Monday, 27 January 2014

Oviedo injury leaves a bad taste' - Everton boss Martinez laments fresh injury blow

'Oviedo injury leaves a bad taste' - Everton boss Martinez laments fresh injury blow
Everton boss Roberto Martinez admitted Bryan Oviedo's horrific injury "left a bad taste" despite his side's comfortable 4-0 win over Stevenage in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday.

The Costa Rica international suffered a suspected broken ankle when he launched into a slide tackle with his side 2-0 up.

Oviedo was rushed straight to hospital and Martinez has already admitted he is resigned to losing the left-back - who scored the winner when the Toffees beat Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier this season - for a considerable period of time.

"A real negative today is an unfortunate injury and we end up with Bryan picking up a bad injury", he said.

"We need to give him as much support as we can because he's had a terrific season and I've been so impressed with his level and the way he's been playing in different positions.

"He's a really important player in the group and we all wish him a speedy recovery now and we hope everything goes well, because he clearly deserves it."

Despite the massive injury blow, Martinez was pleased with his side's performance and hailed their attitude.

"If you want to see a professional performance, that's as professional as it gets," he added.

"We had to defend well and I thought the concentration in dead-ball situations was  a real test and we always looked a real threat on the counterattack.

"We looked clinical in front of goal so as a performance it's as good as it gets.

"The incident with Bryan obviously affected everyone. Those injuries really give you a bad taste but overall from the fans to the type of the game it was a real proper cup tie and a professional performance from our point of view." 

Juan Mata completes £37.1m Manchester United

Official: Juan Mata completes £37.1m Manchester United move Manchester United have completed the signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea, the club have confirmed.

The Spain international missed first-team training with the west London outfit on Wednesday as he closed in on the club-record move to the reigning Premier League champions in a deal worth £37.1 million.

Jose Mourinho has already moved to secure a replacement for the Spaniard, as the Blues gazumped Liverpool to agree a fee with Basel for Mohamed Salah, a transfer which could cost up to £15m.

Speaking about the deal, Mata said he was delighted to have joined the reigning Premier League champions, describing Old Trafford as the "perfect place for me".

"I am thrilled to be joining United. I have enjoyed some very happy years at Chelsea but the time has come for a new challenge," he told the club's official website.

"United is the perfect place for me and I am excited at the chance I have to be part of the next phase in the club's history.

"Chelsea is a top club and I have many friends there but you cannot turn down the chance to join Manchester United. I look forward to helping the manager and the team be successful in the coming years."

David Moyes, meanwhile, confirmed that Mata will make his United debut against Cardiff on Tuesday at Old Trafford.

"I have been impressed with the excitement he has shown to be part of the new Manchester United," he added.

"I know our fans have admired Juan for some time now – he has always played well against us – and I know they will be delighted to see him in the red of United, starting on Tuesday.

"Juan is one of the finest playmakers in the game today and it's a real pleasure to have secured his signature," he added.

"He's been instrumental in Chelsea's recent success, with a notable 28 assists and 32 goals in his last two Premier League seasons."

Mata, twice named Chelsea's Player of the Season, struggled for regular football under Mourinho, with the Portuguese recently admitting his "door was open" should the playmaker seek an exit.

And United have jumped at the opportunity to bring the 25-year-old to Old Trafford, with David Moyes keen to boost his midfield options and strengthen the club's bid to claim Champions League qualification after the disappointment of crashing out of the Capital One Cup.

Chelsea target Zouma omitted from Saint-Etienne squad

Chelsea target Zouma omitted from Saint-Etienne squad

Chelsea transfer target Kurt Zouma has been omitted from Saint-Etienne's squad for their Ligue 1 trip to Bordeaux on Sunday.

The France Under-21 international's future has been the subject of much speculation throughout the January transfer window, with Blues boss Jose Mourinho having hinted earlier this week that contact has been made over a possible deal for the defender.

Mourinho's comments came after Zouma told L'Equipe earlier this month that he would welcome a switch to Stamford Bridge.

The 19-year-old has now been left out of Christophe Galtier's 18-man squad for the game at the Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, further fuelling talk that a move could be imminent.

Zouma returned from a 10-match ban as a late substitute in his side's 2-0 win over Lille last week, and it remains to be seen whether that will be his final game for the club.

