Petr Cech has warned Chelsea that Saturday’s opponents Southampton are the most dangerous they have been all season following the arrival of new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Chelsea thumped Southampton 5-1 at St Mary’s Stadium in the FA Cup in January but less than two weeks later they blew a two-goal lead as the Saints claimed a point at Stamford Bridge. That proved to be Nigel Adkins’ last day in the charge of Southampton and Cech has been impressed by the improvements Pochettino has made since his arrival. “In football, everything is different – you can have a first half that is completely different from the second half,” Cech told cfc.com Press Association “In the away game against Southampton we were very effective, taking our chances, and then at home we had a very good half – but the last half an hour of the game we allowed them to come back into it. “You cannot do that in the Premier League. “The teams are strong enough to grab the chance if you give it to them – everyone in the Premier League has that quality and will take it if you let them. “They changed manager with Pochettino and they are more attacking, more organised with very good pressing which makes them more aggressive – and, in turn, more confident because of the success they’ve been having.” John Terry is available to manager Rafael Benitez – but his selection will be made with one eye on Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United. Benitez said it is “impossible” for players to peak twice in 48 hours so some rotation of the side is inevitable and Terry, after a season disrupted by a knee injury, is only likely to start one of them. Chelsea’s interim manager reported a clean bill of health following the international break and he is hopeful that Ramires (Achilles) and Gary Cahill (knee) could be fit for Monday.
The Gunners captain started the season as Arsene Wenger’s first-choice centre-back but ended it watching the late climb to Champions League qualification from the bench. Vermaelen’s time at the Emirates Stadium has been disrupted by injury, but the 27-year-old Belgian denies he could be on the move in the transfer window. “I’m happy at Arsenal. I didn’t play much and that was frustrating, but things can turn around quickly,” he told Ad.nl. “I was on the bench, but I could just as quickly be playing again. I’m working hard to make that happen. “These are things that happen in professional football. Arsenal are a great club where there is a lot of competition.” Thomas Vermaelen has distanced himself from reports suggesting he could leave Arsenal during the summer. Press Association
Casillas spent the latter half of last season on the sidelines after injuring his hand and then slipping below Diego Lopez in the pecking order. He declared his determination to get back in the first team next season, but insisted he was not taking his place in the side for granted. “I have to compete. I would love to play, but I have to start from scratch. I am very excited now I am here, but my team-mates aren’t going to make it easy for me,” he added. “It’s good there is competition, because the coach and the whole team benefit from that. But there is a lot of competition for every position and my aim is to get back to my best and compete.” Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano also holds Bale in high esteem and despite the fact his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu would threaten Barca’s dominance in Spain, he feels the winger would bring “quality” to the league. He told Fox Sports Asia: “Always when players with quality come it is very good for the league. Bale is a player that has shown in the last three years that he is one of the best in his position.” Madrid have earmarked the 24-year-old Wales international as their major summer target although they have so far not persuaded Spurs to sell. Madrid-based newspaper Marca’s front page suggested Spurs were holding out for a fee of 145 million euros (£126m), which would far exceed the world record £80m the club shelled out on Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas has described Gareth Bale as “one of the top three or four players in Europe” as the Spanish giants continue their pursuit of the Tottenham winger. Whether president Florentino Perez is willing to go to those lengths remains to be seen but Casillas, speaking on the club’s tour of the United States, said: “We are talking about one of the top three or four best players in Europe and it’s normal that his name is being discussed because he has all the qualities a footballer needs. “Every transfer is controversial in its own way, for better or worse, but we are speaking about a very good, decisive player. “I’m sure we’ll make another signing before the transfer window shuts.” Casillas also gave his seal of approval to new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, who took over from Jose Mourinho last month. “I had the chance to meet Ancelotti during the summer holidays in Madrid and I’m excited about working with him,” said Casillas, who hopes the Italian can right the wrongs of last season’s trophyless campaign. “I spoke to him for just five minutes and I came to the conclusion he is a winner. He makes that clear to you from the start. “Whenever a new coach comes in it’s a new challenge and I’m happy about starting a new era. “Madrid need to start winning games and trophies after last season and fight for all three competitions.” Press Association
