Serie A

Palermo coach remains bullish

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Sat, 16 Mar 2013 10:30:00

Chelsea defender Gary Cahill believes the busy fixture schedule is taking its toll on him and his team-mates as the club compete on three fronts this season.

Alongside their push for a top-four Premier League finish, Rafael Benitez's men are also competing in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

After next week's international break, Chelsea will take in a run of six games in 16 days, including a two-legged Europa League quarter-final and the replay of their FA Cup last-eight tie with Manchester United.

While reluctant to make excuses for the Blues' inconsistent form this season, 27-year-old centre-half Cahill admits the congested fixture list is proving tough.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "People criticise you if you say you are tired, and we know we have to get on with it because the fixtures are there.

"But all I am saying, as a general fact, is that players do not go into every game feeling 100 per cent fresh, it is impossible.

"At a big club every single game is so important, but you might be going in 60-70 per cent fresh through no fault of your own.

"Everyone is trying to recover but you just don't have the days. It is not an excuse, but it is a fact."

Competition



Cahill, who joined Chelsea from Bolton in January 2012, has notched up 38 appearances for the club in all competitions so far this season and has missed just one Premier League game this year.

Despite cementing his place as a first-team regular under Benitez, the England international is taking nothing for granted with the likes of John Terry and David Luiz also competing for the centre-half berth.

He said: "The main thing is that I am playing in a lot of the big games, I am playing more regularly now, but we have got the luxury of four centre-backs now so we can chop and change.

"I think maybe I proved when I first came that I could play in the Champions League, because we went on and won it, and I played the games in there. Playing with England has helped me as well.

"You come here from a smaller club and people wonder, can he play here, can he do this? And you always feel like you are trying to prove yourself to people all the time. For me now it is just trying to prove that I can maintain a starting place at Chelsea."

Fellaini was booed off by fans when he was replaced during Everton's shock FA Cup quarter-final defeat last weekend, with supporters unhappy with the Belgian's attitude.

An appearance at an official Everton store earlier this week was postponed and Moyes accepts Fellaini's stock may have fallen with the fans.

However, Moyes is prepared to give the 25-year-old a chance to make amends when Everton face Premier League champions Manchester City at Goodison Park on Saturday.

"His reaction wasn't right, it wasn't the correct one and I have told him that," said the Everton manager.

"He knows that he should have played much better, and yes, he may have some making up to do with the fans, but I won't have any trouble picking him.

"I'll play Marouane against Man City as I have to give us the best chance of winning. That means picking our best players and giving them a chance to make amends.

"Don't forget the good stuff he's done. For the most part he's been outstanding and made a huge contribution.

"Most of the lads had a disappointing day, even if he found it tougher than most.

"He may not be firing as he might, but he's still been influential for us. He is the only player I'm talking about, but there were eight others we could be talking about."

Allardyce's current deal expires at the end of the season and co-chairman David Gold recently stated that talks over an extension would be held in the summer.

However, Allardyce is keen to start planning for next season and sees no reason to wait until the campaign is over to hold negotiations, if the Hammers are safe.

"We'll sit down when we're safe," said Allardyce. "What's the point me waiting until the end of the season if we're mathematically safe with a few games to go?

"There's no point in that is there? We need to start budgeting."

West Ham are currently 12th in the table with 33 points, nine points clear of the relegation zone, and Allardyce feels 38 points will be enough to preserve the club's top-flight status.

He added: "I think we need another five points. Thirty eight will make you safe this year but we will all aim for 40 just in case.

"Hopefully we will be safe as soon as possible because there is a lot to negotiate and a lot to move on, which we are doing."

The left-back made the game safe after a brace from the mercurial Lionel Messi and a goal from David Villa helped the Catalan club overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Milan's success at the San Siro left many criticising some of Barcelona's stars for failing to produce the goods on Europe's grandest stage.

But their emphatic 4-0 triumph at the Nou Camp answered many questions, with Alba urging his side to continue that form into the weekend when they return to Primera Division action at home against Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

"Outside of the club there was a lot of doubt, but we were all calm," he told a press conference.

