Serie A: AC Milan 3 Napoli 0

AC Milan stamped their authority on the Serie A title race with a resounding 3-0 win over Napoli on Monday.

A win for Walter Mazzarri’s side at the San Siro would have seen them draw level with Milan at the top of the table, but instead it was Massimiliano Allegri’s men who came away with an important result after second-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Alexandre Pato.Milan are now five points clear of second-placed city rivals Inter, while Napoli sit one point further back in third.It was a lacklustre opening in Milan with neither side able to create genuine chances as target men Ibrahimovic and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani were both well held.The best opportunity of the first half fell to Milan’s Mark van Bommel, who collected a deflected shot on the edge of the penalty area but saw his own effort blocked by defender Salvatore Aronica.

It took the hosts just four minutes after the interval to open the scoring, with Ibrahimovic netting from the penalty spot after a hand ball in the box by Aronica.Only the good work of Morgan De Sanctis kept the scoreline at 1-0 with the Napoli goalkeeper pulling off several excellent saves.But De Sanctis could do little to stop Boateng doubling Milan’s lead on 77 minutes, with the Ghana international finishing from close range after Pato’s cross.And it was Brazilian striker Pato who turned scorer just three minutes later, curling his shot over two retreating defenders and De Sanctis to wrap up the three points.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Premier League: Stoke 1 West Brom 1

Super sub Carlos Vela came to West Bromwich Albion’s rescue with a late equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw against Stoke City on Monday.

Vela’s late intervention lifts the strugglers out of the bottom three after Rory Delap’s second goal of the season seemed set to give Stoke another home win.

Having saved the Baggies’ blushes with an injury time leveler against Wolves last week, on loan Arsenal striker Vela seized on Stephen Reid’s through ball to beat Asmir Begovic with three minutes left.

Delap’s notorious long throws were a constant menace throughout the opening half but it was his 53rd minute near post header that again exposed Albion’s fragile defence – the worst in the English Premier League.

The anticipated aerial bombardment from Delap was soon in full swing with Albion’s rearguard scrambling a series of his long throws to safety before the recalled Scott Carson confidently palmed Jermaine Pennant’s rasping 25-yard free-kick around his left hand post.

The visitors at Britannia Stadium were not shy in venturing forward themselves with Graham Dorrans and Marc-Antoine Fortune both forcing good blocks out of Stoke goalkeeper Begovic.

Pennant was again unlucky to see his sublime curling free kick skim the top of West Brom’s bar.

Having played the part of provider so often throughout his Stoke career Delap stepped forward to head his side ahead on 53 minutes.

The midfielder stole a yard off the shoulder of his marker Dorrans to power the ball home at the near post from Pennant’s left wing corner.

Keen to make amends, Dorrans soon saw his close range header blocked by the legs of Begovic before Vela’s timely intervention three minutes from time.

And after Somen Tchoyi had been denied from the edge of the area, Mexican maestro Vela nearly delivered a winning goal deep into injury time as Albion finished with a flourish to claim a welcome point in their battle to beat the drop.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Torres still adjusting at Chelsea

Fernando Torres believes he is close to breaking his scoring drought for Chelsea as he continues to adjust to life at Stamford Bridge.

Torres joined the Blues for 50 million pounds from Liverpool in January, but has so far failed to impress since arriving in London.But the 26-year-old said his partnership with fellow strikers Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba will improve as he learns to adapt to Chelsea’s game style.”The strikers we have depend on the play of the rest of the team,” Torres told Chelsea’s official website.”With two lines of four the other day the team played really well and the balance was really good, compact and they did well, sometimes playing balls behind the centre-backs or sometimes between the lines, and Nico (Anelka) likes to play like this.” “It is my job to understand the game of Nico or the game of Didier Drogba, and to be involved in the routine of the team and know the quality of the players so that’s what I am trying to do now.”Carlo Ancelotti’s side face a season-defining clash against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, and a loss to the league leaders would snuff out their slim hopes of defending their Premier League crown. “This will be an interesting game because it can make us come back to fight for the title, it is one of the most important games of the season right now, and if we win this one we are closer to them and we have will still have one more game against them,” Torres said.”When you play against top sides they have top players and Man United are the same, they have brilliant centre-backs and always the motivation is high when you play against them.””You want to play well against these players to show you can do it, and Vidic and Ferdinand were always a big challenge for me, so I hoped they could both play.”

“Some people prefer big players not to be playing but I prefer to play against these kinds of players.”

