Steelmen boss keeps his focus

BY foxsports • December 21, 2012

Juventus vice-captain Giorgio Chiellini is facing three months on the sidelines after tearing his calf in training.

Bianconeri head coach Antonio Conte had admitted the Serie A leaders were likely to miss the 28-year-old defender's services for the foreseeable future after he pulled up in training, and medical tests have confirmed the Juve boss' suspicions.

A statement on Juventus' official website read: "This morning Giorgio Chiellini underwent an ultrasound scan at Turin's Istituto di Medicina dello Sport medical centre.

"The scan revealed a tear in the defender's right calf. He will begin his rehabilitation programme, defined by the club's medical staff, over the course of the next few days."

Conte's men, who lead Serie A by seven points, face Cagliari on Friday night before a two-week winter break begins.

He told the club's official website: "It's a shame Chiellini's injured, he's a player everyone would like to have, for what he offers both on and off the field of play.

"He's one of our leaders. But I'm convinced he'll come back stronger than before, looking to recover as soon as possible with the help of the club's medical staff."

The forward, who turned 18 earlier this month, is set to agree what is believed to be a five-year deal before the weekend.

Sterling is the brightest of a crop of youngsters emerging from the academy and Rodgers believes building a good base of young - preferably home-grown - players would stand the club in good stead.

"Hopefully it (Sterling's contract) will be concluded within the next 24 hours," said the Reds boss.

"I have said before that there was never a real issue, it was just a matter of timing and we hope that over the next couple of days that can be completed.

"It is important for me to gain that core of young British talent we can go forward with.

"You look at Raheem, at Jonjo Shelvey at 20 who signed a new deal in the summer, and Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson who are only 22.

"It is very important going forward we can secure those signatures and, of course, we are always looking for the best players.

"But it is equally important the young players coming through the system get rewarded but also feel this is the best place for them to develop."

Rodgers insisted he never had any fears Sterling's head would be turned by interest from Manchester City and Chelsea who could have offered him more a lucrative deal than he is to get at Anfield.

Liverpool are keen not to be held to ransom on the salary issue and are wary of paying the youngster too much too soon, but it is believed Sterling's new contract will be incentivised and include a number of performance-related increments.

However, just as important, according to Rodgers, was the youngster's well-being and development.

"We were always calm. I speak a lot with Raheem and his representatives and there has never been any issues from their side," he added.

"It was just making sure that we take care in terms of the financial - but also the football - plan for the player.

"This was about a young player who has rocketed from playing in the youth teams and the reserves into becoming a full England international.

"A lot has happened in his young life and it was just about making sure that there was that protection for him going forward - both in his financial situation and his football plan.

"I have always been confident that this was going to be the best place for him and thankfully the kid is very focused and devoted to Liverpool.

"His representatives know this is the best place for him. Once it gets concluded, he can start to the next part of his development and hopefully he can keep progressing."

Liverpool are edging closer to bringing former reserve team player Thomas Ince back to the club from Blackpool.

Rodgers refused to comment on speculation linking the 20-year-old, who has scored 13 goals in the npower Championship, with a return.

But he did admit they were looking to bolster the ranks of young players familiar with domestic football.

"Our scouting network have been looking high and low for all sorts of talents to come in here," he added.

"At this moment in time there is nothing to speak about.

"If we can get talented young players in - and young British players - that will be fantastic for us.

"Any negotiations take place by the people above me and we'll conclude what we can as early as we can."

A press conference will take place at Elland Road on Friday morning.

The West Yorkshire club announced at the end of last month that GFH Capital's 100 per cent takeover would be completed on December 21, with current owner Ken Bates to stay on as chairman until the end of the season during a transitional period.

GFH Capital deputy chief executive David Haigh, who became a director at Elland Road on November 21, is expected to be joined on the board by three more of the Middle East consortium's representatives.

A new club chairman will be appointed by the new owners at the end of the season when Bates will become club president.

GFH Capital, who first entered into talks with Leeds in May, have already transferred money into the club and will be making further funds available to manager Neil Warnock, who will have the new owners' full support.

Kebe responded to Monday's 5-2 home defeat by Arsenal, a result that leaves them rooted to the foot of the Premier League, by criticising the lack of signings made during the summer under owner Anton Zingarevich.

"We are in big trouble. We should have bought some decent players in the transfer window. We are a good Championship team trying to compete in the Premier League, that's it," Kebe said.

Less than ?5million was spent during the summer and the indication is that McDermott will be given a similar budget to sign the two or three players with top-flight experience that he wants.

McDermott admitted last week that Reading had misjudged their transfer policy since winning last season's Championship and refused to condemn Kebe's comments.

"What it shows is that Jimmy Kebe, like every other player here, cares. He really cares, we all care," McDermott said.

"Jimmy cared last season when he signed a new contract. He wanted the club to get promoted, which we did.

