Swansea manager Michael Laudrup accepted some of the blame for the “accident” of their 5-0 defeat at Liverpool but felt the players had to also take responsibility. Press Association The Dane made seven changes – leaving 15-goal striker Michu and captain Ashley Williams on the bench – with one eye on next weekend’s Capital One Cup final against Bradford. It backfired spectacularly as his side were never in the match and barely managed to raise a competitive element to their game. “We could have lost seven or eight nil easily had it not been for (goalkeeper) Michel Vorm and that is not good enough,” said Laudrup. “It is a little difficult to explain because I made a lot of changes so the first to blame is me because I picked the team.” He added: “But I will not exclude players who were thinking about the game next week, which in a certain way is human logic because it will be the biggest game in the history of the club. “One thing you can always ask is your team is competitive and after 45 minutes we were still in the game but they came out and scored three goals in 10 minutes – you cannot do that. “I don’t regret making the changes because I still think, until now, even when we lost we were competitive but (we were) never like this. I was sure this team could do well. I want to see this as a single accident maybe caused by what is going to happen in seven days – at least I hope so.” Swansea trailed at half-time to Steven Gerrard’s penalty but they conceded another to Reds debutant Philippe Coutinho within 16 seconds of the kick-off after the interval, sparking a 10-minute spell which brought further goals from Jose Enrique, Luis Suarez before Daniel Sturridge converted a 71st-minute spot-kick. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers accepted Swansea’s lacklustre showing had helped his side but insisted that should not detract from his team’s performance. “It was an important three points,” he said. “We’ve had a bumpy road this week in terms of games Monday and Thursday (2-0 defeats to West Brom and Zenit St Petersburg) but the Premier League is very important for us and we knew we had to show focus and determination. I think we showed character and mental toughness to get a result like that. “They were still a strong side and they will be disappointed with the performance but if you don’t have Ashley Williams or Michu, who has been brilliant since he came in, then that can affect your team. I don’t think you can take anything away from the Liverpool players but it (the final) was something they were thinking about next week.”
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez has called for the fans to support him, as part of the team, in Saturday’s clash with West Brom at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard prepared as usual for the Barclays Premier League fixture after appearing to backtrack from some of his comments made earlier this week in which he criticised the decision to give him the ‘interim’ title and the supporters’ continued barracking of him. It was put to Benitez that the supporters might be even more angered following his comments, but he said: “I am part of the team. I need the supporters behind the team. The fans can express their feelings. That is normal. I don’t have any problem with that. They have to stay behind the team, supporting the team.” Due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez was never a popular appointment in west London and has regularly been the subject of the fans’ ire. Benitez on Wednesday confirmed he will leave at the end of the season, with his target still a place in the top four and Champions League football next term, and insisted the timing of his comments was devised to encourage the supporters to back their side. Benitez, who has met Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay in each of the past two days, pointed to the positive atmosphere in the wins over Napoli, which took place last season, and in January against Arsenal, which spurred the team on, and asked for that backing to return. “The best for my team is to have a very good atmosphere behind them, players feeling the support,” he said. “Against Napoli they were running an extra mile. Feeling the support against Arsenal, they were running an extra mile. I was trying to explain that if we stick together it will be easier.” Benitez also insisted he has no issue with the Chelsea board and that his job title is not a concern, despite saying following Wednesday’s FA Cup win at Middlesbrough that the decision to name him ‘interim’ boss was “a mistake”. Benitez said: “One thing’s a mistake. Another’s an issue. Now it’s not an issue. In my head, I am the manager. I have to manage the team. The title doesn’t matter. The Champions League is a big title.”I just concentrate on my job.” Press Association
The club, whose 20th title was confirmed on Monday night, said on their official website they will be going through Manchester on Monday, May 13, starting at Old Trafford and ending in the city centre. That will come the day after Sir Alex Ferguson and his players get their hands on the trophy following their final home game of the campaign against Swansea but before the end of the season on May 19. Press Association The parade also comes two days after rivals Manchester City, the team they regained the trophy from, play in the FA Cup final against Wigan. Manchester United are to celebrate their latest Barclays Premier League title triumph with an open-top bus parade through the city.
