He said: “There is going to be talk in that sort of a vain, I am sure. We are very conscious that, whoever we play, we need to give due respect to. Can we do it against other styles of play? I think yes we can. We proved that last season. “The pressure to play in some of those so-called big games is probably not as great because other people’s expectations probably temper the amount of pressure you are under. “The scrutiny is slightly different but we are well aware of the fact that we have to pick enough points up against sides who are probably coupled with us in terms of stature etc, those are the sorts of games we need to pick up a lot of points from. “I think history would bear that out as being an important factor in team’s seasons.” Meanwhile, Sean Dyche has faith that Burnley’s numbers game will eventually see them come good in the Barclays Premier League. The Clarets are propping up the table after six matches and are yet to win since returning to the top flight. Defensively, Dyche’s side exceeded expectations by keeping three consecutive clean sheets prior to last weekend’s 4-0 capitulation at West Brom, but they have also drawn six successive blanks in all competitions. A lack of firepower has not been helped by injuries to last year’s potent strike pairing of Danny Ings and Sam Vokes but Dyche insists that a dispassionate analysis of Burnley’s output so far tells a brighter story than the bare facts of their goal drought. “We’re only under the microscope because we haven’t scored since the opening day of the season,” he said at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s trip to Leicester. “I’ve mentioned it many times that it’s my job to see through the opinion and the noise as I call it on the outside of it. “We look at games in many different ways, objectively with the sound down so there is no emotion to it. “We also debrief with the players and behind all that we have the pro zone stats to work with. “We look at them and use them for a guide as to how the team is really operating, not the perception of it. “One example of that is six games into last season, we had 80 efforts at goal and 40 on target. “This season after six games in the Premier League we’ve had 72 efforts at goal and 37 on target which is a statistically higher amount. “We’re not a zealot to stats but, as I say, we use them to guide us and if those stats weren’t as strong as what they are then we’d start questioning ourselves.” Nathaniel Chalobah is the latest injury casualty after he suffered a kick in the throat during an Under-21 match on Tuesday night. Vardy, who was playing for Stocksbridge in the eighth tier of English football four years ago, missed out on selection for the games with San Marino and Estonia but, ahead of Saturday’s visit of Burnley, Pearson believes rewards will come if his players perform. “My views on any player who has been linked with international call-ups is that it is pretty positive but if people are still talking about any of our players at the turn of the new year then they have continued to do well,” he said. “It is easy to get carried away with one or two performances but ultimately it is about players being able to perform consistently for their clubs. If they do that then any speculation regarding their futures at international level will take care of themselves. “For anyone to be linked with an international (call-up) is a positive, although I wonder where the speculation is generated. “But whoever is linked in such a way needs to keep their focus on their own performances at club level week in and week out. If they do that then if they are good enough they will get selected at some point.” Ritchie De Laet and Esteban Cambiasso are fit for the Foxes after they came off against Palace but Matt Upson is still out with a foot injury. The Foxes are 12th in the Barclays Premier League and unbeaten at home having taken points off Everton, Arsenal and vanquished United. And with nearly a fully fit squad to pick from Pearson knows Leicester must get results against others in the top flight. Boss Nigel Pearson insists his Leicester players will get international recognition if they keep delivering for the Foxes. Striker Jamie Vardy was linked with an England call-up for their Euro 2016 qualifiers this month after his fine start to the season. Vardy scored in the 5-3 win over Manchester United and Three Lions assistant manager Ray Lewington watched the 27-year-old in the Foxes’ 2-0 defeat at Crystal Palace last week. Press Association
