Premier League

SAF: Rooney in long-term plans

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Sat, 09 Mar 2013 23:18:00

Stewart Downing believes competition for places is the reason for Liverpool's recent upturn in form.

The Anfield board sanctioned expensive January moves for Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom scored on their full debuts.

And Downing reckons the pair's arrival has created an edge in the squad responsible for 12 goals in three straight wins - six of them for Luis Suarez.

He told the club website: "It's all come together. Even at the start of the season, we were creating a lot of chances but maybe didn't have that killer instinct.

"Now, every chance Suarez gets he seems to be finishing. Coutinho has come in and added a bit, as has the arrival of Daniel Sturridge.

"The competition for places also helps. It's healthy for the team and the club.

"If we can keep the core of the squad together and the manager can add a few more, which is highly likely he will do, I think we've got a great chance next season.

"It was obviously going to take time to adjust under Brendan Rodgers. We're all enjoying playing in the way we do - the passing, moving and scoring goals - but I think we've also added steel to our team.

"We're hard to play against and not conceding that many goals, so I think the all-round picture at the moment is looking very good."

Liverpool go into the final 10 games of the season with 10 points to make up on fourth-placed Chelsea, but Downing has not given up on Champions league qualification.

He said: "The target is to try and win as many games as possible - we have to. If we want to challenge for the top four, we have to win nearly every game.

"We're doing quite well at the moment and we've still got a chance. It's going to be difficult - but we still have a chance."

The runaway Bundesliga leaders already have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after delivering a European masterclass with a 3-1 win in London a fortnight ago.

Wenger, though, challenged his beleaguered squad - who look set for another campaign without a trophy and face a battle to get back into the top four of the Barclays Premier League following last weekend's defeat at Tottenham - to rise to the occasion at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.

"There have been a few wins by Arsenal in the Champions League that we are all very proud of. We just have to convince ourselves that we can do it in Munich as well," Wenger told Arsenal Player.

"Yes, the chance is small, but the chance makes the impossible possible.

"That would be a great credit for our team if we do it. We have to try to achieve it."

Bayern took full advantage of some familiar poor Arsenal defending as they swept into a 2-0 half-time lead at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners, however, can draw strength from the spell they had just after Lukas Podolski's goal, when Olivier Giroud missed a golden chance to level the tie at 2-2.

Mario Mandzukic's scrambled effort gave the Germans a third away goal which should prove enough to protect next week, but the Croatian has nevertheless warned against any complacency from the hosts should Arsenal come out all guns blazing.

Wenger fully expects his men to do just that. "Our mentality is to go there, not resigned, but ambitious and provoke things, not go there and think 'we will not qualify anyway'. No, not at all," he said.

"We have to go there and give ourselves a chance to qualify with everybody believing we can do it. We have to behave on the football pitch like a team who wants to do it. That will be the task in the preparation.

"How will we go into the game tactically? I haven't decided yet. It will be with an ambitious plan, that is for sure."

Wenger feels Munich's superiority complex could prove their undoing.

"We have to try to put Bayern on the back foot, subconsciously anyway, they think they are through and we have to subconsciously think that we can do it.

"The only way to do it is to have a very positive attitude from the start.

Ivory Coast forward Gervinho could come back into contention if Wenger opts for all-out attack formation.

"This is a completely new match. We are only at half-time in this tie, and we must go there with belief," Gervinho said.

"We have to believe in ourselves and our talents.

"I know it will be difficult, but I still believe in us.

"We are going through a tough period at the moment, but there is still a really good spirit with this group of players.

"Just because we lost the first match at Emirates Stadium, we will not give up."

Arsenal have a fitness concerns over right-back Bacary Sagna, who has missed the last two matches with a knee problem and Lukas Podolski.

The striker tweeted today: "Not 100 per cent recovered yet, nothing serious but a small injury, very annoying."

Villas-Boas arrived at Chelsea last season with a reputation as the brightest young manager on the continent, but his reign at Stamford Bridge ended after just 256 days following rumours of in-fighting off the pitch and poor performances on it.

The Portuguese was critical of Roman Abramovich during his first Tottenham press conference, accusing the Chelsea owner of "quitting" on him and breaking promises after cutting short his three-year "project" in west London.

