Villa can survive: Friedel and Houllier

Aston Villa are confident of retaining their English Premier League status, according to keeper Brad Friedel and manager Gerard Houllier.

Houllier was jeered at their most recent loss – a 1-0 derby defeat by relegation-threatened Wolverhampton – and the French boss is confident the Midlands club can stay in the top flight, despite sitting just one point outside the drop zone with eight games remaining.

“We know exactly where we stand and the difficulty of our task,” Houllier said.

“You have to remain positive. You can’t spend your time reflecting on what happened.”

“We have eight games ahead of us now and never mind what has happened in the past. This is our league and the eight games ahead are vital for our future. Everybody is concerned because we are not dreamers.”

Houllier said the mindset was to tell his players that the new eight-game league starts on Saturday, when the Villans take on Everton at Goodison Park.

“There is a new league starting up for us of eight games and the mood is positive. A lot of players are internationals so they have that experience and they know what pressure is. I also know their personalities and they want to do well for the fans and the club,” Houllier said.

Veteran Friedel acknowledged his side’s woeful predicament – just 12 months after ending the season in sixth place and gaining a Europa League spot – but the American emphasised their remaining fixtures can be Villa’s saving grace this season.

“We’ve got eight cup finals (remaining this season),” Friedel told Sky Sports.

“We’ve got enough quality in the changing room and we’re confident to get the points on the board to stay in the Premier League.”

“It’s a shame we’re in the position we’re in. I can assure the fans that we’re all pulling together as one. We’re going to be taking these games incredibly seriously.”

“We’re determined to get enough points on the board to ensure our Premier League safety.”

Thu 31 March, 2011
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La Liga preview: Barca on alert at Villarreal

After much deliberation, the weekend’s La Liga fixtures are set to go ahead, with leaders Barcelona facing a tough test away to Villarreal.

A majority of Spanish top flight clubs had agreed to boycott the weekend’s fixtures in return for the Spanish government rescinding a rule that ensures at least one game of football is shown on free-to-air TV per match day.

The league were also behind the proposed strike – but six breakaway clubs including Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Real Zaragoza and Espanyol successfully challenged to ensure play would get underway this weekend.

Juan Garrido’s Villarreal would no doubt be keen to tackle Spanish football’s benchmark – Barcelona – in their Camp El Madrigal surrounds, and in winning form which has seen them beat Bundesliga powerhouse Bayer Leverkusen (Europa League) and Athletic Bilbao away in their past two.

Real Madrid are in action earlier on Saturday, when they host 15th placed Sporting Gijon.

Real can cut the gap on Pep Guardiola’s side to two points on the table, prior to the Catalans’ later kick off.

Sporting will be no pushover for Jose Mourinho and his side, as they have gone unbeaten in their past three, including wins over Almeria and Getafe, and an away draw with Villarreal.

Getafe are without a win in seven matches, and host a Valencia side that has lost four of their past five in all competitions, meaning points will be a valued commodity when they clash at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

In action on Sunday, fifth placed Espanyol host 14th side Racing Santander at the Estadi Cornella El Prat, with the home side having played in just one draw all season – and it just happened to be the last time these teams clashed in November.

Real Sociedad are without a win in five, but have the ideal chance to arrest that statistic when they host bottom club Hercules at the Estadio Municipal de Anoeta.

Malaga travel to Levante, Deportivo La Coruna host Mallorca, Sevilla welcome Real Zaragoza and Osasuna take on Atletico Madrid in Sunday’s other clashes.

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Bundesliga preview: Hannover to give leaders a tough test

Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund have a tough test ahead to get back to winning form, when they face third side Hannover 96 on Saturday.

Despite holding a seven-point buffer on second side Bayer Leverkusen and being 12 ahead of Hannover, Jurgen Klopp’s men are without a win in two matches and a victory at the Signal Iduna Park over their top-four rivals would be a significant leap closer to winning the German top flight.

The league leaders will still be without injured Japanese striker Shinji Kagawa and Daniel Ginczek while Hannover is missing young defender Christopher Avevor.

Bayern Munich will be hoping Dortmund earn at least a draw against Hannover – with a win for Louis van Gaal’s men over cellar dwellers Borussia Monchengladbach then set to propel them into the top three.

Freiburg have lost four straight games to drop out of the European places and face a tough task when they travel to fifth-placed Mainz 05′s Stadion am Bruchweg.

Thirteenth-placed Kaiserslautern have a huge challenge ahead to extend their unbeaten run to five games when they host second side Bayer Leverkusen.

Werder Bremen will do battle with Stuttgart at the Weserstadion, with the home side only four points from the drop zone, and Stuttgart just one point out of the bottom three.

Hoffenheim (ninth) and Hamburg (seventh) will face off at the Rhein Neckar Arena, with a European place still up for grabs for both clubs.

In Sunday’s action, Nurnburg can bounce back from their first loss in eight when they travel to Cologne’s Rhein Energie Stadion.

Second-bottom Wolfsburg can escape the drop zone, results pending, with a victory over fellow relegation candidate Eintracht Frankfurt at the Volkswagen Arena.

