Leno, Kiessling pleased with Leverkusen arrivals

Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno and Stefan Kiessling say the club’s new signings are looking good ahead of the new season.

Leverkusen will begin their 2013/14 campaign on Saturday with a DFB Pokal tie against sixth-tier club Lippstadt before they take on Freiburg in the Bundesliga a week later.

In the lead-up to their opening match of the season, Leverkusen’s goalkeeper Leno said coach Sami Hyypia’s new signings like Robbie Kruse, Son Heung-Min and Giulio Donati are ‘well integrated’, which should help Leverkusen start their campaign in top gear.

“I think we have several new signings and they all have been doing well and are well integrated, that’s what you can see on pitch after every friendly,” Leno said.

“Tactically we are well prepared, I think we are ready for the new season.”

Leverkusen finished third in the Bundesliga last season but have seen key figures leave the club, like German forward Andre Schuerrle to Chelsea and Spanish full-back Daniel Carvajal to Real Madrid.

In an effort to keep his team competitive with the best clubs in the Bundesliga, Hyppia has signed ex-Dusseldorf winger Kruse, former Hamburg forward Son and Donati from Inter Milan.

While Kiessling, Leverkusen’s top goal-scorer for the past two seasons, believes there is still room for improvement, he is pleased with how the club’s new players are looking.

“We have been working well with the new signings, they keep doing well with the team,” Kiessling said.

“It’s never easy to integrate many new players but I’m pretty confident we can retain last season’s efforts.

“But we have to be careful, it can take time, we are aware of it.”

Ahead of their Pokal clash away to Lippstadt, Leno has warned Leverkusen they cannot underestimate their lower-league opposition.

“We are prepared as we are ahead of every game,” Leno said.

“We know that in the cup underdogs can be very dangerous, that’s why we need to be prepared and well aware.

“But I think if we show our class there won’t be any damage.”

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Pellegrini thrilled with City new boys

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has praised new signings Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas after a 5-3 win over AC Milan in Munich.

Jovetic and Navas tore AC Milan’s defence apart during the Audi Cup semi-final at Munich’s Allianz Arena on Wednesday, claiming two and three assists respectively.

City scored five goals in the opening 36 minutes with Navas and Jovetic combining to set up David Silva’s opener in the fourth minute.

Yaya Toure set up City’s fifth goal just after the half-hour mark when he chipped the ball to Edin Dzeko, who showed brilliant touch to control the pass on his chest before volleying on the turn.

While Pellegrini, who joined the English Premier League club in May, was thrilled with his whole team’s first-half performance, he singled out Jovetic and Navas for praise.

“We scored five goals and both of them (Jovetic and Navas) played very well for the first 45 minutes with Jovetic in the team,” Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini was disappointed in how his side allowed AC Milan to fight back in Munich and did not rule out potentially signing more players before the 2013/14 Premier League season begins.

“I am very happy with the squad we have at the moment but that doesn’t mean that (we) can’t make a change,” Pellegrini said.

“We have 15 days in August before the Premier League starts.

“July has just finished so we’ll see.

“We are not in a hurry searching for any special players but everything can happen from now until August 18th.”

City will face Audi Cup hosts Bayern Munich in the final of the tournament on Thursday, while Milan will take on Sao Paulo in the third-placed play-off after the other semi-final ended 2-0 in favour of the home team.

Milan attacker Kevin-Prince Boateng did not have any excuses for his side’s dreadful start against City.

“We knew they (City) have a lot of quality, we were sleeping at the beginning, we had heavy legs as well but these are not excuses,” Boateng said.

“We weren’t on the pitch for the first 25 minutes.”

Wed 31 July, 2013
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UEFA Champions League Wrap: Late penalty boosts Fenerbahce

A 95th-minute penalty put Fenerbahce in control of their UEFA Champions League third-round qualifying clash with Salzburg on Wednesday.

The Turkish club are controversial participants in this year’s competition, having gained an emergency ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport which allows them to continue fighting their two-year match-fixing ban.

