Daniel Levy has vowed to retain Tottenham’s best players and invest in new signings this summer. Press Association Although he did not go in as strong this time, the Spurs chairman does not seem in a mood to part with the squad’s best assets before the start of next season. “Looking ahead to the summer, we shall continue to seek to strengthen and improve the team and to retain key players,” Levy wrote. “We also look forward to the return of Sandro and Younes (Kaboul) who were missed this season but who are well on the road to full fitness.” Gareth Bale has been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid after an outstanding season that has seen him score 30 goals for club and country. Levy has used his annual chairman’s message to Spurs supporters as a way of insisting that the club’s top stars would not be leaving in the summer.
Barcelona coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino has made it clear that Cesc Fabregas will be part of his team next season, despite repeated interest from Manchester United. He said: “I’m not going to involve myself in the club’s accounts, but considering the club has already rejected two offers, I would guess it will reject a third. In other words, he will remain here.” The Argentinian coach’s words were backed up by vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who said: “It’s logical that we’ve had offers for Fabregas because he is a quality player, but he is not for sale.” The 50-year-old coach succeeds Tito Vilanova, who resigned from the role last Friday to continue his battle with cancer, and the Argentinian began his press conference with a message for his predecessor. “I’m very proud to join this institution, with its illustrious history, but regrettably, I know why I’m here and I’d like to take this opportunity to send my best regards to Tito,” he said. “We don’t know each other but we spoke on the phone and he welcomed me to the club and wished me good luck, and I wished him a speedy recovery.” Martino has spent his 15-year managerial career in South America, coaching a host of Argentinian club sides, most recently Newell’s Old Boys, where he spent the majority of his playing career, plus the Paraguay national team, who he led to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2010 and the Copa America final in 2011. Asked if he would be able to cope with the pressure of coaching in Europe, Martino said he agreed with the last Argentinian coach to take charge of Barcelona, Cesar Luis Menotti, who once remarked: “Once you have coached in Argentina, everything else is much easier.” Martino said: “Coaching in Argentina is not easy, there are no comparisons between these countries, but we feel the same pressure. I don’t have the career Menotti had so I am less qualified to say that, but I share his opinion.” The Premier League champions have made two offers for the former Arsenal midfielder, for a reported £25million and £30million, both of which were rejected by the Catalan club. On Thursday, United manager David Moyes told reporters that negotiations for Fabregas were “ongoing” but Martino, speaking in his first press conference as coach of Barcelona, insisted the player was staying at the club and was part of his plans. Press Association
Manchester City’s players are all behind struggling Joe Hart, according to Pablo Zabaleta. The England goalkeeper hit the headlines for the wrong reason this week with high-profile mistakes in City’s 3-1 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich. It is not the first time Hart’s form has been questioned over the last couple of seasons, and he might have done better for Everton’s goal in City’s 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku’s shot was well struck and from close range, but Hart got a good hand to it only for the ball to bounce into the net anyway. Full-back Zabaleta revealed Hart was unhappy with the goal but expects him to rediscover his best form. The Argentinian said: “We saw him during the week a little bit down. We need him to come back again to his best. “Sometimes it happens in football but that’s why team-mates need to support all the players. He knows we’re all behind him. “Of course he’s upset. It’s really hard for any player when you know you’re not doing well. He has a personality so he needs to show that he’s coming back to his best. And I’m sure he will do because he’s a great goalkeeper. “We’ve seen him for a long time doing very well so that’s why it’s strange to see him like this.” The home crowd were particularly vocal in support of their number one, who joined City from Shrewsbury in 2006. Zabaleta said: “He’s been here for a long time and the fans are behind him, everybody’s behind him. I felt very good when I saw the crowd giving massive support to him. We need to be all together in this time.” Press Association City boss Manuel Pellegrini admitted he thought hard about picking Romanian Costel Pantilimon ahead of Hart before deciding to stick with the England keeper. Zabaleta does not expect the competition to adversely affect Hart, saying: “Costel is another great goalkeeper and he is putting pressure on him, and that is great. “I think for everyone, we know we’ve got two good players in every position and we need to feel the competition. That is normal.” After the loss to Bayern and a previous league defeat by Aston Villa, it was an important victory for City against a team who had not lost a Premier League game under Roberto Martinez until Saturday. “We needed to win,” said Zabaleta. “I think it was only about winning the game after two defeats in a row. “It was a difficult week for us, especially the game we lost against Bayern Munich. We needed to respond well and I think we did it. “We conceded an early goal and it was important to score two goals in the first half. Then the second half I think we played well.” Zabaleta was the architect of the third goal when he went down in the box under pressure from Seamus Coleman and referee Jon Moss gave a penalty. Everton were furious, and Zabaleta conceded the decision was a “soft” one. He said: “I think there was small contact. It was maybe a silly penalty. I watched it in the dressing room and maybe it was a little bit soft but I think it was a penalty. “He just pushed me away a little bit. I can understand that Coleman was a little bit disappointed. But I was talking with Leighton Baines after the game and after the penalty and he understood. “And when the referee showed me a yellow card for a foul against him he went to the referee saying I touched the ball and it was no foul. I like that.”
