Costa: 2013 is a tough act to follow

Villarreal defender Jaume Costa admits it will be tough to replicate the club’s stunning 2013 in the new year.

Marcelino’s side were promoted to La Liga ahead of this season and have made an excellent start to life in Spain’s top flight.

Villarreal currently sit sixth in the table at the mid-season break thanks in the main to a defence that is third-best in the division behind the top two, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Costa has made 14 appearances for Villarreal this season but acknowledges 2014 might not be as good for the club – despite being upbeat about the future.

“Being at the level of this year is going to be tricky,” Costa said.

“But we know we have to perform like that if we’re going to do well.

“Every year in football is different and every game is different. But we want to be even better in 2014.

“We have shown that we are a competitive team, but everyone is confident that we can go up another level.”

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Napoli chief De Laurentiis takes swipe at Mazzarri

Aurelio De Laurentiis has taken a swipe at former Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, hailing the progress made under incumbent Rafael Benitez.

Mazzarri left the Stadio San Paolo in May to take up the top job at Inter, having led Napoli to second place in Serie A and a subsequent return to the UEFA Champions League.

Napoli are third in the league in the mid-season break, but have accrued three more points than after 17 games last term, have a better goal difference and are five-points ahead of Mazzarri’s new club.

Benitez’s side were also cruelly denied a spot in the Champions League knockout round, missing out only on goal difference after picking up 12 points in a group including Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund.

And De Laurentiis is delighted with the strides his team have made under the Spaniard, pouring scorn on bigger sides who he believes are underachieving.

He told Radio Kiss Kiss: “I have nothing against those who gave a great deal to Napoli, but we wanted an international choice and a coach capable of giving our football an identity like the most important clubs in the world, with a complex 4-2-3-1 system.

“Don’t forget we have three more points this season than we did last year, even though we also had to play the Champions League. Last term we abdicated the Europa League in order to dedicate our focus on Serie A.

“Our objective is to keep reinforcing Napoli with Benitez and give him time to reap what he sows.

“No offence, but I don’t see other more prestigious clubs doing that well.”

Napoli will hope to reel in Juventus and Roma at the top of the table when they resume their Serie A campaign at home to Sampdoria on Monday.

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Real match will be good preparation, says Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hopes that Paris Saint-Germain’s friendly with Real Madrid will be good preparation for the second half of the season.

PSG face Real, who are managed by their former coach Carlo Ancelotti, in Doha on Thursday as the defending Ligue 1 champions prepare to return to competitive action.

Laurent Blanc’s men face Brest in the Coupe de France on January 5 before taking on Ajaccio in the league on January 11.

The French capital club are three points ahead of Monaco in their quest to retain the title, and Ibrahimovic is hoping to start 2014 with a win as PSG eye further glory in both domestic and European competition.

“It is a big match between two great teams,” the Swede, who has scored 23 goals for PSG in all competitions this season, said.

“It’s a great contest here in Doha and I hope it will help us prepare for 2014. Obviously we will be hoping to win this match.”

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Del Bosque warns against complacency

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has admitted he is worried about his team’s mindset ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and have also triumphed in the last two European Championships.

Several of Spain’s players participated in all three major triumphs and Del Bosque has stressed the importance of his team remaining grounded ahead of next year’s showpiece in Brazil.

“They are players who have won a great deal, almost everything, and they see things through different eyes compared with five or six years ago,” Del Bosque told AS.

“That is the only fear I have. It is fundamental to be humble, sporting and good lads, nice guys. We have to forget about the past and not revel in what we won in the years before.

“We are going to another World Cup, a different one, in a different country and on a different continent, and we have to go there with the same spirit as in South Africa.

“That’s the most important thing.”

Del Bosque reiterated his desire for his team to show “humility”, and acknowledged his side will be favourites to defend their crown.

Spain – who will face 2010 finalists Netherlands, Chile and Australia in Group B – will face stiff competition from several nations in Brazil, something Del Bosque is well aware of.

“Humility is not an empty word,” he said.

“When I ask for it, it is because I know it is the path to success. Spain has a good national team and is not inferior to anyone but we must be cautious.

“We are the team to beat and there are powerful opponents, mainly the South Americans including Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Chile.

“Then there are the Europeans, teams like Germany, Holland or Portugal. It is not easy and we have to show respect for all our opponents.”

Tue 31 December, 2013
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West Ham linked with Leo Baptitao move

West Ham United have been alerted to news that Atletico Madrid will allow Leo Baptistao to leave on loan, TalkSport understands.

The attacking midfielder has made just five La Liga appearances for Diego Simeone’s side this season, starting just once, and will be allowed to gain further first team experience by moving elsewhere for the rest of the season.

The Brazilian only signed from Rayo Vallecano in the summer, after scoring seven goals in twenty-eight appearances last season, though his only goal for Atleti came as a substitute against Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League back in September.

Hammers boss Sam Allardyce is keen to add more firepower to his goal shy squad, who have mustered just eighteen in nineteen league games so far this season.

They make the short trip to Fulham tomorrow afternoon, and can be backed at 5/2 to fail to score for what would be the tenth time this season.

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Martinez laughs of Barkley sale talk

Everton manager Roberto Martinez has warned his Premier League rivals off attempting to sign Ross Barkley by saying that £50m would only be enough to take the youngster on loan, according to the Metro.

The England international has this season become one of the hottest prospects in the Premier League, turning in a number of impressive displays that have helped elevate the Toffee’s in to Champions League contention.

Both Manchester United and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the 20 year old but Martinez is not interested in letting the midfielder leave the Merseyside club.