On Friday, St Pauli can break a run of five losses and eight games without a win when they host Schalke 04 at Millerntor Stadion.

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Spurs star in quit plea

Tottenham midfielder Niko Kranjcar says he is thinking about leaving Spurs in search for first team football.

The Croatia international has spent big part of the season on the bench and it seems that he is no longer prepared to wait for his chance.

“This is the most frustrating situation I have had in my career. I need to find a football club where I can play regularly.

“I obviously miss playing football every week. I’m not in my best shape because I don’t play week in, week out.

“I’m ambitious, I want to play football. Especially in my best years. If I was a young lad obviously I would wait for my chance, especially being at a big club like Spurs.

“But 27, 28 and 29 are your best footballing years. Everyone knows I can play at the highest level.”

“It’s not for me to question the manager’s decision. I respect him and must wait for my opportunity to play again.

“Harry’s the one who takes the blame for good and bad results – and obviously it’s going great for us this season again. The team at Spurs is amazing. The amount of talent we’ve got is ridiculous.”

[Source: The Sun]

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Marchisio ponders Juventus exit

Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio could leave Olimpico at the end of the season since he is unhappy with the treatment he is receiving by the club chiefs.

The Italy international signed a new five-year deal some two years ago, but he has since become a key player in the team and now want a contract that would correspond to the new status.

Juventus chiefs are aware that Marchisio deserves an improved contract, but they are not ready to meet the player’s demands.

The two sides are still far from reaching an agreement and unless something unpredictable happens, the Italy international will consider his options at the end of the season.

Marchisio is reportedly unhappy with the way in which the club are going after yet another disappointing season and could request a transfer next summer.

The 25-year-old has a long list of suitors in European football and he would have no problems finding a new club should he decide to leave the Bianconeri.

[Source: Tuttosport]

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Neymar: I would like to play for Barca

Santos forward Neymar has hinted at a possible move to Barcelona, amidst interest linking him with a summer move to Camp Nou.

The Brazilian has been heavily linked to Chelsea and Barcelona, but he says he would love to play for Barca in the future.

“All players would like to play for Barcelona and I am no different,” Neymar told the Brazilian press.

However, the 19-year-old reiterated his desire to remain at Santos.

“I have a contract with Santos and intend to stay here.”

“The future belongs to God, but I have a contract with Santos and I repeat that I am happy here and I want to stay at the club.

”No, I have no interest in leaving Santos now. I’m in my country, near my friends and family, I have no reason to leave.”

Thu 31 March, 2011
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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Lionel ‘Leo’ Messi

Lionel Messi is widely considered to be the best player in the world at the moment and some even believe the Argentine is the best to have ever played the beautiful game. At 23 years of age he has accomplished much more than anyone could have hoped for and his life is pretty much an open book for soccer betting fans around the globe. However, there are some things that you probably didn’t know about the Barcelona star.

1.) Messi’s style of play, impressive technical skills and small physique earned him comparisons with the legendary Diego Armando Maradona, and it is interesting that the Barcelona forward managed to mimic Maradona’s two most famous goals he had scored in the World Cup game against England. Messi first scored a brilliant goal after a solo effort against Getafe, before scoring with his hand against Espanyol in the very same season.

2.) Messi was asked to play for Spain national team, but decided to wait for a call-up from Argentina. Had he accepted a call from La Furia Roja, the Argentine would now have probably owned a World Cup winner’s medal.

3.) His debut for Argentina only lasted for around 40 seconds. That was the time he spent on the pitch before being sent off. The fact that he hadn’t deserved the red card was probably poor consolation at the time.

4.) You may be surprised to hear that not only girls drop their pants in front of Messi, but some guys as well. A man was so desperate to get a picture with Messi that he chased the Argentine around the airport and when he finally thought he had caught him, a clothing failure prevented him from accomplishing his mission.

5.) In March 2010 Messi became UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and he now works with the organization helping children around the globe.

6.) While the whole world loves watching Messi from the comfort of their homes, the Barcelona star once said that he never watched highlights of himself.

7.) In the Champions League game against Panathinaikos, a Greek fan invaded the pitch only to show Messi the middle finger, probably tired of constantly watching the Argentine making fun of PAO’s defence.

8.) He won the 2009 Ballon d’Or award in front of Cristiano Ronaldo, by collecting 473 out of possible 480 votes. How do you think the Portuguese handled the results?

9.) Barcelona signed the Argentine when he was just 13 with the scouts needing just half an hour to realize the player’s massive potential. That will soon prove to be one of the best decisions in the history of football.

10.) Following Barcelona’s 6:2 victory over Real at Santiago Bernabeu, Messi achieved the unthinkable and received standing ovation from the home fans, having scored two goals to help his side record a memorable win. Cristiano Ronaldo would have nothing against getting the same treatment at Camp Nou, but Real will first have to beat Barca for that to happen.

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Ashley builds up the money Newcastle owe to him

It doesn't get any better

It was a mixed day for Newcastle fans yesterday. Firstly they heard about increased financial losses and then they heard talk of ambitions for European football. Unfortunately for those fans, both of those news stories revolved around the club’s owner Mike Ashley.