Villas-Boas is looking to end the season above his former employers, who are two points behind Tottenham having gone through a difficult year characterised by supporter revolt and yet another managerial sacking.

But should Spurs, who Villas-Boas has led on a three-month unbeaten run, finish above the Blues in the table, the 35-year-old will resist any temptation to rub Abramovich's nose in it.

The Tottenham manager said: "At the end of the season I won't be so egocentric to consider it a personal success.

"That is not my type, but hopefully at the end of the season we are able to achieve what the club expects from the team."

Tottenham's impressive form continued on Thursday night when they swatted aside Inter Milan 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie at White Hart Lane.

Villas-Boas' rampant team have another chance to deliver a big blow to one of Europe's most prestigious clubs tomorrow afternoon when they travel to Liverpool, who are 10 points below the top four.

"I think it will probably end their hopes (of Champions League qualification) if we win, but you never know," Villas-Boas said.

Spurs have fallen away in the last third in the previous two campaigns to miss out on the Champions League, but Villas-Boas insists his squad is made of stronger stuff this time around.

"The (unbeaten) run is still there and hopefully we can sustain it," Villas-Boas said.

"It was probably at this time last year that things shifted, but I think with this team's willingness, we are able to bounce back because the players are really up for it because of what they suffered last season and they really want to be in the Champions League."

The match pits two of the leading contenders for player of the year against each other in Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.

Villas-Boas said following Thursday's win that 28-goal Suarez had carried "Liverpool almost on his shoulders" this season, but he knows concentrating all his efforts on the controversial Uruguayan is risky due to the presence of January signings Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho.

"What Liverpool did in the January window was buy very well and widely," the Spurs manager said.

"Coutinho's explosion came at the expense of Raheem Sterling but he is a great player and they have Sturridge doing ever so well for them too.

"That has given them more confidence. They are playing good football and are hoping to get on a good run of results that they haven't found yet."

Bale's superb form this season has led to claims that Tottenham are over-reliant on the Welsh forward, who will become the first Spurs player to score in six consecutive Premier League matches if he finds the net tomorrow.

Goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who spent three years at Liverpool, denies that is the case, though.

"That's ridiculous. That's a poor comment," Friedel said.

"Gareth is an exceptional player and we have a lot of exceptional players.

"Every good team has their star players. Gareth is playing well for us. We are a better team for it, but we have some exceptional players that can step in and do the job."

The ex-England and Newcastle player returned to Britain on Saturday after more than a month at the clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, during which he was treated in intensive care.

Doctors said it was the worst detox they had ever seen when the shock of giving up alcohol sent his body into seizure, Gascoigne told the Sun.

He said: "Three doctors didn't think I would make it.

"It has got to inspire me to never let this happen again.

"I've come through that - death. I was dead."

He added: "I thought I was on my way out. I looked like a corpse. I was a total wreck."

The 45-year-old said he woke up in intensive care strapped to the bed to stop tubes from falling out of his arms and was repeatedly injected.

Gascoigne, who also played for Lazio and Tottenham, said he feels grateful to be alive and is determined to stay away from alcohol.

His latest stint in rehab was organised by TalkSPORT presenter and former England cricketer Ronnie Irani and Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans, a long-term friend of Gascoigne.

The move came following a charity appearance in Northampton during which the star appeared unwell and shaking, before breaking down and sobbing on stage in front of a room full of fans.

The world of football has shown its concern at the latest troubled period in the life of Gascoigne, one of England's most naturally gifted players ever.

Gascoigne, who has spoken about alcoholism problems in the past, was sectioned five years ago under the Mental Health Act.

Rooney, who was surprisingly only a substitute in Tuesday's Champions League clash with Real Madrid, has been the subject of intense speculation about his future.

Ferguson knocked down suggestions United would look to sell Rooney in the summer on Friday, and now he has stressed the club see him in their long-term plans.

Former Everton man Rooney is tied to United until the end of the 2014/15 season, so there is no need to sit down for talks immediately.

Ferguson, according to several Sunday newspapers, said: "There's no issue with his contract, when it has to be renegotiated it will be. We don't want players to leave."

Sunday's team selection for the FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea will be keenly observed, although Ferguson's stance on the Rooney debate is now quite clear.

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