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits the humiliating 6-0 defeat at Chelsea was one of the lowest points of his career, but also feels it helped spark a remarkable recovery to end the season in FA Cup glory at Wembley. “It was a massive, massive disappointment, but on the other hand I must say that afterwards we showed great strength,” said Wenger, who marked 18 years at Arsenal earlier this week. “The way we responded until the end of the season would not have happened at many clubs. “I will never forget that day, but was very proud with how we responded.” Wenger continued: “It was the lowest point of the season. When we lost 8-2 at Old Trafford (in August 2011) we had no team on the day, with nobody at the back, so that was explainable. “The players will want to put things right after last season and will be up for it on the day.” Wenger maintains there is no reason why his team – who thumped Galatasaray 4-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday night – should not be confident of getting a positive result this time around. “In life you must always think you are there to change what happened before, or you are fatalistic,” said Wenger. “A competitive guy is somebody who wants to make history and change what happened before. Wenger’s 1,000th match in charge turned into a nightmare at Stamford Bridge last season, when the Gunners were 3-0 down inside 17 minutes and had Kieran Gibbs sent off. Although the final 6-0 scoreline was tough to take, it also proved a turning point for Arsenal, who won their final five Barclays Premier League matches to secure fourth-place and then came from behind to beat Hull in the FA Cup final, so ending a nine-season trophy drought. “We have an opportunity to do that. What counts is the performance on the day.” Former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas moved to Chelsea from Barcelona before the World Cup. Arsenal held first option on the 27-year-old, who had left to rejoin his boyhood club for £30million in August 2011 having come of age under Wenger’s guidance after arriving in north London as a raw teenager. The Gunners boss insists there should be no animosity between either party. “I don’t see why he should not be happy with Arsenal or with me. We influenced his life in a positive way, that is what we are about. The most important thing is that he is happy,” Wenger said. “I always understood that he could go back to Barcelona, because he is from Barcelona. “It didn’t go as well as he imagined it, certainly, because I felt that when he goes back to Barcelona he will finish his career there or come back to Arsenal. “It was the fact that he left Barcelona much earlier than everybody expected. Why? I don’t know, he can explain that much better.” Fabregas has impressed in Chelsea’s new-look set-up this season alongside Nemanja Matic and helped provide a supply line for in-form striker Diego Costa. Wenger, though, is not surprised. “Cesc has always been a great player, look at the number of assists he had with us, it has not changed, even at Barcelona it has not changed,” the Arsenal boss said. “That was always the strength of his game and if you look at the number of assists he has had this season, it is like it was before.” Press Association
Bolasie has been one of the club’s star performers over the past 18 months and he delivered another impressive display at Tottenham last Saturday. The 25-year-old pulled off a brilliant piece of skill that bamboozled the Spurs back line and was a constant threat with his pace and driving runs. Bolasie signed a new three-year contract in the summer and Warnock believes the winger should remain at Selhurst Park, where he enjoys regular first-team football. “We won’t be selling Yannick,” Warnock said. “He knows he got to be playing. It’s no good Yannick going somewhere and being a squad member. “He’s playing in the Premier League. He’s at a great club, he’s got great fans who love him, what more can he do? “Every week he’s in the limelight because he’s in the best league in the world and he’s playing in the first team and enjoying himself and having the freedom to enjoy himself. “The way we play suits him down to the ground.” Warnock was close to signing Bolasie when he was in charge at QPR and even held talks with the DR Congo forward at the Rangers training ground. “We go back quite a long way,” Warnock said. Crystal Palace manager Neil Warnock has told interested clubs to forget about signing in-form Eagles winger Yannick Bolasie. Press Association “He first came up to QPR and I spoke to him on the training ground so we’ve got quite a lot of mutual respect for each other. “When you’re a player and you have the manager’s support, you relax and you enjoy it and when you do that and the fans love him, I think it makes a whole new ball game for you. “The trick that he did against Tottenham – would he have done that if the fans didn’t like him and he wasn’t a regular in the team? “The answer is no, he wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that because he would probably have got kicked up the backside if it hadn’t have come off. “At the moment that’s the way he is and we want him to be like that.” Despite Bolasie’s pace and creativity, Palace have struggled for goals recently, scoring just once in their last three league matches. Warnock is reportedly interested in bringing Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis to the club in January and the Palace boss refused to rule out a move for the 29-year-old. “I can’t deny it but I can’t say it’s one that we’re right down the line with,” Warnock said. “We’ve been linked and we will be linked over the next three or four weeks with a lot of strikers. “Names are going to crop up here and there. It’s whether we can get any of these names over the line.”
