Ben Arfa eyes top-10 finish

7 March 2013 15:47

Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa said Alan Pardew’s new-look side can challenge for European honours and a top-10 Premier League place.

The Magpies, who are currently languishing just six points above the drop zone, are in Russia to face big-spending Anzhi on Thursday, but the Frenchman is hoping his new team-mates can spring a surprise.

Pardew bolstered his injury-ravaged squad in January with several new recruits from France, and Ben Arfa – who could make his return for their Anzhi trip – has been delighted with the progress they have made.

“I am very happy now,” he told the Daily Mirror.

“They are very good players and they will really strengthen our team. I was in France when the players were signing. I was pleased because they are good players not just because they a French.

“For instance, Moussa Sissoko is here and he is a giant. I know him from the national team. A lot of big clubs wanted him and he came to Newcastle.

“We have a stronger team now than we had before January. It’s good because last season we did very well and we finished fifth but the squad was not very big.

“Now, with the players coming in, it is even stronger and we can do something similar again. This season maybe we can go on a good run and get to the top 10, of course.

“The ambition is to come back very strong and finish the season strong. I want to be at my best until the end of the season and that is my ambition at the moment.”

The 25-year-old has returned to the squad following a recurring hamstring setback that has kept him out for the best part of two months and the former Lyon man is confident his side can overcome an ambitious Anzhi side in Moscow and reach the last eight of the Europa League.

“I know (Samuel) Eto’o. I also know Lassana Diarra from the national team,” he added.

“They are a good team with very good players. They are targeting this competition and next year want to be in the Champions League. They have great ambition.

“But I am looking forward to playing. I am very happy to be back on the pitch. It has been a long time not playing, 10 weeks is difficult for any player to deal with.”

Juve were smart tactically, says Buffon

7 March 2013 15:39

Gianluigi Buffon has hailed Juventus’ tactical nous, after they dismissed Celtic in the Champions League round-of-16.

The Turin side beat Celtic 2-0 on Wednesday to book their ticket to the quarter-finals of the competition after previously beating the Scottish champions 3-0 in the first leg, and Buffon was delighted with Juve’s performance over the 180 minutes.

“Our strength is having a tactical awareness and level that we didn’t have before. This allows us to go anywhere and play our game. You can win or lose, but in the toughest moments, the group has an extra weapon to call on: our playing style,” Buffon told the club’s official website.

“We always look to impose our style of play but in previous Champions League campaigns we may have relied too heavily on individuals. But by sticking to game plan, you actually allow players to shine even more.

“We are into the last eight which is no mean feat when you think that that just 15 months ago we finished seventh in Serie A for the second year in a row.”

The shot-stopper added Juventus need a bit of fortune if they are to win the Champions League this term.

“You need a lot of luck to go all the way – just look at this week’s Manchester United-Real Madrid game, where one incident allowed the Spaniards to progress.”

The draw for the quarter-finals takes place in Nyon on March 15.

Giggs a trailblazer for Phillips

7 March 2013 15:33

Crystal Palace loanee Kevin Phillips said Ryan Giggs making it to 1000 appearances is an ‘awesome achievement’, one he uses for inspiration.

The 39-year-old, who is four months older than the Manchester United man, has played over 600 career matches but is still a fair few games short of the winger’s total, with the Red Devils midfielder also recently signing a one-year contract.

However, while Phillips acknowledged Giggs’ feat, he is hoping that he can carry on for a while yet and maintain his place as the oldest outfield player in the country.

He was quoted by the Daily Mirror: “Ryan making his 1000th appearance that is just an awesome achievement.

“With him signing another deal that may force my hand (to carry on), I am four months older than him but I’d like to be clear, on my own, as the oldest outfield player in the country.”

The Blackpool man, who is on loan at the Eagles, netted a hat-trick against Hull City in his full debut on Tuesday to become the south London club’s oldest goalscorer in history and take his career tally of goals to 283.

And the former Southampton, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion forward was delighted with the display, insisting it proves that he can continue to perform at a high level.

“To get a hat-trick at home like that on your full debut, it was fantastic,” he continued.

“It’s brilliant, what more could I want than to still be scoring hat-tricks and breaking records at 39, and turning 40 in the summer.

“It shows I am fit enough to start games in the Championship and the goals were great too, it wasn’t a perfect hat-trick but I was delighted.

“Could I still do it in the Premier League next season? Listen, it would be great but let’s not get carried away.”

Klopp plays down Dzeko rumours

7 March 2013 15:32

Borussia Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp has dismissed reports linking Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko with a move to the Bundesliga champions.

Bosnia international Dzeko revealed in February that he “would love” a return to Germany – the powerful centre-forward enjoyed a successful four-year spell with Wolfsburg between 2007 and 2011.

But Dortmund general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke dismissed the rumours linking the club with Dzeko on Tuesday, and Klopp has followed suit.

“This is total nonsense and no more funny,” Klopp told SID.

Dzeko scored 85 goals during his time in Bundesliga, and has previously said a lack of appearances for the English Premier League champions could force him to look elsewhere for regular first-team football, despite being City’s top goalscorer this season with 13 goals in all competitions.

And Klopp, regardless of a large financial windfall from Dortmund’s run in the Champions League this term, insisted a move for the striker, who cost City 27 million pounds, would not be feasible for his club.

Klopp, who previously described Dzeko as “extraordinary”, told a press conference on Thursday: “Dzeko is a good player but he is sadly out of our possibilities.”

Dortmund’s first-choice striker Robert Lewandowski has been linked with a move away from Westfalenstadion, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich reportedly admirers of the Poland international.

United demise pleases Pogba

7 March 2013 15:26

Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba said he was not disappointed to see Manchester United lose to Real Madrid on Tuesday.

The Red Devils were edged out 3-2 on aggregate by Jose Mourinho’s side after a controversial Nani red card led to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford, and Pogba rubbed further salt into the wound by suggesting he was not sorry to see them depart the competition.

“Did I watch Manchester United yesterday? Of course I did. Was I sorry to see them lose to Real? No,” he told reporters at Juventus Stadium.

A goal each from Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella saw Juve overcome Celtic and book their place in the last eight of the tournament, and Pogba insisted his side are aiming to go all the way this season.

“We are pleased. It was a very difficult game and we played the right way,” Pogba, 19, said.

“There is a great confidence within the team and the staff, and we will try to win the Champions League because we are Juve.

“I know the fans always expect me to score, but today it didn’t matter because the most important thing was to win. The game was not as easy as it seemed tonight.

“I just want to play and win, that’s all. The coach believes in me, and I’m glad I came here to play.”