The centre-back, a product of Saint-Etienne's youth system, has quickly established himself as one of the most promising defenders in France since making his Ligue 1 debut in August 2011.

Mata 'surprised' Chelsea sold him to Manchester United

Mata 'surprised' Chelsea sold him to Manchester United
Manchester United's new club-record signing Juan Mata has admitted his surprise that Chelsea allowed him to move to Old Trafford.

The Spain international completed a £37.1 million move to the Red Devils on Saturday and could make his debut against Cardiff on Tuesday, becoming the first player in the Premier League era to swap Stamford Bridge for Old Trafford.

When asked if he was surprised that Chelsea allowed him to join David Moyes' men, he told Sportmasta:  "To be honest it is a bit surprising.

"But I have to say I'm really grateful to Chelsea, to the owner, everyone who works at the club and the fans - they voted me the best player in the last two seasons and I will always be grateful.



"They have been amazing with me. The last six months were difficult as I didn't play as much as I wanted to. I understand it's a team sport so I respected that situation.

"But the chance to come to Manchester United was a great moment for me to carry on with my career and join another massive club."

Mata also says the huge price tag, which topped the £30.75m United paid for Dimitar Berbatov in 2008, will not affect him and that he is looking forward to getting started at United.

"I know it is a big price but I'm confident that everything is going to be okay. I will try my best as I always have done," he added.

"The squad and the manager are very good and the fans are unbelievable – we have everything to be successful.

"It's a very happy day for me, meeting my team-mates, the manager, seeing the training ground. It's a massive club and I feel very proud to be here."

The Spain international is now looking forward to meeting his new team-mates and is relishing the opportunity to supply some of the club's established strikers.

"Obviously for a player like me who is trying to score goals, assist goals and be a creative player it's going to be amazing to play with those kinds of players," he said.

"Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Adnan [Januzaj], [Antonio] Valencia, Chicharito, [Danny] Welbeck... they are all top-level players and I will try to do the best for the team.

"I think I can play in the three positions behind the striker. I played on the left when I arrived at Chelsea, this season I have played on the right and last season, which was probably the best season of my career, I played behind the striker. But it doesn't matter as long as I play."

Moyes not expecting further January deals after Mata capture

Moyes not expecting further January deals after Mata capture David Moyes says Juan Mata is likely to be the only new arrival at Manchester United in January, despite working hard to add to his squad.

Mata completed his club-record £37.1 million move from Chelsea on Saturday, and United have been actively seeking further additions, opening preliminary talks with Southampton for Luke Shaw and scouting Bayern Munich duo Toni Kroos and Dante.

But Moyes does not expect to add to his side any further this month, though will keep searching for ways to strengthen the squad he inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson, and admits they may have to wait until the end of the season to bolster their ranks.



"I don't think we'll have any more in January," the United boss told the club's official website after confirming the Mata deal.

"I'm still working on it and looking to do things – we know exactly what we'd like to do and if it changes in the last week, which sometimes it can do, then we'll try.

"I hope it will be the first of some new signings that will arrive, but more likely in the summer."

United have struggled in the Premier League this season and are 14 points adrift of leaders Arsenal after seven defeats in their opening 22 games.

Mata is the first piece of the jigsaw for Moyes, and he has vowed to put a side together that is capable of moving them back up the table and delivering the style of football the club's fans have become accustomed to.

"I want to build an exciting team, that's always the way I've wanted my football to be played and I've not known it any other way," he added.

"I want to win and give the supporters something to shout about because I've not done that often enough.

"What I will say is that this is the first of many more to come in time. I'm looking forward to Juan being the start of it."

Seedorf delighted as 'warrior' Essien nears AC Milan move

Seedorf delighted as 'warrior' Essien nears AC Milan move
The Rossoneri boss believes the Ghanaian's signing could be a pivotal starting point as he rebuilds the squad, while he insists missing out on Europe would not be "shameful"
Clarence Seedorf has spoken enthusiastically of Michael Essien's imminent move to AC Milan, hailing the midfielder's battling qualities.

Essien is expected to be confirmed as a Rossoneri player in the coming days after a deal was agreed with Chelsea, with the 31-year-old making only five Premier League appearances for the Blues this season.

Speaking ahead of his side's clash with Cagliari on Sunday, Seedorf enthused about the "warrior" Ghanaian's ability and claimed he will form an integral part of his attempts to turn the club's fortunes.

