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Long not for sale, warns Clarke

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Sat, 24 Nov 2012 09:32:00

Winger Jose Antonio Reyes has set his sights on ending former club Atletico Madrid's perfect home record on Sunday.

Reyes played a starring role as Sevilla ended a three-match winless run with a 5-1 thrashing of Real Betis last weekend, the 29-year-old scoring twice in the first half and also setting up Federico Fazio for his side's fourth goal before making way just after the hour.

Reyes revealed Sevilla's confidence has rocketed in the wake of that win, and is hoping they can capitalise on that with victory over an Atletico side who have the only remaining 100 per cent home record this season with six wins out of six.

The former Spain winger, who spent four years at Atletico before leaving in 2011, said: "We are highly motivated. Atletico are very strong at home, but we have our weapons and we're going to try and beat them, even though we're well aware of what they are capable of.

"The team have a tremendous desire and morale has been boosted after the derby. We are going to the Calderon with confidence sky-high."

If Sevilla are to pick up three points from their trip to the capital they will need to improve on their poor away form so far this campaign, which has seen them earn just one win from six games.

"We don't have an answer for that (their away form). The team always want to go out the same, but at times, due to our opponents or circumstances, we haven't done it. We've always gone into matches with the attitude of trying to win, but we've not always achieved it."

It is going to be tough for Sevilla, though, with Atletico looking back on track after a brief slump at the start of this month.

Successive defeats to Valencia and Academica brought Atletico down to earth following their 13-match winning streak, but since those setbacks Diego Simeone's men have picked up three consecutive victories without conceding a goal.

The most recent, Thursday's 1-0 home triumph over Hapoel Tel Aviv, earned the defending champions a place in the last 32 of the Europa League, and they did so without a host of first-choice players, including star striker Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan, Gabi, Juanfran, Filipe Luis and Diego Godin.

They are likely to return for Sunday's visit of Sevilla where second-placed Atletico will hope to keep the pressure up on league leaders Barcelona, who are three points ahead.

In light drizzle, a long list of dignitaries attended the unveiling of a 9ft statue of Ferguson at Old Trafford yesterday.

With plenty of supporters in attendance as well, it could have been mistaken for one of those stage-managed occasions used to pay homage to communist leaders.

Even Ferguson joked he was "outliving death" with the latest tribute to his remarkable career.

Yet the truth is those present had turned up of their own free will, to give thanks for the 37 trophies - by United's own calculations - the club has won since he came south from Aberdeen in 1986.

But to those whose day-to-day involvement with the Red Devils brings them closest to the 70-year-old Scot, he has done so much more.

"Everyone can talk eloquently about the great football teams he has built and world class players he has developed and managed," said Gill.

"They can talk about the hairdryer and Fergie time.

"But for me, as a fan, a colleague and a friend, the greatest thing he has brought back to this club is respect.

"Respect for the staff; respect for the heritage and history of the club and respect for the Manchester United way."

Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were amongst those present to watch Ferguson's wife Cathy complete the unveiling at a ceremony hosted by celebrity United fan Eamonn Holmes.

In addition, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and former Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute by video.

The statue, created by renowned sculptor Philip Jackson, depicts Ferguson by the touchline, arms folded, concentrating on the game.

Ferguson was suitably impressed by the creation, which has been positioned outside the stand which bears his name.

However, the strangeness of the situation was not lost on the Scot.

"Normally people die before they have a statue," said Ferguson. "I am outliving death."

Ferguson joked that Cathy had promised him that "she would come down here every Saturday morning and bow to the statue".

He added: "My three sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren can all come down here on a Saturday."

Harry Redknapp is set to be confirmed as the successor to Hughes, who was dismissed on Friday, and will take over a side bottom of the Premier League and without a win all season.

Warnock knows what it is like to be ushered out of Loftus Road - he lost his job in January just months after taking the club to promotion - but he does not want to see them relegated.

"I would like to wish Harry Redknapp the best of luck filling my old seat in the dugout at Queen's Park Rangers," he wrote in the Independent.