The Germans will qualify for the World Cup finals with a win against Ireland in Cologne – a point would realistically be enough given their vastly superior goal difference over Sweden – ahead of next Tuesday’s clash between the top two in Solna. Joachim Low’s men won 6-1 in Dublin earlier in the campaign but Schweinsteiger is expecting the Irish – now under interim boss Noel King – to provide stiffer opposition this time round. Bastian Schweinsteiger expects a potentially memorable seven days to start on a testing note when Germany host Ireland on Friday night. Press Association The Bayern Munich midfielder said at Tuesday’s press conference: “Ireland have their qualities, which must be respected. “They have players who fight tirelessly for their country. Of course they are not as strong as Argentina and Spain, but their hearts are in the right place and they always give everything.” Should he make an appearance on Friday, Schweinsteiger will have the opportunity to win his 100th cap against the Swedes which would be a proud moment for the 29-year-old. “Of course it would be very special to me,” he added. “One hundred caps are not easily obtained. The number fills me with pride.”
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup is hopeful Ashley Williams will soon make his return from injury, but cannot give a definite date for when the defender may complete his recovery from an ankle problem. Press Association While Williams sat out the international break, his club colleague Michu made his debut for Spain against Belarus, after being called up by Vicente del Bosque following an injury to David Villa. Laudrup believes the player and club should be tremendously proud of the achievement, and was delighted to hear the forward tell the Spanish media he plans to remain at Swansea. Laudrup said: “I’m happy he said he wanted to stay, but we at Swansea should be more happy with the fact he was there. “The day before Spain played I saw the squad and looked through the list of clubs their player played for. There was Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, Valencia, then Swansea. “It sunk in that it was incredible, the best clubs in Spain, and England, and we were represented too. “It was a moment to be proud of that one of our players made it into that list.” Aside from the absence of Williams, Laudrup has had some good injury news with Michel Vorm (hand), Pablo Hernandez (hamstring) and Jonathan de Guzman (groin) all set to be fit to face the Black Cats, although Ben Davies is a doubt with a hamstring injury picked up in the defeat to Southampton. The 29-year-old centre-half has featured just once in Swansea’s last six games, and missed Wales’ World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia and Belgium with the problem. Laudrup has confirmed he will yet again be sidelined when Sunderland visit the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, which comes just 15 days before the eagerly-anticipated trip to face Cardiff in the south Wales derby. Williams could return to training in the coming days, but Laudrup admits he cannot yet set a date for when he will be match fit, and will continue to adopt a cautious approach in order to make sure the injury does not become more serious. He said: “If we are not careful it could become a chronic problem with him. “He has not been at 100 per cent and that’s not a good condition for a player to carry on playing because there are always doubts. “You could go on for months always playing at 85 per cent and we don’t want that, so it’s better to wait. “We wanted him back for this game against Sunderland but it is more important to get him back 100 per cent so he is comfortable when he is playing. “I don’t know when that will be. He’s been training with the physios but the only training he has done with the squad since playing against Crystal Palace has been for 30 minutes. “I will not force him to play because even if he is back training and no longer injured, to be fit to play 90 minutes is another thing, so he must come back when he feels ready to. “I think he would like to play before we play Cardiff and if everything goes well it could be on Thursday (against Kuban Krasnodar) – but we won’t risk anything and we’ve proven that already with him.”
Press Association Ireland made a bright start to the game and within 16 minutes, home keeper Danijel Petkovic had been forced to makes saves from Sean Murray twice and Anthony Forde. However, as the half wore on, Montenegro started to work their way into the game, although McDermott was largely untroubled and the first half ended goalless. The hosts returned in determined fashion and went close four minutes after the restart when Stefan Mugosa had a shot blocked, although Petkovic was called upon once again two minutes later as Aiden O’Brien took aim at the other end. McDermott had to deny Mugosa in a lively start to the second half, and he found himself the busier of the two keepers as he repelled another effort from Vladimir Jovovic with time running down. Luka Djordjevic might have won it for the Montenegrins 13 minutes from time but for another save by McDermott, who then kept out attempts by Jovovic and Djordjevic with the home side throwing every they had at the Irish. O’Brien had a chance to snatch three points deep into injury-time, but Petkovic ensured his side emerged with at least some reward for their efforts. The 20-year-old made a string of second-half saves to deny the Montenegrins victory in Podgorica and keep alive Ireland’s hopes of making it out of Group 6 in their bid to reach the finals of the European Under-21s Championship. Noel King’s men remain level on points with Montenegro behind group leaders Germany, although having played a game more. Goalkeeper Sean McDermott was Ireland’s hero as he turned in a stubborn display to help secure a hard-fought 0-0 draw in Montenegro.