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Cosmi takes Palermo hot seat

Former Livorno boss Serse Cosmi has been unveiled as the new coach of Serie A club Palermo after Delio Rossi was sacked on Monday.

The change at the top comes after Palermo were humiliated 7-0 at home against Udinese on Sunday.Palermo remain eighth on the Serie A table, but three straight losses, including the disaster against Udinese, prompted temperamental club president Maurizio Zamparini to replace Rossi.”Palermo announce that Serse Cosmi has been named coach,” the Serie A club said in a statement without giving details on the length of his deal.”The Perugia-born coach will train the team (Tuesday) in Rome and will be unveiled later that day.”Rossi’s time at the Stadio Renza Barbero appeared to be up almost immediately after the loss, with Zamparini making no secret of his displeasure.”He has ruined my Palermo. Rossi has destroyed this team,” the club owner told reporters after Sunday’s defeat, where Udinese were 5-0 up at half-time and Alexis Sanchez scored four goals.Cosmi, who is known for his baseball cap and excitable behaviour on the touch line, may only be in the job for the remainder of the season, with media reports in Italy suggesting Zamparini wants Giampiero Gasperini to take over next season after he was sacked by Genoa in November.After beginning his managerial career with Arezzo in the lower leagues of Italian football, Cosmi made his name in a five year stint with Perugia, who he guided to the UEFA Intertoto Cup title in 2003.The 52-year-old has since had short stints at Genoa, Udinese and Brescia, before being resigning from his most recent coaching role at Livorno more than a year ago after just four months with the Tuscan club.Cosmi’s first match in charge of Palermo will be a challenging road trip to the Stadio Olimpico to face Lazio on Sunday.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Defoe injury blow for Spurs

Tottenham have suffered a fresh injury blow with news that Jermaine Defoe has picked up an ankle problem.

Defoe suffered the injury while training with Spurs in Dubai with the club embarking on a five-day warm-weather training camp before their Premier League clash with Wolves on Sunday.

Defoe will be hoping the injury is not a recurrence of the ankle ligament damage he suffered during England’s 3-1 win over Switzerland in September which kept him out of action for eight weeks.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has seen his squad decimated with injuries this season and this will only add to his woes as Spurs are already missing several key players.

“Defoe has an injury again. He’s had a problem with his ankle before and it didn’t feel too good,” Redknapp said in Dubai-based newspaper The National.

“We’re trying to finish in the top four and it’s so close. But we’ve got so many players injured, people forget.”

“We’ve got Tom Huddlestone, Younes Kaboul, Ledley King, (Jonathan) Woodgate, (Gareth) Bale, (Rafael) Van der Vaart.”

“If you could pick a team of injured players it would be a fantastic team,” he added.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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SPL set for July start

The Scottish Premier League is set for its earliest ever start date, kicking off the 2012 season on July 23.

The league says the earlier start date will allow clubs entering European competition to be better prepared than ever before.

A statement issued by the SPL said: “An earlier start date is an important part of the SPL’s strategic plan for Scottish football and should mean that SPL clubs involved in European qualifiers in July enter those games better prepared.”

“A July start date will also reduce the number of midweek games in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League during the winter months.”

However, clubs will still be allowed to compete in friendly matches – traditionally played in July – with a ‘one-off compromise’ protocol agreed.

For the forthcoming campaign, all SPL clubs can request one early-season fixture be postponed to allow participation in one-off friendlies and pre-season tournaments, which allow the opportunity to generate extra revenue.

This protocol will enable Celtic to appear in the Dublin Super Cup on July 30 and 31 alongside Manchester City and Inter Milan.

“Fixturing is a notoriously emotive area. Trying to shoe-horn so many games into a fixed period is an extremely difficult task – and one where SPL secretary Iain Blair is simply unable to please everyone all of the time,” SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster said.

“There is no ideal solution that suits all clubs. What’s vital is that any decision is fair, balanced and in the overall interests of all clubs. And I am confident that the decision on our start date for next season is precisely that.”

“It will help teams in European competition. It will reduce fixture congestion and the number of unpopular winter midweek games later in the season.”

“It will boost clubs’ incomes and increase the value of SPL games to broadcasters. And it’s what fans tell us they want.”

The statement said the SPL does expect not many clubs to take advantage of the flexibility to postpone a league match, with no cutoff date set for applications to request a fixture change.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Birmingham fully deserved shock Carling Cup victory

Birmingham City’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final really was well deserved.

The Blues went into the game as underdogs in most people’s eyes but they shocked the Gunners with a superb performance.