But Dyche believes criticism of Rodgers is misguided, having laboured earlier this season without his own key men Sam Vokes and Danny Ings. They scored 47 goals between them in the SkyBet Championship promotion campaign, Vokes with 21 of them before suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in March. Ings went on to be named as the division’s player of the season but missed five weeks of action this autumn, during which the Clarets remained winless in the top flight. It was an experience that has shaped Dyche’s view on Rodgers. “He’s missing two massive players – Suarez and Sturridge, who in certain games last year were unmarkable and unplayable,” said Dyche. “That has got to be a loss for any manager. “We’re saying, even at Burnley, that we were missing Vokes and Ings, and they are still learning to be Suarez and Sturridge-type players. “So if we were missing them, it’s fair to say Brendan is missing those two. Liverpool’s slump in form this season has been down in large part to the absence of their ‘SAS’ pairing, who shared 55 goals in the side’s thrilling 2013/14 title tilt. With Suarez sold to Barcelona in the summer and Sturridge out since August due to a series of injuries, the Reds side who visit Turf Moor on Boxing Day will be a very different proposition to the one that routinely terrorised defences. Burnley manager Sean Dyche feels Brendan Rodgers’ pain over the loss of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge after struggling to cope without his own star strikers. “That’s why the world demands ‘can we find a striker?’. It changes the whole view of your team. Vokes and Ings were incredible last year and made the team even more effective than what it might have been without them. “Liverpool look a different unit without those two. Are they as good? The question marks are out there, but strikers make the difference.” Vokes scored twice for Burnley’s development squad against Blackpool on Monday and is pushing to make his first-team return as a substitute against Liverpool. Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli returns from suspension but will only be on the bench. Fellow forward Fabio Borini is banned after his sending-off last weekend against Arsenal while midfielder Joe Allen has not yet recovered from a knee injury. Defenders Dejan Lovren and Glen Johnson (both groin) and Jon Flanagan (knee) are still not fit. Rodgers insists he has not lost faith in goalkeeper Simon Mignolet despite dropping the Belgium international. The 26-year-old was told to expect an “indefinite” period on the sidelines after being left out of the team to face Manchester United on December 14 following much criticism of his form this season. While Rodgers has not told the Belgian when he can expect a recall, he expects him to return a better goalkeeper when he does, having spent plenty of time analysing his performances. “Simon’s response has been fantastic,” said Rodgers, who admitted he had to take Mignolet out of the spotlight to allow him a cooling off period to reassess his game. “People would think coming out of the team would have a negative effect but he has been outstanding and his training has been good and we’re analysing where he can improve. “That time coming out of the team sometimes gives you that reflective period that you don’t have when you’re in the thick of it and it can benefit you. “I’ve seen a real positive reaction from him. John (Achterberg), who’s our excellent goalkeeping coach, and myself sit down with him, study his game and look at the areas we feel the improvements can be made. “Hopefully when he returns he’ll have gained from that time out and becomes a better keeper for it. “We’ve seen it in the past with other keepers at other clubs – sometimes that little period out can really help. I’m confident that’ll be the case with Simon. “I haven’t lost any belief in him – he’s still an outstanding goalkeeper. “I’m sure when the time comes for him to come back in, he’ll be a better goalkeeper for it.” Press Association
Press Association Harry Redknapp believes QPR would grant Shaun Wright-Phillips a free transfer if he found a new club. Rangers boss Redknapp has claimed the 33-year-old midfielder is happier sitting on a “fantastic contract” than leaving the club for first-team football. Redknapp revealed Wright-Phillips has rejected a host of potential loan moves, telling the former Manchester City midfielder he “needs to move on”. “He played for me when I first came here in the Premier League. I’ve got no problems with him, I like him an awful lot. If I didn’t, I’d say so. “When he’s had a chance on loan – Blackburn, Bolton, Charlton, they’ve come in for him – and he’s said ‘I’m not interested’, he didn’t want to know. He wouldn’t consider it. He doesn’t want to go on loan. “But even a permanent deal, who’s going to pay the same money he has here? It’s difficult. “But let’s be honest – you can’t blame the boy. “No-one’s blaming him; he’s got a great contract. “In the long term he needs to move on and play football, and I’ve said that to him many times.” Wright-Phillips hit back at Redknapp by pledging to fight for his future at the west London club. “I’m not at QPR to go back and forth. I’m fit and ready to do my bit in this relegation fight as they may need me at some point. I believe in myself and know what I’m capable of,” he tweeted. Rangers host Manchester United at Loftus Road bidding to ease out of the Premier League relegation zone on Saturday. Former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright leapt to the defence of his adopted son Wright-Phillips, criticising Redknapp’s comments on Twitter. “Ridiculous statement about not wanting to go on loan!!! You get paid the same money when you’re on loan,” Wright posted. Wright-Phillips has vowed to “do my bit in this relegation fight” despite Redknapp deeming him surplus to requirements at Loftus Road. “He would be allowed to go on a free; the club would do a deal with him, I’m sure,” Redknapp said. “Shifting him if he’s not in your plans, that’s difficult. “I’ve told Shaun, of course I’ve told him, he needs to go on loan or move permanently. “But he’s not going to move when he’s got a fantastic contract. “Let’s all sit and talk straight: when you’re earning X amount of pounds, and someone wants to give you money that’s nowhere near that, you’re not going to go, are you? “It’s no-one’s fault that Shaun’s got a great contract. Good luck to him – someone gave it to him. “It’s all about opinions. Someone else could come in and put Shaun straight in the team. That’s the game.
