Premier League

Lampard aims to emulate Giggs

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Sun, 12 May 2013 08:22:00

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho congratulated Barcelona after his side's 1-1 draw with Espanyol ended the title race on Saturday night.

Holders Madrid needed a victory at the home of Barca's city rivals to prevent Tito Vilanova's men from taking their title.

But they were disjointed and off the pace in the first half which was dominated by Espanyol, who were unfortunate to only have a one-goal lead courtesy of Christian Stuani's 23rd-minute strike.

Hector Moreno incorrectly had a goal disallowed as Real appeared to have one eye on next Friday's Copa del Rey final against Atletico Madrid, with key men including Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.

The second-half introduction of Ronaldo was followed moments later by Gonzalo Higuain's 58th-minute equaliser but Madrid could not find a winner and the title went to Barca.

"First of all I want to congratulate Barcelona, their coaches, their players, their managers and their fans," Mourinho said on www.realmadrid.com. "They have just won the league title, which was ours until now, and I think the least we can do is congratulate them.

"Last season we won and wanted, justifiably, to speak about a great league campaign and I think it makes sense at this point is to congratulate the champion. You should give the champions the importance they deserve."

Mourinho stood by Pepe's continued absence from the team.

The defender was in the stands to watch the game against Espanyol having recently backed Iker Casillas in his row with Mourinho, who has favoured Diego Lopez over the Spain number one of late.

Mourinho said: "It was my decision and that's it. I'm the coach. I don't have to justify anything.

"From the first to the last day I'll always be the one to decide. Sometimes I can share the reasons for my decisions and sometimes not, I'll take that option.

"On Friday you'll see who plays and it will always be my decision and responsibility."

Pepe could yet find himself in contention to play in Friday's cup final as Raphael Varane, the young centre-back who has taken his place in the team, picked up a knee injury against Espanyol and looks set to miss the game.

Mourinho said: "I don't want to second guess what the medical services have to say but at this point it looks like there is a certain degree of gravity, fairly serious let's say and it is impossible that he will play the cup final or the two or three matches left until the end of the season.

"We have alternatives. It is a position in which we have people who are playing well and that's good.

"We are obviously sorry that he cannot play in match that everyone wants to play, but there's no need to make a drama about it because we have solutions."

Xabi Alonso, who replaced Varane in the first half, turned his attention to Friday's game.

"The aim now is the cup and we have fight for the title that we have left to play for," he said. "There are six days to prepare and that's what we are thinking about.

"We are very motivated, eager to play a great match and lift the trophy in our stadium, albeit on neutral soil."

The Italian was last month forced to release a statement a few days into his tenure at the Stadium of Light saying he does "not support the ideology of fascism" because of intense focus on past statements he had made.

Di Canio met with club owner Ellis Short to discuss the matter.

"I told him, 'Tell me what I have to do. Bye bye. No problem, because I do not want to be a problem for the club'," Di Canio told the Independent on Sunday.

"'If I don't represent a problem for you I am okay, I am ready to handle the pressure. It is no pressure for me. All day rubbish me, I don't care. It is my life, but if you think 'mmm, probably yeah, I let you be free', I don't want nothing and I go'.

"He said, 'Absolutely, you have to stay. You are our man.'

"That for me was enough. Refocus. I will never forget what he did. He gave me a big chance of my dream to become manager at the top level. Next year I hope I can be here. You never know what is going on in life.

"In this moment, he did not give up, he gave me 100 per cent, 200 per cent support. He convinced me to stay because he said you are our man. He is the owner, he picked me. I can't forget for the rest of my life, no matter what happens in the future."

Sunderland sit three points clear of the relegation zone with two games remaining.

The England midfielder will be 35 in June and his current contract expires at the end of the season, when a decision will be made which sees him stay or go.

Lampard has stated his preference to finish his career at Chelsea, but wherever his future lies, he hopes to emulate the longevity of Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

"I'd love to carry on as long as I feel I can do and I feel I'm fit," Lampard said.

"I'd love to do that, for another three or four years. I'd love to emulate those boys.

"Ryan Giggs (has) got an aura around him. All the players at the club look up to him. He's the mark."

Lampard has even adopted some of Giggs' training methods in recent years, including yoga - "I have to fight myself to do it," Lampard said - in a far cry from his early years at Chelsea.

Lampard joined the club from West Ham in 2001 and whether his 12-year spell comes to an end, or is extended, it is appropriate to reflect on a stunning career as a goalscoring midfielder.

It is not the first time his Blues career has been uncertain.

The arrival of billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich as owner in the summer of 2003 left the existing squad fearful amid the imminent influx of global superstars.

Lampard said: "Every summer you thought: 'Blimey, there's more coming in, am I going to play?'

"The ones that stayed here were the determined ones and the ones that fought to try to up their level to stay in the team.

"The John Terrys of the world, at that time the Eidur Gudjohnsens. We went through that transition and became important players for the Roman era."

As he prepared to leave West Ham, Lampard was aware of interest from Manchester United, but insisted he never had a choice to make.

Sir Alex Ferguson's departure from Old Trafford, announced this week, could benefit Chelsea, who may once again be managed by Jose Mourinho.

Lampard welcomed the possibility of the self-titled Special One's second coming, but is unsure if the Portuguese's arrival would prompt the issuing of a contract extension for himself.

Whoever the next boss is, it will be the 10th permanent appointment of Abramovich's reign.

While some will criticise the Russian's hiring-and-firing policy, Lampard has nothing but admiration."Roman Abramovich completely transformed the club," Lampard said.

"It became a winning club and that was certainly down to him."

The Europa League final will be Chelsea's 68th and penultimate competitive game of the season - two friendlies with Manchester City in the United States follow later in May.

The congested calendar has allowed Lampard to focus on playing, rather than his own situation.

"The easiest part about this season has been playing games, in terms of the speculation," Lampard said.

"When you are thinking about it too much at home it becomes more detrimental, but when you're playing and training and want to do well for the team then it's easier."

Lampard has had to adjust from being one of the first names on the team sheet, to being part of interim boss Rafael Benitez's rotation policy.

Although he has had no guarantees that he will play in Wednesday's Europa League final, Lampard will look to the example of Didier Drogba, whose final act as a Chelsea player was to net the decisive penalty in the Champions League win over Bayern Munich.

"Didier handled himself fantastically all last season," Lampard said.

"No-one knew his plans. We only knew his plans after the match when he'd done his stuff.

"It just goes to show that the football does the talking. And he left an absolute legend, like it should be."

Chelsea are at their best with their backs against the wall, Lampard said, but although there are similarities with 12 months ago - an interim boss, for one - Amsterdam will not surpass that heady night when Roberto Di Matteo led the Blues to a first European Cup.

"Munich was amazing and the one we've been waiting for for a long time," Lampard said.

"I'd like to think we can get near it, but we've got a very tough game to try to do that, with Benfica."

Chelsea's season will be judged by the remaining fixtures and Lampard hopes the future, whether he is involved or not, sees the Blues challenging for leading honours once more.

"I'd love us to be up there again fighting to win leagues," he said.

"One thing we've lacked in the last two or three years has been consistency, league wise. That's what we need to get back."

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