"I know Essien quite well," the 37-year-old Dutchman told journalists at a press conference.

"I spoke with him clearly and transparently. We know him as a player and he's a very big positive for us. He'll be a big help.

"I'm happy with Essien's arrival. He'll play in the middle - he can also operate as a full-back but I always like to see players in their best position.

"Maybe it's a good thing [if he's had a sceptical welcome]. If you look at the benches of Real Madrid and Chelsea, there are some great players who are maybe surplus to requirements. I have guarantees regarding Essien. He's a warrior with a lot of experience."

Milan have endured a torrid campaign so far and sit 11th in the Serie A table, and Seedorf has conceded that Champions League football may well be beyond his side for next season - though he insists this would not be "shameful" for the club.

"The objective at the moment is to us all our determination to improve results," he continued.

"Work and commitment will get us there. I'm here to help with this reconstruction but it's clear that we need time and as things stand I can't set a date for when the results will start to come.

"Commitment is what's needed and I can see that with the players. They're the first to understand the fans and the most disappointed to be in this situation. This has happened to other big clubs that have fought their way back, however. I'm here to work to do that and to make the fans dream again.

"A season without Champions League football is not the end of the world, it's happened to many big clubs and it's not shameful. You have to accept the present, otherwise you're living an illusion."

Chelsea made three Salah bids in hectic 24 hours

The Insider: Chelsea made three Salah bids in hectic 24 hours CHELSEA MADE THREE BIDS IN 24 HOURS TO CLINCH SALAH DEAL

Chelsea made three bids for Mohamed Salah in 24 hours to force through the Egyptian's signing in midweek.

The Londoners announced on Thursday they had agreed a deal with Swiss club Basel to capture Salah.
Sportmasta understands that an agreement was reached following a sustained period of bidding from Chelsea on Wednesday, with the Premier League club believed to have twice upped their offer before settling on a fee of £12.5 million plus £2m in add-ons.

Salah had also been the subject of an offer from Liverpool, but the Blues swiftly made their move after agreeing to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United on Wednesday for £37.1m.

Chelsea were keen to keep competition for places intense in the attacking midfield positions following the earlier sale of Kevin De Bruyne in the January window.

Salah will vie with Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Andre Schurrle for a starting place at Stamford Bridge.

DAVID MOYES GIVEN BOOST OVER CROCKED FOURSOME

Manchester City's hopes for a four-trophy haul are still alive, but rivals United are on course for a quadruple of their own.

Boss David Moyes could receive a major injury booster ahead of the Red Devils' Premier League game against Cardiff City on Tuesday.

Rio Ferdinand, Marouane Fellaini, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney all resumed training with the first team during the last week and will be put through their paces on Monday morning.

Van Persie hinted to fans on Saturday that he would feature against Cardiff, tweeting "See you all on Tuesday" alongside a picture of Juan Mata, who had just touched down in his helicopter.

MAN CITY'S GLOBAL EXPANSION CONTINUES

Manchester City plan to step up their search for partner clubs in other territories, with China and the Americas next on their hit list.

The Blues paid £11m earlier this week to buy an 80 per cent stake in Melbourne Heart, with the Australian side set to be renamed Melbourne City FC.

City paid £80m last summer to start up New York City FC and Sportmasta understands they are still on the lookout to expand the 'City Football Club' stable even wider.

Beijing and clubs in Mexico have also come under consideration.

City's owner Sheikh Mansour and the club's power brokers believe the moves are positioning the Manchester club to be one of the biggest in the world.

They have already overtaken the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal in the recent Deloitte rich list, despite the figures revealing the two London clubs charge much higher ticket prices.

Everton will look to dominate at Anfield, warns Martinez

Everton will look to dominate at Anfield, warns Martinez
Everton manager Roberto Martinez has dismissed the notion that his side will carry an inferiority complex into the Merseyside derby and will instead be looking to take control of Tuesday's clash with Liverpool.

The Toffees have not won at Anfield since 1999, failing to win on 14 previous visits, but Martinez is confident of drawing on positive performances at Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium to end the club's wait for an away win against their fierce rivals.

"We're not going to go to Anfield feeling inferior. We are not going there looking for a damage-limitation performance," said the Spaniard.



