Title success awaits City, says Toure

Suspended Manchester City defender Kolo Toure believes his side have what it takes to be Premier League contenders in the future.

Toure, who is currently suspended after testing positive for a banned substance, also thinks the club are yet to see the best of troubled striker Mario Balotelli, and predicts big things for the Italian.

“I’m feeling really happy at City now, we have some new players and a new vision of football,” the Ivorian said.

“We want to win things and at the moment we’re doing well and we hope to finish in the top four and see if we can qualify for the Champions League.”

“We are improving every season, last season we finished fifth and if this season we can finish in the top four that will be great and it will show we’re progressing and I think that is the most important.”

“To win the Premier League is very difficult because there are some top teams but when you have good players (and) you all want to win, that can happen definitely.”

Toure believes the senior players at Eastlands have a responsibility to the help the younger players, such as Balotelli, adjust to life in the Premier League.

“We have some young players some more experienced players and I think the experienced players just try to help the young players,” he said.

“I think Balotelli is a young player and he needs to adapt to the Premier League and the English culture and to the English spirit. I think from next season you will see better coming from him.”

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Houllier confident of top-flight survival

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier insists his relegation-threatened side can find form and retain their Premier League status.

Fans were livid after Villa lost 1-0 at home to local rivals Wolves last time out which leaves them just one point above the bottom three.

Houllier thinks his players need to relax more when they play at Everton on Saturday.

He said: “We can play much better than we did against Wolves and it has been a tough time.”

“I felt we weren’t relaxed enough. In the coming games we need to be more relaxed because you need fluency.”

“We didn’t seem to have the passing and the movement in that Wolves match.”

“That’s why it created a frustrating game really.”

“Even when you are 1-0 down at home you should be able to come back into the game and win it. We had a few chances but not enough.”

Houllier said preparations for the trip to Goodison Park has been disrupted by last week’s international break.

“Now, as we look forward to Everton some of the players have gone on international duty – half are here and half are away – but we will get back together and obviously we know where the land lies.”

“We don’t lie to each other. We know how we stand and the difficulty of the task but the best way is to focus on our game and the results will take care of themselves.”

“We have ability. We’ve got the strength. We’re just going through a hard time.”

Villa will be without defenders Richard Dunne (shoulder) and Luke Young (knee).

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Pulis eyes 40-point mark

Stoke boss Tony Pulis wants his side to reach the 40-point mark as soon as possible but claims it will not guarantee Premier League safety.

Champions Chelsea visit the Britannia Stadium this weekend and a win for Stoke would see them reach Pulis’ target.

However, despite Stoke currently sitting mid-table in tenth, they are only five points above the drop zone.

“You have to get to 40 points as quick as you can and then you can take things from there,” Pulis said.

“Getting to 40 points is a watershed for us at this football club – but you might need more than this and that’s why it’s important to get there as quickly as possible.”

“It’s so much in the balance this year in the league and it’s been interesting – not just at the bottom but at the top of the table as well.”

With five points separating nine teams, Pulis believes it is vital not to get distracted by other side’s results.

“We don’t get involved in who’s doing what or who’s saying what – we’ll just do our own job,” continued Pulis.

“The only thing you can affect is yourselves. I can’t influence what other people do but I can influence and affect what happens at this football club.”

Anything but a loss on Saturday against Chelsea would take Stoke’s unbeaten home run to nine games in all competitions.

“I am very proud of that record,” Pulis said.

“Since we defeated West Ham (at the beginning of March) the place has taken off. There is a sense of togetherness at the Britannia and around the city.”

“That feeling will be important for the last four games here.”

On-loan striker John Carew is expected to return for Saturday’s clash after overcoming a back injury, but Abdoulaye Faye remains out with a hamstring problem.

Mamady Sidibe is out for the season with an Achilles problem.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Balotelli relishing Premier League voyage

Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli wants to make history with the club as they aim to end a 35-year trophy drought.

City have not won silverware since lifting the League Cup in 1976.

Balotelli is keen for success with the big-spending Premier League club and rejected speculation that he is unhappy playing in England.

“It is a great experience. All the people at Manchester City are fantastic and you can see the club growing every day,” Balotelli said.

