager Garry Monk expressed his anger after the match at Anfield, claiming that hopefully the referee will "see sense" and rescind the red card.

The 25-year-old faces a three-match ban after he was sent off by Keith Stroud in the second minute of injury time following a challenge involving Philippe Coutinho during Liverpool's late 2-1 victory at Anfield in the fourth round of the competition.

A statement on Swansea's official website said: "The club officially informed the Football Association by today's 1pm deadline. The FA will make a decision on the appeal ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League trip to Everton."

In the league, the Welsh outfit are currently sixth in the table.
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Jack Wilshere eager to improve goalscoring record

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has claimed that improving his goalscoring record is crucial if he wants to fulfil his potential.

The England international has shown his best form in glimpses this season, but he concedes that he must make more of an impact in the final third of the pitch as he looks to take advantage of being fully fit for an extended period.

"I've said before that my goalscoring record has never been good enough and that I always want to add more goals," Wilshere told the club's official website.

"You look at the top midfielders in the world like [Frank] Lampard and [Steven] Gerrard who were getting 15 or 20 goals a season back in their day.

"I'm not saying I can get that many because they were specialists at that, but I could definitely get into double figures."

Wilshere has scored just 12 goals in over 150 senior appearances at club level.
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Manuel Pellegrini expects Frank Lampard to miss Manchester derby

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has revealed that Frank Lampard is unlikely to be available for Sunday's derby with Manchester United.

The veteran midfielder suffered a thigh injury in the 4-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month, and Pellegrini says that the visit of United comes too soon for the 36-year-old.

However, the Chilean is expecting to welcome Samir Nasri back after a five-week absence, and says that the Frenchman will be involved in tonight's League Cup clash with Newcastle United.

Speaking on Tuesday, he told reporters: "Nasri is working normally and is in the squad list for tomorrow. Lampard is out, all the other players in the squad are fit.

"I don't think Frank will be fit for the weekend but maybe he can be fit for next week."

Lampard has struck four goals in seven games since joining the Citizens on a six-month loan from New York City FC.
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Jermain Defoe: 'Harry Redknapp wanted me at Queens Park Rangers'

Jermain Defoe has revealed that Harry Redknapp previously expressed an interest in bringing him to Queens Park Rangers in the January transfer window.

The England international has been repeatedly linked with a return to the Premier League since joining MLS side Toronto earlier this year, but he is unsure whether a move will materialise.

Defoe told The Guardian: "I remember speaking to Harry months ago and he said: 'Yeah, in the off-season you're going to come train and play for us and score goals.'

"But I was at home seeing other things – like 'Jermain Defoe might be going to Newcastle'. I'm thinking: 'What? That's news to me.'

"It was mad. If a new club wants you they speak to your agent or the club you're at. As a player you're often in the dark."

Toronto recently refused to rule out the possibility of allowing Defoe to leave in January.
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Peter Schmeichel: 'Manchester City bigger club than Manchester United'

Peter Schmeichel believes that Manchester City are a "bigger club" than his former outfit Manchester United.

The local rivals will go head to head on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, with City currently four points above Louis van Gaal's side in the Premier League table.

Former goalkeeper Schmeichel won five league titles during his eight-year career with United, while City languished in the third division.

"In my first couple of years [at United] I didn't understand [the rivalry with City] - Liverpool and Leeds were the much bigger," Schmeichel told BBC Sport.

"Now it's different. Man City are the champions, they had their second Premier League win last season and maybe at the moment they are a bigger club than Manchester United in terms of results, so the significance has changed."

United have recorded three victories in nine league matches so far this season.
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Bayern Munich still preparing Marco Reus raid

Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has admitted that they retain an interest in signing Borussia Dortmund star Marco Reus next summer.

Dortmund would be reluctant to do business with their biggest Bundesliga rivals again considering that they have lost Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski to the Bavarians in recent transfer windows.

However, Bayern are aware of a release clause, believed to be in region of £20m, in the 25-year-old's contract and Rummenigge has revealed that they could be tempted to trigger it to land the Germany midfielder.

"We know what quality he has and we also know what clause he has," he told Sport1.

"A young, Germany international with such quality is probably interesting for us, but I don't want to cause any ill-feeling with Dortmund."

He added: "Of course our relationship with Dortmund is not good. Borussia Dortmund have informed us that they don't see any point in eating together with Bayern Munich."

Reus, who has scored 49 goals in 89 Bundesliga and Champions League games for Dortmund, is expected to be one of the hottest transfer properties of 2015, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid all admirers.
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Manchester United beat Arsenal to Bilbao defender

Manchester United are reportedly planning a move for Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte.

The Express claims that the Red Devils have agreed to pay Laporte's £32m buy-out clause in January after beating Arsenal to the chase.

The 20-year-old Frenchman joined Bilbao in 2010 and has been a regular feature in the team so far this season, playing 13 times.

However, the report also suggests that any deal for Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is dead, with the Chilean set to sign a new contract until 2017 with the Italian champions, leaving United to pursue Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman.

Louis van Gaal's side face rivals Manchester City on Sunday.
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Jermain Defoe: 'Harry Redknapp wanted me at Queens Park Rangers'

Jermain Defoe has revealed that Harry Redknapp previously expressed an interest in bringing him to Queens Park Rangers in the January transfer window.