Rodriguez should have doubled his tally with 29 minutes played when Lambert robbed Wes Brown after the defender took a poor first touch and fed him, but he shot tamely at Mannone. But the keeper was beaten again two minutes later when central defender Lovren met Davis’ corner ahead of Brown and volleyed home. However, seconds later Johnson crossed from the right for Borini to control and scuff a shot past keeper Artur Boruc, who got a hand to the ball, but could not keep it out. The Saints continued with their progressive approach in the second half and Davis fired over from distance after full-back Shaw was allowed to run from his own half and thump a shot into Mannone’s midriff. Fellow defender Calum Chambers called up Mannone once again with a speculative 55th-minute effort, and the Italian needed two attempts to collect Rodriguez’s effort seconds later after Schneiderlin and Lallana had capitalised on Brown’s wayward pass. The keeper denied Lovren and Shaw again within seconds as the hour-mark arrived, and he was relieved to see Rodriguez fire into the side-netting under pressure from Phil Bardsley after Lallana and Lambert had combined. Borini thought he had levelled after being played in by substitute Craig Gardner with 64 minutes gone, but he did so from an offside position and the strike was correctly chalked off. But they were not to be denied and Gardner was the provider once again with 19 minutes remaining when he fed Johnson on the right and saw him smash a rising shot past Boruc’s less-than-effective defences and into the roof of the net. The Poland international saved from Gardner and fellow substitute Steven Fletcher in quick succession as Sunderland went for broke, and it was the Saints who were more grateful to hear the final whistle after having substitute Gaston Ramirez and Jose Fonte carried off within seconds of each other. Press Association Jay Rodriguez fired the visitors into a fourth-minute lead, and when defender Dejan Lovren volleyed home 14 minutes before the break, the Black Cats were in disarray. But Fabio Borini pulled one back within seconds to set the stage for Johnson’s late contribution as the Saints squandered a host of opportunities and ruined Pochettino’s hopes of celebrating a year in charge with a victory. Opposite number Gus Poyet was able to take comfort from the battling qualities which earned his team another precious point, but they remain inside the relegation zone and are still to win back-to-back league games this season. Sunderland went into the game brimming with confidence after the 4-1 victory at Fulham and anticipating Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup semi-final, second leg trip to Manchester United. But to Poyet’s horror, what unfolded during the opening 45 minutes was the antithesis of what he had seen at Craven Cottage as slick Southampton out-thought, out-muscled and out-played his side. With Jack Cork anchoring the midfield, Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana had the freedom to exploit the space between the red and white lines, and the visitors threatened to run riot. They took the lead when Rodriguez made the most of Marcos Alonso’s failure to clear his lines, teeing himself up to fire firmly into the bottom corner from the edge of the box with goalkeeper Vito Mannone helpless. It could have been 2-0 with 18 minutes gone when Johnson deflected Luke Shaw’s cross on to the post with Mannone wrong-footed, and Rickie Lambert wasted a glorious opportunity three minutes later when he shot across the face of goal from Schneiderlin’s pass. The 26-year-old, who plundered a hat-trick at Fulham last weekend, smashed home a 71st-minute equaliser to prevent his side from slipping to a costly home defeat. But just how Southampton left Wearside with only a point will have been the topic of a post-match debate as Mauricio Pochettino’s men failed to kill off a game they dominated for an hour at the end of a difficult week. Adam Johnson struck for the fourth time in a week as Sunderland staged an unlikely fightback to snatch a 2-2 Barclays Premier League draw against Southampton.
Press Association American-born O’Connor, who has an English father a Russian mother and Irish grandparents, finished ninth out of 20 starters after following up a 60.75 score with a 70.25 run second time around at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The 16-year-old was nevertheless delighted with his efforts, which saw him land his first ever triple on his final jump, after struggling in practice on Saturday morning. Irish snowboarder Seamus O’Connor was “over the moon” despite missing out on a place in the final of the first ever Olympic slopestyle event in Sochi. “I’m over the moon,” he said. “The first run was okay. My practice this morning didn’t go very well. “The sun hadn’t risen so the course was really dark and icy, and I wasn’t landing the tricks that I needed to so coming to the first run I was a little bit anxious. “I put a run down, but it wasn’t really wasn’t what I was looking for. I was happy to put some points on the board. “Two days ago, I tried my first ever triple which didn’t go the way we planned. “Then on my second run here, I tried it again on the last jump and I landed it, which is my first ever landing triple, which is amazing for me. “I couldn’t be happier.” O’Connor’s Olympic experience is not over yet as he will compete in next week’s halfpipe event.