"Jimmy Kebe loves his football, he loves this club, he loves working for us. He's very much part of what we're trying to do here.

"The owner cares, the chairman cares, I care, the fans care, Jimmy Kebe cares. All our players want the club to do well, first and foremost.

"Let's hope a 'good Championship side' can get the points we need to get to wherever we need to get to.

"I'd like to think that we have enough decent players and that we can get the points we need. Time will tell on that.

"The summer's gone and there's nothing we can do to change what happened. All we can do is affect what happens now."

McDermott reiterated that Reading will prioritise sound financial practice over high-risk spending to ensure the club remains free of debt.

But if they fail to strengthen sufficiently next month then the Championship surely beckons with no Premier League club escaping relegation having accumulated only nine points after 17 games.

Discussions over the budget have begun with Zingarevich and director of football Nicky Hammond and McDermott is hopeful there will be transfer activity next month.

"Our current squad could be strong enough to get us out of trouble, we will see in May," he said. "We'll see if we can add players in January - sometimes you add a couple of players and that freshens things up.

"It helps to make the rest of the squad better as well, so that could definitely be a good thing for us.

"I honestly thought the squad in the summer would do okay, but we'll have to find a way of getting results. We can do it, but I've always had that view."

England Under-21 winger Ince left Anfield in the summer of 2011 having made one senior appearance, with Blackpool making a compensation payment of ?250,000.

The 20-year-old son of former England international Paul will command a far higher fee if he returns to Merseyside in January having netted 13 goals in 21 npower Championship games this season.

Ince also netted eight as the Seasiders reached the play-off final last term - where Ince scored during the 2-1 defeat to West Ham.

Speaking ahead of Friday night's home game with Wolves, Appleton confirmed a figure had been discussed between Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston and Liverpool but dismissed growing speculation that a deal is close to being finalised.

"As far as I'm aware I think there's been a conversation between Karl and Liverpool regarding an offer but, as far as I'm aware, it's way below the type of money we'd expect for someone of Tom's talent," he told BBC Radio Lancashire.

"Obviously the chairman keeps me informed but I think it was just an initial conversation between himself and Liverpool and there was a figure used but obviously it's way below, like I say."

Ince is battling to overcome a slight hamstring strain in time to face Wolves and Appleton was defiant when asked whether he would play his star man if passed fit.

"Without a shadow of a doubt," he said.

"I wouldn't worry about that. And he'll continue to play as long as we hold his registration. He's quite a down to earth, sensible young lad anyway.

"I think having someone like his dad in his family who's been a professional footballer himself and knows the ups and downs of the game, I'm sure he'll put in a decent performance in."

Appleton added: "I wouldn't say I'm resigned to losing him just yet though. There's still a lot of work to be done before anything like that happens."

But Brown will not stand back and admire the Juventus playmaker.

Scotland international Brown has faced Pirlo on international duty and for Celtic against AC Milan, and will meet again when Juve visit Parkhead in the first leg of the last 16 on February 12.

Last season, the 33-year-old inspired the Turin side to their first title since their demotion following a match-fixing scandal, as they went through the Serie A campaign unbeaten.

Pirlo then shone at Euro 2012 as Italy reached the final in impressive fashion before coming unstuck against Spain.

Speaking at Celtic's Lennoxtown training complex after the draw, Brown said: "In my position he's probably the one that I would say I would most like to be, but it's going to be me against him and I want to be coming out the winner at the end of that.

"It's been good playing against him and I learned a lot.

"He's their main player week in week out. He's the one that makes them tick. He's the one that threads the through balls and gets on the ball to start off the moves.

"He's the one that we are going to really have to watch out for."

Brown and Georgios Samaras are the only members of the Celtic squad to have played when the club last reached the knockout stages, before losing to Barcelona five seasons ago.

And the 27-year-old believes his current team-mates, having beaten Barca in the group stages, can go one better.

"It's huge," he said. "Some people never make this. I have been lucky enough to do it twice. The first time was great, we played Barcelona and were unlucky.

"Now I think this team is better than what we had before.

"We know it is going to be hard, but we have played really well at Celtic Park and hopefully teams fear coming to Celtic Park now.

"We believe in ourselves. We've got great legs all over the park, we can press teams high up the park and we can also get back.

"We always believe, we have faith in ourselves and as individuals as well.

"If you see our team spirit, we are out in a nice, rainy day in Lennoxtown and the lads are still looking forward to training and enjoying every moment.

"Pretty much everyone in the dressing room seems to have improved as players throughout the campaign."

Eales is relieved to have Europa League winner Villas-Boas at the helm after Spurs were tied against Lyon in the last 32.

As a result of Thursday's draw in Nyon, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will return to the Stade Gerland for the first time since moving to London for 10million euros this summer.

