Fabregas fired up to fill Messi void at Celtic Park

Cesc Fabregas is ready to help fill the void left by the injured Lionel Messi when Barcelona face Celtic in the UEFA Champions League.

Tuesday’s Group H clash at Celtic Park represents the first game that Barca will be without talisman Messi since he hobbled out of the 2-0 victory away to Almeria on Saturday with a hamstring problem that will sideline him for between two and three weeks.

Messi has scored 62 goals in 80 Champions League appearances and netted a hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Ajax on matchday one earlier in the month.

Fabregas, though, is confident Barca can cope without the 26-year-old superstar and has backed himself and the likes of Neymar to come to the fore against Scottish champions Celtic, who recorded a memorable 2-1 win over the Spanish giants in the group stages of last season’s competition.

“Messi is the best player in the world, he makes a difference, but he won’t play (against Celtic). We can’t do anything about that,” said the former Arsenal midfielder.

“Without Messi, we will all have to take more responsibility. We have to step up, don’t feel his absence and play football without him.

“I might have more offensive responsibilities. I will try and help the team as a striker or whatever other position I play.

“Now I feel confident, in good shape and the manager trusts me. I am in a good moment. Maybe I need to be more consistent.”

On Neymar, who has scored three goals in nine appearances in all competitions since joining Barca from Santos in May, Fabregas added: “We need him (against Celtic) and I think he’s ready.

“Mentally he’s very strong, pressure doesn’t seem to affect him, he has clear ideas.

“Neymar is a star in the making, he’ll be important in football, everything is in his hands. He can be one of the greatest.”

Fabregas came off the bench in Barca’s 2-1 humbling at Celtic last November, with the 26-year-old Spain international keen to ensure history does not repeat itself two seasons running as a hostile atmosphere awaits the Liga champions.

He said: “We’ve learned our lesson from last year.

“They had two chances and scored two goals. It could be a very similar game to last year, especially as it was successful for them.

“We are not upset about last year, we played a good game but must not give the ball away, maximise our chances and score goals.

“If you follow the Champions League you know coming to Celtic Park will always be a tough game.

“I played here with Arsenal as well and it is difficult. They (the Celtic fans) are always behind their team. They take a corner and it feels like a goal.”

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Galatasaray confirm Mancini appointment

Galatasaray have announced the appointment of Roberto Mancini as their new manager on a three-year contract.

Mancini, who was sacked by Manchester City in May, replaces Fatih Terim after the Turkey national team manager was relieved of his duties last week.

The Italian takes charge at the Turk Telecom Arena with Galatasaray in mid-table after claiming just one win from five games in the Super Lig so far this season to leave them eight points adrift of rivals and leaders Fenerbahce.

Galatasaray opened their UEFA Champions League campaign in similarly dismal fashion, losing 6-1 to Real Madrid in their first encounter.

Mancini – who guided City to one Premier League title and one FA Cup crown during his time at the Etihad Stadium – will hope to help his side bounce back from that defeat, with his first game in charge coming at Juventus on Wednesday.

A statement on the club’s official website read: “Galatasaray Sports Club and Roberto Mancini have signed a contract for three years starting from the 2013-2014 football season.”

The defending Turkish champions become the fifth club Mancini has managed during his career, with spells at Fiorentina, Lazio and Inter preceding his stint at City.

Mancini enjoyed great success at Inter, winning the Serie A title three times between 2005 and 2008.

He then went on to lead City to their first league crown in 44 years in the 2011-12 campaign, but was dismissed after failing to replicate that feat the following term.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Arshavin knows little about Austria Vienna

Andrey Arshavin knows little about Zenit St Petersburg’s next UEFA Champions League opponents Austria Vienna as he has never seen them play.

Both teams head into Tuesday’s game in Russia looking to secure their first points in Group G after Zenit and Austria lost against Atletico Madrid and Porto respectively on matchday one.

And Arshavin concedes he is unsure what threat Vienna will pose Luciano Spalletti’s men as his knowledge of the Austrian champions and the standard of football in their country’s top flight is non-existent.

“I wouldn’t like to compare Austria to our previous opponents for one simple reason – I’ve never seen them play before, and I’ve never seen an Austrian league match either,” the former Arsenal attacker said.

“So I’ll refrain from commenting.

“We’ll see everything on the pitch.”

Spalletti’s side currently top the Russian Premier League after going nine games without domestic defeat.

Zenit scored two goals in the last 10 minutes to defeat title rivals Spartak Moscow 4-2 at the Stadion Petrovskij on Saturday and take a three-point lead in the league.

And attention now turns to getting their Champions League group campaign up and running.

The 32-year-old added: “Naturally we are motivated. This is the Champions League.

“We all play in the Russian League in order to make it to the Champions League tournaments the following year.

“And that’s why we went through qualification this year. In terms of our physical shape, everything is all right too. Zenit will be very strong.”

