Mourinho flags Ajax improvement

3 October 2012 02:50

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho believes Ajax are a much more dangerous proposition than in previous seasons.

Real head to the Netherlands to face the Dutch champions on Wednesday in their Group D Champions League clash and Mourinho said he has done plenty of homework on Frank de Boer’s side.

“Instead of playing golf or watching TV, I got a plane, I came here (to Amsterdam), I saw a match,” Mourinho said.

“It’s better live than on a video. You have a completely different perspective, and I’m happy that I came here because I understood that Ajax have changed a few players since last season, but they kept the same philosophy as always.”

The Spanish Champions have won the past four clashes between the sides, all in the Champions League, bagging 12 goals and conceding none during that period.

But Mourinho said their opponents had improved a great deal since the sides last played and were far from being written off in arguably the most difficult group, also containing Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.

“They are a team that are prepared to play in the Champions League and they’ll give us a completely different match than they gave us in previous seasons,” he said.

“They’re more counter-attacking than organised attack. I think they feel they had to make a bit of a philosophy change to compete in the Champions League at this level.

“Borussia (Dortmund) is a great team and they (Ajax) played in Dortmund and lost in the last minute.

“They could have won, they could have drawn, so I think at the moment they’re ready to play against (Manchester) City and Dortmund, and fight for a result in every match.”

Wenger pleased with improving Gunners

3 October 2012 02:44

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are improving with each game they play this season.

Gibbs has come through the youth system at the Emirates making his first team debut in 2007. However, a string of injuries had restricted the 23 year-old to just 34 appearances by the end of last season.

Wenger is hopeful that the young left-back’s fitness issues are now behind him and that he can build on his consistent start to the new campaign.

He told the club’s official website: “I am very happy with his performances because he is like Carl – in every game he gets stronger.

“He was out a lot but now he has found stability in his performances.

“Gael Clichy had the same problem. He went through a long period of injury and after that he stabilised physically. That’s what Kieran is doing at the moment.”

Jenkinson has also made a strong start to his second season with the north London club. The 20-year-old signed from Charlton in June 2011 and struggled with form and fitness in his first campaign.

The Gunners boss believes that, like Gibbs, Jenkinson is benefiting from a full pre-season’s preparation and that greater levels of self-confidence are directly related to his impressive performances so far.

“This year they have benefited from the fact they had a good preparation,” he said.

“Carl has as well gained one year’s experience compared to last season. He came from Charlton and was straight away thrown into the Champions League.

“You can say that from game to game now he grows because it is linked with confidence.

“You need first to know that you belong there. Once you know that you can express yourself and then you see that in every game there is more coming out of him.”

Di Matteo lauds Chelsea attack

3 October 2012 01:44

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo praised his side’s attacking prowess after their 4-0 Champions League rout of Nordsjaelland.

A Juan Mata double, tallied with a wonder set piece from David Luiz and a Ramires tap-in saw the reigning champions to the top of Group E.

When asked about Luiz’s dipping free-kick, Di Matteo told Sky Sports: “It was about time. When we practice set-pieces in training, they always score attractive goals. Mata scores them all the time in training, and Luiz with free kicks.”

Mata was Chelsea’s most impressive player in Copenhagen with his constant movement a thorn in the hosts’ side.

The former Valencia man was given two weeks off in early September after featuring for both the senior and Olympic Spain squads for Euro 2012 and the London Games, and Di Matteo believes the break has benefitted the attacker.

“(Mata) had a great season last season and, after his break, he has continued exactly where he finished off. He is playing very well, is in good shape and full of confidence,” Di Matteo said.

Focusing on the game as a whole, the Italian admitted Chelsea struggled to get into gear before the break, but was pleased with the overall performance.

Petr Cech denied the hosts an unexpected equaliser, minutes before Luiz extended Chelsea’s lead – tipping Joshua John’s curling effort onto the far post in a moment Di Matteo pinpointed as ‘crucial’.

“I think we were a little bit slow in the first half and much better in the second half, and the goal came at the end, it took a bit of time,” Di Matteo added.

“I think we had some good chances in the first half as well, you just need to be able to score those goals.

“Petr Cech made a crucial save again. An unbelievable save. It was while (the scoreline was) 1-0.

“All in all, I think it is a good scoreline for us, and the three points and clean sheet away from home as well, so a pleasing night.”

Championship wrap: Cardiff continue strong start

3 October 2012 01:26

Cardiff City continued their perfect home record in the Championship this season with a 2-1 win over Birmingham City on Tuesday.