The England international has been repeatedly linked with a return to the Premier League since joining MLS side Toronto earlier this year, but he is unsure whether a move will materialise.

Defoe told The Guardian: "I remember speaking to Harry months ago and he said: 'Yeah, in the off-season you're going to come train and play for us and score goals.'

"But I was at home seeing other things – like 'Jermain Defoe might be going to Newcastle'. I'm thinking: 'What? That's news to me.'

"It was mad. If a new club wants you they speak to your agent or the club you're at. As a player you're often in the dark."

Toronto recently refused to rule out the possibility of allowing Defoe to leave in January.
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Jack Wilshere eager to improve goalscoring record

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has claimed that improving his goalscoring record is crucial if he wants to fulfil his potential.

The England international has shown his best form in glimpses this season, but he concedes that he must make more of an impact in the final third of the pitch as he looks to take advantage of being fully fit for an extended period.

"I've said before that my goalscoring record has never been good enough and that I always want to add more goals," Wilshere told the club's official website.

"You look at the top midfielders in the world like [Frank] Lampard and [Steven] Gerrard who were getting 15 or 20 goals a season back in their day.

"I'm not saying I can get that many because they were specialists at that, but I could definitely get into double figures."

Wilshere has scored just 12 goals in over 150 senior appearances at club level.
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Real Madrid to rest stars for Copa del Rey clash

Carlo Ancelotti has revealed that he will rest several of his star names for Real Madrid's Copa del Rey match with Cornella on Wednesday evening.

Ballon d'Or favourite Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will all be rested for the away tie against the third-tier outfit.

Gareth Bale will also sit out as he continues to recover from a "small injury", but Ancelotti has insisted that he is taking the competition seriously.

"The Copa del Rey has given us a lot of success," Ancelotti he told reporters. "We have to play a serious game and give minutes to some players."

Keylor Navas, Raphael Varane and Asier Illarramendi are expected to start for the holders, who beat Barcelona in last year's final courtesy of a late solo goal from Bale.
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Jose Mourinho slams Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah performances

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has criticised the performances of Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah in last night's slender League Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town, saying that they have made his next team selection an "easy" decision.

The Blues duo struggled to make an impact as Chelsea battled to a 2-1 win at Greenhous Meadow, eventually securing their spot in the quarter-finals of the competition after Jermaine Grandison headed into his own net nine minutes from time.

Following the game Mourinho admitted that he was not happy with his fringe players' showing, suggesting that he will leave them out for Saturday's visit of Queens Park Rangers.

"I expect players to give me problems," he is quoted as saying by ESPN. "I love problems. But a lot of them didn't and they've made it easy to choose my team for Saturday.
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Mario Balotelli 'overcame injury in warm-up' before League Cup heroics

Mario Balotelli ended his Liverpool goal drought to help them reach the League Cup quarter-finals, despite picking up an injury in the warm-up.

The Italian came off the bench to equalise against Swansea City at Anfield before Dejan Lovren netted a stoppage-time winner to send Liverpool through.

However, Reds assistant manager Colin Pascoe has revealed how Balotelli nearly didn't feature at all.

"He twisted his studs in the ground and he was sent to see the physio to see if he was all right or not," Pascoe told reporters.

"He felt something in his knee, but he came on and his knee looked all right."

The goal was just Balotelli's second in 12 appearances since his £12m move to Merseyside from AC Milan.
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Manuel Pellegrini: 'Manchester City remain in strong position'

Manuel Pellegrini has dismissed suggestions that Manchester City's form early in the season has handed the Premier League title to Chelsea.

City's loss to West Ham United on Saturday has left them third in the table, six points behind leaders Chelsea, but Pellegrini is confident that his side will follow the example they set last season by improving as the campaign progresses.

"Last year [at this stage], we had one point less than this year in the table. We didn't start as well as I wanted last year, but we still won the league," the Chilean told reporters.

"Surely, with 87 points still to play for, nobody can think it is finished? Yes, this year, maybe, we are playing in irregular form. But I am sure we will return to be the same team we were in the most important part of last season."

City meet Newcastle United in the League Cup on Wednesday before returning to Premier League action against Manchester United on Sunday afternoon.
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Alex Song wants Premier League stay

West Ham United loanee Alex Song has revealed that he wants to make a permanent switch to the Premier League.

The 27-year-old, who joined the Hammers from Barcelona on a season-long loan in the summer, has played a key part in his side's strong start to the campaign.

Song has yet to decide where his future lies, but he says that he intends to remain in England where he is currently "very happy".

"I think my future will be here," the Cameroon international told Sky Sports News. "My family, everyone is happy here. I'm very happy to come back to England.

"I've always said if I move from Barcelona, I'll come to England and my future is here anyway. I just want to enjoy playing at the moment and we'll see what is happening at the end of the season."

Song has previously played for Arsenal and French outfit Bastia.
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Manchester United plotting January swoop for Benedikt Howedes

Manchester United are reportedly weighing up a move for Schalke 04 defender Benedikt Howedes when the transfer window reopens in January.

The Germany international, who featured in all seven of his national side's games at the World Cup, is said to be attracting the interest of Louis van Gaal due to his versatility of being able to play at both left-back and in the heart of defence.