Their Austrian opponents looked set to make that fact irrelevant, however, as they entered the dying moments of the teams’ first-leg tie 1-0 up after Alan had expertly chipped the goalkeeper following fine footwork from Kevin Kampl.

However, Fenerbahce were given a late lifeline when a controversial handball call in the box saw them awarded a penalty, and Cristian Baroni subsequently converted to put his side ahead on away goals.

Celtic were also forced to wait to carve out a 1-0 aggregate lead against Elfsborg, though their goal came with a relatively hefty 14 minutes of normal time remaining.

Kris Commons was the scorer, nodding home an in-swinging cross from Emilio Izaguirre to earn his side a narrow victory ahead of the return leg in Sweden.

Molde’s hopes of progressing to the group stages of Europe’s premier cup competition for the first time since the 1999-00 season hang by a thread following Wednesday’s meeting with Legia Warsaw, which ended 1-1.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men took the lead courtesy of Daniel Chima, but were pegged back by Vladimir Dvalishvili before Fredrik Gulbrandsen’s dismissal saw them hanging on in the final 15 minutes.

Partizan also had a man sent off in their first-leg fixture, with Milos Jojic receiving his marching orders as the Serbian club slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Ludogorets in Bulgaria.

Elsewhere, Marcos Tavares grabbed a priceless away goal for Maribor as they drew 1-1 with APOEL.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Eredivisie Preview: Ajax bid for fourth-straight title

Ajax will hope to get the defence of their Eredivisie title off to a comfortable start when they take on Roda JC at home on Friday.

Frank de Boer’s men cruised to their 32nd Dutch top flight success last term, but have never before enjoyed four consecutive league title wins.

They might be confident of changing that, however, as they host opponents who only escaped relegation last term courtesy of a play-off win over Sparta Rotterdam.

PSV Eindhoven will hope to prevent Ajax from achieving that feat, as they look to improve on last season’s second-placed finish under the guidance of newly-appointed manager Phillip Cocu.

Their opening game will not be easy, though, as they travel to take on an ADO Den Haag team who narrowly missed out on a European play-off spot last term.

Meanwhile, Feyenoord and PEC Zwolle, who finished one league position below PSV and ADO respectively last term, will go head to head at IJsseldelta Stadion.

Roda’s escape from relegation in 2012-13 meant that only two teams have arrived from the Eerste Divisie during the close-season – Cambuur and Go Ahead Eagles.

Cambuur begin their campaign with a home meeting with NAC Breda, while Go Ahead Eagles – who are under new management following the departure of Erik ten Hag – face a tough-looking trip to take on Utrecht.

Vitesse have been the recipients of two of the Eredivisie’s biggest transfer fees during the current window, and will begin life without Marco van Ginkel and last term’s top scorer Wilfried Bony at home to Heracles.

Elsewhere, Groningen travel to NEC Nijmegen, while their rivals Heerenveen host AZ on Saturday.

And FC Twente will begin their push to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish when they take on RKC Waalwijk at home.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Pre-Season Friendly: MK Dons 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0

MK Dons edged out a young Tottenham side 1-0 at Stadium MK on Wednesday thanks to a first-half Giorgio Rasulo goal.

A Spurs side made up largely of reserve players was missing star names like Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe as the senior side prepare to face Monaco on Saturday.

Tottenham began well with Kevin Stewart heading down at goal from a corner, only for Ian McLoughlin to collect, before Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford put a one-on-one effort wide for MK Dons after 12 minutes.

Ten minutes later, Cameron Lancaster wasted a good chance for the visitors, skying over from close range but eventually, after 34 minutes, the home side deservedly took the lead through Rasulo.

The 16-year-old took a through ball from Bamford well and, despite seeing his first effort saved by Jonathan Miles, he kept cool and dispatched the rebound to put MK Dons one up.

Shaquile Coulthirst should have made the scores level on the hour mark but failed to hit the target from the edge of the box, having been one-on-one with McLoughlin, something which Kelvin Osei-Addo almost punished him for five minutes later.