Ridicule

Ashley is either a figure of ridicule, a figure of hate or a guardian angel protecting Newcastle football club, depending on which camp you’re in. I believe the latter camp contains just Ashley himself and his right hand man, Managing Director, Derek Llambias.

The financial news was not good whichever way you look at it. The club reported a loss for the year ending June 2010 of £17.1 million. Even more worrying for the club and the fans is the news that Ashley put in another £42 million in interest free loans. That takes the amount of money owed to Ashley to a huge £139.8 million.

Gushing

Llambias was predictably gushing in his praise for Ashley.

“Mike Ashley’s money has kept this club buoyant. Quite honestly, Newcastle United would not be here without him, it is as simple as that. He has never taken a penny out of the football club, but he knows what he has to put in every year and he is keen to grow it.”

There may be some truth in that and I suppose the fans should in some ways be grateful, but if Ashley hadn’t made a string of poor decisions, hired the wrong people and alienated just about everyone, they probably wouldn’t have needed his money to bail them out. Of course, Llambias also forgot to mention that the reason he hasn’t made a penny out of the club is because he couldn’t find anyone daft enough to pay the inflated amount he was trying to sell the club for which would have doubled his money.

Europe

The other news story from Newcastle yesterday was that Ashley says he believes that Newcastle should be challenging for Europe every year. I’m not sure where he might have got that belief from really. There is no doubt that they have the fan base that could put them in that position, but the team they have is a million miles away from it. In fact, survival in the Premier League is the first obstacle that has to be overcome. It does sound a bit like the delusional Steve Keane saying that Blackburn should be in the top five. You have to wonder what planet these people live on.

Of course, Llambias was quick to rally alongside the owner.

“Mike knows where we should be in four or five years. We want to be challenging for Europe every season.”

Surviving

The club is losing money and only surviving, apparently, on the interest free loans from Ashley. The team have a very real fight to stay in the division and Ashley says they should be challenging for Europe every year in four or five years time. I wish I had that sort of optimism!

Of course, the only way that could come true is if someone came in with an even bigger fortune than Ashley and bought the club from him. That couldn’t be what he still wants to happen could it?

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Ligue 1 preview: Rennes rely on Danze

Rennes defender Romain Danze is the most recognisable player in Ligue 1 this season.

Danze, 24, has not missed a single minute all season, racking up 2,520 consecutive minutes.

He will again be on hand to try to revive Stade Rennes’s title hopes at home to lowly Auxerre on Saturday

Rennes coach Frederic Antonetti says Danze typifies the no-nonsense approach at the club this season, which he says has pushed the unfashionable team up the table.

“All the faith we put in Danze at the start of the season has been confirmed,” Antonetti told the club website.

“He never drops his performance level. He is a player you can rely on.”

Rennes, ninth last term, won five games in a row to surge to second but a 2-0 home defeat by champions Olympique Marseille and a 1-1 draw at fellow title challengers Olympique Lyon last time out meant they have slipped to third.

Surprise leaders Lille are five points above Rennes who will be wary of Auxerre after they pulled off a 2-0 win over Sochaux before the international break to move three points clear of third from bottom Monaco.

Auxerre, a fertile breeding ground in the past for top talent such as Eric Cantona, finished third last term but following a Champions League group exit their season has gone from bad to worse.

Lille continue to confound the doubters who felt they were not sufficiently equipped to stay ahead of the pack and Saturday’s home match with mid-table Caen is the perfect chance to tighten their grip on top spot.

Marseille, in second, are four points adrift and travel to Racing Lens on Sunday without suspended centre back Souleymane Diawara and striker Brandao, who has joined Brazilians Cruzeiro on loan after being investigated over an alleged rape in France.

In other Saturday games, cellar dweller Avignon are at home to third-bottom Monaco who are 17 points above them but still in relegation danger while Nancy host Bordeaux and Sochaux are at home to Brest.

Sunday’s games feature Nice at home to Lyon and Saint Etienne host Valenciennes.

Thu 31 March, 2011
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Premier League preview: Arsenal v Blackburn

Arsenal will need maximum points to keep the pressure on Manchester United when Blackburn Rovers visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

The north London side are five points behind United, but have a game in hand over the Premier League leaders.

They were forced to fight back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw away to West Bromwich Albion in their last match, and were held by Sunderland to a scoreless stalemate in their previous home league affair.

Rovers’ form in their past five games has been nothing short of abysmal – scraping a point from their clash with Blackpool after trailing by two; losing to Fulham, Aston Villa and Wigan; and luckily snaring a draw against Newcastle in a game Alan Pardew’s men dominated.Arsenal’s push for the Premiership could be boosted by the return to fitness of stars Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott for the clash with Steve Kean’s side.

Van Persie picked up a thigh injury while on international duty with the Netherlands, while Fabregas could return from a hamstring injury sustained in their loss to Barcelona in the Champions League this month.

Walcott has not appeared in Arsenal colours since February – outed by a right ankle injury, but reportedly trained well in the international break.

Blackburn have no fresh injury concerns, but will be focussing on breaking their run of five straight away losses in the league.

Wed 30 March, 2011
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