United have sent scouts to run the rule over Howedes, according to, although he would set the Premier League outfit back around £14m should a move be agreed.

Having come through Schalke's academy setup, the 26-year-old has proved to be an ever-present for the Royal Blues, also attracting the interest of Arsenal and Juventus among others in recent times.
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Manchester United want Ashley Cole

Manchester United are reportedly weighing up a shock January move for Roma left-back Ashley Cole.

Reports on Monday suggested that the Serie A outfit were looking to offload the former Chelsea defender just four months after luring him to the Italian capital.

It is believed that the 33-year-old is willing to return to England and, according to The Daily Express, United boss Louis van Gaal is interested in signing him up to provide competition for Luke Shaw.

Roma coach Rudi Garcia is reported to have already identified Cole's replacement, with Fiorentina's Manuel Pasqual and Barcelona full-back Adriano both linked.

Cole, whose contract expires in 2016, was substituted at half time during the Giallorossi's 7-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last week.
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Is there currently a lack of world-class centre-backs?

Ask any football supporter to name the best player in the world and two names will easily roll off the tongue - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Beyond that, the likes of Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Arjen Robben, Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta etc etc will be named around the top of that list.

But what about out-and-out defenders? Have they become less fashionable in the modern game? Are there many world-class ones around anymore?

It was a point highlighted by former Manchester United defender Gary Neville recently when reviewing centre-backs that have been brought into the Premier League in recent seasons.

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid have been criticised for their defending in recent seasons, despite the success that those two have enjoyed. Even the great Bayern Munich have not been watertight defensively despite a haul of trophies.

Favouring forward players is not much of a surprise. After all, football is about entertainment, with goals at the forefront of the attention.

Defending has been called into question in recent seasons, however, with a shortage of top-quality centre-backs an issue that has not really been addressed in any detail.

Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City and Bayern Munich were just four clubs in the market for new centre-backs this summer, but were there enough around? They are out there, but prising the top ones away is perhaps more difficult than signing a team's star striker.

All the talk surrounding the issue got Us thinking - who are the current top five centre-backs in the world today? Does your team have one?

1. Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain)
Makes this list with his eyes closed. The 30-year-old is perhaps the standout centre-back in world football at the moment, with his performances for Paris Saint-Germain over the last couple of seasons bringing a host of success. In total, the Brazilian has won just three league titles, but it was not until the latter stages of his career with AC Milan – which lasted from 2009 to 2012 – that the defender truly hit top form and matured into probably the best around.

A leader from the back, Silva still possesses a stunning turn of foot despite his latter years. That attribute coupled with incredible reading of the game and calmness in possession makes him a rarity in modern-day football. There might be a current lack of top centre-backs compared to previous eras, but Silva would stand alongside the greats in any category. When Brazil were trounced 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer, Silva was not on the field. Had he been available, it might have been a slightly different story.

2. Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
When Godin joined Atletico Madrid from Villarreal in 2010, he arrived with a good reputation, but few would have predicted the rise that the Uruguay international has enjoyed over the last couple of seasons. He is perhaps a surprise name in this particular list, but keen watchers of Spanish football will be glad to see the defender among this company. Since joining Atletico, Godin has helped the Spanish club win La Liga, the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and reach the final of last season's Champions League.

The 28-year-old was part of the best defensive unit in European football last season and in truth, his centre-back Miranda is a shade unfortunate not to make this list as well. In fact, it was Godin's header that sent Atletico to within a couple of minutes of winning last season's Champions League. Sure, Diego Costa's goals helped Atletico last term, but Godin was just as important. What he lacks in pace, he more than makes up for in other areas, with his aerial ability and reading of the game both exceptional. In a war-zone, many would want Godin on their side.

3. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Despite a trophy-laden career, there is a general feeling that Ramos still does not really get the respect that he deserves. After all, he must be doing something right – winning the World Cup, two European Championships and making 122 appearances for Spain, in addition to winning the Champions League, two Copa del Rey trophies and three league titles with Real Madrid. There are still critics, but few have had a career like him.

Technically, he is quite probably the best centre-back around. There are few midfielders better than Ramos in possession of the ball, while his ability from set pieces has been shown in recent seasons. He scored seven times last season and has 49 in total for Real Madrid – a demonstration of his threat to the opposition. Those who follow Ramos's career will also highlight his excellent aerial ability at both ends of the field. He might have the odd lapse in concentration, but physically the Spaniard is just about the perfect centre-back.

4. Javier Mascherano (Barcelona)
Not really a centre-back? Try telling that to each of the last three Barcelona managers, who all deployed the Argentine in central defence. At the 2014 World Cup, he was perhaps the best midfielder at the tournament, but he must now be known as a defender after becoming accustomed to a different position in the latter stages of his career. The 30-year-old stands at little over 5'7", but his height has not been a problem in an era that is seemingly overly concerned with size.

Barcelona have had their defensive problems during Mascherano's spell with the club, but prior to Saturday's El Clasico against Real Madrid, the Catalan outfit had not conceded a single goal in the league this season. Three went in against Real Madrid, but Mascherano was still comfortably his team's best defender on the night. Positionally, he is up there with the best, while his ability to read the game, which was surely helped by his stint in midfield, makes him one of the most talented centre-backs in the game.