"We weren't playing badly in these three games against Milan and Real Madrid but we just lacked the same intensity and aggression. The other day we saw the real Barcelona and now we have to maintain this level.

"We have to continue this level of play and aggression until the end of the season."

Of his goal, Alba added: "It was one of the most important goals of my career because it sealed the win after we'd suffered a lot in the last 10 minutes".

While much focus centred on Friday's Champions League draw, with Barca paired with Paris St Germain in the last eight, Alba is very well aware they can not afford to take their eyes off the challenge posed by Vallecano.

Barca are 13 points clear at the top of La Liga, but Alba insists the players are not content to rest on their laurels against a Vallecano side that lie eighth in the table but have won just four of 13 league matches on their travels.

"We have to try and win the league as soon as possible," he said.

"Rayo are having a magnificent season. They like to play with the ball and they are aggressive without it. I like the way they play."

Stand-in head coach Jordi Roura is likely to be without midfielder Xavi, who suffered an injured thigh against Milan, while goalkeeper Victor Valdes will sit out due to suspension.

Messi hit his 52nd and 53rd goals of the season on Tuesday, but Vallecano midfielder Roberto Trashorras says the side have not decided on a specific way to derail the Argentinian.

"We have not spoken especially about Messi," the former Barca man told Vallecano's official website.

"We have talked about how to disrupt their rhythm and we intend to complicate the game for Barcelona."

Defender Jose Manuel Casado, midfielder Javi Fuego and striker Leo Baptistao will be unavailable for the trip to the Nou Camp against a club goalkeeper David Cobeno says Vallecano need to be at their very best to beat.

"Of course we will be motivated against Barca," he said.

"We're playing against one of the best teams in the world in a week where they have played and won a very important game.

"They will be very motivated and we have to try to do what we've done all year: to enjoy and look for something positive.

"Even when they are at 80 per cent they are better than other teams. We have to be at 120 per cent in order to get something and if they are lower because they are more relaxed, so much the better for us."

In a further bizarre twist to Palermo's troubled season, Sannino returned to the Stadio Renzo Barbera this week - six months after being sacked just three games into the current campaign.

The Neapolitan was first replaced by Gian Piero Gasperini, who made way for Alberto Malesani for 19 days before ending his brief return to Sicily by mutual consent on Monday.

Palermo now have 10 games to overturn a five-point gap on 17th-placed Genoa and prolong their nine-season stint in the top flight, with Sannino urging a dignified approach to a tricky run-in.

He told La Repubblica: "I don't want to create expectations or make predictions - that's not what the people of Palermo need to hear.

"Enough worrying about the league table - all that matters is what we have inside us.

"Looking at our place in the league table, Palermo just need to shut up talking about what hasn't been done and focus on what needs to be done.

"My task is to bring the season to a close with dignity and with the utmost respect for the fans and the club."

Edgar Barreto is doubtful to feature at San Siro, with Abel Hernandez and Andrea Mantovani definitely sidelined through injury.

"We have to work out what we need to do in these last 10 games, without forgetting about the daily work we're doing in training or in each individual match," Sannino added.

"It will be a 10-game championship and we will worry about the numbers at the end of it.

"You can only admit you're dead when your body is cold, but mine is still warm and I hope the same of my players. We will need heart, desire and sacrifice."

Milan, meanwhile, are eager to offset a disappointing week and heap further misery on Palermo with a victory to boost their chances of reaching second place.

The Rossoneri were tasked with protecting a two-goal lead at Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday but a Lionel Messi-led comeback saw Massimiliano Allegri's men beaten 4-2 on aggregate.

The nature of the defeat might have been galling, but Allegri predicts better times ahead for his rejuvenated squad.

"Sunday is another game and we shouldn't look back," Allegri told acmilan.com. "Given the young age of the squad that we have now, there'll be time to get to another Champions League semi-final or even the final."

Mario Balotelli returns to contention, with both fellow striker Giampaolo Pazzini and midfielder Nigel De Jong nursing leg injuries as Kevin Constant serves a one-match suspension.

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