The former Wigan Athletic boss has said that Everton are in “a strong position” financially are in no need to sell their star assets.

They travel to Stoke City on New Year’s Day, and Barkley can be backed at a price of 17/2 to open the scoring with what would be his fourth league goal of the season.

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Watford receive FA fine

The Football Association have fined Watford £5,000 for failing to control their players during their Championship fixture at Ipswich Town.

Several Watford players reacted angrily to referee Graham Scott’s decision to award Ipswich a penalty when he adjudged Gabriele Angella to have handled Frank Nouble’s cross in the clash on December 21.

David McGoldrick subsequently scored from the spot to put the hosts ahead in the 73rd minute, before Troy Deeney levelled the scores at 1-1 nine minutes from time in what was new Watford coach Giuseppe Sannino’s first game in charge.

Having been charged on December 24, Watford admitted the offence on Tuesday and have subsequently been sanctioned.

A statement on the FA’s official website read: “Watford have been fined the standard penalty of £5,000 after admitting an FA charge of failing to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and/or refrained from provocative behaviour.

“The incident occurred in or around the 71st minute of their game against Ipswich Town on 21 December 2013.”

Elsewhere, Coventry City’s Dan Seaborne has been handed a three-match ban by the FA after admitting a charge of violent conduct for an incident with Oldham Athletic’s Jonson Clarke-Harris on December 29 that went unnoticed by match officials.

“Coventry City’s Daniel Seaborne has been suspended for three matches with immediate effect after he admitted an FA charge of violent conduct,” a statement from the FA read.

“The incident, which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video, occurred in or around the 42nd minute of his side’s game against Oldham Athletic on 29 December 2013.”

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Hammers keen on Heitinga deal

West Ham United are keen on signing Everton defender John Heitinga on loan, according to the Mirror.

The Dutch international has not featured for the Toffee’s in the league this season, and is keen to put himself into contention for the Netherlands’ squad for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil.

The centre-back, who moved to Goodison Park from Atletico Madrid in 2009, has six months remaining on his contract, and a move for the rest of the season could save the Merseyside club around £1.5m in wages.

The Hammers are also interested in Everton striker Nikica Jelavic, who like Heintinga has struggled to hold down a first team place under Roberto Martinez.

Sam Allardyce’s men take on fellow bottom three side Fulham at Craven Cottage, with both sides desperate for the three points that could move them out of the relegation zone.

West Ham are priced at 21/10 to pick up what would be only their second away win of the season.

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Laudrup calls for more ruthless Swansea

Michael Laudrup has urged his Swansea side to show more ruthlessness in front of goal, starting against Manchester City.

The Welsh outfit have found the back of the net on 24 occasions this term – more than any other side in the bottom half of the table – but they have still faced criticism for not hitting the back of the net with more regularity, despite enjoying the majority of possession in many of their fixtures.

And Laudrup concedes that he is looking for his charges to make the most of their chances, although he acknowledges that it is a more pressing concern for other teams in the league.

“I think it’s strange about the goals,” he said. “On one hand, with the way we play and the possession we have, we should score more goals.

“On the other hand, we have scored more goals than any of the other teams between 10th and 20th in the table. If we have a problem, then everybody else has a bigger problem.

“But I think yes, with the way we play, we should score more – although it’s easy to say and a lot more difficult to do.”

Swansea welcome high-flying Manchester City to the Liberty Stadium on New Year’s Day, looking for a measure of the revenge for the 3-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium on December 1.

Laudrup felt that his squad applied themselves well in that encounter, but has stressed the importance of taking chances against a City side blessed with an array of attacking talent.

He added: “We played them a month ago and played very well in the first half. We didn’t take our chances, and in the end they beat us 3-0 because they have so much quality. For some – even some of the bigger teams – it has been even worse.

“They play good football. In the transition phase, when you have the ball and they get it, in three seconds, they can be up the other end.

“With players that fast, like (Jesus) Navas, like (Sergio) Aguero – I know he’s not playing tomorrow – and (Samir) Nasri, you have to be very careful.

“If we can play like we did last time, as well as take our chances, I really think we have a chance. But we have to take our chances when we get them, because you will not get seven clear goal chances against a team like City.”

Tue 31 December, 2013
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Alonso out to end Champions League heartache

Real Madrid playmaker Xabi Alonso is determined to help the club to break their UEFA Champions League semi-final hoodoo this season.

The Liga giants have been eliminated in the last four of Europe’s premier club competition for the last three campaigns, at the hands of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Real hold the record for European Cup and Champions League wins having lifted the iconic trophy nine times in their history.

However, they have not tasted success in the tournament since 2002 – a run Alonso, who won the Champions League with former club Liverpool in 2005, is eager to end in this season’s final in Lisbon on May 24.

When asked about regrets in his illustrious career in an interview with Club del Sportista, the 32-year-old – who has also won the FIFA World Cup and two UEFA European Championships with Spain – insisted that he does not have any “truly bad memories” in the game.

But, along with losing the Liga title on the final day of the 2002-03 with first club Real Sociedad, Alonso admitted that Real’s failure to reach the Champions League final again ranks as his deepest disappointment.

“In recent years, playing for Real Madrid, being knocked out of the semi-finals of the Champions League was very painful,” he said.

“(That) is why our aim is to reach the final this year and put those defeats behind us.”

Real can take one step closer to their elusive 10th European crown by beating Schalke in the last 16 of this season’s competition early in the new year.

Tue 31 December, 2013
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