"It was one of the achievements of my managerial career getting QPR back into the Premier League after a 15-year absence and I would be very sad to see them go back down after all the hard work the players, staff and myself put in.

"Neither the fans nor the owners, Tony Fernandes and Amit Bhatia, deserve that."

Warnock made no secret of his disappointment at losing his job, feeling he deserved credit for having taken the club back to the top flight after a lengthy absence.

He has also been angered by some of the comments made by Hughes since his appointment and feels Fernandes may now regret ever letting him go.

The Leeds manager added: "I have to admit there have been times this year when I have had to bite my tongue. I kept hearing the team were playing well without getting the results they deserved: so were mine but we did win away from home three times.

"There was also the comment at the end of last season when my successor said after coming 17th, the same position I left them in, 'we won't be in this position again'. Unfortunately he was proved right; QPR have not been that high since.

"It was difficult to accept when I was replaced. Having met the mandate of keeping out of the bottom three we were about to make the signings in the January window we needed to head towards mid-table.

"Having kept QPR up I planned to retire and hand the reins over to someone else for a smooth transition. It is easy to look back in hindsight but I think Tony might now reflect and feel that would have been a better way to proceed."

Redknapp had hoped his position would be confirmed last night, but even though it was not, he is still set to take the job.

Out of work since leaving Tottenham in the summer, he told Sky Sports News late last night: "There are a couple of bits to be sorted out tonight but I've left it to other people and said I want it to happen because it's a club I want to manage.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's a big challenge and a tough job to take on - but I'm up for the challenge."

Villa will go into Saturday evening's home clash with Arsenal occupying a bottom three spot for the first time in two years since the Gerard Houllier era.

Lambert retains faith in his players to survive but is battle-hardened for the tasks ahead.

He said: "I was fortunate I played for the big clubs because you tended to handle a lot of media stuff and pressure and all that.

"At Celtic you were probably a second away from being hopeless because of the pressure! You tend to deal with it.

"Celtic was absolutely brilliant for that. It really made you thick-skinned and you'd get your head down and get on with it because of the demands of the public.

"It's the same scenario as a manager, but you battle through it. You try not to wilt under it, you keep going.

"That's why I always say the most important people at this football club are the players and the people that come and watch it."

Lambert insists the belief and confidence has been retained by his players and he views beating someone of Arsenal's quality as crucial as overcoming one of Villa's relegation rivals.

He said: "You certainly don't want to be where we are. It's not something that I'm used to.

"The thing for me is that the players don't lose heart and confidence. As soon as you lose that, then it becomes a major problem. I've not sensed that one bit.

"But we need to win games, including the Arsenal game. I always want to be beating the bigger teams as well.

"I don't look at the fixtures and say 'oh well, we're playing Arsenal so I'll disregard three points there'.

"I want to win and it's the same when you go and play the so-called not so big clubs that you want to win them.

"You've got to have that belief there that you can do it. I think that's important, no matter what."

Lambert insists he will not press the panic button during the January transfer window whatever Villa's league position is at that juncture.

He said: "Whatever will happen in January, will happen. At the end of December we'll see where we are and where we go from there.

"I don't think even when you get to January, I never panic. In some cases you can do that because of inflated prices and people wanting ridiculous money for players.

"That's something I won't do, I won't panic in the last week or so.

"We've got to stay in the league no matter what, even if that deal wasn't there. This is the best league to play in."

A second home win of the season last weekend against Wigan came on the back of a draw at Chelsea and there is a general feeling that there has been an upturn at Anfield.

Their current undefeated sequence is the Reds' longest since November last year, when they managed eight matches, and only leaders Manchester City have gone longer without losing.

Having played all the sides in the top six the fixture list should be slightly kinder to Rodgers, who took over from Kenny Dalglish in June.

"I felt the opening period was always going to be difficult for us; a new manager, new ideas and some tough fixtures," he said.

"There has been a lot of change over the course of the summer but it is much smoother now and there is a real spurt around the club.

"We have had three teenagers (Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom) a lot of the time in our team and they will make mistakes and our senior players are carrying them along at the minute.

