Vilanova praises Barca patience

24 October 2012 02:16

Barcelona head coach Tito Vilanova has praised his players’ commitment and patience after they pulled off a late 2-1 win over Celtic.

Jordi Alba’s 94th-minute goal secured victory for Barcelona over a brave Celtic side, keeping the Catalan club’s 100 percent record intact in Group G of the UEFA Champions League.

Vilanova rejected the idea that Barcelona was lucky to win after the home team took 26 shots for the match with 13 testing Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

“It says a lot about these players that they keep on trying until the end,” Vilanova said after the match.

“They have already won everything but they just keep on going.

“Lucky to win at the end?

“I think it was rather bad luck, that we couldn’t finish it earlier.”

Vilanova also praised 21-year-old defender Marc Bartra, who played just his ninth match for Barcelona’s senior side.

Bartra, who is more known as a full-back, slotted into central defence alongside Javier Mascherano against Celtic.

“They told me more than a week ago Pique wouldn’t get ready for the game,” Vilanova said.

“I knew since then that Bartra would play this one.

“Bartra is a first-team player because I wanted it.

“We had the money to sign a centre-back last summer but I told the club to save it.”

Celtic head coach Neil Lennon expressed his pride in his players’ performance in Barcelona after they took the lead in the first half only to concede the equaliser just before half-time.

“I’m disappointed for the players and immensely proud of them,” Lennon said.

“They were brave and they stuck to what we asked them to do, they didn’t lose their composure when they were under pressure.

“We knew we would lose the ball at certain times but they didn’t concede any ground when they did.”

Form of Hernandez poses Ferguson problems

24 October 2012 02:03

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says he does not know how to make best use of his star-studded forward line.

Mexico international Javier Hernandez was the latest man to get United out of trouble, netting twice to help seal a 3-2 win at home to Braga in the Champions League on Tuesday, despite having trailed 2-0 early in the first half.

Ferguson has conceded he faces a selection headache with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and now Hernandez all among the goals.

He told ITV: “(Hernandez) is improving all the same and he’s got such enthusiasm for the game. He trains magnificently.

“He’s got me thinking, I must say that. He’s got me thinking about him and Van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck.

“I don’t know what to do with them, to be honest with you.”

The Scot also defended his decision to start Michael Carrick and Alexander Buttner in defence ahead of Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, insisting a congested fixture list leaves him no choice but to rotate.

“I think we did the right thing. It wasn’t Michael Carrick’s fault for the goal – the first goal – he did his job well,” he said.

“He can take the ball out from the back for us, his passing was terrific.”

United have back-to-back games away to Chelsea in the English Premier League and League Cup coming up, before a home match with Arsenal early next month.

“I think you have to look at the big picture,” Ferguson said.

“Rio, at his age, big game on Sunday against Chelsea, then Chelsea on Wednesday and Arsenal on the Saturday… we’ve a massive problem coming up now and it’s important to use and utilise the squad that we have.

“OK, at the moment, with Vidic out and Jones and Smalling not available, putting Michael at the back there is not the best but he does the job well.”

Ferguson praised his side’s recovery from two goals down but expressed his concern at their defensive shortcomings.

“It’s been the story of our season at home, starting badly and losing goals,” he said.

“We’re having to fight back to rescue games and it’s the front players who are doing that for us.

“I must say, some of our football was terrific tonight – some fantastic football, we created a lot of chances – but it is a concern, losing the goals.”

Bender, Dortmund focused on Real

24 October 2012 01:40

Midfielder Sven Bender has claimed Borussia Dortmund have moved on from their derby loss and are focused on their clash with Real Madrid.

Dortmund lost 2-1 at home against Schalke on Saturday but Bender has claimed the reigning Bundesliga champions have had no time to wallow in that result.

Next up is Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League and Bender knows Dortmund must find a way to exploit the Spanish club’s lack of top-line full-backs, in the hope of moving to the top of Group D.

“We don’t have the time to think about our last game in the Bundesliga,” Bender said.

“We know we did a lot of things wrong but we proved we can play better football.

“We are professionals so we have to forget those defeats.