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Mourinho storms out of press conference

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has walked out of his pre-match press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League game with Steaua Bucharest.

Mourinho was angered by questions surrounding the absence of Belgian attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who did not travel to the Romanian capital after being left out of the squad.

The Portuguese’s decision to leave Spanish playmaker Juan Mata out of a number of games this term has come under much scrutiny, although the 25-year-old is in line to start on Tuesday after setting up the equaliser in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham last Saturday.

Former Inter and Real Madrid manager Mourinho – in his second stint with Chelsea – has clearly grown tired of questions over his decisions, though, as the 50-year-old responded irritably following enquiries as to why De Bruyne has been omitted.

“This is fantastic because no one asks me about (Juan) Mata. You have spoken about Mata for three weeks. Now you’re asking about Kevin,” he said.

“You are interested in the players who are not playing. He was not selected. It was my decision. Only 11 can play and I tried to decide, by what they do on the pitch when they play and in training.

“I try to be honest all the time. I was honest with Juan because of what he’s done in training and what he’s done in the game he played, and so he plays.

“With Kevin I didn’t like the match he played against Swindon (in the League Cup), and I didn’t like the way he was training.

“But you only ask about the guys who were not selected. Thank you.”

Mourinho then promptly left the room and will hope his players do the talking for him at the Arena Nationala as they look to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat to Basel in their opening Champions League fixture.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Cavani eager to work on Ibrahimovic ´connection´

Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani feels his strike partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still needs work, despite early signs of promise.

Cavani signed for PSG from Napoli in July for a fee believed to be in the region of €64million, and his switch raised questions over his ability to play up front in tandem with Ibrahimovic.

Those doubts have been allayed somewhat in recent weeks, with the pair scoring seven goals between them so far this term, while Ibrahimovic supplied Cavani for the winner in their 1-0 success at Valenciennes last Wednesday.

Cavani again found the net in the 2-0 victory over Toulouse on Saturday, but the 26-year-old believes both he and Ibrahimovic have room for improvement.

“On a certain level, there’s a connection between us that comes much more easily than with other players,” Cavani told beIN Sport.

“I think we just need to work on it a bit harder. We haven’t been playing together for very long, and we haven’t had the proper preparation.

“Still, we’ve proven that there is a connection between us, even though we will need to prepare more thoroughly in order to get better results.”

Cavani is likely to start in PSG’s UEFA Champions League clash with Benfica on Wednesday.

And after netting in their 4-1 win at Olympiacos last time out, he is eager to help the Ligue 1 champions better their performance from last term – when they reached the quarter-finals – and secure European glory.

“Winning the Champions League is a dream for any footballer,” the Uruguay international added.

“You grow as a footballer and as a man when you play internationally. One of my personal objectives is to one day be able to get my hands on that trophy.”

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Fonseca eager for home comforts

Paulo Fonseca believes his Porto side must take full advantage of their home games to qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout stages.

The Portuguese champions host an in-form Atletico Madrid side at the Estadio do Dragao on Tuesday, with the Spanish team boasting a 100 per cent domestic record this term.

While Porto got their European campaign up and running with an away win over Austria Vienna, Fonseca maintains the results from their next two home games against Atletico and Zenit St Petersburg will be vital in their quest to progress.

“We know the importance of home games. It is important for us to have a good record here and that means winning the two meetings,” he said.

Atletico maintained their perfect start to the Liga season with a 1-0 derby win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday.

And Fonseca believes Atletico’s domestic form, coupled with their win over Zenit in their Champions League opener, makes Diego Simeone’s side tough opposition.

“We will face a very strong team, moralised in the light of recent results. We know the difficulties,” he continued.

“All games are tests and have their degree of difficulty. We know we will face a very strong team. We will face difficulties that we have not had in our league.”

However, defender Nicolas Otamendi feels that while Atletico are in good form, his team-mates can hold their own against them.

“Atletico Madrid is fighting with Real Madrid and Barcelona for the lead in Spain, but we are in the lead here in Portugal,” he said.

“We will do anything to avoid conceding goals; from there, from the midfield to the attack, we want to have a good performance.

“At Estadio do Dragao, we will have to have a good game. Each team has its own style of play and we, because we play at home, feel the pressure to win the match, to have a good performance and to be well tactically.”

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Derby appoint Steve McClaren as new head coach

Derby County have confirmed Steve McClaren as their new head coach just two days after sacking Nigel Clough.

McClaren has agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Championship club that sees him return to Pride Park 14 years after leaving to join Manchester United as Alex Ferguson’s assistant.

In his previous spell at the club, McClaren assisted Jim Smith as they won promotion to the Premier League.

After his two-year stint at Old Trafford, McClaren went on to manage Middlesbrough, Twente, Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and England.

That experience is what attracted Derby president and chief executive Sam Rush to McClaren, and he is eager for him to get started.

