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
00004000
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
RSS Feed

El Shaarawy sustains fractured foot

Milan striker Stephan El Shaarawy is set for a further spell on the sidelines after suffering a fractured foot.

The Italy international has made four appearances so far this season, scoring one goal, and has struggled in recent times with a thigh strain, his last outing for the club coming in the 3-1 win over Cagliari on September 1.

El Shaarawy had been due to make his return to the side for their UEFA Champions League clash with Ajax on Tuesday, but he will now miss out after sustaining a hairline fracture in his left foot.

Milan have not revealed how long the 20-year-old will be unavailable for, although there is some good news for manager Massimiliano Allegri, with midfielder Ricardo Montolivo poised to make his comeback.

The former Fiorentina man has not played since the 2-2 draw with Torino on September 14 because of a thigh problem, but has been named in the squad for the trip to the Netherlands.

Milan head into the game at the Amsterdam Arena having ended a three game winless streak in Serie A with a 1-0 success over Sampdoria on Saturday.

Allegri’s men were 2-0 victors over Celtic in their opening match of the Champions League, an own-goal from Emilio Izaguirre and a Sulley Muntari strike giving them the points.

They meet an Ajax side dismantled 4-0 by Barcelona in their first game and, despite the absence of El Shaarawy, Allegri will know they can put themselves in a strong position to qualify from the group with a win.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

AFC Champions League Preview: Guangzhou Evergrande v Kashiwa Reysol

Kashiwa Reysol coach Nelsinho Baptista has refused to give up hope of reaching the final of the AFC Champions League final.

The Japanese side were beaten 4-1 by Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg of their semi-final and face an uphill task in the second leg on Wednesday.

Reysol are without a win in their last five games in all competitions, while Evergrande have lost just once in the Chinese Super League this season.

However, Baptista believes his side can overcome the first-leg deficit and keep their hopes of winning the competition alive.

“I know the return leg will be a difficult one for us, but I also think that we still have the possibility to go to the next round,” he told the AFC’s website.

“I’ve seen some cases when a team has turned around the situation for their favour in a similar situation. Bearing that in our mind, we will prepare for our return leg.

“We are learning in the AFC Champions League. We reached the last 16 last year when we first played in the tournament and are now competing in the semi-finals and still have a chance to advance to the next round as we have the remaining half of this tie.”

Evergrande are on the verge of their third consecutive CSL title after their 4-0 win over Hangzhou on Saturday.

As well as conceding just seven goals in the Champions League this season, Lippi’s side are in prolific form at the other end of the pitch, having scored 12 times in their past three games in all competitions.

Four of those goals came in the second half against Reysol, but the former Italy boss is not taking anything for granted as he looks to ensure his team are the competition’s first Chinese finalists since Dalian Wanda in 1998.

“I don’t think we have got (a place in the final) yet,” the FIFA World Cup-winning coach said.

“I’m 64 years old this year and have been in the coaching business for 30 years, and from that experience I can tell that you that you never know what will happen next in football.

“Reysol have ability and were a tough side to play this time.”

The winners of the tie will meet either Esteghlal or Seoul in the final, with the South Korean side taking a 2-0 advantage into Wednesday’s second leg.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

Ball to remain in charge of Sunderland for United visit

Sunderland have confirmed that interim head coach Kevin Ball will remain in charge for Saturday’s home game against Manchester United.

Ball, who took over on a temporary basis following the departure of Paolo Di Canio just over a week ago, oversaw Sunday’s 3-1 Premier League defeat against Liverpool.

The Stadium of Light outfit currently prop up the Premier League having taken just one point from the opening six games, although Sunderland did show signs of improvement in producing a spirited performance against Liverpool.

Ball will be looking to build on that showing this weekend against champions United, who themselves head into the game in poor form following consecutive league defeats to Manchester City and West Brom.

Sunderland parted company with Di Canio on the back of their 3-0 loss at West Brom nine days ago, the Italian leaving the club after a mere 13 games at the helm.