5. John Terry (Chelsea)
Controversial? Of course. Terry is not exactly Mr Popular with opposition supporters, but he is a hero to the Chelsea fans. The former England defender had a spell out of the Chelsea team during the 2012-13 season, but seems to have found a second wind over the last 12 months or so. Now, he is the leader of a defence that had the best record in the Premier League last season and the captain of a team that are overwhelming favourites to win the Premier League this season.

The 33-year-old has won three Premier League titles with Chelsea, in addition to five FA Cups and the Champions League. This list isn't about previous years, however, it is about now, and currently there are few better in the world. The defender has never been blessed with pace, but aerially and on the deck, Terry is undeniably excellent. Whether the Englishman will be fully accepted into this list due to his off-the-field issues is open to debate, but putting personal agendas side, it is not difficult to realise why he has been such a success.

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Gareth Bale "honoured" by Ballon d'Or nomination

Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale has revealed that he is "honoured" to have been named on the 23-man shortlist for this year's prestigious Ballon d'Or award.

The Wales international arrived at the Bernabeu from Tottenham Hotspur for a reported £85m in September 2013 and he went on to play a key role as Los Blancos won the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

His performances have resulted in him being included on FIFA's list of nominees, along with six of his Madrid teammates.

"I'm honoured to be included on the shortlist for the #BallondOr this year among so many world class players. Good luck to everyone," the 25-year-old wrote on Twitter this afternoon.

Bale has scored 27 goals in 56 appearances for the European champions.
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Chelsea join Lucas Silva race

Chelsea are reportedly interested in signing Cruzeiro midfielder Lucas Silva, who has also been strongly linked with Real Madrid.

The 21-year-old has been with Cruzeiro since 2007, making his first-team debut for the Brazilian club in 2012.

Since then, his performances have grown each season and it is understood that Real Madrid currently head the queue for the Brazil Under-20 international.

However, according to Corriere dello Sport, Chelsea have now firmly entered the race for the midfielder.

It is understood that Cruzeiro value Silva in the region of £6m.
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Luis Enrique takes blame for Clasico defeat

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has taken full responsibility for his side's 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in El Clasico on Saturday.

The Catalan outfit took the lead early on through Neymar, but then conceded three times without reply to lose at the Bernabeu.

"I'm clearer now about what happened last Saturday and have analysed the game in more depth. The first half was very balanced, but far from what we've been used to seeing. In the second half, when we conceded the second goal, intensified what was happening in the first half," Inside Spanish Football quotes the Barca boss as saying.

"I would be concerned if it was a question of attitude, but that's not the case at all. It was a question of football, we repeated some mistakes which influenced the game and which is my responsibility, so we'll be trying to change that. Real Madrid took the game where they wanted it, with their play."

Barcelona currently sit top of La Liga on 22 points.
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Carlo Ancelotti: 'Gareth Bale still hugely important'

Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Gareth Bale remains an "important' player for Real Madrid amid suggestions that he has fallen down the pecking order.

Isco and James Rodriguez have impressed during the Welshman's absence with a hip injury.

Speculation has claimed that Los Blancos would be willing to entertain a £90m January offer from Manchester United for Bale, but Ancelotti indicated that those reports are false and reminded the media at his Wednesday press conference why the 25-year-old is still regarded as a key player.

"It looks like many people have forgotten that Bale scored in the Champions League and FA Cup finals," he told reporters. "He is as important as Isco and James."

Bale, who was shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or on Tuesday, has scored 27 goals in 53 La Liga and Champions League games since joining Madrid in a world-record £86m deal from Tottenham Hotspur.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eidur Gudjohnsen: 'Luis Suarez should not have started El Clasico'

Former Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen does not believe that Luis Suarez should have started Saturday's El Clasico against Real Madrid.

Suarez was handed his official Barca debut at the weekend following a four-month ban for a biting incident at the 2014 World Cup.

However, Gudjohnsen believes that the Uruguay international would have been better coming off the bench in his team's 3-1 defeat.

"I thought he tried but we saw a player who hadn't played for a few months, a player with great qualities," he told Sky Sports News.

"He set up the first goal for Neymar and then set up a great chance for Lionel Messi to put Barca 2-0 up, but 'if' is a big word and if Messi had scored we'd have had a completely different game.

"All in all, it was probably the wrong decision to start Suarez in this match . What we also saw was Xavi [Hernandez] not at the top of his game and Andres Iniesta not finding his best level."

Suarez joined Barca from Liverpool in the summer.
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Younes Kaboul offered new Tottenham Hotspur contract

Tottenham Hotspur captain Younes Kaboul is reportedly in talks with the club over a new contract.

The 28-year-old's current terms at White Hart Lane are due to expire at the end of next season.

Spurs are now keen to tie the defender down to a four-year extension, according to

Kaboul was named as the club's new captain back in September following Michael Dawson's departure to Hull City.

However, his tenure as Tottenham skipper has got off to a disappointing start, with the team losing three of the five Premier League games that he has led them in.
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Southampton to make bid for Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane

Southampton are reportedly lining up a bid for Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.

The 21-year-old has struggled to hold down a regular first-team place under Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, although he has impressed in the Europa League this season.

The England Under-21 international scored a hat-trick last Thursday in the 5-1 victory over Asteras Tripolis, before going in goal after Hugo Lloris was sent off.