“We are thrilled to announce Steve McClaren as our new head coach,” he said. “Our goal is to have Derby County competing for a play-off place and beyond, and we feel with Steve and his team at the helm, we have a great opportunity to do so.

“Steve is a highly-qualified coach with all the skill-sets required to be a success here at Pride Park.

“He also has a network of contacts both on a European and global scale, and has also proved in the past that he can identify talent and develop it on the training ground.

“Steve was a driving force behind the club’s promotion under Jim Smith in the 1990s and you only have to look at his CV to discover what a hugely-talented coach he is.

“We are very much looking forward to letting Steve get on with the job in hand and helping Derby County move in the right direction.”

The 52-year-old arrives after Clough was sacked following their 1-0 defeat to fierce rivals Forest at the City Ground on Saturday.

Clough had spent over four years at the club but was not deemed able to take them to the next level by the owners.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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AFC Champions League Preview: Esteghlal v Seoul

Seoul look to complete the job they started in the first leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final when they take a 2-0 lead to Esteghlal.

The reigning K-League champions were frustrated in the early stages of the game at the Seoul World Cup Stadium last Wednesday.

But Montenegrin forward Dejan Damjanovic finally broke the Iranian outfit’s stubborn resistance in the 39th minute. And Seoul put one foot in the final shortly after half-time when Yo-Han Ko doubled their advantage.

Damjanovic has been highly influential in the side’s run in the 2013 Champions League and scored in both legs of the club’s 2-1 aggregate victory over Al Ahli in the quarter-final.

The 32-year-old will once again lead the line in attack and could be pivotal if the team are to hold out to reach the final for only the second time, the club’s first appearance coming in 2001-02 as the Anyang Cheetahs.

The 2-0 win in the first leg has left Choi Yong-soo’s side in a strong position to challenge for their first Champions League title, and it would mark the first time they have made the final in its current guise.

Iranian champions Esteghlal are looking to win the tournament for the first time since the format was revised for the 2002-2003 season – they won twice in previous formats – but face an uphill battle to reverse the tie at the Azadi Stadium.

Esteghlal have been blighted by a series of inconsistent performances this season, having won five and lost three of their nine matches in the Persian Gulf Cup.

They are currently 10 points adrift of leaders Foolad, although they do have two games in hand over all the sides above them in the league.

Strikers Farhad Majidi and Arash Borhani drew blanks in the first leg, but – having netted three goals apiece in the competition thus far – will be vital in attempting to reverse Esteghlal’s fortunes.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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Leeds look set to miss out on Becchio, Gnabry

Brian McDermott concedes Leeds United’s attempts to sign Norwich City’s Luciano Becchio and Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry on loan look set to fail.

The Yorkshire club are keen to lure striker Becchio back to Elland Road as well as add some midfield creativity courtesy of youngster Gnabry, who scored his first senior goal for Arsenal in only his third Premier League appearance during a 2-1 win at Swansea City on Saturday.

Leeds are currently 15th in the Championship and have lost four of their last five league games, a run that has prompted McDermott to go in search of new recruits in the loan market.

He told the club’s official website: “I made an enquiry to (Norwich manager) Chris Hughton regarding Luciano Becchio and he wasn’t available. Will it change? Who knows? Things do.

“I made an enquiry for a couple of young players at Arsenal as well – Gnabry who scored their first goal on Saturday was one of them.

“I wouldn’t think they will let him out now.”

Becchio left Leeds for Carrow Road back in January following a five-year spell that saw him make over 200 appearances for the club. The 29-year-old forward is yet to feature in the Premier League this term.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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De Boer wary of Balotelli threat

Ajax boss Frank de Boer has identified striker Mario Balotelli as Milan’s biggest threat ahead of the sides’ UEFA Champions League encounter.

Between them, the two clubs have won Europe’s premier club competition on 11 occasions and they meet at the Amsterdam Arena on Tuesday.

De Boer, whose men were beaten 4-0 by Barcelona in their opening game, feels that the Italian striker could make all the difference for the Milan.

Balotelli has three goals in four Serie A games this season and the former Netherlands international likened him to Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.

“Messi is a player that can decide a match and with Balotelli it’s the same,” De Boer said.

“Balotelli is a fantastic player and next to him are players who can also make the difference. Milan have three very strong forwards and and a good midfield.”

Despite their defeat at the hands of the Spanish champions, De Boer backed his side to pose a threat against Massimiliano Allegri’s men.

“I am positive, I think that if we remain focused for 90 minutes we can get a good result here,” said De Boer.

“We will go into the match with a positive attitude. We do not have a team that can hang back and play on the counter but they do.

“The most important thing is that we try to take three points.”

Ajax come into the game off the back of mixed domestic form, having followed up their defeat against Barcelona with a 4-0 loss to PSV Eindhoven.

The Eredivisie champions then edged Volendam 4-2 in the KNVB Cup before seeing off Go Ahead Eagles 6-0 on Saturday.

Mon 30 September, 2013
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