The club are in no rush to appoint his successor, though, with chief executive Margaret Byrne revealing that there is “no definitive timescale” in the process to find the next first-team manager.

Gustavo Poyet is one of the candidates reportedly in the frame. The Uruguayan has been out of work since leaving Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion, who he guided to the play-off semi-final last season.

Former Manchester United assistant manager Rene Meulensteen has also been linked with the position, while former Sunderland player Ball has refused to rule himself out of the running.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

Lennon targets Barcelona ´containment´

Celtic’s focus against Barcelona will be “containment” when the sides meet in the UEFA Champions League, boss Neil Lennon has admitted.

Barca have a perfect record in La Liga this season, scoring 24 goals in their seven wins from seven games, and also put four past Ajax without reply in their Champions League opener.

And while the Scottish champions recorded a famous 2-1 victory over Tuesday’s opponents in last season’s competition, Lennon believes his side have a tough task on their hands to stop Gerardo Martino’s men scoring at Celtic Park this time around.

“It will be, at times, containment. Limit them to as few chances as we possibly can,” he admitted.

“They’re not like any other team. Barcelona, in my personal opinion, are a class above, and have been consistently the best club side for 10 years now.

“Barcelona don’t change their system, their style of play and that is what they believe in. When they get the ball in the final third, the speed of the ball is phenomenal at times.”

Celtic opened their Champions League campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Milan, but their hopes of causing another upset against Barca have been boosted by the absence of Lionel Messi.

Lennon believes his side need to start picking up points in the competition sooner rather than later, and feels the Spanish champions will still pose a significant threat, even without the Argentina international.

“If we don’t prevail in this game, and Milan beat Ajax it will be increasingly difficult (to progress). But it won’t be the end of the world if we don’t win with the Ajax double header and Milan still to come here.

“Like last year we didn’t budget for anything out of the Barcelona games, but if we do get something it would be huge going forward.

“(Messi’s absence) is obviously very good news for us because for me he is the best player in the world. But it is also tinged with sadness as it is always good to see the best players here in Glasgow.”

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

Can Everton’s good start to the season continue against Newcastle?

Everton boss Roberto Martinez will be looking for his side continue their good start to the season with a win against Newcastle

Everton boss Roberto Martinez will be looking for his side continue their good start to the season with a win against Newcastle

Everton have made a decent start to the Premier League campaign and are the only club in the top-flight with an unbeaten record.

The Toffees started the season off slowly with three draws, before wins against Chelsea and West Ham.

The Toffees face a home game with Newcastle on Monday night, as they put that unbeaten run to the test.

Adapting

The Everton players are starting to adapt to how boss Roberto Martinez wants his team to play.

Everton under former-boss David Moyes could be direct at times, but were far from a long ball team, as they played some really attractive football under the Scot, especially last season.

However, Martinez’s philosophy on football is different from that of his predecessor. Martinez likes his teams to play possession football and push high-up the pitch, similar to the style of play that was made famous by Spanish giants Barcelona.

The Everton players have bought into Martinez’s philosophy pretty quickly. In most of their Premier League games Everton have bossed possession and looked comfortable, with the Chelsea game being the one exception.

Goals

Everton have had a problem scoring goals this season, with just six goals scored in the top-flight this season. Martinez moved to solve that problem with the deadline day loan signing of Chelsea youngster Romelu Lukaku.

The youngster made an instant impact on his Toffees debut, coming off the substitute’s bench to score the winner against West Ham in Everton’s last top-flight game.

As many people have pointed out the young Belgium international is not the finished article and is still very raw. However, the 20-year-old has all the attributes to be a top-class striker in the future. He is big, strong and quick, all ideal attributes to have in the Premier League.

The experience the youngster gained while on-loan at West Brom last season has saw Lukaku become a better player. While with the Baggies he scored 17 goals in the top-flight. It was an impressive total for any striker playing in a midtable team.