"It's a tough draw and this is the first time in nine years they've not been in the Champions League," Eales told Sky Sports News.

"There are a lot of tough teams in the draw. We can ask Hugo the way to go and I think he will be excited about the chance to go back to his old team and play there."

Eales believes Villas-Boas has what it takes to lead Spurs to the European title after he engineered a win for former club Porto during a treble-winning first season in charge, which saw his side also lift the Portuguese Cup and win the Primeira Liga.

"He's got the pedigree so hopefully he can do what he did with Porto two years ago and we can go all the way to (the final in) Amsterdam," he said.

"We want to be playing in European competition. We don't see why we can't have a successful Europa League campaign and do well in the league."

Inter Milan will come up against Tottenham should the Barclays Premier League side get past Lyon, with Cluj standing in the Italians' way.

Nerazzurri representative and former Portugal winger Luis Figo is nervous about facing the Romanian side, who dropped out of the Champions League.

He told "Cluj won the title in their country. They came close to advancing in the Champions League, so we'll have to do our best.

"We'll have to face them with all our strength and how things go will also depend on how we are in February."

European champions Chelsea travel to Sparta Prague after becoming the first Champions League holders to exit the competition at the group stage, with Liverpool taking on Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg over two legs.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told reporters: "It is a good draw for us. We have had the experience of Russia (playing against Anzhi Makhachkala in the group stages) and it was important for us to win the group which means the second leg will be at home.

"We have a lot of games and a lot of thinking to do before then. It's exciting but the most important thing is we're in the draw for the next round. It's against another team who have invested an awful lot of money to win things and do well.

"But there are a lot of games to go before that and obviously nearer the time our focus will turn more towards it."

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew admitted the club's tie against Ukraine's Metalist Kharkiv will be a trip into the dark.

Asked what he knew about their opponents, Pardew said: "Not much, really. I do know it's a long journey, I've had a look at that, and they won their group, so it's a tough agenda for us."

Elsewhere, Lazio face Borussia Monchengladbach, with Biancocelesti head coach Vladimir Petkovic saying: "Last year they came close to a Champions League place and they have been doing very well lately.

"They're not an easy opponent but it's not impossible."

Monchengladbach director of sport Max Eberl said: "This is an incredibly attractive draw for us. The games against Lazio are going to be great challenges."

In the other games, Champions League dropouts BATE Borisov face Fenerbahce, while Levante take on Olympiacos and Dynamo Kiev take on Bordeaux.

Ajax host Steaua Bucharest while Stuttgart host Genk and Bayer Leverkusen play Benfica.

Swiss champions Basle play Dnipro, Russia's Anzhi play Hannover and Napoli take on Viktoria Plzen.

Swindon midfielder Alan Navarro is available to face his old club Tranmere having been sidelined since October.

The 31-year-old, who spent four years at Prenton Park after moving from Liverpool, has not featured for Paolo Di Canio since he damaged his medial ligaments in the 2-2 draw with Coventry two months ago.

But he will hand his manager a real boost as the Italian prepares his side for the visit of the npower League One leaders to the County Ground.

Tommy Miller was introduced with seven minutes to go in the 2-0 win at Oldham having missed the whole of November through injury and the Scottish midfielder could be involved again.

Jay McEveley's knee surgery means he misses out once more with Joe Devera set to deputise again while striker Paul Benson has extended his loan spell with Portsmouth for a further month.

Tranmere have no new injury worries as they look to consolidate their position at the League One summit.

Ronnie Moore's side remain top on goal difference from Brentford despite failing to win any of their last five games - drawing four.

Captain James Wallace remains missing in midfield and is targeting a Boxing Day return from his medial knee ligament injury, while forward Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro (broken metatarsal) and winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie are sidelined until the new year.

On-loan Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson has returned to Teesside for treatment on an abductor injury, although veteran centre-back Ian Goodison is set to continue having made a timely return to the starting XI from knee surgery over the past month.

"In the four games he's played we haven't lost since he's been in the side,'' said Moore.

"At 40 years of ages he's in the twilight of his career but has fantastic experience. He's been great for us because before Goody was in the side, with Ben playing alongside Ash Taylor, the average age was about 21 or 22.

"Now, with him being 40 and Robbo in there at 32 it brings the age of the team up a little bit.''

Celtic have been paired with the Italian champions and Serie A leaders in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Lennon was a Celtic player when the teams last met, in the 2001-02 group stages, in dramatic circumstances.

Celtic came from two goals down in Turin, thanks to strikes from Stiliyan Petrov and Henrik Larsson, only to lose 3-2 after Nicola Amoruso dived to win a dubious late penalty, which saw manager Martin O'Neill sent to the stand for his protests.

Celtic, inspired by Slovakian playmaker Lubo Moravcik, gained revenge with a 4-3 victory at Parkhead in the final group game with Chris Sutton hitting a double, but it was not enough to see them into the last 16.