"Short term we want to keep performing well. The players want to improve and that gives us a great future going forward and hopefully we keep chipping away and moving on.

"It's where we finish at the end of the season that will be the most important thing. It's about continuing our improvement.

"I've said before - and I'll repeat it again - we'll get even stronger in the second half of the season because we'll get better in our ways of working and get a better understanding what we're trying to achieve in terms of the team.

"Where we're at in May will define how good a season we've had."

Liverpool's unbeaten run will be tested at Swansea tomorrow as Rodgers returns to the club he left in the summer.

They have won only one of their last seven visits to south Wales, only two of the last 11 and have not beaten the Swans in three attempts since they became a Premier League side.

Rodgers' Swansea side beat Liverpool on the final day of the season last May but, having switched sides, saw his former team knock them out of the Capital One Cup at Anfield last month.

"It is a real special place, Swansea. I spent two fantastic years there and had a wonderful rapport with the supporters," he added.

"The club was brilliant for me and hopefully I gave them something back while I was there.

"I never said I was going to be there for many years but it took a truly unbelievable club like Liverpool to draw me away.

"Whatever reception I get is irrelevant, the important thing is I know the good people there and I am sure time will heal any bad thoughts.

"But we are going there to keep our (seven-match) unbeaten run in the league going."

Mills spent his third night in Rome's San Camillo Hospital recovering from stab wounds to his thigh and head.

He was part of a group of Tottenham fans who were ambushed by a gang of thugs that beat nine supporters and three tourists in a pub in the Eternal City in the early hours of Thursday morning.

FIGC president Giancarlo Abete and his English counterpart David Bernstein added their voices to the long list of people to condemn the attack on Friday.

Confusion surrounded the identity of the attackers - two of whom have been charged with attempted murder - but Abete said on Friday night he thinks they are far right anti-Semites who ambushed the fans because of Tottenham's links to the Jewish community.

An FIGC statement read: "Once again, football has given a handful of delinquents the excuse to take out their racist and anti-Semite anger.

"There is evidence of this undoubted motive, which is detrimental to the image of Italian football and doesn't match with the traditional hospitality and welcome of the city of Rome.

"The city authorities and I publicly express our firm condemnation, with my personal indignation at these events.

"I beg you to send our apologies to all Tottenham's fans - and in particular to those families directly involved.

"I will personally follow the investigation's development and remain at your disposal should my assistance in any further matters be required."

In another unwanted twist for Italian football, Lazio fans appeared to chant anti-Semitic songs at the away support during Thursday's 0-0 draw in the Europa League.

UEFA will decide whether to investigate the claims on Monday.

Mills was enjoying a drink with fellow Tottenham fans at 'The Drunken Ship' in central Rome before falling victim to what officials have called a targeted and planned assault.

The 25-year-old was stabbed as the hooligans - known as Ultras - stormed the pub, with a bystander stemming the bleeding before paramedics arrived and helped to save him.

Speaking from his bedside at San Camillo Hospital, he told London's Evening Standard: "They came out of nowhere.

"I didn't see the guy who stabbed me. There were too many of them.

"I was standing outside drinking and the next thing I knew there were loads of them.

"It happened very quickly, I don't remember much.

"I remember being pulled out, along the ground, after I had been stabbed."

Roma police confirmed on Friday that two men - both Roma fans - were in custody awaiting trial.

A police spokeswoman said: "They have been charged with attempted murder for involvement in riots and causing serious injury with a knife and are due to appear in court soon."

Arrests were made last night and police continue to assess evidence as well as examine suspects' backgrounds for any possible previous association with football violence.

Mourinho claimed he would not have been able to return to the Spanish capital had his Real side suffered the same European fate as Mancini's Barclays Premier League champions.

Madrid ended City's hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout phase after drawing 1-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

The pair have a perceived rivalry dating back to when Mourinho succeeded Mancini as Inter Milan boss in 2008.

Mancini said: "Mourinho is not my chairman, he is not my owner. What Mourinho said is not interesting.