Press Association Azpilicueta, who has displaced Ashley Cole at left-back, received particular praise. “We know that to win matches you need to score more goals than the opponent, but one of the ways you have to score more is if you don’t concede,” said Mourinho, whose strikers have been much derided this term. “We work, we prepare matches, we analyse opponents. You try to find the best balance. “Defensively you try to make a shape, you try to find a balance. I like Ivanovic playing right-back more than as a central defender. “I like a lot the stability of Cahill and the understanding of Cahill with John. “And I think at this moment Azpilicueta is unbeatable. For many, many matches I haven’t seen one player beat Azpilicueta in an individual duel. “The team is compact, we have a good balance, we are playing well defensively.” While Mourinho was dishing out plaudits, Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood was less than complimentary about some members of his squad and will hope for a reaction in the Europa League on Thursday. A 4-0 defeat of Spurs on Saturday saw the Blues claim a seventh clean sheet in their last 10 league matches and extend their advantage over Mourinho’s title pick Manchester City to nine points, although the 2012 champions have three games in-hand. Goalkeeper Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and captain John Terry are established as Mourinho’s favoured back four, much to the Portuguese’s satisfaction. “This is another blow to us,” said Sherwood, who was unable to end Spurs’ 24-year wait for victory at Stamford Bridge. “We play Benfica now on Thursday and have to bounce back very quickly. “We don’t have time to dwell on this now. But I’m gutted, massively disappointed.” Tottenham “capitulated”, to use Sherwood’s own words, in the second half, with Jan Vertonghen gifting Samuel Eto’o the first and Younes Kaboul sent off for the foul which allowed Eden Hazard to convert a penalty. Sherwood was uncertain if Spurs would appeal the decision. It did not help that captain Michael Dawson departed early with a hamstring injury which leaves him doubtful for Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg with Benfica. “We’re hoping there’s a miracle, but I’m not going to hold my breath,” added Sherwood on Dawson, whose departure was followed by a quick-fire Demba Ba double. Ba last started a Premier League match for Chelsea on October 6 at Norwich. He has struggled to take his limited opportunities off the bench since, but will hope his double strike earns further chances, especially as Fernando Torres faces a spell out with a groin injury. “That was a great day for the whole team and the whole club,” Ba told Chelsea TV. “I try to deal with what I’ve been given and it’s not always easy, but I just do what I have to do. I just take the chance to score and I did.” Tottenham had Chelsea under pressure at times in the first half, in particular, but Mourinho was unfazed. “We were all calm,” Mourinho told Chelsea TV. “No mistakes, no defensive mistakes. They had control of the ball and of the game but they didn’t scare us. That’s a good feeling. “We were very mature. You have to cope with what the game has to give you and sometimes the game gives you a fantastic game, sometimes the game gives you a difficult game and we coped very well with a difficult first half. “When you are not on the top of your game, but you feel they are not very dangerous, keep calm and you wait for your moment.” The comments could equally apply to the title race, but Mourinho insists the table is not accurate as Arsenal, Liverpool and City, in particular, have games in hand. Jose Mourinho lauded Chelsea’s defensive resilience after his side moved seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.
McCutcheon said: “He needed the run, that is for sure. “It was always going to be stiff ask at Cork on that holding ground and with that penalty, but he’s come out of it grand. “We’ll go to Naas now and York is still very much the plan.” Maarek will aim for back-to-back victories in the Woodlands Stakes at Naas in three weeks’ time before running at the Dante meeting at York in May. Trainer Evanna McCutcheon felt the ground was to blame for his disappointing seasonal debut on Saturday, when seventh of 10 runners in a six-furlong Listed race at Cork. The Prix de l’Abbaye winner will now take in the Listed sprint at Naas on April 28 before he is sent to Britian to contest the Duke of York Stakes, in which Maarek finished fifth to Society Rock last season, on May 14. Press Association
After an illustrious playing career, the former Netherlands international has become a successful manager with the club whose fabled youth system he graduated from. De Boer, who went on to play at Barcelona, Galatasaray, Rangers and then in Qatar, returned to Ajax as a coach following his retirement and has been first-team boss since 2010. Press Association At the weekend he led the Amsterdam giants to a fourth Eredivisie title in a row, further harnessing a burgeoning reputation that has often seen him linked with a move away. Tottenham and Monaco have been mentioned as potential summer destinations and De Boer has confirmed an interest in moving to White Hart Lane. “I’m going to think about this possibility after the last league fixture on May 3,” De Boer told nos.nl. “I’m going to talk and listen. “I would like to add something to a club, that people can say they see the hand of Frank de Boer. “There is a beautiful example at Liverpool. That is what Brendan Rodgers is doing now [making his mark].” Reports in the Netherlands suggest Tottenham have approached Ajax about De Boer, although sources have told Press Association Sport that is not the case. Bookmakers now make the Dutchman favourite to become Tottenham’s next manager, ousting previous front runner Mauricio Pochettino of Southampton. Reports suggest it is a matter of when rather than if Tim Sherwood will be replaced at the White Hart Lane helm, with chairman Daniel Levy ready to tear up the 18-month deal handed to him in December. Spurs are understood to be concentrating on ending the season well before reviewing the progress made under the head coach, whose win percentage is better than any other Tottenham manager in the Premier League era. Should Sherwood get the boot, one of the legacies he will leave at Spurs is a focus on home-grown talent after his years of work within their youth set-up. The former midfielder has put his trust in the likes of Nabil Bentaleb and Harry Kane, although fellow academy graduate Andros Townsend has found his time restricted under Andre Villas-Boas’ successor. The 22-year-old exploded onto the international stage when rewarded for his fine form in October, netting on his England debut against Montenegro before helping overcome Poland as Roy Hodgson’s men secured a place in Brazil. However, Townsend has not enjoyed the best end to the campaign and last started a Premier League match in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal on March 16. That lack of game time has seen his World Cup hopes weaken and, worse still, the winger sustained an ankle injury after coming on 12 minutes from time in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Stoke. Townsend left the Britannia Stadium in a protective boot and underwent an MRI scan on Monday, with further assessments taking place on Tuesday. Ajax boss Frank de Boer is open to speaking with Tottenham about taking over as manager at the end of the season.