But Peter Crouch levelled three minutes before half-time, and five minutes after the break Stephen Ireland put the hosts ahead. Schurrle quickly equalised with another fine finish and it looked like both sides would have to settle for a point until Assaidi’s brilliant intervention earned victory. Stoke’s last win over Chelsea came in the League Cup in 1995 when Potters manager Mark Hughes was in the Blues side, while their most recent league victory was in 1975. The result ended Chelsea’s three-match winning run and saw them drop below Liverpool into third, while leaders Arsenal now have the chance to open up a seven-point gap on Sunday. Schurrle was one of two changes to the Chelsea side from Wednesday’s win over Sunderland and he was soon into the action, pulling the ball back for Ramires, who shot well over the bar from 10 yards out. The Brazilian should have done much better, but the visitors only had to wait until the 10th minute to take the lead. This time Schurrle did it all himself, picking the ball up in midfield, holding off Ryan Shawcross and Glenn Whelan before shooting across Asmir Begovic and into the bottom corner. It was Schurrle’s second Premier League goal, and Chelsea had plenty of chances to add to their lead. Juan Mata shot straight at Begovic in the 16th minute after a free-kick fell to him on the edge of the box, while the Spain international then failed to pick out Fernando Torres in the centre after Jonathan Walters had given the ball away. Ramires was the man most culpable, the midfielder having three further efforts during the first half but failing to really test Begovic. Stoke had been forced into a change in the 18th minute when Charlie Adam, their main creative force, limped off and was replaced by Ireland. The Potters were showing some decent play in midfield but their final ball was lacking and front man Crouch was isolated. They had their first chance in the 38th minute when Steven N’Zonzi found Marko Arnautovic on the left and his cross picked out Walters at the back post, but the Republic of Ireland man, who last season scored two own goals and missed a penalty in the same fixture, could only nod wide. The equaliser came from a break instigated by Geoff Cameron, who found Walters down the right. His cross was just out of the reach of a diving Ireland but Arnautovic won a corner and his delivery was turned in by Crouch. Chelsea had only themselves to blame, with Mikel leaving Crouch unmarked and Petr Cech opting to come off his line but getting nowhere near the ball. Stoke carried the momentum into the second half and stunned Chelsea by taking the lead in the 50th minute. Walters broke down the right and squared the ball for Ireland, who took one touch to control before curling a precision shot in off the far post. The Britannia roared its approval but Stoke were ahead for just three minutes, and it was Schurrle again. A Mata free-kick was half cleared by Crouch to the German on the edge of the box, who once again produced a clinical finish into the far corner. Schurrle almost completed his hat-trick in the 57th minute but although he beat Begovic again his curling shot bounced off the bar. Both teams were committing men forward, and 10 minutes later it was Stoke’s turn to go close. N’Zonzi crossed for Crouch, who set up Ireland in space eight yards out but this time he could only curl his shot high and wide. Schurrle’s hat-trick hopes were ended as Mourinho sent on Frank Lampard and Samuel Eto’o, and the latter swiftly had a sight of goal but poked his shot just wide. Marc Muniesa gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box for a foul on Demba Ba, but Begovic was safely behind Lampard’s shot, which found its way through a 10-man wall. Walters was booked for shoving John Terry in the chest and was swiftly replaced by Assaidi and his strike handed Mourinho his first ever Premier League defeat in December. Oussama Assaidi stunned Chelsea with a superb 90th-minute winner as Stoke won 3-2 to claim their first league victory over the Blues in 38 years. Press Association The on-loan Liverpool winger came on as a substitute six minutes from time and his first real contribution was to pick the ball up on the left, cut inside and unleash a ferocious shot into the top corner. Jose Mourinho’s first trip to the Britannia Stadium began well as Andre Schurrle gave Chelsea a 10th-minute lead.
