Downing looking for improvement

8 August 2012 13:01

Stewart Downing wants Liverpool to build on their Europa League victory over FC Gomel ahead of the return clash on Thursday.

The Reds went into the first leg just a few weeks into their pre-season preparations and the winger believes that his side will be improved after another full week of training.

“I think we were all a little bit rusty. It was my first 90 minutes and Johnno (Glen Johnson) came back in after playing all summer and Gomel are five or six weeks, if not longer, into their league season,” he told the Liverpool Echo.

“I can understand fans who want us to be fast out of the blocks but we had only been back 10 days so for me it was a good result, maybe not the best performance but with a week’s training behind us we’ll put a better performance in at Anfield tomorrow (Thursday) night.”

Downing notched the only goal of the game in Belarus, and after a goalless Premier League campaign last term, the former Middlesbrough man revealed Brendan Rodgers is looking to utilise him on the right wing in an attempt to create more goalscoring opportunities.

“I was really pleased with the goal. It was good timing as well because we were under pressure a little bit and it deflated them a little,” he said.

“All managers have their different ways of playing and this manager sees me as playing on the right a little bit more.

“He wants me playing higher up the field and getting in goal scoring positions because maybe I was a little bit deep last season. Hopefully that will happen and I will be in the position to score more goals.”

Despite many teams often viewing the Europa League unfavourably and choosing to play largely reserve squads in the competition, Downing insists that Liverpool are eyeing success in the competition this season.

“It’s certainly one we want to win,” he said.

“Earlier on you don’t know where you are going to be playing but the further on you get, when the Champions League teams drop in, then there are some good sides in the competition.

“The manager has stressed from day one that whatever competition we are in, we go to win it. So you can see his mentality, he wants to win every game, he is hungry and his players have got to be the same otherwise you don’t get picked.”

Moura confirms PSG talks

8 August 2012 12:33

Lucas Moura has admitted that he could leave Brazil Serie A club Sao Paulo for Paris Saint-Germain in the January transfer window.

The attacking midfielder is continually being linked with a move to Europe, with Manchester United and Inter both keen to lure the 19-year-old away from his current club.

Nevertheless, United and Inter have no intention to meet Sao Paulo’s hefty asking price for Lucas, thus allowing PSG to move into pole position in the race for the Brazil international’s signature.

“I talked to Thiago Silva and Leonardo, they said many good things about the club, the project they are implementing there. Talks are well under way, but not done yet,” Lucas told Globo Esporte.

“I will stay at Sao Paulo until the end of the year. I have always said that I want to win a title and qualify for the Copa Libertadores before leaving.

“If the transfer happens in January, I’ll be able to do that for Sao Paulo. For now, I’m focused on the national team, though. I can only say something after the Olympics.”

PSG currently have a maximum of four non-EU players in their squad, but they are hopeful that Milan Bisevac will receive dual nationality shortly, permitting them to add another player from outside the European Union to their squad either this summer or in January.

City prepare for Chelsea test

8 August 2012 12:24

English Premier League champions Manchester City meet FA Cup winners Chelsea in the Community Shield at Villa Park on Sunday.

The traditional curtain-raiser to the English domestic season, the fixture has been shifted from Wembley Stadium, London, to the home of Aston Villa due to the national arena’s use as an Olympic venue.

The corresponding match last year saw 2010/11 league champions Manchester United come from 2-0 down to beat cross-city rivals City 3-2.

Young midfielder Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, an off-season acquisition from Blackburn Rovers, impressed off the bench for United, who won thanks to a 94th-minute striker from Portuguese winger Nani.

But it was City who went on to take home the biggest prize on offer last term, winning the championship, their first of the Premier League era, on goal difference from United.

City gave their fans a victory they are likely to cherish forever along the way, as they hammered United 6-1 at Old Trafford on October 23.

Chelsea meanwhile finished a distant sixth in the league, but still enjoyed a season to remember, as they lifted the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas, fresh from winning a treble in his first full season in charge at Porto, took over Chelsea to much fanfare at the beginning of the 2011/12 campaign.