Swansea have now failed to score in their last three fixtures, and have not tasted victory in seven, but Laudrup and City boss Roberto Mancini were both aggrieved at referee Mike Jones’ refusal to award what appeared to be two clear penalties. In the first half Michu was clattered by Matija Nastasic having flicked the ball beyond the defender, only for Cheshire official Jones to wave away appeals. City were also furious after Jones refused to point to the spot when Edin Dzeko went over Chico Flores’ trailing leg just past the hour. Swansea have not been awarded a Premier League penalty this season and Laudrup said of their appeal: “I thought from the bench it was a penalty, and after seeing it again I think even more so. We have had 35 games in the league with no penalties, maybe we will get one next year.” But Laudrup was pleased with a point, even if it extended Swansea’s winless run, and he added: “I have to be pleased with a point, especially if you analyse the game. In the first 35 minutes we played some very good football and created chances. “But if you don’t score in your good moments there is always a danger the other team will come into the game, especially a side like Manchester City, who can punish you. “They had two good chances at the end of the first half, and had a huge chance through Dzeko at the end of the game, so in the end I am pleased with a point against the champions from last season.” Swansea manager Michael Laudrup watched his side draw another blank with a goalless draw against Manchester City and revealed he will have to do without top scorer Michu for the rest of the season. Press Association The Spaniard, who has scored 21 goals during a stunning first season in English football, was withdrawn during the second half against City with a hamstring problem. While Laudrup was not sure if the forward had suffered a tear, it will be enough to end his involvement this campaign, and he said: “He has a hamstring problem. I am not sure if he has torn it but, even if it is less than that, this will be his last game of the season.”
Press Association Arsene Wenger is ready to commit his long-term future to Arsenal and has held preliminary contract talks with the club. “The link with PSG is there because I’m French and I know the owners. But if that was the case then I would be there already. I’m not at PSG because my heart is with Arsenal.” Wenger’s Arsenal are without a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup but Wenger believes that after several years which have seen them unable or unwilling to match the biggest players in the transfer market, they can now compete. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez have been mentioned as possible attacking targets along with Real Madrid’s Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain. And Wenger said: “They are all realistic targets quality-wise, but not all of them are available to join us. We have better financial resources than the years before and it is resources we have created ourselves. “That is massively important to us. For years we were out of the race for the top-level transfers but we are coming back now because we are in a better financial situation and also because of Financial Fair Play. “I knew when I committed to my last contract and the contract before that the club were going through a very sensitive period, because we had less financial resources and the challenge was to stay at the top and in the Champions League during that period. “We are coming out of that period and I hope in the next two or three years the club will be competing for the Premier League.” The landscape facing the Gunners in that battle has changed significantly with the appointment of new managers at all of last season’s top three, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. And Wenger said: “This is the biggest change in the top four in all the time I’ve been with Arsenal. Is the league more open than before? We don’t know, nobody knows. “But we’ve got the most stability and we hope to take advantage of that. There was a big gap between us and Manchester United last season and our challenge is to bridge that gap. “But you go to Manchester City, they will want to win the league. You go to Manchester United, it’s the same, to Liverpool, to Chelsea, everybody will want to win the league.” The Frenchman’s current deal expires next season and he was linked earlier this summer with Paris St Germain, who eventually appointed Laurent Blanc as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor. But Wenger told several national newspapers: “I am committed to staying longer at this club. I’ve already had a chat with Ivan. It went very well, not a problem.