His performances were that impressive that most Chelsea fans thought he may be given a chance for the Blues this season. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho decided that he was not ready and decided that another season on-loan at a Premier League club would probably benefit his development.

Everton are arguably a better team than West Brom were last season and Lukaku has admitted he feels like he has made a step forward in his career. The youngster will be hoping to again be amongst the goals for the Toffees and prove he is good enough for Chelsea’s first-team for next season.

Contrasting fortunes

Everton and Newcastle experienced mixed fortunes in midweek Capital One Cup action. Everton were defeated 2-1 Fulham, despite dominating the first half action. Newcastle though claimed a 2-0 victory over Championship side Leeds.

The Magpies fans will be hoping that the win will boost morale in the camp, after last weekend’s shock 3-2 home defeat to Hull in the Premier League. Everton’s game last weekend also ended in a 3-2, but in the Toffees favour.

Martinez’s side will be looking to get that Capital One Cup defeat out of their system as quickly as they can with maximum points against the north east visitors. This will be a real test of Martinez’s new regime at Goodison Park.

Everton did field an under-strength side at Craven Cottage, so most people will expect Everton to perform far better with a near full-strength side out against the Magpies.

Ambitious

Roberto Martinez has never hidden the fact that he has big ambitions for his new club. When he arrived the Spaniard stated that he wanted to take Everton into the Champions League, and some laughed, even suggesting that he had got the Champions League mixed-up with the Championship.

However, even though it is early in the season the signs are positive that Martinez could help the team really progress in the near future. There were suggestions that Everton would fall apart when David Moyes left for Manchester United.

Those prophets of doom seem to be way off the mark though, as Martinez seems to have made a better impression on his new fans than his predecessor has at his new club.

Top four

A win for Everton could move the Toffees into fourth place. The possibility of the Toffees still being in the top four in May looks unlikely, but the topsy-turvy nature of the campaign so far, you just never know.

Can Everton’s good start to the season continue against Newcastle?

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

UEFA Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain v Benfica

Paris Saint-Germain host Benfica in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League encounter with both sides bidding to go clear at the top of Group C.

On matchday one, PSG thumped Olympiacos 4-1 in Greece and Benfica sealed a comfortable 2-0 success at home to Anderlecht, so a win for either side will open up a three-point gap and edge them closer to the knockout stages.

Last season saw PSG eliminated in the quarter-finals by Barcelona on away goals, while Benfica came third in a group containing the Spanish giants and Celtic before going on a run to the UEFA Europa League final, where they were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea.

The two sides last met two years ago in the Europa League round of 16 in 2010-11, with Benfica winning 3-2 on aggregate.

The only other meetings between the teams came in the same round of the same competition in 2007, and again the Portuguese outfit came out on top, overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit with a 3-1 victory in Lisbon.

PSG have never lost a home fixture to Portuguese opposition, winning four and drawing two, and Laurent Blanc’s side come into the game full of confidence having yet to taste defeat in Ligue 1 this season.

As reigning French champions, PSG are currently only denied top spot by Monaco on goal difference, having taken five wins and three draws from their opening eight fixtures, conceding just four goals in the process. PSG defeated Toulouse 2-0 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes, with goals from Marquinhos and Edinson Cavani.

Blanc will be without talismanic defender Thiago Silva, who pulled up with a hamstring injury during the 1-1 draw with Monaco earlier this month and is facing six weeks out of action.

Benfica, two-time European champions, have a good recent record against French opposition, with last season’s 3-2 victory in Bordeaux in the Europa League making it four wins in their last five games against Ligue 1 sides.

Domestically, Benfica find themselves five points adrift of leaders Porto after losing further ground at the weekend following a 1-1 home draw with Belenenses.

Bruno Cortez and Nicolas Gaitan both returned from injury in that game so manager Jorge Jesus will have them available as Benfica look to emulate Bayern Munich’s feat in 2012 by reaching the Champions League final in their own stadium.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

UEFA Champions League Preview: Juventus v Galatasaray

Managerless Galatasaray will aim to bounce back from their 6-1 loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League when they visit Juventus.