Effort

Birmingham put that much effort into the game that they looked exhausted by the end of the game.

They gave their all and it paid dividends. They hustled and harried the favourites and hardly gave them any space to create chances.

Keeper

When Arsenal did have chances on goal Birmingham keeper Ben Foster denied them superbly. The ex-Manchester United keeper is no stranger to this trophy having won it twice as a player with the Red Devils.

The England international produced heroics all through the second half as Arsenal pushed for that all important second goal. However he kept them at bay brilliantly with athleticism and bravery. He is starting to fulfil the potential that was so clear at United and Watford on-loan.

He has proved a superb signing by Birmingham boss Alex McLeish. He could in fact prove to be one of his shrewdest signings. Foster has had a great season and will be hoping to push England number one Joe Hart for his position.

Attacking

Birmingham have been accused of being a long ball side but they played some good attacking football against the Gunners. They did at times use the height of giant Serbian striker Nikola Zigic but they mixed it up at times.

The Blues victory was built on their good attacking first half display and a good rearguard action in the second half.

Team

The victory was very much a team effort. Foster won man of the match but any of his teammates would have had a good claim. The likes of Lee Bowyer, goal scorer Nikola Zigic and Roger Johnson were all superb.

This performance was like that of the Birmingham from last season. If they can keep the momentum going from this match then they will soon drag themselves away from the Premier League relegation zone. The Blues currently find themselves above the relegation zone by two points.

Steel

Arsenal never really got going and again showed a lack of steel in their team. Without captain Cesc Fabregas they also lacked a leader to rally the troops. At times they looked like they had run out of ideas and in the end couldn’t find a way past the defiant Foster.

Complacent

Arsenal turned up to this final just expecting to collect the trophy. They showed complacency and were punished for it. Five years without a trophy and this was their best chance to win one. The Gunners simply blew it.

It has almost become a monkey on their back now for Arsene Wenger and his team. Wenger must have walked under a lot of ladders or crossed the path of a lot of black cats to deserve his recent luck.

Mistake

Arsenal only have themselves to blame for Obafemi Martin’s 89th minute winner though. Defender Laurent Koscielny and keeper Wojciech Szczesny got in an awful mess and the Polish keeper gifted Martin’s an easy goal.

Szczesny is a promising young keeper and has showed he has good ability in his brief Arsenal career. He made a horrendous match losing mistake yesterday but he has enough confidence to bounce back and become a top keeper.

He can’t take all the blame for the goal though Koscielny should have cleared the ball instead of pondering. He really didn’t help the youngster. A commanding centre-back would have taken control of the situation. The whole scenario proved that Arsenal are still in great need of a world-class centre-back and keeper.

Confidence

Arsenal have shown confidence this season but this defeat could just knock that confidence. They will need to recover from this blow very quickly with crucial fixtures over the likes of Sunderland and Barcelona coming up in the next 10 days.

The search for a trophy goes on for Arsene Wenger and his team. It will now be really difficult for the Gunners to claim a trophy this season and Arsenal fans will again be questioning Wenger and his methods.

I am a big fan of Wenger and his philosophy but if I was an Arsenal fan I would now be worrying about where the next trophy is coming from.

Did Birmingham deserve to win the Carling Cup final?

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Moyes wary of Reading threat

Everton manager David Moyes has urged his side to remain focused ahead of their FA Cup fifth-round clash with Reading on Tuesday.

After a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a fourth-round replay, there is a danger Moyes’ men may feel a bit of a letdown coming up against Championship opposition.

But with Brian McDermott’s side having already accounted for English Premier League opponents West Brom in the third round and knocking out Liverpool in last season’s competition, Moyes has urged his troops to be on their game on Tuesday.

“It’s the FA Cup, you never know what is going to happen. Throughout the years, there’s always been results that you didn’t expect,” the Scot said.

“We’ve got to make sure that this is one that we do expect in trying to get Everton through.”

“I think Brian McDermott has done a great job down there with his team. He’s steadied Reading and it wasn’t too long ago that they were a Premier League team so we’ve got to be wary of that and mindful. They’ve had some good results themselves.”

Everton have endured a difficult league campaign and are in 10th place in the table – just five points clear of the relegation zone – and Moyes feels they have played without luck for much of the season.

“I think we’ve played well all season without getting the results,” he said.

“It’s beginning to look as if we can score a few goals which early on wasn’t the case.”

“We beat Blackpool and scored a few against Blackpool. We had a bad day at Bolton, but we’ve been to Chelsea and sorted it out. And we’ve won against Sunderland, so I’m hoping that we’re beginning to find a bit more consistency.”