"Mourinho wants to talk about everything and for me it is not important."

Mourinho had spiced up the contest the night before by saying City would be eliminated regardless of the result and, given all their talent, that would hurt them greatly.

That was also interpreted in some quarters as an attack on Mancini as it could have suggested the manager was not making the most of the players at his disposal.

Mancini has not wanted to get dragged into a war of words and said nothing should be read into him not shaking Mourinho's hand after the game.

He said: "I didn't see him after the game. Before the game, yes, after, no."

Mancini has benefited from the huge financial backing of Sheikh Mansour in his team-building at the Etihad Stadium and has delivered by winning an FA Cup and a Premier League title.

It was suggested to him that negative remarks from other managers could reflect an envy from their part of Mancini's position.

"I don't know," Mancini said. "Sometimes it could be.

"I am here, but I will not stay here for 20 years. Other managers will have time to come to Manchester City, but in this moment I am here and we are working well.

"I don't know why sometimes they talk about us."

City could still maintain an interest in European competition by securing a consolation place in the Europa League.

Given the reduced status of that tournament, Mancini accepts that could be a mixed blessing, but on the whole he would like to grasp the opportunity to win more silverware.

When asked if City might succeed better without the additional fixtures, Mancini said: "On the one hand, probably yes, but on the other the Europa League is also another trophy for Manchester City. For Manchester City to win a trophy is important.

"If it is not Champions League it could be Europa League. We will see but we play a difficult game in Dortmund. It will not be easy."

New Blues boss Benitez leapt to the defence of the man he made one of the best players in the world and who has been branded a ?50million flop since leaving Liverpool for Stamford Bridge.

Torres has now seen three Chelsea managers come and go who failed to get him scoring regularly, with Roman Abramovich this week turning to Benitez in a bid to restore the value of his prize asset.

Benitez appeared confident of doing so, saying it would be "easy" to deal with Torres compared to Chelsea's other players because of the duo's previous relationship at Anfield.

He said: "Football is a sport you play with 11 players and sometimes you pinpoint one.

"But if the striker's not scoring too many, the rest of the team have to maybe create more chances for him.

"My idea isn't just to improve Fernando, but the team.

"I can't just focus on him. We have a lot of tremendous players. We'll need others to score goals."

Benitez could have been Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas or Roberto Di Matteo at that moment, all of whom repeatedly stood up for Torres before eventually losing faith in him.

He added of the man who has found the net just 19 times in 87 appearances: "You don't need too much time talking with Fernando.

"I know him, but he knows me and what we're looking for. I have to spend more time with the others.

"Fernando is easy. You say, 'You have to do this'. [He says] 'Okay'."

It appears unthinkable Benitez will not recall Torres for Sunday's top-of-the-table Premier League clash with Manchester City after Di Matteo finally axed the striker for Tuesday's fateful Champions League defeat at Juventus.

"He is trying his best, like the others," Benitez said.

"He knows what I want and he is trying to do this."

Torres took no time at all to start scoring for Benitez at Liverpool following his ?20million arrival from Atletico Madrid five years ago.

Benitez admitted the "balance" of his midfield back then "allowed Torres to do very well" but denied he deliberately built his team around the striker.

He added: "I wasn't creating everything for Fernando. It's just what happened."

Reminded Chelsea did not have a Steven Gerrard or Xabi Alonso, Benitez said: "People think that Fernando needs space.

"At the beginning at Liverpool, it was fine. But, after that, we didn't have that space. We were on top of teams.

"So he needs to have the movement. Alonso could play 50-metre passes precisely, but these players [here] are good at the passing game.

"We need to put Fernando in a position to score goals."

Benitez denied suggestions his own relationship with Torres had become strained during their final season together at Liverpool.

The striker spoke of broken promises upon quitting Anfield and Benitez said: "We were expecting the owners to invest.

"I had a meeting with the senior players, but every year we had less money.

"Everyone was frustrated. 'Where's the money? Where are the players?'

"But I had no problem with Fernando."

