Saunders plots Premier return

BY foxsports • January 8, 2013

Deportivo La Coruna have signed experienced midfielder Paulo Assuncao to aid their relegation fight.

The 32-year-old Brazilian, who counts Porto, Atletico Madrid and AEK Athens among his former clubs, was a free agent after leaving Sao Paulo.

Assuncao has passed his medical with Depor and signed for the remainder of this season plus two more. There is also the option of a further season after that.

Assuncao said on his new club's website: "I'm very pleased, happy and grateful to come to a club as great as Depor and to be given the opportunity to return to Spanish football."

Depor last week installed Domingos Paciencia as their new coach following the sacking of Jose Luis Oltra. In his first match in charge, Domingos guided Depor to a 1-0 win over fourth-placed Malaga on Saturday, lifting the Galician club off the bottom of the Primera Division table.

The Anfield and England captain has had a mixed campaign after a combination of injuries and tactical reshuffles under Brendan Rodgers have forced him into different roles and seen him score just five goals.

But, going into the second half of 2012/13, Gerrard is feeling good about himself and Liverpool's prospects for the future ahead of facing Manchester United at the weekend.

He told the official Liverpool FC magazine: "I've had mixed experiences this season. I've passed some unbelievable landmarks for club and country, getting to the 600-games mark and winning my 100th cap for England.

"But, with the slow start we made and being where we have in the league, it's been a bit mixed for me.

"There's my form as well. I've played well in some games but I've been disappointed with myself in others and I'm not happy with my goal tally at the moment.

"People's opinions, perceptions and the way they judge you changes when you get a goal.

"I think my performances are getting closer to where I want them to be so if I can add goals to those performances, then maybe people will start saying the old Steven Gerrard is back.

"I don't think the manager has asked me to do anything different in terms of the way he wants to me to perform.

"But because of certain injuries, situations that have happened to the team and formations that we've played, I've naturally played a little bit deeper.

"I've maybe gone into protection mode rather than playing the old Steven Gerrard way with the shackles off and going for the jugular."

Gerrard added: "But I've got the buzz that the team's improving and it's going to get better.

"I'm confident that come the end of the season I will be satisfied with myself and the team, because I do believe we can finish the season really strong."

Long moved from the Royals to Albion 18 months ago after scoring 54 goals in 203 appearances in all competitions.

The Republic of Ireland international is battling with Romelu Lukaku to start but will show respect if he finds the net against Brian McDermott's side.

Long said: "I have nothing but respect for Reading, the supporters and everybody involved there.

"It will be strange to go back and play against them and be in the away dressing room.

"It would also be strange to score against Reading and, if I scored a hat-trick, I wouldn't celebrate any of the goals."

And Parkinson is set for new contract talks at Valley Parade later in the week.

The Bradford manager's current deal expires at the end of the season and there could be no better way of opening negotiations with Bradford's joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn than on the back of another giant-killing upset.

The Bantams captured the hearts of the nation when holding their nerve to send Arsenal crashing out in an unforgettable penalty shootout in the quarter-finals and Parkinson, whose League Two side had already seen off Wigan, is ready to make the city proud again.

"I'd really like to stay at Bradford," said the 45-year-old former Colchester, Hull and Charlton manager.

"I had a brief chat with the chairman last week and we're going to have a sit down hopefully this week and try and get my, and the staffs', contract situation resolved.

"I think that's important because we want to bring players in and we've got a lot of players out of contract, so we're going to try and get that resolved sooner rather than later.

"I'm enjoying it here, it's a great club and we're starting to build something. Me and the staff feel that if we could get this club going it could really take off and we're just at the start of that."

Parkinson, installed as Peter Jackson's permanent successor in the summer of 2011 with the remit of steering the club out of League Two, rebuilt the whole squad during the close season and, but for a 2-0 defeat at Barnet on Saturday would be sitting in a play-off position.

Bradford are still only three points off an automatic promotion spot and Parkinson added: "Last year when we came in it was a real struggle to keep the club in the division and that was pressure. Talk about pressure (tonight), it's certainly a night to enjoy when you look at what we went through last season."

The Bantams flirted with relegation and finished 18th, six points clear of the drop zone, before Parkinson embarked on a complete overhaul.

"I was really pleased to get to the summer and change things round," he said. "Everybody's really positive in the city behind the club again and that's what we need.

"If you look at the crowds we get in our division, 10 and 11,000, that's quite extraordinary and the fans we take on our travels.

"We went to Wigan and took over 5,000. We've had a full house against Arsenal, so the potential is there to say this club is a very good Championship club.

"You've seen it in the past, and Bradford have done it themselves and got in the Premier League. It could certainly hold its own in the Championship, no problem."

It has been a long 13 years since Bradford escaped relegation on the final day of the 1999/2000 season to survive a second campaign in the Premier League after a famous 1-0 home win over Liverpool.