He was played in by Jon Otsemobor, but his effort was well saved by Jordan Archer before Tom Flanagan produced a goal-line header to keep the score at 1-0.

Tottenham piled on the pressure as the game approached full-time, with Kenny McEvoy having two good efforts on goal.

Coulthirst then hit the side netting with a minute remaining but the League One side held on to record a hard-fought victory.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Pre-Season Friendly: Walsall 0 Aston Villa 5

Aston Villa hit five goals for the second pre-season game running in a comfortable 5-0 win at Walsall on Wednesday.

Villa also went one better than last time out against Crewe by not conceding, as Fabian Delph, Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Jack Grealish and Gary Gardner all got on the scoresheet.

After a good start, Villa were not left waiting long for the breakthrough at the Bescot Stadium, with the visitors going ahead after just nine minutes through Delph.

The former Leeds United midfielder struck a well-hit drive from outside the area, giving Richard O’Donnell no chance in the hosts’ goal.

Graham Burke and Agbonlahor both went close for Paul Lambert’s side, who dominated much of the first 45 minutes, before they doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark.

Agbonlahor raced into the home side’s box and slipped the ball neatly past the goalkeeper to ensure the visitors were rewarded again for their pressure.

Benteke almost made it three but saw his effort clip the bar before half-time however, seven minutes into the second half, he got his goal.

The Belgian was on the end of an Andreas Weimann cross to put his side 3-0 up before Grealish scored his first senior goal for the club six minutes later.

Gardner then completed a convincing victory for Villa with a free-kick from 30 yards out.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Pre-Season Friendly: Bayern Munich 2 Sao Paulo 0

Bayern Munich exorcised the ghosts of their DFL-Super Cup defeat to Borussia Dortmund with a 2-0 win over Sao Paulo on Wednesday.

Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring with a simple finish early in the second half before youngster Mitchell Weiser extended the German side’s lead by following up after the ball had struck the post.

And, though Sao Paulo missed the chance to grab a late consolation as goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni failed to convert a penalty, Bayern’s place in the final of the Audi Cup friendly tournament alongside Manchester City had already been clinched.

Pep Guardiola had been without Franck Ribery and Manuel Neuer for the loss to Dortmund, but returned both to his starting line-up following their recovery from slight injuries.

And Bayern started all the better for it, as they controlled possession in the opening stages against a helpless Sao Paulo.

The hosts soon almost had reward for their utter domination of the ball, but veteran Ceni proved equal to Arjen Robben’s volley from the edge of the box.

Claudio Pizarro was also denied shortly after when his side-footed effort from close range was somehow cleared off the line.

That masterful piece of defending would ensure the teams went in at half-time level, but it did not take long for Bayern to find a breakthrough courtesy of substitute Mandzukic early in the second.

The Croatian striker failed to convert from a Robben cross moments after his arrival, but did not make the same mistake twice as he swept home the Dutchman’s next in-swinging ball from wide at the far post.

Bayern’s superiority looked unlikely to reap further dividends as the match meandered to a close, but they would finally grab a second in the 87th minute.

Weiser continued his run into the box after Xherdan Shaqiri had struck from distance and was the lucky recipient of a rebound off the woodwork that he could hardly miss.

There was still time for more drama, however, with Sao Paulo receiving a penalty for a push in the Bayern box late on.

But Ceni could only hit the post as his German counterpart Neuer produced a wonderful stop down low to his left to keep the score at 2-0.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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International Champions Cup Preview: Chelsea v Inter

Inter striker Ishak Belfodil has conceded his side may not be as well prepared as Chelsea for their International Champions Cup clash.

The two sides will meet in Indianapolis on Thursday in their first match of the eight-team tournament, with Chelsea likely to benefit from being much deeper into their preparations for the new season.

Jose Mourinho’s side have already taken in a tour of Asia, while Inter have played just two fixtures since returning to training and although Belfodil knows his side will face a tough test against the Premier League club, he is excited by the challenge.

“It’s a great feeling for me,” the 21-year-old told the club’s official website.

“I had never been to America before and now we’re taking part in a prestigious tournament.