Reports from the continent have suggested that terms have been agreed to transfer the 25-year-old Portugal international to Old Trafford. But speaking after Tuesday night’s 2-1 Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg defeat at Sunderland, Moyes said: “No, that’s not true.” Manchester United boss David Moyes has denied claims the club are on the brink of signing Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao. Press Association Opposite number Gus Poyet was even more reticent when asked about Brighton midfielder Liam Bridcutt’s decision to hand in a transfer request. The 24-year-old Scot is understood to have submitted his request with the Black Cats having been engaged in talks over he and winger Will Buckley for several days, but without making a breakthrough to date. But asked about the situation, Poyet replied: “That’s nothing to do with me.”
With Martinez looking on from the Anfield stands in preparation for the game at Goodison Park next Tuesday, Rodgers’ team were second best in the first half on Saturday against Villa. With first-half goals from Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke, the visitors threatened a repeat of their shock victory last season. Press Association Liverpool fought back, however, as Daniel Sturridge scored just prior to half-time, whilst Steven Gerrard struck a penalty early into the second period to earn a point. Despite the lacklustre showing, ahead of the next league clash with their local rivals, Rodgers said: “He will know how I work and knows how my teams work. “But he will know it will be a totally different game here for the derby. “It wasn’t one of our better days (against Villa), but we’ve had many great games here.” Speaking to the Daily Post, Rodgers added: “We’ll be ready for the derby game for sure.” The Northern Irishman is being heavily linked with a move for Basle winger Mohamed Salah. Rodgers admitted after Saturday’s game to meeting with owner John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner, apparently receiving assurances there is money available this month to strengthen. Salah has reportedly long been on Rodgers’ radar, and while a bid of £8million is being suggested, Basle may demand double that figure. Liverpool, meanwhile, have confirmed the departure of young defender Tiago Ilori, who has joined Spanish side Granada on loan until the end of the season. The 20-year-old was signed on transfer deadline day in September for £7million from Sporting Lisbon but has yet to make an appearance under Rodgers. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has warned Everton counterpart Roberto Martinez to expect a very different Reds side in their upcoming derby clash compared to the one that struggled against Aston Villa.
That tournament has plenty of detractors, though, and May – pointing to the example of current Premier League leaders Liverpool, who have not played in Europe during this campaign – is in no doubt that United’s chances of rebuilding will be improved if they are without that commitment. Asked about the prospect of the Red Devils participating in the Europa League next season, May told Press Association Sport: “Personally, I wouldn’t take it if it were offered to me. “I think United need to concentrate next season on doing well in the Premier League. “You look at Liverpool – they could go on and win the Premier League this year, and they will only have played 43 games. They missed out on playing on Thursday nights, and I think it has benefited them. “If it gives United that extra edge just going in the three domestic competitions then I think it would be best for them to do that. “Playing in the Europa League is not the be all and end all. It is all about playing in the Champions League and returning to that has to be United’s aim next season.” Since the Premier League started in 1992, there has never been a season when United have not competed in Europe. But May, who was a Red Devils player when the club won the 1999 European Cup final, is comfortable with the idea of that being broken if it helps the club ensure it is only a one-year hiatus from the Champions League. United were eliminated from the Champions League on Wednesday and are set to miss out on a route into next term’s competition, with them heading for a Barclays Premier League finish outside of the top four. They are seventh with five games left and securing a spot in the Europa League is the only realistic-looking way they will secure continental football for 2014/15. Press Association Former Manchester United defender David May feels the club will be better off next season if they do not qualify for the Europa League. The 43-year-old, speaking in Manchester in his position as an ambassador for the StreetGames Football Pools Fives, added: “Playing Thursdays and then Sundays doesn’t give you a chance really to build any momentum in the Premier League. “In terms of missing out on Europe for one season, there will be a little bit of a financial loss with that, but I would be happy to stick to the three domestic trophies next term.” The questioning of United boss David Moyes’ suitability for the role has only increased over the course of a hugely disappointing campaign following his appointment as successor to Sir Alex Ferguson last summer. And the Red Devils, beaten six times at home in the league this term, look set for a major overhaul ahead of next season. But May does not think that should include a change of manager. Asked if he felt Moyes has to go this summer, May said: “I don’t think so. “We have had injuries and people have got a year older in the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. “It is time to bring some young, fresh players in and I’m sure in the summer the manager will do that. “Playing away, I think United have done really well, but the games they have lost at Old Trafford have been really disappointing. “You don’t like getting beaten at all, especially on your own pitch, but when you get done 3-0 by (Manchester) City and 3-0 by Liverpool, that is tough to take. “What is even worse is losing home games against the likes of Newcastle, Everton and West Brom – games you would expect to win. “David Moyes is breaking records for all the wrong reasons. It has been a tough season at home. “But our away form has been fantastic and if things can be turned around so that Old Trafford is a fortress again, then hopefully we can start seeing improvement.”