The Scot has found himself under pressure just weeks into his tenure at Old Trafford and needed a double from teenager Adnan Januzaj at lowly Sunderland on Saturday to prevent his side slipping to a third successive Barclays Premier League defeat for the first time since December 2001. However Coleman, who was given his big chance by Moyes at Everton, is confident he will make a success of his new job. Seamus Coleman has backed David Moyes to win over his doubters as he attempts to maintain Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United dynasty. It has been all change on the international, as well as club, front for Coleman in recent months with Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as Ireland manager having come to an end after last month’s qualifier defeats by Sweden and Austria. The Republic can effectively no longer make it to Brazil next summer and head into Friday’s game in Cologne and Tuesday’s home clash with Kazakhstan with no permanent successor yet appointed. Under-21s boss Noel King, for whom Coleman made one appearance before his elevation to the senior squad, will take charge of the two games, but the Everton man admits he was sad to see Trapattoni go. He said: “He was great with me. He gave me my first cap and he gave me plenty after that, so I never had any problems with him. “Obviously, it’s sad to see a manager go, but we have to look forward now and the players have to impress on Friday night and Tuesday night because the new manager could be watching.” However for Coleman, one of the few survivors of last October’s 6-1 mauling by the Germans at the Aviva Stadium, there is a wrong to be righted as well as a potential new manager to impress. He said: “Obviously we want to go in and make sure that doesn’t happen again, but we won’t go in with the hangover from it. “We will go in hoping to impress the new manager who’s watching, and obviously to do a good job for Noel as well on a big night for him. “It’s his first time in charge of the senior national team, so we want to do as best we can for him as well.” Press Association The Republic of Ireland full-back, who will hope to celebrate his 25th birthday on Friday by taking on the might of Germany in a World Cup qualifier, said: “Just from my time with him, all I can say is he has been a top manager and he has done so well with Everton. “He got the job deservedly – he was recommended by Sir Alex himself – so I think he will definitely turn it around. “It’s only early days, only a few games into the season, so I am sure he will.” Ironically, the club Moyes left behind currently sits in seventh position in the Premier League table, two places and as many points better off than the reigning champions, with his replacement Roberto Martinez having made a flying start to life on the blue half of Merseyside. The Spaniard’s recruitment of Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku and his methods have given the Toffees a different outlook, and Coleman and his team-mates have responded in impressive fashion. The defender said: “It’s been going quite well. He has come in and he has put his own philosophy on the team, and we have done quite well to adapt to it. “We have got very good players. The [Manchester] City game [a 3-1 defeat on Saturday] was a disappointment, but hopefully we can put that right with the next game at home to Hull. “But it’s been a good start and we have all enjoyed it. It’s different. You can see that he likes to play out from the back a bit more, but he has been great for us and hopefully we can have a good, successful season under him.”
Kazakhstan defender Mark Gorman is relishing his showdown with Ireland skipper Robbie Keane. He said: “I wouldn’t say that in this match, we are talking about revenge, but of course we would like to get the most points we can in order to finish as well as possible. “This game is going to be about the national pride of the team. Of course we will be trying our best in order to achieve the best possible result for the team because we are very proud that we are taking part in this game. “We will be doing everything possible to defend ourselves.” Ireland created chances in Germany on Friday and on another night, could have scored two or three goals. However, King has indicated they will not take a gung-ho approach in their mission to round off the qualifying campaign with a victory. But Kazakhstan midfielder Andrei Karpovic is expecting a traditionally robust approach from the Irish. He said: “We completely and totally respect our opponents. However, we do hope that we will be able to achieve the best possible result for our team. “We are determined to show that we are a high-quality team and bring some joy to our supporters. “We are aware of the difficulties we are going to face playing against the Irish team because they are known as a strong, very defensive and very aggressive, in the positive meaning, when playing football.” Gorman said: “I will treat him with absolute respect, but at the same time, I do know how much pressure it puts on me to defend and protect my team. “But I do hope that I will be able to play accordingly to a high level and up to his talent. As a team, we will try our best.” The Kazakhs arrived in Dublin on the back of a 1-1 draw with Group C minnows the Faroe Islands in Torshavn, a result