Benitez could have a problem with Daniel Sturridge if Torres returns to playing every game, the England striker having been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool.

Even Di Matteo recognised two forwards were not enough but Benitez said: "We'll see after three or four games and give my opinion then."

And what about the prospect of Abramovich buying Radamel Falcao?

"Falcao? Falcao...?" Benitez joked.

"Yes, not bad."

The 26-year-old took a while to adapt following his ?12million summer move from Montpellier, where his 21 goals helped fire them to the Ligue 1 championship for the first time.

Giroud has netted five in his last six games, but more importantly provides a focal point for the Gunners attack, and against his old club he helped set up Lukas Podolski to score in their midweek Champions League tie.

"Giroud convinces you about something more than just his game, it is overall attitude, he is genuine, a fighter and is ready to have a go," said Wenger, who takes his side to Aston Villa for tomorrow's late kick-off.

"That is why he is accepted, not just because of his game, but he is really genuinely committed on the pitch.

"I believe he has the characteristics of a centre-forward I like in England - complete commitment, capability to win balls in the air and fighting attitude."

Giroud has certainly proved an aerial threat - his bullet header against Fulham three weeks ago was testament to that.

Wenger continued: "Maybe he is one of the best headers [Arsenal have ever had].

"We have adapted to his strengths - when you cross the ball, you still think you have a chance to win the header whereas before it was a chance of a counter-attack."

Wenger was not worried by Giroud's goal drought, which was finally ended with a strike against Coventry in the Capital One Cup in his seventh Arsenal game.

"You tell them it is not important, but they know it's important to score so you don't try to make them feel guilty - but they still do. You can't change that," the Arsenal manager said.

"According to our studies, it comes in cycles. When some guys don't score for three, four or maybe five games they become nervous. If it's more than five they will be questioned and they know that as well.

"People say: 'okay, he works hard, but when does he score a goal?' When they start to score it becomes completely natural for them."

Villa have struggled for consistency of late, their 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City last weekend seeing Paul Lambert's side drop into the bottom three.

In Belgian forward Christian Benteke, however, Villa also have a striker who is improving quickly following his move into the English game, having signed from Genk for ?7million on transfer deadline day.

"Benteke has scored some impressive goals and has complete power," said Wenger, who revealed the Congo-born Belgian was once on his scouting radar.

"We have looked at him yes. It was interesting. I was surprised when he signed at Villa, but we had already bought Giroud.

"Benteke is another a typical English centre-forward who has disappeared a little bit as well."

Six-goal leading scorer Long has been in inspired form for the Baggies and inspired their charge into the top four of the Premier League.

Clarke is aware that Long's performances could make him a potential target but is adamant the Republic of Ireland international is remaining at the Hawthorns.

Head coach Clarke, whose side visit Sunderland this weekend, said: "Clubs can want to buy Shane, they can come if they want - and the answer is 'no'.

"I am not going to hype up other clubs and who they should be bidding for. But Shane is our player and he's not going anywhere.

"At the moment he is in a great vein of form. I've run out of superlatives to say about Shane.

"We are delighted with his efforts and I think the competition for places, especially in the forward area, is keeping everyone on their toes and we are the beneficiaries of that.

"Shane's performance last weekend against Chelsea have been like that every time he has been selected this year."

Long's performances have been the more meritorious given the fact Albion have had to manage an ongoing hamstring setback.

But Clarke is confident the former Reading player could play in all three of Albion's games in the next eight days - against the Black Cats, Swansea and Stoke - if required.

He said: "It is just a condition that he has got. He has got tight hamstrings and we will look after him and make sure he it doesn't become a tear which will keep him out for eight weeks.

"That's all it is. It is not something dramatic or clever.

"If Mr Giovanni Trapatonni (Republic of Ireland manager) hadn't spoken to you guys and mentioned something in his press conference a few weeks back, you wouldn't know about it.

"If Shane has to play 90 minutes he can play 90 minutes, no problem.

"He can also play three games in a week if he has to but I would have to manage his training ground routine around the fact that he has three games in a week. We can manage it."

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