The 3-0 victory over Newcastle, their first home league win of 2015, was vital in restoring a six-point cushion between themselves and the bottom three. It relieved some of the pressure which was reaching crisis level among some fans, and after beating Dynamo Kiev last Thursday back-to-back wins for the first time since November have helped lift the gathering gloom. “We really needed the win. We had a good result in Europe in the week but it was really vital we turned up and got three points in the league, and we did that really well,” said Osman, on his first league start since December 3 after returning from injury. “We are not trying to look down, we are trying to look up but out the corner of your eye you can’t help but see how close you are (to the bottom three) at times. “With Burnley maybe surprisingly beating Man City on Saturday it was vital we won. “We’ve not been the best in the league of late, so it was vital we got ourselves back on track. “On occasions things don’t always go the way you want to on the pitch but for us it is not for a lack of trying, we tried the same as we have in the last few weeks. “We seemed to get things right as a team and we pressed together as a team and things came off for us. “Confidence is massive: you can be the best team in the world on paper but if you haven’t got confidence you are not going to get a result. “I think maybe we lost a bit of confidence over the Christmas period, but over the last few weeks we started to get it back and that showed out there in the last two matches.” Everton midfielder Leon Osman admits the players were more than aware how close they were to slipping into a relegation battle, but feels their renewed confidence means they can now start looking up the table. Press Association Despite it only being two results there finally seems to be a feeling of momentum gathering at Goodison Park, but that needs to continue in Ukraine this week for their last-16 second leg tie, in which they lead 2-1. “We have been good in Europe this season, especially away from home, so we are going there with confidence but these ties in countries like Ukraine are difficult,” added Osman. “We are ticking along nicely and starting to get our confidence back with two wins out of two and hopefully we will make it three on Thursday.” Manager Roberto Martinez made five changes for the Newcastle match and he will rotate players again for the trip to eastern Europe. The injury list is reducing after left-back Leighton Baines returned against the Magpies having missed the previous five games, with forward Kevin Mirallas available to face Kiev, and Osman believes that should help them finish the season strongly. “There is a lot of competition for places but we are in it as a team: there is no sulking if you are not in the team at the minute, it is all about the 11 out there getting a result,” he said. Newcastle, by contrast, are seeing their options diminish by the week and captain Fabricio Coloccini’s suspension for a red card at Goodison adds another name to the list of those unavailable. “Just when you think you are getting somewhere on the squad front in getting Jack Colback back from suspension and Remy Cabella and Robbie Elliott back into the group, all of a sudden you lose your captain for three games and a defender which, as we all know, we are not blessed with many,” said caretaker boss John Carver. “I can’t bring out a magic wand and bring in anyone from the outside but I am losing people not through silly training ground injuries or silly red cards. “I have a huge injury list and I am working with what I have got. I know what situation I am in and I can’t do anything about it.”
Press Association Since Steve Clarke left in December 2013 they have battled relegation but host QPR on Saturday looking to move 11 points clear of the bottom three. And Pulis, who replaced Alan Irvine in January, is eager to finish the job and revive the Baggies. “It has gone a little bit off the rails in the last two or three years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can argue about that, it is now just about trying to get it back on track. “We will talk about it (the summer transfer market) once we have achieved our goals – which is to stay up. We are still points away from that. “Once that is achieved we will sit down and talk to the chairman, “It is a good football club, everything is in place.” Victory over Rangers would put the Baggies 14 points clear of the second-bottom visitors but Pulis is taking nothing for granted. “Every game we play is a chance to pick up points in the Premier League,” he said. “We will respect QPR, they have the tools to win a game in this division.” The Baggies head coach has shelved any thoughts of summer safety until Albion have clinched their Barclays Premier League future. Albion struggled last term, beating the drop by three points, and Pulis is their third manager in the last 12 months. Boss Tony Pulis is ready to rebuild West Brom after they went “off the rails”.