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Rooney decision beggars belief

Lucky, lucky boy

I am not part of the press of whom Sir Alex Ferguson said, “As it is Wayne, the press will raise a campaign to get him hung or electrocuted, something like that.”

Hater

I am not a Manchester United hater and I am definitely not a Wayne Rooney hater. I am not a person who likes to see players getting sent off or banned from playing. I am not a lily-livered pink lefty who wants to take all physicality out of the game.

Despite all the above, I am absolutely gob-smacked that Wayne Rooney has escaped without punishment for the elbow he quite clearly deliberately thrust into the face of Wigan’s James McCarthy on Saturday. It was a petulant act and one that was designed to cause injury to a fellow professional.

Decision

TV replays showed that referee Mark Clattenburg was watching the ball and didn’t see the incident, yet he gave a free kick against Rooney without showing a card. He has now, apparently had a chance to review what happened and come to the incomprehensible decision that he feels he took the appropriate action at the time.

That decision from Clattenburg means that the FA cannot now take action against Rooney for what he did.

Played

Speaking for everyone who has ever played the game or takes any interest in it, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said after the game which United won 4-0,

“I saw the incident clearly and the referee did as well because he gave the free-kick. Once you give a free-kick it is quite clear that it is a red card. When you look at the replay, it is quite clear he catches James McCarthy in the face with his elbow. It is a big call in the game. It is unfortunate because the referee saw it but he didn’t feel it was a red card. If one of my players had done that, I would think he was very lucky to stay on the pitch.”

Manchester United’s reaction was as predictable as it was disappointing. Sir Alex said,

“There’s nothing in it.”

Whilst I have the utmost respect for Sir Alex as a manager, he is totally wrong about that.

Hypocritical

Assistant manager Mike Phelan made a speech that could hardly have been more hypocritical coming from a close colleague of Fergie’s.

“We can’t dispute the referee’s decision. He’s kept the game flowing and we’re happy with that. There should not be a witch-hunt. The referee was consistent with all his decisions. We should lie low a little bit and let the powers that be take control of the game.”

I hope those words apply to Fergie now, and we will no longer hear him questioning any referee decisions as United are obviously now happy to let the powers that be control the game!!

Bias

Many, many people have suggested that referees and the authorities have a bias towards Manchester United, and I have reacted to that with the contempt I thought the suggestion deserved. However, a ruling such as this does make me question my faith in the system.

If this had been a Wigan player does anyone seriously think they would have escaped punishment? I know what I think.

Mon 28 February, 2011
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Gunners keen to move on from Cup failure

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis believes the club must move on quickly from the disappointment of their Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham.

The Gunners had been hot favourites to end a six-year trophy drought in the Wembley showdown on Sunday.

But goals from Nikola Zigic and Obafemi Martins – the latter after a horribly blunder between Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and centre back Laurent Koscielny – handed Birmingham the cup with a 2-1 win.

With Arsenal sitting in second place in the English Premier League, playing Leyton Orient in an FA Cup fifth-round replay on Wednesday, and facing a trip to Barcelona for a Champions League round-of-16 second-leg match on March 8, Gazidis said the side must refocus quickly.

“Of course we are all desperately disappointed. We were hoping we would do better yesterday, but the important thing now is how we react to that,” he said.

“We’ve got an awful lot to play for this season. Every time we’ve had a setback along the way we’ve actually responded very, very well.”

“And we will be looking for that from our players on Wednesday night against Leyton Orient, back into the Premier League and of course Barcelona next week.”

Despite reporting a loss of 2.5 million pounds in their half-yearly accounts, Gazidis insists the future is bright at the Emirates.

“We continue to be in a healthy financial position and the club, as you know, is run on a self-sustaining basis and these results continue to show long term sustainability and health, so there are some real positives,” Gazidis said.

“There are some one-offs that we don’t have this year that we did have last year. Last year we had some tremendous numbers pushed by property sales and also the sales of a couple of big players.”

“This year we don’t have those one-offs. Rather than seeing players leave, we have actually invested in the squad. So you expect to see a little bit of a change in the numbers but it’s still very healthy and robust looking forward.”

And Gazidis believes the relative youth of the Arsenal squad is a sure sign the club’s barren run in the trophy room will soon be over.

“We’ve got a very young team. Average age against Barcelona was just 23 years old,” he said.

“And what we are focused on is making sure that we keep the key talents in that team together and signing them to long term contracts. So there’s been a significant investment on the field.”

Mon 28 February, 2011
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