The Bantams were relegated the following season and then followed a calamitous slide into administration (twice) and English football's basement division. From top to bottom in seven forgettable seasons.

But not only were Arsenal conquered in the previous round, top-flight Wigan also succumbed to Parkinson's penalty shoot-out kings, while Gianfranco Zola's Watford were undone by two late goals at Vicarage Road in round two and Parkinson is ready to give the whole city something to cheer again.

"That's really important for us,"

he said. "It's a big club, a sleeping giant and we're trying to reawaken it.

"The win against Arsenal certainly reminded everybody that Bradford City is up and running and starting to get going. Another really good performance would be great for the city again."

Michael Laudrup's side travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night before the return leg in Wales on January 23, and Vorm has taken encouragement from QPR's shock victory over the Blues in the Premier League.

"What QPR achieved last week can inspire us. After Chelsea beat Aston Villa 8-0, everyone wrote off QPR. But they went there and won," Vorm said in the Daily Express.

"Everyone is so competitive; that is why I love English football. And Chelsea will not know what to expect from us.

"We have to believe in ourselves and give everything until the very end."

Vorm appreciates what a difficult task it will be against Chelsea but says Swansea will go into the tie believing they can triumph, having registered some impressive results since earning promotion to the Premier League a couple of years ago.

The goalkeeper added: "It's unbelievable that we are in a semi-final against Chelsea. What Swansea have achieved in the last 18 months is just a dream for the players and especially for the people who live here.

"Juan Mata is Chelsea's best player and they have just bought (Demba) Ba. They have so many players who can make a difference. But we have shown we are capable, not only with the football we play but the mentality we have.

"We are hard to beat, especially away from home. We have beaten Arsenal, Fulham and QPR in London, so that's a positive omen."

Villa travel to Bradford on Tuesday night for the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final.

The Midlands side started the season full of confidence following the appointment of highly-rated young manager Paul Lambert, but with just over half the season gone Villa sit just one point above the relegation zone in 16th place.

Given the youthful make-up of the Villa squad, many have predicted a nervous second half of the season for Lambert's side, but former Villa defender Staunton hopes the players can get to the Capital One Cup final and use that will have a positive effect on their league form.

"You hope this will be a good distraction for them," Staunton said.

"Hopefully the confidence of the younger players will get a massive boost if they get to the final and hopefully that boost can be carried in to the league form where they can carry on, get away from the relegation zone with some good results and hopefully as the years go on become a very good young team."

Staunton came close to being relegated twice during two spells with the club and he has warned that Villa should not think they are immune from the drop because of their status as one of the top flight's big clubs.

"It's not a given that they are safe from relegation," the former Republic of Ireland manager said.

"There are three teams from seven or eight who could go down.

"There is only a couple of points separating them. One defeat can throw a team in to an awful lot of trouble."

Having helped the team through to the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday, Lambert could retain the services of striker Darren Bent, who had previously fallen out of favour with the Scot.

Rumours persist that Bent will leave the club this month, but Staunton would like him to stay and form an effective partnership with his main rival Christian Benteke.

"It would be nice to see them both together and get a run of games together as a pair," Staunton said.

"Darren Bent's goals will be important and Benteke has done well for the squad. They are two quick lads. Benteke is very good in the air and we know Bent can score goals so I hope that we'll be able to see them together."

Saunders was unveiled as Wanderers' new boss on Monday afternoon after a whirlwind 36 hours at Molineux, succeeding Stale Solbakken following the Norwegian's dismissal in the aftermath of Saturday's humiliating FA Cup exit at the hands of non-league Luton.

The Welshman takes over a side who currently find themselves languishing in 18th place in the npower Championship following relegation from the top flight last season.

But he insists promotion back to the Premier League remains the brief.

"I'm on a personal mission myself to get it right. That's what drives me on, to get it right," Saunders said.

"It's like going to the best party you have ever been and waking up with the worst hangover. Wolves have got to get over it.

"When you are relegated, you think you are the big boys in the league. We need to get that mentality out of the way for a start.

"We have to get back to the party. That's where it is, in the Premier League. The longer we stay out of it, the more difficult it is."

Saunders will get five days to work with his new players before taking to the dugout for the first time in Friday night's home clash against managerless Blackburn.

Wanderers sold Steven Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Michael Kightly in the summer, although Solbakken was allowed to reinforce his ranks with the likes of winger Bakary Sako.

Even though Wanderers have been hampered by an horrendous injury list, they still boast established names such as Kevin Doyle, Roger Johnson, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Karl Henry.

And Saunders has wasted little time in warning that any players who do not want to fight for the cause and work with him will be quickly replaced as he looks to cut a 40-man squad down to 25.

"I'm going to assess the squad. The players picked on Friday get the first bite of the cherry. They have to show me they want to be here. If I see weaknesses, then we will try to do something about it," he said.

"We need to find players who are determined to fight for the club. That's the message I'm putting over."


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