Kane signed a new five-year deal with the White Hart Lane outfit during the summer.

However, Southampton are prepared to test their resolve by making a move for Kane in January, according to The Sun.

Kane has netted six times in 10 appearances for Spurs this season.
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Carlos Bacca wins Best Americas Player award

Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca has revealed his delight after picking up the LFP Best Americas Player award last night.

The Colombian, who joined Sevilla from Club Brugge in 2013, has scored 27 times in 63 games since arriving in Spain.

"First of all I want to give thanks to God, because he gave me this gift and this talent," said Bacca at the gala.

"I also want to thank the directors at Sevilla, because in what was my first season with the club, everything went so well and I'm grateful to them.

"I want to thank my wife, my kids and especially, the coaching staff and all my teammates. Without all of them, winning this award wouldn't have been possible."

Bacca scored 21 times in 52 games last term.
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Manchester United hopeful over Wayne Rooney's fitness

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is reportedly hopeful that captain Wayne Rooney will be fit for Sunday afternoon's derby encounter at the Etihad Stadium.

The 29-year-old, who has just completed a three-match suspension, was seen limping at a sponsorship event at Old Trafford yesterday, which had resulted in suggestions that he may be sidelined against Manchester City.

However, there are no immediate concerns from the United coaching staff regarding Rooney's fitness and they expect the striker to be available for the short trip, according to the Daily Mail.

No player has scored more goals in the Manchester derby than Rooney, who has found the net in the fixture 11 times.
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Harry Redknapp: 'Adel Taarabt has Queens Park Rangers future'

Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp has insisted that Adel Taarabt still has a future at the club, despite openly questioning the midfielder's fitness.

Redknapp recently accused Taarabt of being three stone overweight, an allegation that the Moroccan then disputed.

However, the Hoops boss has hinted that there could still be a future for Taarabt at Loftus Road.

"He can still play a part in the future if he gets himself fit," Redknapp told Sky Sports News.

"All I ask people to do every day is come in, train, be thankful for being a professional footballer and work hard.

"God gave him a fantastic talent, I just hope he doesn't waste it. If he's fit and ready to play, he's a great talent."

QPR visit Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday.
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Manuel Pellegrini not thinking about Manchester derby

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has insisted that his primary focus is on Wednesday's League Cup tie against Newcastle United and not the upcoming derby with Manchester United.

The Blues continue the defence of their League Cup crown tomorrow night when they welcome the Magpies to the Etihad Stadium in the fourth round of the competition.

Despite a big game against United in the Premier League on the horizon, Pellegrini does not expect his players to be unprepared when they face Newcastle.

"We are thinking just about Newcastle," the Chilean is quoted as saying by Sky Sports News. "When we finish with Newcastle, we will start thinking about Manchester United.

"We have three games in a row here at home in three competitions, so I think it is very important to be thinking just about the Capital One Cup and, after that, we will start thinking about Manchester United."

City are currently in third place in the Premier League table, six points behind leaders Chelsea.
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Liverpool want Kiko Casilla

Liverpool are reportedly interested in signing Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla in the January transfer window.

The 28-year-old, who is currently Spain's third-choice stopper, has long been regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga.

According to the Daily Express, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers wants Casilla to replace Simon Mignolet, who has struggled thus far this season.

While Espanyol are keen to keep Casilla, it is understood that the Spanish club would be unable to reject a significant offer from the Premier League.
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Luis Enrique: 'Thomas Vermaelen still isn't ready'

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has admitted that Thomas Vermaelen is still some way off full fitness.

The Belgian international joined Barca from Arsenal this summer, but has not yet made his debut for the Catalan outfit due to a hamstring injury.

"I don't know what you want to write or what you're looking for. He's been practically a year without playing and is in his recovery process," Inside Spanish Football quotes Enrique as saying.

"He's doing specific work because obviously, his recovery isn't going as well as we expected."

Vermaelen has played for Barcelona B this season, but is understood to have suffered another set-back in recent weeks.
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Manchester City join Sami Khedira race

Manchester City have reportedly joined the race for Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, who looks increasingly likely to leave the Bernabeu in January.

The 27-year-old, who has been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, will be a free agent at the end of this season and as it stands, will be free to discuss terms with interested clubs in January.

According to the Daily Mail, City have now joined the race for the German international, who is still regarded as one of the best of his kind in world football despite injury problems over the last 12 months.

It is believed that Khedira wants to move to the Premier League, but a number of European clubs are also monitoring proceedings.
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Premier League weekend: Five talking points

A 2-0 victory for Queens Park Rangers over Aston Villa last night at Loftus Road brought an end to the ninth round of Premier League matches.

In total, 23 goals were scored over the course of 10 matches, with one red card also being brandished.

Here, We picked out five of the biggest talking points to have arisen from all of the action.

1. United score in 'Van Gaal time'
Just how important Robin van Persie's stoppage-time equaliser was as far as the remainder of the season is concerned, only time will tell, but it certainly had a familiar feel for those of a Manchester United persuasion. Their efforts against title-chasing Chelsea had seemingly gone unrewarded when the Dutch striker slammed Marouane Fellaini's effort back past Thibaut Courtois to send Old Trafford into raptures.