“We focused pretty quickly on the game against Real Madrid.

“That is the only thing we think about now.”

Real Madrid have travelled to Germany without full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo, who are all injured, but head coach Jose Mourinho has refused to use that as an excuse.

“This game against Dortmund will be tough but not because we are missing a few players,” Mourinho said.

“I don’t like talking about players that are not available.

“We have a good enough team to play tomorrow and it will be difficult because of the quality of the opponents we are facing.”

Mourinho’s counterpart Jurgen Klopp has reminded his side that despite Madrid’s injury problems in defence, the Spanish team could still overwhelm Dortmund with their attacking players.

“We have to work extremely hard like we did against Manchester City (where we claimed a 1-1 draw),” Klopp said.

“We also have to be wary about some of Real’s key players.

“When you play against them, you have to watch out for players like Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo, (Angel) Di Maria, (Karim) Benzema and (Gonzalo) Higuain.

“There is high quality all around.

“We want to take the sting out of the match, like we did against City, and play with that same attitude against Real Madrid.

“We have to give everything we have.”

Girard plays down Montpellier favouritism

24 October 2012 01:22

Rene Girard has rejected suggestions Montpellier will be favourites against Olympiacos when they meet in Group B of the Champions League.

Girard’s side have one draw from two matches in the Champions League group stage but despite Olympiacos having lost both their games, Montpellier’s coach remains wary of a team boasting a 100 percent record in the Greek Super League.

By contrast, Montpellier have only two victories from nine matches in Ligue 1, and Girard feels Olympiacos’ experience in Europe could make a difference in Wednesday’s game.

“When you look at the records of the two teams, Olympiacos is used to playing those games, to being in the group stage,” Girard said.

“At best, playing at home is going to help us a bit.

“So I think that if there was a team favourite that would be Olympiacos.”

Girard is suspended for the next two Champions League games, home and away against Olympiacos, after a heated exchange with Schalke head coach Huub Stevens in the competition earlier this month.

But the 58-year-old coach remains confident his staff and players are prepared to do the job without him.

“It’s true that communicating with the players is important and I won’t be able to be in the locker room at half-time nor right before the game, but I have good deputies who will be there to pass the message,” Girard said.

“We’ve been working on this game for a long time.

“We’ve done our best to prepare this game but there are always unpredictable elements.

“So we are trying to do everything right before so that I don’t have run down from the stands.”

Olympiacos have scored in both their games so far, losing 2-1 at home against Schalke on the opening matchday before succumbing 3-1 away to Arsenal, and the Greek side’s coach Leonardo Jardim has been happy enough with how his team has performed.

But the 38-year-old Portuguese knows Olympiacos must turn those peformances into points against Montpellier.

“We are satisfied with the way we played in the previous games,” Jardim said.

“We have performed well against both Arsenal and Schalke.

“We need to keep playing that way but add a positive result this time.”

Mancini spoilt for choice up front

24 October 2012 01:11

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini says he is yet to decide who will lead the line in Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Ajax.

Mancini has been favouring Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero up front, but Edin Dzeko has given the Italian a headache after coming off the bench to score both goals in Saturday’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League.

“For me it is always difficult … when you have four strikers like Mario (Balotelli), Edin, Carlos and Sergio,” Mancini said on Tuesday.

“I can only choose two to play and two are left on the bench. It is very difficult. For tomorrow’s team we will decide tomorrow morning.”

Both teams are searching for their first victory in Group D, with City in Amsterdam on the back of a 3-2 loss at Real Madrid and a 1-1 draw at home to Borussia Dortmund.

“We started this group very well but we know tomorrow will be a difficult game,” Mancini said.

“Everyone can think it will be an easy game but Ajax play fantastic football and they have a young team.”

City captain Vincent Kompany knows both sides are desperate for three points to kick start their European campaign.

“Ajax is a club of legends; they’ve always had one of the best youth systems in the world,” he said.

“They stand for a way of playing; they stand for what the game is about – the beauty of football.

“Obviously I have a massive amount of respect for Ajax, but tomorrow is going to be a game for us where we need to win as much as they need to win.”