With Liverpool simultaneously playing Newcastle, the potential for a nerve-jangling finish does still exist – but any jitters are not being betrayed by the normally ice-cool Pellegrini. Asked if he suffers from nerves, Pellegrini said: “I know how to control (them) – it is different. “After so many years, it is very important to control your emotions because when you have to take decisions under emotion normally you do it the wrong way. “I think it is very important for the manager to be calm, to try to repeat what we did the whole year.” There did appear some tension at Eastlands on Wednesday as City played out 64 goalless minutes against Aston Villa before eventually powering home 4-0. The mood was one of celebration come the final whistle and Pellegrini, after continually playing down his side’s position in the title race, now expects his players to finish in style. “I think so, yes,” said Pellegrini, when asked at his pre-match press conference whether his side had played the best football in the competition this season. “I expect to win. We are thinking not of winning one point but just winning the match and the best way to do it is to play the way we always do.” City are within touching distance of a second Barclays Premier League crown in three seasons heading into their final game against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium. With a two-point advantage over Liverpool and a much superior goal difference, Pellegrini’s men realistically need just a draw to complete the job. Pellegrini certainly has no interest in playing for a draw. “Every team must play every game to win,” the Chilean said. “It doesn’t matter in which conditions they are playing, every team must want to win.” Pellegrini arrived last summer promising vibrant attacking football and has varied little from his initial philosophy throughout the season. And with the finishing line in sight, he sees little reason to change now. The 60-year-old said: “It is the work from the whole year that we play for but also it is a normal game because I think the best way to do it is to repeat what we have done all season so far.” Pellegrini was unwilling to discuss the magnitude of his achievements in his first season in England or whether or not City had been handed the title by default after slips by Liverpool and Chelsea. These issues were among a number of questions Pellegrini said he would rather answer after Sunday, much in keeping with the way he has given little away all year. Questions about Financial Fair Play, manager of the year and the Football Association commission’s report into the future of the game were also deemed irrelevant as he focused on the job in hand. He was willing to admit, though, that he had always been confident his team could arrive in this position. He said: “When I arrived here, my target was always to play well and try to win the title. “It is difficult to do it but the moment I accepted the job it is because I had a lot of trust I could do it.” Pellegrini has a fully-fit squad available with Sergio Aguero back in contention after a groin injury. Aguero, top scorer with 28 goals in all competitions this season, missed the game against Villa after limping out of the action at Everton last weekend. Pellegrini said: “The whole squad is fit for Sunday. It is very important, always for a manager, if you have your whole squad and choose from all your players.” Press Association Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has stressed the importance of keeping a cool head as his side bid to close out title success on Sunday.
The 32-year-old is available on a free transfer after being released by West Ham at the end of last season. Villa have released a picture, via Twitter, of Cole wearing a club tracksuit top at the club’s Bodymoor Heart training complex. The accompanying text confirmed Cole had “completed a medical this morning”. A formal announcement of a deal is now expected imminently. Cole, who has also played for Chelsea and Liverpool in his career, won 56 caps for England. He moves to Villa Park having spent the past season and a half back at first club West Ham, where he came through the youth ranks. He was regarded as one of the most gifted players of his generation and was snapped up by Chelsea for £6.6million in 2003. He won three Premier League titles and became an England regular during a successful seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge but injuries eventually led to him falling down the pecking order. A move to Liverpool to 2010 failed to reignite his career but he enjoyed a successful loan spell with Lille before taking up the opportunity to return to Upton Park. He rejoined the Hammers on an 18-month deal but played only a bit-part role in the season just concluded. He last started a Barclays Premier League last December, when he scored for West Ham in a 3-3 draw against West Brom. Press Association Former England midfielder Joe Cole is poised to join Aston Villa after undergoing a medical at the midlands club.