Of course, it would be both too early and totally inaccurate to suggest that United, under the management of Louis van Gaal, are back to punching at the weight that they were with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, but it could be an ominous sign for their rivals where future campaigns are concerned. Radamel Falcao's strike against Everton in the 62nd minute was the latest goal that United had scored until Daley Blind popped up in the 87th minute to claim a point at West Bromwich Albion last Monday. Then, Van Persie bettered that against the West Londoners - potentially a sign that United's fighting spirit is returning.

2. Dejected Mannone needs a break
The goalscoring impact of Connor Wickham late last season was rightly credited as one of the major reasons as to why Sunderland miraculously retained their Premier League status, but the form of Vito Mannone between the posts was certainly deserving of more plaudits than the goalkeeper received.

Such performances are far cry from Saturday when the Italian stopper looked close to tears as he headed down the Stadium of Light tunnel. With the 8-0 defeat away at Southampton still fresh in the memory, Mannone committed a catastrophic error which allowed Alexis Sanchez to wrap up the points for the visiting Gunners. While banishing Mannone from the starting lineup would be harsh, resting him for a week or two, with Costel Pantilimon waiting in the wings, is perhaps beneficial for all parties. 

3. Saints continue to march on
There may only have been nine matches played this term, but there is a growing belief that Southampton could well be difficult to budge in the battle for European places. The 1-0 win over Stoke has moved Ronald Koeman's charges up to second and while it is highly unlikely that they will finish the season as runners-up, they may not drop too much further than that.

What was impressive about the result against the Potters was that it was achieved on the back of scoring eight unanswered goals against a hapless Sunderland. Expectations levels, understandably, would have been high among the Saints faithful, but they shouldered that burden positively to record a solid, yet comfortable victory. Played nine, won six, drawn one, lost two, scored 20 and conceded a league-best five - not too shabby for a side that was tipped by many to struggle following a summer of uncertainty and upheaval. 

4. Stuttering champions
It's not too often that those connected with Manchester City have punched the air with delight upon seeing rivals United find the net, but there will have been a large number that did just that as Van Persie fired in. Without that goal, the champions would have been eight points behind Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, which even at this relatively early stage of the campaign, seemed a huge gap to bridge.

It was a potential scenario that arose because Saturday's lunchtime encounter saw City lose 2-1 away at an impressive West Ham United. While City hit the woodwork on two occasions, on reflection, it is difficult to begrudge the hosting Hammers all three points. There was a real lack of sharpness and fluidity, particularly in the first half, that will be a major concern for Manuel Pellegrini, who confusingly started David Silva on the left hand side of a four-man midfield. It wasn't until the pint-sized Spaniard was moved centrally that City started to move through the gears. Six points split City and Chelsea - the former cannot afford for that to grow.

5. Relief at Loftus Road
Just when Harry Redknapp needed a positive result from his Queens Park Rangers players, they provided one. A defeat to Aston Villa would have left Redknapp's men bottom of the table and some five points from safety. There was a real danger that along with struggling Burnley, they would soon be cut adrift. However, two goals from Charlie Austin secured a much needed three points for the R's.

It was the team's first victory since the end of August and brought them back to within touching distance of those that are fighting to stay out of the relegation zone. Next up are matches against Chelsea and Man City, so a defeat to Villa could well have spelled the end of Redknapp's tenure at Loftus Road. As it is, he lives to fight another day.

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Carlos Vela facing FIFA sanction

Mexico forward Carlos Vela could reportedly receive a ban from club football if he refuses to play for his country.

The Real Sociedad striker has been called into the Mexican squad for the friendlies against Netherlands and Belarus next month, but the 25-year-old has previously expressed his unwillingness to represent his nation.

According to TodoMercado, if Vela refuses to show, then FIFA will ban the former Arsenal attacker from club football.

A similar situation occurred last September, when Bayern Munich attacker Franck Ribery expressed his reluctance to play for France, which was criticised by UEFA president Michel Platini.

Vela has not played for Mexico since 2011.
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Luis Enrique refuses to quell Lionel Messi injury claims

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has refused to deny reports that Lionel Messi had a painkilling injection before Saturday's El Clasico against Real Madrid.

A report on Monday claimed that the Argentine needed a painkiller to play at the Bernabeu after picking up an ankle injury during a training session on Thursday.

Enrique has said that he is against such matters, but insisted that the final decision "rests with the player".

"My recommendations and advice as a manager, are that no player takes painkilling injections, but the decision rests with the player," Inside Spanish Football quotes Enrique as saying.

"As a medical matter, it's something you would have to ask our medics. All I know is that he was 100% fine to play in the game. Medical matters are private to each player."

Barcelona lost 3-1 at the Bernabeu.
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Carlos Bacca wins Best Americas Player award

Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca has revealed his delight after picking up the LFP Best Americas Player award last night.

The Colombian, who joined Sevilla from Club Brugge in 2013, has scored 27 times in 63 games since arriving in Spain.

"First of all I want to give thanks to God, because he gave me this gift and this talent," said Bacca at the gala.

"I also want to thank the directors at Sevilla, because in what was my first season with the club, everything went so well and I'm grateful to them.

"I want to thank my wife, my kids and especially, the coaching staff and all my teammates. Without all of them, winning this award wouldn't have been possible."