which did not go down well with sections of the fanbase. However, Kazakhstan coach Miroslav Beranek is confident there is more to come from his players. He said: “I was not disappointed with the result. I know that the team can play better, and that’s the goal we will be trying to achieve tomorrow.” The two sides met in the opening round of fixtures in Astana in September last year on a night when Ireland’s campaign very nearly got off to the worst possible start. They trailed 1-0 to Kairat Nurdauletov’s first-half strike with just two minutes of normal time remaining when Keane drew them level for the penalty spot to set the stage for Kevin Doyle to win it at the death. However, Beranek is adamant that revenge will not be on his mind in Dublin. The 24-year-old defender could face the task of trying to keep the LA Galaxy striker at bay as his side attempts to end its World Cup qualifying campaign on a high in Dublin. Keane, 33, has 60 senior international goals to his name and having missed on Ireland’s 3-0 defeat in Germany on Friday evening, will be raring to go if he forces his way back into interim coach Noel King’s starting line-up for the game at the Aviva Stadium. Press Association
The Eagles went down 1-0 at Norwich on Saturday in what was Pulis’ first match at the helm since his appointment before last weekend’s win at Hull. The 55-year-old made a couple of changes to his opening starting XI, with Cameron Jerome coming in alongside Marouane Chamakh in attack, while Jason Puncheon replaced suspended midfielder Yannick Bolasie. “Unfortunately for me and the football club, I have not been here, and that is no disrespect to anybody because we all have different ideas about the way to do things.” He added: “Most of the teams you are playing down there (in the table), like West Ham and Norwich, have had a couple of seasons in the Premier League, so have had time to build, they have a base and an opportunity to improve.” Eagles captain Mile Jedinak has no issues with tackling the hard work ahead. “Obviously there is a settling in period (for a new manager), but it is time to get down to business,” the Australian said. “The boys are aware of that, we have a tough week ahead, but we will be ready for that and eager to do our best.” Norwich, meanwhile, will be hoping for some consistency on the back of what was a second win in three matches and once which lifted them up to 14th, easing the pressure on manager Chris Hughton ahead of the midweek trip to Liverpool. “The game is all about confidence and we now go to Anfield on Wednesday night, and there are not too many tougher places,” said Hughton. “It is certainly better going there on the back of a performance like this and also a clean sheet. “We have been a bit stop-start, but that is how the league is and we need to start keep that continuity going. “We also need to make sure we do not pick up any more injuries over this heavy period, because we are quite stretched at the moment in certain positions” While there was little real chance in the short space of time for the former Stoke manager to stamp his mark on the side, it looked a positive move as the visitors produced a good response after falling behind to Gary Hooper’s goal on 30 minutes. Indeed, on another day, Palace could well have taken something away from Carrow Road, with a thunderous drive from Barry Bannan headed onto the crossbar by Norwich defender Martin Olsson and in the closing minutes Jerome missed his kick from 10 yards. Pulis will do his best to regroup and try to implement a few more minor changes before the Irons come to Selhurst Park on Tuesday night. “I would have preferred to have had a break, for some more time to work with the players, but the games come thick and fast in December, so you have to get on with it,” said Pulis, who will look to bring in some reinforcements when the January transfer window opens. “I was pleased with the players at Norwich because they tried their best, and as a manager, that is all you can do.” Although by no means cut adrift, Palace slipped back to the bottom of the table after Sunderland’s goalless draw at Aston Villa. “I know how tough it is going to be an have spoken to the directors for a few weeks now on the situation and they understand if I am going to stay here, then I want to build something and put something in place like I did at Stoke,” said Pulis. “What people don’t realise is one of the toughest and important jobs is pre-season, and what you can put in place. New Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis would prefer to spend a few more days working with his players than having to throw them straight back into the battle for Barclays Premier League survival against West Ham. Press Association