“Everybody at the club helps me to feel comfortable. You can feel the vibe in the club. I try every day to repay the trust the manager and the club showed in me by signing me.”

“I hope the fans know that I like it here and I am really proud to be here to write the history of this club.”

Balotelli also commented on the differences between English football and the Serie A, where he made a name for himself with Inter Milan, adding that he enjoys the atmosphere of the Premier League.

“It is quite different from Italian football but I like it,” he said.

“The stadiums in the Premier League are fantastic and the way the supporters experience the game is extraordinary.”

“I think it is a fantastic experience for a footballer.”

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Paatelainen takes up Finland challenge

Mixu Paatelainen has left his post as Kilmarnock manager to coach the Finland national team.

Paatelainen was the target of recent interest from Championship side Scunthorpe United and Kilmarnock were also eager to retain his services, but the lure of coaching his national side, for which he made 70 appearances as a player, was too strong.

Kilmarnock assistant coach Kenny Shiels will take the reins for the side’s Scottish Premier League game at St Johnstone on Saturday.

“Following careful consideration Mixu has decided that the honour of managing his national team is one which he cannot refuse,” a Kilmarnock statement read.

“He will take up his duties with the Finnish FA immediately.”

Paatelainen was a fan favourite at Rugby Park, and has drastically reversed the club’s fortunes since his appointment in June last year.

Kilmarnock finished second from the bottom in 2009-10, but are currently fifth in the SPL and within grasp of a Europa League berth.

“Mixu’s short reign at Kilmarnock has witnessed a dramatic improvement in the club’s fortunes in the SPL,” the statement continued.

“Several club records have been broken, including longest scoring run in a league campaign.”

“Our travelling support has been treated to a feast of attacking football, which has yielded more goals than any other club away from home bar one.”

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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McLeish grateful for international break

Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish says last week’s international break will help his side fight against Premier League relegation.

McLeish’s men go into Saturday’s game against Bolton in the bottom three after losing three of their last four matches but the club’s injury problems are clearing up.

“The international break was ideal in terms of injuries,” McLeish said.

“There is no doubt that it gave respite to some players who were ready to explode, ready to implode, and others like Roger Johnson who has been hanging by a thread over the past few weeks.”

Birmingham are just one place off the bottom of the table and have not won in the league since the middle of February.

McLeish wants his side to return to the form that saw them beat Arsenal to lift the Carling Cup in February.

“We’re going to try and get back to the form that saw us storm to the League Cup,” he said ahead

“We’ve got to get back to the type of tempo and type of commitment that have earned the plaudits for the team.”

“To be fair, the discipline side of things has been very good. But mentality counts and keeping your nerve counts.”

Defender Martin Jiranek (toe), midfielders Lee Bowyer (hamstring), Alexander Hleb (knee) and Barry Ferguson (ribs) are doubts.

Forward James McFadden (knee) is definitely out.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Costa Rica, Mexico into last eight

Costa Rica are through to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship after a 3-0 win over Guadeloupe in Guatemala City.

A Joel Campbell brace helped the defending champions progress, but the striker had to be at his best to beat in-form Guadeloupe goalkeeper Kevin Anselme.

Anselme frustrated the Costa Ricans throughout the first half with a number of fine saves, and it took an exceptional strike from Campbell to finally break the deadlock after 57 minutes.

The 18-year-old calmly converted the second from the penalty spot.

Deyver Vega then confirmed Costa Rica’s quarter-final place with a well-worked goal, exchanging passes with Joshua Diaz Azofeifa before firing home.

Costa Rica now face Canada in the Group C finale on Friday, needing only a draw to seal a seeded place in the knockout stage.

In Group D, Cuba played out a goalless draw with Trinidad and Tobago to ensure Mexico a quarter-final place.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Martinez alert to Tottenham threat

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez says Saturday’s opponents Tottenham will not be distracted by their upcoming Champions League quarter final.

Tottenham will play a massive game against Spanish giants Real Madrid on Tuesday but Martinez knows the north Londoners will be fully focussed on the Premier League this weekend.

Martinez said: “Regardless of their Champions League involvement next week this will be a very difficult game.”