Bacca scored 21 times in 52 games last term.
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CSKA Moscow sanctions reduced by UEFA

UEFA has reduced CSKA Moscow's punishment for the recent racist behaviour of their fans on appeal.

The Russian club had been ordered to play three European home games behind closed doors and was also fined €200,000 (£157,000) following a number of incidents against Roma in the Champions League last month.

Those sanctions have now been changed by European football's governing body to two matches and a €100,000 fine. One of those games has already been played after CSKA came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw with Manchester City last week.

However, CSKA remain banned from selling tickets to fans for the team's next two away games in the Champions League.
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Feature : Hammers and Saints could crash the Champions League party

CAN Southampton and West Ham stay in the top four and gatecrash the Champions League? That seems a preposterous notion.

Yet consider the opposition. Of last season's top six, only Chelsea have improved. Some of the others have deteriorated disastrously.

Liverpool lost Luis Suarez and replaced him with Mario Balotelli, which is like sacking Michelangelo and getting a painter and decorator to have a go at finishing the Sistine ceiling.

Arsenal, blissfully happy because they won at the weekend, ignore two inconvenient facts. One: they have fewer decent defenders than even Manchester United. Two: they only won at Sunderland.

Everton and Tottenham have simply reverted to type. The former have started their season ponderously slowly, as they did most years under David Moyes. The latter are once more only consistent at disappointing their fans and leaving their manager looking hapless.

Okay, Manchester City will be able to "concentrate on the Premier League" once they are dumped out of the Champions League. That might not save manager Manuel Pellegrini, but should enable City to finish above the Saints and Hammers.

And with United getting goals in "LVG time", and perhaps spending on a centre-back or three in January, they too must be serious top-four contenders this time after last season's seventh place.

So, realistically, Southampton and West Ham probably won't both grab Champions League places. But one of them might.

Southampton and West Ham probably won't both grab Champions League places. But one of them might
If the Saints go marching in, we'll have to praise owner Katharina Liebherr for appointing manager Ronald Koeman and backing his astute purchasing plan.

But it is West Ham's owners who should receive some sort of bravery award for toughing it out last season when things were getting ugly - and not just the football.

Last March, Hammers fans booed when their team was winning, an act so rare that it provoked almost universal censure from outsiders. Manager Sam Allardyce cupped his ears in disbelief. But supporters of the London club insist the grimly awful way which their team went about the task of despatching Hull that day was just the culmination of considerable suffering.

Booing at half-time (when West Ham were 1-0 up) and at the finish (when they had chiselled out a 2-1 win against opponents who had 10 men for 70 minutes) was a reaction to almost two seasons of stultifying football.

The protests continued, despite the fact that Allardyce, who had won promotion in his first season, secured safety in his second. In May, fans hung a "Fat Sam Out" banner outside Sullivan's mansion home.

Once disaffection plumbs that sort of nadir, the manager normally knows the only question is how much compensation he will get on his way out. At Tottenham, for instance, chairman Daniel Levy would have been flexing his trigger finger long before protests got that close to home.

West Ham sit fourth in the Premier League and beat Manchester City on Saturday [GETTY]

But West Ham's Davids, Sullivan and Gold, plotted a unique course through the turbulent waters. They listened to their supporters but also backed their manager. With a move to the Olympic stadium on the horizon (a coup for which the owners should also be commended), they reasoned that Allardyce fitted the vital role of staying in the Premier League.

Yet, sympathising with the fans, Sullivan and Gold tasked Allardyce with playing a more expansive, passing game.

So at this point in a rare story, we need to laud the manager for accepting that brief and for bringing in an old friend, Teddy Sheringham, to sharpen attacking play. Insiders report that Sheringham's impact and influence have been significant.

He has been helped enormously by new strikers who have hit the ground running, so the owners should get yet more homage for splashing the cash.

It is not normal to praise owners, because there are plenty of bad ones about. The managerial churn at Fulham and Leeds and the implosion of Birmingham (interestingly, since the Davids left St Andrews) come to mind.

But if West Ham join the Champions League Goliaths, it will be because of two Davids. Perhaps supporters will express their gratitude by putting bunting up outside their mansions.

Phil Dowd (centre) sent off Branislav Ivanovic at Old Trafford on Sunday [GETTY]

THE breathtaking ignorance of football law shown by TV pundits is unforgivable, especially this season.

The Premier League have made Howard Webb available for broadcasters to consult every week. But MotD2’s Peter Schmeichel and Jermaine Jenas didn’t bother.

Because ref Phil Dowd wrongly ignored illegal wrestling when Manchester United defended a corner, the TV “experts” adopted the default position of believing Dowd had got everything else wrong.
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Rickie Lambert: 'Goal will change everything for Mario Balotelli'

Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert is adamant that he and Mario Balotelli just need to find the net once to start firing for the Reds this season.

The Italy international and the 32-year-old have both failed to find the net for Brendan Rodgers's side following their summer moves to Anfield.

Balotelli has come under serious criticism for his displays this season, but Lambert is confident that a goal will change everything for the duo.

"If it goes in off your backside it doesn't matter once it goes in. That's what a striker needs - just one to go in and they'll start coming, then the confidence flows," Lambert told reporters.

"Mario's like myself, we just need to get a goal. He's been unlucky with a couple of chances. Obviously you want to hit the ground running and you want to score.

