Giroud leaves Wenger purring

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.”