But he was sacked in March and replaced by assistant Roberto Di Matteo, a former Chelsea player who duly led the team to an improbable cup double.

Di Matteo was rewarded for orchestrating the Champions League triumph with a two-year contract, and will be charged with returning Chelsea to title contention in the coming seasons.

The club has been active in the transfer market, bringing in Brazil playmaker Oscar from Internacional and Belgium forward Eden Hazard from Lille, as well as German winger Marko Marin.

But the team must make do without talismanic striker Didier Drogba, who brought an end to his eight-year stay in west London after netting the winning penalty in Chelsea’s Champions League final shootout win over Bayern Munich.

City meanwhile have been unusually quiet in the transfer market, with reported targets such as Arsenal’s Robin van Persie and Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez thus far failing to arrive.

The imminent enforcement of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play regulations could also cost City a chance to sign sought-after Brazilian winger Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo.

Despite the lack of major signings, City manager Roberto Mancini still has a wealth of talent at his disposal, and much of it is likely to be on show against Chelsea’s exciting new crop on Sunday.

Bellamy mum on Cardiff move

8 August 2012 10:56

Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy has admitted he is taking things as they come amid speculation he is set to sign for Cardiff City.

Despite having a year remaining on his current Anfield deal, the former Manchester City man is thought to be keen to move away from the club and although Queens Park Rangers are reportedly showing interest, Bellamy has his heart set on the Bluebirds.

“Look, you know me better than to expect me to talk publicly about that. I’ve no immediate plans at the moment. What will be, will be,” Bellamy told the South Wales Echo.

“I don’t think too far into the future. At this stage of my career I just have to take things day by day.”

Malky Mackay is said to want to complete the signing as quickly as possible with his side getting their Championship campaign underway against Huddersfield in just over a week’s time and the signing of the Wales international would give his team an added boost.

The 33-year old spent the 2010-11 campaign on-loan with the Championship club where they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League following a semi-final play-off defeat but could now spearhead a new charge to the top flight.

Iniesta: Barcelona eager to regain La Liga title

8 August 2012 10:46

Andres Iniesta says Barcelona are determined to regain their La Liga crown this season after being pipped to the title by Real Madrid last term.

The Spain international admits that Real Madrid are now the team to beat, but added that he and his team-mates are only more motivated to set things right following their second spot in the table in 2011-12.

“We will try to beat the champions. Trying to beat Real Madrid to win the league again is a real incentive,” Iniesta said.

“It gives us extra motivation. Now it’s our turn to try and wrestle the title away from them.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming Spanish Supercopa against Real Madrid, the attacking midfielder stressed the outcome of the tie will not have any influence on the La Liga season.

“It is important for us because it is the first title, against the current league champions. But the Supercopa will not affect the season,” he said.

“Obviously the aim is to win it, to do as well as possible. It is part of our preparations over these two months. The winner will gain morale and confidence compared to the loser, but it is just the start.”

Meanwhile, Iniesta stoked the transfer fires further after announcing his pleasure that Barcelona are being linked with a move for Arsenal ‘prodigy’ Alex Song.

Recent speculation has suggested that the Catalans could be interested in acquiring the defensive midfielder’s services, with Arsene Wenger reportedly considering selling and bringing in Real Madrid misfit Nuri Sahin as a replacement.

A fee of at least 15 million pounds has been touted for the 24-year-old Cameroon international, and Iniesta believes any move will benefit Barcelona and Song.

“He’s a prodigy,” Iniesta said.

“I don’t know how many years he’s been playing but he isn’t a discovery from yesterday.

“He’s a good player and I’ve seen in a couple of publications that he could be joining our team.”

The Barcelona playmaker is unsure as to whether a move will materialise, but is confident Song has the ability to shine at Camp Nou.

Iniesta continued: “I don’t know if that would be the case but if he comes here we’ll welcome him the best we can.

“If he comes here it’s because he has the ability to play here, no doubt.”