Lennon would settle for similar controversy and action when the teams lock horns next year - if there is a different outcome.

"I remember them very vividly," Lennon said. "The game in Turin was our first game under Martin in the Champions League proper.

"We didn't play well in the first half and were 2-0 down to two Trezeguet goals.

"The second half we played brilliantly and got it back to 2-2 and looked easily like we were going to go and win it or at least get a point, and then we got done by a shocking, as Martin put it, and it was shocking, penalty decision.

"And that really set the tone for away performances in the Champions League for quite a while.

"The 4-3 game was probably one of the highlights of my career. A packed house, Del Piero, Trezeguet, Nedved, in the all-black outfit. They looked the part.

"Didier Agathe playing fantastically well, Lubo on fire, Sutty and Henrik up front, 4-3, just one of the great European nights.

"I hope we get two more exactly the same - goals, controversy, action. And I hope it goes our way."

Lennon had previously admitted he wanted to avoid Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United in the draw but he sees little difference in quality between those two teams and Antonio Conte's side, who helped knock out holders Chelsea.

Juve went through last season unbeaten in Serie A and currently sit seven points clear.

"They topped the group with Chelsea," Lennon said. "They beat Chelsea 3-0 and not many teams do that.

"I don't know how long they went unbeaten in the league.

"I know they didn't have the manager with them for quite a while but he is back now. He has done a wonderful job there.

"They have been very consistent in Serie A. They are easily the best team in Italy at the moment and they are formidable opponents.

"But over two games, who knows? And who knows where we will be in six or seven weeks time?

"I don't know who will be available to me, I don't know who Conte will have available, but we will really relish the two games."

Whoever Conte has at his disposal, Juventus will have a number of Italian internationals including seven of the squad that reached the Euro 2012 final - goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who played in 2001, defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and midfielders Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini.

Lennon said: "Obviously the jewel in the crown would be Pirlo. He is a fantastic player and had a fantastic tournament.

"I played against him myself back in 2007. He was a wonderful player then and he just seems to have matured and got better, even since then.

"You talk about experience, they are littered with experienced, world-class players."

Lennon claimed he rarely got excited these days, a statement in contrast to his touchline demeanour when celebrating goals in the win against Barcelona, and his inability to watch the Kris Commons penalty that sent them through against Spartak Moscow.

But he had no qualms with admitting how much he was looking forward to the ties, which take place at Parkhead on February 12 and the new Juventus Stadium on March 6.

"I don't get excited very often these days but I was very excited today and very pleased with the draw, just for pure footballing reasons more than anything else," he said.

"You don't really grasp it until you actually sit down and watch it. It's brilliant for the club's reputation.

"I'm delighted for the board, for all the work they have put in over the last few years, and I don't want it to stop.

"We don't want this to end. It could end, but not without a fight.

"We will give Juventus as much as we can over the two games."

The Steelmen moved into second spot behind Celtic last week when they came from behind to win 3-2 win at Hibernian, their fourth successive league victory on the road.

However, while his players have looked far more potent away from the environs of Fir Park this season, and Saints sit second-bottom of the table, the Well boss said: "I reminded the lads today that we were flying at this time last year, winning five (away) on the bounce and went to Hearts on Christmas Eve and put in a very poor performance (to lose 2-0).

"So just because we are going well and playing well away, it doesn't mean to say you just have to turn up and think you are going to win the game.

"I think we showed that at Hibs; the first 45 minutes wasn't great although the second 45 was obviously a massive contrast to that.

"So the players are well aware what is needed and we have to keep focused game by game.

"St Mirren are probably in the position no one would have expected them to be in.

"In Danny Lennon's defence he has been without two of his key players, Darren McGregor and Paul McGowan, so it has been a tough time for them.

"But if you look at the quality they have, they have good experienced players allied to the likes of Kenny McLean.

"Gary Teale is capable and big Steven Thompson up front, I could go through a few who are all capable

"They certainly have enough quality to start picking up points and it will be a tough game, there is no doubt about it.

"But as always with us, we give respect to the opposition but I always have great belief that if our players can play at their maximum we can go anywhere and win a game. "

McCall will get another close look at St Mirren's John McGinn, the 18-year-old midfielder whom he first came across while he doing his coaching badges.

The former Bradford manager said: "I like the boy McGinn who they have brought in.

"I did a coaching session with him a couple of seasons ago on my pro-license and I remember him standing out.

"Both Motherwell and St Mirren sent under-19 boys down so different people could coach them and do different aspects of it and actually coached St Mirren for half a day.

"He certainly stood out for me. He has a great attitude and

he has pushed himself to the front and is a first-team player.

"I always look out for him. He played in the under-20s this season and now he has kicked on into the first team and I hope his career keeps going, obviously apart from tomorrow night."

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