“As soon as we arrived we performed a light workout, and now the following day the work has become more intense to prepare for the match against Chelsea.

“We know Chelsea are a great team and that they’re a bit ahead of us in terms of preparation, but we’ll give our all.”

The young forward signed for the Serie A club from Parma, for whom he scored eight goals in 33 league appearances last season.

However, he will likely face a difficult task against Chelsea, who have named a strong 25-man squad for the tournament, including experienced defenders Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Ashley Cole.

The Londoners have also welcomed their Spanish and Brazilian contingency back into the ranks after the FIFA Confederations Cup, so David Luiz and Juan Mata are likely to be in action.

The winner of the fixture will face Milan in New York on Sunday, after they beat Valencia 2-1 to earn their second-round berth.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Pre-Season Friendly: Milan 3 Manchester City 5

Edin Dzeko scored a double as Manchester City beat Milan 5-3 in a thrilling pre-season friendly on Wednesday.

New signings Jesus Navas, Fernandinho and Stevan Jovetic all featured in new City boss Manuel Pellegrini’s starting XI for the Audi Cup game in Munich, while Stephan El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng were included for Milan.

However, Dzeko had the biggest impact on the match as he netted a brace to help City into a five-goal lead inside 35 minutes before Milan hit back to score three times before half-time.

It took City just three minutes to take the lead, David Silva tapping in from close range after Jovetic had guided Navas’ deep right-wing cross into his path.

Pellegrini’s men almost doubled their advantage four minutes later, but Montenegrin international Jovetic could only fire wide of the far post from a tight angle after Milan’s Kevin Constant had needlessly surrendered possession.

Nevertheless, City continued to dictate proceedings and deservedly increased their lead just before the 20-minute mark. Defender Micah Richards prodded home the rebound after his initial shot was well saved by Marco Amelia.

Milan’s defence were finding the Premier League side’s vibrant attack difficult to handle, and just two minutes later they were three goals down. Jovetic again pulled the strings by playing in Aleksandr Kolarov, who powered a left-footed effort into the bottom corner.

And the gap in quality and match-sharpness was again evident as Dzeko bagged his quickfire brace. The 27-year-old first converted a cross from Navas at the back post before then scoring the goal of the game by controlling a chipped pass from captain Yaya Toure before firing home a superb volley.

The Serie A side then rallied to restore some pride, with El Shaarawy twice beating Joe Hart in the space of three minutes before Andrea Petagna delicately steered the ball under the England international goalkeeper to give them hope of an unlikely comeback.

However, the scoring stopped there as both teams made wholesale changes during the second period. New recruit Alvaro Negredo, Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry were among those thrown into the fray for City, while M’Baye Niang and Urby Emanuelson were introduced for Milan.

France international Nasri almost increased City’s lead but could only curl wide of an empty net after an error from substitute Milan goalkeeper Gabriel, while El Shaarawy and Kevin-Prince Boateng both wasted chances to reduce the deficit at the other end.

The two sides then traded chances through Javi Garcia and Andrea Poli, but the game petered out meaning City will face either hosts Bayern Munich or Sao Paulo in the Audi Cup final on Thursday.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Fulham weighing up third Bent bid

Fulham are considering making a third bid for Darren Bent, after seeing their second offer rejected by Aston Villa, the Guardian understands.

The London club, who were recently taken over by billionaire Shahid Khan, bid £4m for the England international at the weekend, and will now return with an improved offer closer to the £6m the Midlands club are holding out for.

Bent moved to Villa Park for a club record fee two and a half years ago, though he made just eight starts in the Premier League last season, with manager Paul Lambert opting to deploy Belgium international Christian Benteke as a lone striker.

The 29 year old has also strongly been linked with a move to Newcastle United. Where he would once again link with up with manager Alan Pardew, who he worked with for the final six months of his two-year spell with Charlton Athletic, before moving to Tottenham Hotspur.

Bent has also played for Ipswich Town and Sunderland amassing 103 Premier League goals in his career so far, a record bettered by only five other players who are yet to retire.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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