Saints have slipped out of the Champions League places and into seventh following a run of three defeats in their last six games ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Hull. Koeman blames the slump on a lack of goals but rather than looking to his strikers for fault, he believes a change in approach from opponents has been the telling factor. “It’s not in my opinion a problem about one player – just look at the last few games,” Koeman said. “Even when we play away – for example last weekend against Everton – teams don’t care about playing football at home, they defend. That is different to the beginning of the season. “Now opponents don’t care how they play against Southampton, they’re happy to defend and they’re concerned about getting points. At this point of the season, points are more important for them. “We are not always scoring lots of goals and that’s the difference. We are not getting the space we had in the beginning. “It makes it more difficult because then there is not really a lot of space. Liverpool played with three centre-backs but with five defenders against Southampton, and Hull normally play with five defenders. “That means there is not a lot of space, so you have to play very well or you need a player who makes an individual action and scores a goal. “But those types of individual, high-quality players are not playing for Southampton.” Koeman believes Southampton’s Champions League dream is over, but still covets a place in the Europa League. “You have to be realistic. The difference to the top four is eight points and that is a lot. The focus at the moment has to be about fifth, sixth and seventh position in the table,” he sad. “We would like to play European football and fifth and sixth positions mean European football.” Ronald Koeman insists Southampton’s goals have dried up due to their Barclays Premier League rivals giving them more respect. Press Association
Press Association The 28-year-old Olympic and five-time world champion has led a revolution in her sport and believes it will only get harder to maintain her dominance as new young fighters target her crown. Taylor, who faces Russian lightweight Denitsa Eliseeva, said: “The standard of women’s boxing has got so much tougher since the Olympics and in the years to come it is going to make my competition even tougher. “I remember when I was 17 seeing the world champions, they are the ones you want to beat, and I definitely think some of the girls coming up have got the same attitude. “I want to stay at the top and continue making history and be regarded as the best of all time, so it is definitely a motivational factor for me. I need those goals and dreams when I wake up every morning.” Five women’s weight categories are being contested in Baku – two more than at the Olympics, despite suggestions in the wake of its successful debut at London 2012 that the women’s divisions would be increased for Rio. And Taylor believes it is imperative for the continued growth of women’s boxing that more female fighters are given the opportunity to do battle on the biggest stage. “We’ve only got three weights, so so many female boxers are missing out,” she added. “It’s heartbreaking and I’d love to lead the push for at least five weights – it would be perfect for female boxing and I would love to push for that legacy.” One young fighter aiming to emulate Taylor is Belfast bantamweight Michaela Walsh, who had pushed Nicola Adams hard in the final of last year’s Commonwealth Games but was unanimously outpointed in her opening bout in Baku by experienced Russian Elena Savelyeva. Walsh said: “I came here for the gold medal and it’s disappointing, but I’ll learn from it. It’s all experience for Rio. Gold in Rio is what I’m aiming for and with the help of God I’ll go and get it.” Irish gymnast Kieran Behan narrowly missed out on a medal when he finished fourth in the men’s floor final behind winner Rayderley Zapata Santana of Spain. Katie Taylor is ready to rise to the challenge being posed by a new generation of women’s boxing talent as she prepares to launch her campaign for yet another major title at the European Games in Baku.
Dandy Nicholls-trained British raider Sovereign Debt was a dominant winner of the Dubai Duty Free Full Of Surprises Celebration Stakes at the Curragh. The six-year-old was a 9-2 shot having run with credit in Ireland on his last couple of starts, finishing fifth in the Gladness at this track and third in the Ballycorus Stakes at Leopardstown. Sovereign Debt was positioned close to the speed from the off by Chris Hayes and after being sent on from the home turn, quickly put the race to bed. Press Association The grey was kept up to his work in the final furlong and came home four and three-quarter lengths clear of Flight Risk, with the front-running Fastnet Mist third. War Envoy was the odds-on favourite after winning the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot nine days ago, but although he made late headway, he failed to land a telling blow. Nicholls said: “He’s had a lot of traffic problems in the past and I just told Chris to make up his own mind on how to ride him. He gave him a great ride and maybe that’s the best way to ride him. “I brought him over myself and he travelled over really well, ate up everything and he was so relaxed. “He’ll come back here again and deserves to go for all those races now. “He’ll go to Dubai at the end of the year.”