"The longer it goes, the harder it is. It depends how you are mentally. If you are ok and you stay calm - and sometimes that is hard to do - I'm confident it will come."

Liverpool are seventh in the Premier League with 14 points from nine games.
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Nemanja Matic: 'Manchester United point could be important'

Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic believes that his side's point in their clash against Manchester United could be important in the race for the Premier League title.

The Blues were seconds away from claiming a victory at Old Trafford after Didier Drogba had fired them ahead, but Robin van Persie scored in stoppage time to earn the Red Devils a draw.

However, the Serbia international is adamant that the result is still a good one for Jose Mourinho's side, despite their disappointment about missing out on all three points.

Matic told reporters: "They are all behind us, still, and that's good for our team, it gives us confidence. We have done well and deserve to be in this position.

"It's a good feeling but also a big responsibility because now everyone wants to win against us, they have extra motivation. Every point is very important for us, especially when you're playing against teams like Manchester United - they are strong and everyone knows they're a big club.

"Old Trafford is not an easy place to get points. In the end you never know what is going to decide the championship, but maybe this point will be crucial for us."

Chelsea lead the Premier League by four points from second-place Southampton after nine matches this season.
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Football world unites in tribute to slain Senzo Meyiwa

TRIBUTES have flooded in from around the globe following the death of South African goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa.

The national team captain was gunned down on Sunday night having confronted a gang that had raided his girlfriend’s home.

Meyiwa’s death at the age of 27 has stunned a crime-hit country still coming to terms with Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius being jailed for shooting dead his girlfriend.

Bafana Bafana manager Shakes Mashaba spoke of his sadness and shock at the news.

He said: “Don’t think such a good man as Senzo can go and vanish. His spirit will live and would always be the leader.”

The Orlando Pirates stopper had recently cemented his spot in the South African side.

His stock had risen after failing to concede a goal in his country’s last four African Nations Cup qualifiers.

Thoughts with family, players & fans of @Orlando_Pirates & @BafanaBafana. A senseless, tragic loss. #RIPSenzoMeyiwa

— Joseph S Blatter (@SeppBlatter) October 27, 2014
Doncaster midfielder Dean Furman, capped 18 times, is still struggling to come to terms at the loss of an international team-mate.

Furman said: “He was very respectful, very friendly and he was just the nicest guy you could wish to meet.

“He had a lot of great relationships within the team, kept everyone together and his performances were exemplary.

“We don’t know what happened. But whatever has it’s a life taken away far too soon.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was among those to pay tribute to Meyiwa. He tweeted: “Thoughts with family, players and fans of Orlando Pirates and South Africa. A senseless, tragic loss. #RIPSenzoMeyiwa”.

South Africa’s domestic league has postponed Saturday’s derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs as a mark of respect.

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Thibaut Courtois not satisfied with Manchester United point

Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois has admitted that he and his teammates were not satisfied to take only a point from their Premier League clash against Manchester United.

The Blues took the lead at Old Trafford through Didier Drogba and looked set to secure all three points in the fixture, until Robin van Persie struck in stoppage time to earn United an important point.

Courtois told reporters: "Of course it was frustrating because we controlled the game. But the table says we are the team to catch, that's true.

"If you look at how the game went, it's normal that we were not happy with a point and that says a lot about the way we're playing this season.

"We're doing very well and will try to continue like that and keep on winning. We have had two difficult away games in Manchester and have to go to Liverpool in a couple of weeks, hopefully we will get a good result there and then we have had a good start."

Jose Mourinho's men lead the Premier League by four points from second-place Southampton after nine games this season.
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Chelsea's Jose Mourinho promises to field a "good team" against Shrewsbury Town

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has insisted that he will respect this evening's Capital One Cup opponents Shrewsbury Town by fielding a "good team" at New Meadow.

The Blues head into tonight's fourth-round tie on the back of a 1-1 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With just two days coming between games, Mourinho has revealed that he will rotate his team to include Andre Schurrle, Kurt Zouma, Mohamed Salah, Nathan Ake and John Obi Mikel.

"Every game is important," Mourinho told the club's official website. "Shrewsbury in the Capital One Cup is not a friendly.

"We have to play matches with respect and the best way to respect Shrewsbury is to go there with a good team, not to go there with a weak team and lose. We will go there with a good team. If they win they win, but they win against a good team."

Shrewsbury host Chelsea after winning their last four League Two fixtures.
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Romelu Lukaku feeling "blessed" to play with Samuel Eto'o

Everton striker Romelu Lukaku has said that he feels "blessed" to play alongside boyhood hero Samuel Eto'o.

Both were on target in Sunday's 3-1 win away to Burnley, with Eto'o netting his second of the afternoon in fine fashion to complete the scoring.

At 21, Lukaku is 12 years younger than Eto'o and the Belgian believes that he can learn a lot from the three-time Champions League winner.

"I wasn't surprised to see Samuel score one like [his second]. When he took the touch I was thinking 'goal'," he told Everton's official website.

"He has scored so many throughout his career and it's a pleasure to be working with him. He wants to help me become one of the best.

"I feel very lucky to be able to work with someone I grew up watching. I have been blessed to work with some great strikers and now I am working with another one. Hopefully I can become one of the best."

The duo have struck three Premier League goals apiece so far.
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