The Welsh outfit – who top the table with 19 points from nine matches – made it five wins from as many matches in front of their home fans at the Cardiff City Stadium thanks to another impressive performance.

Striker Craig Bellamy fired Cardiff into the lead on 39 minutes and it was an advantage they carried into the half-time break.

Struggling Birmingham levelled proceedings just nine minutes after the break thanks to Leroy Lita’s effort but parity was only brief.

Defender Mark Hudson restored Cardiff’s lead only moments after and Malky Mackay’s men held on from there to claim an important victory.

Leicester City made it four wins on the trot with a 2-0 success at Huddersfield Town thanks to a double from French midfielder Anthony Knockaert.

Nigel Pearson’s side now sit second on the Championship table, while third-placed Brighton and Hove Albion drew 1-1 with Ipswich Town thanks to substitute Will Buckley’s late leveller.

Blackpool scored twice in the last 20 minutes as they returned to winning ways with a 3-2 triumph at Hull City.

Matt Phillips gave Ian Holloway’s side the early advantage after 11 minutes but goals from Sone Aluko and Stephen Quinn fired Hull in front.

Substitutes Kevin Phillips and Nouha Dicko both struck late for Blackpool though as they bounced back from two successive defeats.

Highly rated Ivorian Wilfried Zaha scored twice in the second half as Crystal Palace came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Bolton and Leeds United played out an entertaining 2-2 draw.

Sam Byram and Luciano Becchio scored for Leeds but a Kevin Davies double was enough for Bolton to rescue a point.

Charlie Austin – the Championship’s top-scorer – continued his superb run of form, bagging a hat-trick for Burnley in a 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday at Turf Moor.

All of Austin’s goals put Burnley in front but a Chris O’Grady double and Michail Antonio’s 85th-minute equaliser saw both sides share the spoils.

Peterborough United may still be on the bottom of the table but a 2-0 success at Barnsley, thanks to early goals from George Boyd and Tyrone Barnett, gave them their second win in a row while fellow strugglers Millwall came from behind to win a point in a 1-1 draw at Bristol City.

Tuesday’s other fixture saw a 10-man Watford defeat Charlton Athletic 2-1, with Swiss midfielder Almen Abdi netting the winner for Gianfranco Zola’s side with 20 minutes remaining.

UEFA Champions League Group E wrap: Mata brace fires Chelsea

3 October 2012 00:08

Juan Mata scored a double as Chelsea beat FC Nordsjaelland 4-0 in Group E of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

The reigning champions of Europe’s premier club competition finished convincing winners in Denmark but the scoreline flattered them as they scored three goals in the final 11 minutes.

Nordsjaelland enjoyed good spells in the game and could have easily scored early in the second half, but were made to pay for their profligacy as Mata was joined by David Luiz and Ramires on the scoresheet.

Chelsea should have scored immediately, only for Victor Moses’ effort from two yards to be headed against the post by Jores Okore.

Oscar and Frank Lampard both fired shots on goal that failed to trouble Nordsjaelland goalkeeper Jesper Hansen, before Ashley Cole was called on to save the day at the other end of the pitch.

The defender tracked back well, putting in a last-ditch lunge to deny Kasper Lorentzen from giving the hosts the lead.

Chelsea took the lead on 33 minutes when Enoch Adu was caught in possession by Fernando Torres, with Lampard also involved before Mata, who charged down the right, fired home to give Roberto Di Matteo’s side the lead.

Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net within a minute of the second half but Oscar’s effort was ruled out for offside and Nordsjaelland made the most of the reprieve and put the pressure on the English Premier League outfit.

Mikkel Beckmann had two good chances before Dutchman Joshua John was denied by a combination of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and the woodwork.

John cut inside from the left, skipped past David Luiz and hit a fierce shot towards the top corner, only to see Cech tip the effort onto the bar and away to safety.

Chelsea’s second goal of the match killed off the contest, with Luiz firing a superb free-kick past Hansen from 25 yards on 79 minutes.

Mata coolly slotted his second just moments later before Ramires capped off the win, tapping in a fourth after neat build-up play from Torres and Oscar in the dying stages.

In the other Group E fixture, Juventus drew 1-1 with Shakhtar Donetsk in Turin.

Brazilian Alex Teixeira gave the visitors from Ukraine the lead after just 23 minutes but Juventus quickly responded.

Leonardo Bonucci was the man who levelled proceedings, just two minutes after they went behind, as Juventus notched their second consecutive draw in the competition.