Buffon slams reports of breakdown in Benatia relationship

Gianluigi Buffon has rubbished rumours claiming he has fallen out with Juventus team-mate Medhi Benatia, accusing the media of attempting to manufacture division.

Reports in Italy suggested the pair were involved in an argument in the aftermath of the 1-0 defeat to Napoli on Sunday which trimmed the champions’ lead atop Serie A to one point.

Fingers were pointed at Benatia for failing to prevent Kalidou Koulibaly from heading home a 90th-minute winner, while less than two weeks earlier he came under scrutiny for conceding a decisive stoppage-time penalty in Juve’s exit from the Champions League quarter-finals at the hands of Real Madrid.

Buffon was shown a red card for vociferously protesting official Michael Oliver’s decision in that match, but the veteran goalkeeper insists he has no issues with Benatia, slamming the reports as “false gossip”.

“It attempts to destabilise an environment and undermine the confidence and togetherness of a group,” Buffon told Juventus TV.

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“As normal as this is and as something that has always happened since I’ve been at Juventus, I find it both logical and correct to speak up and that is what I’ve done.

“Nobody, at least in my 17 years at Juventus, has taken it upon themselves to point the finger at another team-mate, blaming them for a defeat, and this will never happen while I am captain of this team.

“I would like to add that Medhi is an extremely respectful, polite person, who is contributing to the cause and forms a part of this exceptional group.

“I’m sorry that I’m forced to point this out but I have to do it, because in the light of certain news stories, if not slanderous, at least false, I believe that a clarification is due to protect the group and Medhi, who is a fantastic guy.”

Despite the late loss to Napoli, Juve remain in the box seat to win a seventh successive Scudetto and will also contest the Coppa Italia final against AC Milan.

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And an impassioned Buffon called for unity between players and fans.

“Otherwise we end up playing into the hands of our opponents and of those who, in our rare moments of difficulty, have always looked for biased news to cause us problems, without ever succeeding,” he added.

“At this time, I want the team and the Bianconeri world to unite as one and create that wall of protection which allows us to take on these 20 days like a true Juventus team.”

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Keane still confident of World Cup spot with England

Michael Keane feels he still has a good chance of going to the 2018 World Cup in Russia with England.

The Everton defender, who has won four caps, was left out of the squad for the friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy last month as Gareth Southgate looked at James Tarkowski.

Keane has suffered a mixed first season at Everton following his £25 million move from Burnley last summer, but his form has improved in recent weeks and he hopes to force his way back into the England squad for the World Cup.

“While I was really disappointed not to be in the last England squad, it just gives you the motivation to work harder and want to get into the next one,” said Keane.

“I feel like I’m still in the manager’s thoughts for the World Cup. I’ve been in a lot of squads in the past year or two.

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“I know if I play to my ability for the rest of the season, I will have a good chance. It’s up to me to do that.”

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Meanwhile, the centre-back has praised Sam Allardyce since he arrived at Goodison Park in November, saying the former England boss gives Everton an understanding that they previously did not have.

Keane added: “I’ve been a lot more settled since the manager came in and I know what my role is in the team.

“You want to be clear-minded and understand your role and responsibilities going into a game. That’s how it is with the manager here.”

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Former Man Utd midfielder Schneiderlin set Everton challenge

Morgan Schneiderlin has been challenged to demonstrate the same consistency for Everton which earned him a £25 million move to Manchester United.

The France international has struggled to find his best form since joining Everton from United in a £20m deal in January 2017 and he was jeered by Toffees fans against Crystal Palace earlier this year.

However, Schneiderlin has been impressive of late and received a standing ovation on Monday night when he was substituted due to injury on 52 minutes as Everton beat Newcastle 1-0 at Goodison Park.

Everton boss Sam Allardyce has backed Schneiderlin to kick on from recent performances and get back to his best.

“Sooner or later he has to find himself from where he used to be,” said Allardyce.

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“Sometimes it takes a while to find yourself after, I think, probably a disappointing move that didn’t work at United.

“For the first time you find yourself in the squad not being involved very, very much indeed. Then you come to Everton and try and reinvent your career and show what you can do again. Sometimes it takes a bit of time.”

Allardyce believes that Schneiderlin needs to perform well every week in order to win the fans over on a regular basis.

He added: “There needs to be a bit more consistency. Morgan, if he continues to play like that and show that consistent level of form that he’s shown in the past, particularly at Southampton, we will all get better as a team with him.

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“Fans will always like to see you show your best and show commitment. They will always support you.”

Everton have suffered a disappointing season after spending over £120 million last summer before Allardyce replaced Ronald Koeman as manager, leading the team to a current position of eighth in the Premier League.

“Obviously the whole team suffered a lack of confidence at the start of the season,” said Allardyce. “Everybody’s finally going in the right direction and ebbing back towards more and more confidence. I think the confidence is going the right way.”

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Cult hero Lucas planning to join Liverpool fans in Rome

Lucas Leiva is planning to further endear himself to the Liverpool faithful by taking his place in the away end when the Reds face Roma in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

The Brazilian is already a cult hero at Anfield following a productive 10-year spell on Merseyside which delivered 346 appearances.

He departed the club in the summer of 2017, with fierce competition for places leading to him joining Lazio.

With Lucas now based in Rome, but retaining strong ties to Liverpool, the 31-year-old has revealed that he intends to join the away support at Stadio Olimpico on May 2.

He told the Reds’ official website: “I’m still thinking about it, but I’m hoping I can go to the Liverpool end and watch the game – and maybe take some of my friends and my son.

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“We still follow Liverpool a lot, we watch every game and I hope they can get to the final.”