Fatih Terim paid the price for a poor start to the season that has yielded just one win in five league matches, as well as the disappointing showing against Real in front of their home supporters.

The Super Lig champions were outclassed by the Spanish giants in the Group B opener, with Cristiano Ronaldo once more stealing the show with a second-half hat-trick in the comfortable rout.

Roberto Mancini is widely expected to take control at the Turk Telecom Arena, with the Turkish outfit confirming on Sunday that they were in talks with the Italian.

The 48-year-old has been out of work since parting company with Manchester City in May.

Galatasaray head into the fixture at the Juventus Stadium on Wednesday on the back of a 1-1 draw at home to Rizespor. Engin Baytor opened the scoring, but Tevfik Kose levelled in the second half before Slcuk Inan saw red.

Midfielder Hamit Altintop continues to be plagued by a hip injury and is likely to miss the visit to Turin.

Reigning Serie A champions Juventus will be desperate to claim a maximum haul after a disappointing 1-1 draw away to Copenhagen in their opening fixture.

Antonio Conte’s team are in good form ahead of Wednesday’s showdown, and are on an eight game unbeaten run in all competitions.

They will look to build on the momentum from their 1-0 victory over rivals Torino at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, with Paul Pogba’s second-half header securing the points.

The France international has now set his sights on the Champions League, and said the side are itching to atone for their surprise draw against Copenhagen.

Speaking to Tuttosport , he said: “We know it will be an important match for us, we have to win it and we know it won’t be easy.

“I don’t know if it will be decisive for qualification, but after the draw with Copenhagen we all want to win.”

Juventus could be without influential striker Carlos Tevez after he picked up an ankle injury against Torino following a robust challenge from Ciro Immobile.

The Argentinian has notched three times in the league for the Turin outfit since his transfer-window move from Manchester City.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

West Brom keen to keep Amalfitano

The Mirror understands that West Bromwich Albion are keen to secure a permanent deal for Morgan Amalfitano, following his goal-scoring exploits at Old Trafford last weekend.

The midfielder was brought in on loan from Ligue 1 side Marseille on transfer deadline day, and he has netted in two of his three league games with the Baggies so far.

The one-time France international will remain at the Hawthorns for the remainder of the season, and Steve Clarke has first refusal on the player should the former Chelsea defender want to extend his stay.

After no goals in their opening three games saw West Brom stuck to the bottom of the table, back to back wins against Sunderland and champions Manchester United have lifted them into the top half of the table.

They host table toppers Arsenal on Sunday and the West Midlands side are generously priced at 16/5 to take all three points.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed

Injured Hazard to miss Steaua clash

Chelsea attacking midfielder Eden Hazard will miss Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Steaua Bucharest through injury.

Hazard, who signed from Lille in June 2012, has played in every league match for Chelsea so far this season and also featured in their opening Champions League clash, a 2-1 defeat to Basel at Stamford Bridge.

However, the Belgium international will be unavailable as Jose Mourinho’s men look to atone for that setback, with an ankle injury ruling him out of the trip to the Romanian capital.

The 22-year-old reportedly suffered the knock in a challenge with Kyle Walker during Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw with Tottenham.

He joins midfielder Marco van Ginkel – who is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines following knee ligament surgery – in the treatment room.

Still, Hazard is not anticipated to be out for long, and will likely return for their game with Norwich City on Sunday.

Recent signing Willian could well come into the side in Hazard’s absence, with the Brazilian having made just two appearances since his move from Anzhi Makhachkala in August.

Chelsea will have designs on improving on their last result at Bucharest’s National Arena, which came in the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League in March, when the hosts triumphed 1-0.

The London club ultimately overturned that deficit with a 3-1 victory at home, before going on to win the competition, and they should be favourites for this meeting as they aim to get their European campaign back on track.

Mon 30 September, 2013
RSS Feed