Giroud had to sit out the New Year’s Day game against Cardiff after suffering an ankle injury at Newcastle, where his goal secured a 1-0 win, and then missed the Spurs cup tie after illness. “He’s a tough, tough boy. Even when the medical people say he should rest, he says: ‘I’m alright’. He needed five stitches after the game at Newcastle,” said Wenger. “He played the whole game at Newcastle with an open ankle (wound) and without complaining – and when I took him off, he didn’t want to come off. “He is always ready for a fight even when he is tired.” While Walcott’s loss is a substantial blow, the emergence of German teenager Serge Gnabry and the return to fitness of England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain does at least offer Wenger options on the flanks. Wenger is confident 18-year-old Gnabry can fulfil his potential for both club and country. “We are looking at a guy who has good individual talent, he can pass people, is a good finisher, and has a very good football brain with good vision,” said Wenger. “Gnabry has great pace, is two footed, can finish right and left. He has a lot in the locker.” However, while the likes of £32million-rated Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa have been touted as potential targets, Wenger is in no doubt Giroud – who has missed the last two matches because of injury and illness – can make the difference. “People want always new names, but what is important for us is that Giroud is back,” said Wenger, who has likened the France international’s style to the former Arsenal striker Alan Smith. “He was a bit tired recently, but now he is refreshed and I am sure he will have a major impact on the second part of the season.” The Gunners boss continued: “When you speak to the coaches after the game they say ‘oh, what a client he is’. “Giroud has qualities that the rest of the squad has not got, he always gives us that strength. “We have small players who combine quickly, so to find someone who can hold it, keep the ball, make some room for other players, he does that very well and gives us a very good balance.” Wenger, though, accepts it is something of a “gamble” to rely on the 11-goal forward lasting the distance. “Yes, it is, that is why we are out there,” he said. The Gunners will be out to return to the top of the table when they travel to Aston Villa on Monday night after being pushed down into third place following wins for Chelsea and Manchester City at the weekend. Much has been made of the need for Wenger’s squad to bring in some offensive additions during the January window, which has been exacerbated following the season-ending knee injury to England forward Theo Walcott. Manager Arsene Wenger feels a refreshed Olivier Giroud can show Arsenal already have a top-quality striker who can help spearhead their Barclays Premier League title challenge. Press Association
The veteran defender was by a distance the most experienced head on a trip that saw four players handed international debuts, winning his 90th cap in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Chile. Number 89 came five days earlier as Uruguay won 1-0 in Montevideo, with Northern Ireland acquitting themselves well in both fixtures. Aaron Hughes insists Northern Ireland are leaving South America a better side than they arrived, despite suffering successive defeats. “To have walked away from the game knowing we had taken something from it would have been great but there were so many things to be happy about in both games even though we are a little disappointed.” Although the performances of Hughes and fellow senior men Steven Davis and Roy Carroll were the standouts, the former captain was keen to sing the praises of the less experienced players. Doncaster’s Luke McCullough, 20, played above himself in both games against the likes of Edinson Cavani and Alexis, 19-year-old Ryan McLaughlin looked a real handful on his first start in Chile and brother Conor McLaughlin made the step up from Fleetwood Town with minimal fuss. There were also first caps on the tour for Liam Donnelly and Paul Paton. “The young lads who have come in have looked comfortable on the whole trip, too, not just in the games,” said Hughes. “It’s not just that they’ve come in, played their games and doing well, it’s the opposition they are playing against. “They’ve shown they weren’t fazed by it and they are competing at that level and taking a step up. “That’s what we need. We need these young players coming through and stepping up exactly like this and the composure they’ve shown has been fantastic “If they are called upon in the next few months they have already shown they can step up and that is fantastic for Northern Ireland.” Press Association Against World Cup-bound opponents on home soil, Michael O’Neill’s depleted squad worked tirelessly in pursuit of a result and were 10 minutes from achieving one in Valparaiso until Alexis Sanchez teed up fellow substitutes Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Pinilla for two late goals. Hughes was frustrated not to have held out but refused to let that dampen his enthusiasm for what has taken place over the last two weeks. “It’s been a really, really good trip and two really good performances,” said the 34-year-old. “When you look at the quality of opposition there’s no shame whatsoever in what we have done. “It is a massive learning experience for us. To come out to South America to play against two teams who are going to the World Cup and to be able to compete with them, show we can play against that standard and not look out of our depth. “The work we’ve put in over the past 10 days, the way the squad has gelled and the morale has all been really good. “That is just as important as saying we played well and didn’t deserve to lose. “Everything is so positive. That was really why we came out here, it wasn’t just to be cannon fodder, there was a real purpose.