While planning to take in the live experience when Liverpool travel to Italy, Lucas will be among the interested observers watching on from afar when his former club face Roma at Anfield on Tuesday.

He added: “It will be a great night, for sure. For the players, a good experience.

“It’s a big game, a semi-final. It maybe won’t be that different from some games that I experienced with Liverpool – the Europa League, that game against Dortmund and then Villarreal.

“I’m looking forward to it and I’ll be supporting Liverpool for sure.”

Lucas believes Liverpool are capable of making their way to another Champions League final, but has warned that his domestic rivals at Roma are in buoyant mood following their stunning quarter-final fightback against Barcelona – which saw them recover from three goals down to prevail on away goals.

Florenzi De Rossi Roma Barcellona Champions League

He said: “They are full of confidence of course after the win against Barca.

“Fair play to them because they played really well and I think they deserved it. The boost that gave them is massive.

“But in the city, one side will be supporting the Reds – the Lazio fans – because they don’t want to see their rival going to the final of course, but the other side of Rome is really excited, so it is going to be a big, big semi-final and let’s see what is going to happen.

“I would say Roma is a very aggressive team. They play a Premier League style of play I would say. They press very high and they have some quick players.

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“They also have [Edin] Dzeko and he is a big player for them. Liverpool will know him very well.

“We can expect a very good semi-final, but I think Liverpool have all the tools and the power to win because we could see against Manchester City how strong Anfield is.

“Having a good result in the first game could be the key as well for the second game here in Rome.”

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PSG, Real Madrid, Japan or China – What will Arsene Wenger’s next job be?

Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal spans over two decades with the Frenchman set to call time on his tenure at Emirates Stadium when the season ends.

Ten major trophies in 22 years, one unbeaten Premier League season and a legacy in English football which will never be forgotten, Wenger’s achievements and vast experience in the game have made him an immediate target for clubs and national teams around the world.

Goal understands that the 68-year-old is keen on staying in the game and already has a number of teams interested in his services. But, where will Wenger end up next season?

Wenger’s passion and enthusiasm for the game was demonstrated early in his career when he joined Cannes as assistant manager to Jean-Marc Guillou in 1983. A fresh-faced Wenger was earning £300-a-week, while the club also covered his living expenses, and he spent hours examining the opposition’s weaknesses and researching revolutionary fitness techniques which could improve the performances of his players.

One aspect of Wenger’s personality is clear – money has never been a sole motivator behind his passion for the game or why he decided to become a coach in the first place.

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“I don’t have any particular attachment to money as this aspect has truly never occupied me,” he said.

“What I’m paid now [at Arsenal] is a result of finding myself in the financial explosion of this sport. But if I didn’t earn as much, I would still be the same coach.”

Japan has been mentioned as a potential destination for Wenger this summer and his relationship with the country goes back to when he was manager at Nagoya Grampus Eight in the mid-1990s. He credits the culture in Japan for improving his temperament and rediscovering his passion for the game.

“People in France thought that I was mad to be fleeing the country but Japan gave me back my love for the game. The players gave me more effort than I could possibly have expected.”

While a return to Japan could be a long shot, former Arsenal assistant manager Pat Rice believes Wenger could be the target of a footballing organisation such as UEFA or FIFA.

“I know he’s very well respected at UEFA and FIFA and I would not be surprised if he had an opportunity to go and join one of those,” Rice told Sky Sports .

“Football is his love. When I was working there, you would go in the next day and talk about what film or comedy show you watched the previous night, or if you’d been out in the West End.

“He would come in and ask if anyone had seen Juventus or Roma or Barcelona v Malaga.”

Arsene Wenger

Another realistic option is the general manager or sporting director role at Paris Saint-Germain, a club where Wenger already has close connections. The relationship between Wenger and Nasser Al-Khelaifi goes back several years and has seen the Frenchman take part in media work for the Qatari-owned beIN Sports channel which the PSG chairman also fronts. He has failed in two previous attempts to bring Wenger to the club but there is a feeling that his departure from Arsenal could reignite talks this summer.

China has also been touted as a country which could tempt Wenger, with reports that he turned down a £30m-a-year offer to become the highest-paid manager in world football last season. Instead, Wenger decided to honour his Arsenal contract where he subsequently signed a two-year extension.

It seems unlikely at this stage that he would head back to the Far East but one option that could tempt him is German giants Borussia Dortmund.

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The Bundesliga side look set to part ways with Peter Stoger, who has struggled to maintain a title challenge this season, with Dortmund 24 points behind champions Bayern Munich. They have a relatively young squad which Wenger may see as an exciting challenge when you factor in his history of success with youth players.

Real Madrid are also long-term admirers of Wenger having tried to sign the manager on several occasions since he’s been at Arsenal. Former Madrid president Ramon Calderon has previously claimed that Wenger was keen on heading to the Bernabeu but wanted to stay loyal to the Gunners and honour his contracts.

Indeed, with talk that Zinedine Zidane could leave Madrid at the end of the season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see current president Florentino Perez make a late push for Wenger, and it is a job which many would deem the most prestigious in world football.

“He will have no shortage of offers,” said former Arsenal vice-chairman and close friend David Dein .

“I personally had calls from various people yesterday, saying, can I speak to him? He won’t be short of offers from clubs. Over the last few years, he has been approached by some of the biggest clubs in the world, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, the national team wanted him at one stage.”

Wherever he decides to go this summer, there is no doubt that Wenger remains a man in demand. His skillset, experience and attack-minded footballing philosophy appeal to teams all over the world and it certainly won’t be long before we see the Frenchman patrolling the touchline again.

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