“Sometimes having fixtures like that on the horizon can work as an advantage and teams may look at the games beforehand as the ideal chance to gear themselves up and tune their performance.”

“But from now until the end of the season it is all about us, our performances on the pitch and being to take every game as a unique opportunity to collect points.”

“We’re facing one of the best teams in Europe because Tottenham have been the surprise package in this season’s Champions League.”

Wigan sit last on the Premier League table but just five points separate them and Fulham in 12th place.

Martinez knows now is the time to turn good performances into points and ensure top flight survival.

He said: “The differences between all the clubs at the bottom of the table are so small and we’re prepared for the fight going right down to the final game of the season.”

“From our point-of-view we’ve been very consistent over the last few weeks, played to a high standard and now is the time to collect the points we’ve been missing.

Martinez has a fully-fit squad to choose from.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Serie A preview: Milan derby takes centre stage

AC Milan meet champions Inter Milan at the San Siro on Saturday in a match that could well define the title credentials of both sides.

Milan have topped the Serie A standings for much of the 2010-11 campaign, but Massimiliano Allegri’s men have stagnated in recent weeks and were held to a 1-1 draw at home by bottom side Bari on March 13 before slumping to a 1-0 defeat at Palermo.

Inter, by contrast, endured a difficult start to their campaign under former manager Rafael Benitez, but since he was replaced by Leonardo in December, the reigning Italian and European champions have gone from strength to strength.

Their league record since the Brazilian took over has been impeccable, with 12 wins, two losses and a draw seeing them sitting just two points behind Milan with eight games remaining.

Leonardo will be hoping for more good form from Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o, who has scored 19 league goals this season, with four in his last four Serie A games.

Also on Saturday, Brescia will be desperate to move out of the relegation zone when they host Bologna.

Sunday sees another huge fixture, when third-placed Napoli – who are just three points behind Milan – take on a fifth-placed Lazio side who are desperate to keep their Champions League push alive.

As well as Inter, the big movers of 2011 have undoubtedly been Udinese and the northerners are unbeaten in the league so far this year from 13 games – scoring 35 goals and conceding only 10.

That form sees them lying in fourth place in the league, six points behind Milan, ahead of Sunday’s trip to relegation candidates Lecce.

Elsewhere on Sunday, sixth-placed Roma host Juventus at the Olympic stadium with a spot in next season’s Europa League the objective for both teams, and the visitors will be keen to slash Roma’s five point advantage.

Catania welcome Palermo at the Stadio Angelo Massimino for an all-Sicilian affair while struggling Cesena play host to Fiorentina.

Bari are six points adrift at the foot of the table and need maximum points from their trip to Parma, Cagliari visit Genoa in a mid-table clash and Chievo Verona welcome a Sampdoria side who are just three points clear of the relegation zone.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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Dalglish playing it safe

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish says key duo Steven Gerrard and Andy Carroll will not be rushed back from injury.

Gerrard is returning from groin surgery while record Carroll is on his way back from a thigh injury ahead of Saturday’s trip to West Brom.

Dalglish said: “We’ll be patient and Andy will be ready when he’s ready.

“His 60 minutes for England [when he scored in Wednesday’s friendly draw with Ghana] was useful and it would not have been as good to play him for more than that.”

“We’ll have a look at Gerrard because he’s recovered really well from surgery. We’ll see how he is but certainly he’s done a lot of training this week.”

“It was a great milestone for Andy Carroll to score his first England goal in midweek. He’s got a bit to go until he gets to match fitness but he’s here for five and a half years not a few months.”

The West Brom trip will see Dalglish’s side come up against former manager Roy Hodgson for the first time since he left Liverpool in January.

Hodgson has enjoyed relative success since taking over at The Hawthorns after a tricky spell in charge of Liverpool.

Dalglish said: “Roy’s brought his own style to West Brom like I have done here.”

“Everybody knows what we can expect and they have played games that have shown the way they play and it is up to us to be better than them on the day.”

“They were tough to beat when we played them at home. They played very well and I think we beat them 1-0 but it was a difficult game.”

Luis Suarez (groin) and Jonjo Shelvey (knee) are also in doubt for the clash.

Defender Fabio Aurelio (hamstring) is definitely out.

Thu 31 Mar, 2011
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