"We have great respect for Liverpool, don't get me wrong, but we will be going to Anfield looking to show our own qualities. Beating [Manchester] United at Old Trafford was a big result for us, but there have been other landmarks this season.

"Being able to go to Old Trafford and remove the mental block that comes from when you don't win there for more than 20 years was huge. But, for me, facing Arsenal eye-to-eye at the Emirates and dominating possession the way we did said just as much.

"I now think we are capable of going anywhere and beating any team."

Everton sit a point and two places below Liverpool in the Premier League table and can overtake the Reds with a win, and Martinez is confident his side can put on the "perfect" performance.

"We have got to be careful that we play the game rather than the occasion. We must go to Anfield and be as focused as we can be," he continued.

"I want us to show that we have the bravery and the quality to go there and express ourselves. I think our players are ready to be tested in any environment against the best.

"We need to be perfect – Liverpool have been very good this season, especially at home – but the way we played in the first derby earlier this season gives me belief that we can do that."

Essien to complete Milan move on Monday

Essien to complete Milan move on Monday
Michael Essien will sign an 18-month deal with AC Milan on Monday to complete his transfer from Chelsea after passing his medical on Sunday, Sportmasta can confirm.

The Ghana international travelled to Italy on Friday evening after Chelsea sanctioned his departure to the San Siro side.

The first part of his medical exposed a knee problem that initially seemed to pose a problem, but Essien eventually got the green light after further tests in the afternoon.

"Haters will broadcast your failure but whisper your success. Medical's done, looking forward to start my new life with AC Milan," the midfielder stated on his official Twitter account.

Essien becomes Milan's third signing of the January transfer window following the arrivals of Adil Rami and Keisuke Honda.

The 31-year-old started his professional career with Bastia and also wore the Olympique Lyonnais jersey before joining Chelsea in 2005.

He won two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League during his time with the Blues.

The midfielder was shipped out on loan to Real Madrid last season and will now continue his career in Serie A.

Lampard hails Oscar after departure of 'fantastic' Mata

Lampard hails Oscar after departure of 'fantastic' Mata
Frank Lampard believes the quality of Oscar and Chelsea's other attacking options made it difficult for Juan Mata to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Oscar scored the only goal of the game with a stunning strike as Chelsea beat Stoke to book an FA Cup fifth round tie with Manchester City on Sunday.


MATA TO MAN UNITED
CHELSEA OPEN TO MATA EXIT
MATA FLIES IN TO COMPLETE DEAL
WENGER: MATA MOVE IS UNFAIR
DOSSIER: HOW MATA FITS IN AT MAN UTD
MATA MOVE: THE DEFINITIVE TIMELINE
THE BIGGEST TRANSFERS BETWEEN ENGLISH CLUBS
Lampard, who lauded Mata's ability, indicated the Brazilian's contribution this season gave Jose Mourinho little choice but to leave out the Spain international, before selling him to Manchester United for £37.1 million (€44.7m) earlier this week.

"Juan Mata is an absolutely fantastic player, and more than that he is an absolutely great lad," Lampard told SPORTMASTA. "[I] wish him all the best personally.

"The difficult thing here is that there are so many quality players and Oscar has been fantastic this year, as has [Eden] Hazard.

"Willian's shown that, and we've got so many riches in that position that it's difficult, but you need performances like that from Oscar today [Sunday]. That free kick was absolutely top drawer."

Lampard is anticipating a strong finish to the season, now that the squad has bought into the philosophy of returning boss Mourinho.

"There's a good feel around the place, [with] the manager coming back [it] took a little bit of time for him to get his points across, I think," he said.

"In the last couple of months we've been finding that little bit of mentality - that feeling in the dressing room - and we're going out there with more confidence.

"We have to keep that up - the minute you drop that, the results will turn - so we have to make sure we keep at it and carry on this form."

Ozil and Wenger can lead Arsenal to the title

Henry: Ozil and Wenger can lead Arsenal to the title
Thierry Henry believes Arsenal have what it takes to hold off Manchester City and Chelsea and clinch a first Premier League title in 10 years.

The former Gunners striker says he has full faith in manager Arsene Wenger, pointing to their form already this season as an indication as to what they are capable of.

"I can say right now that everybody is expecting Arsenal to collapse, just as they were expecting it earlier in the season. But they didn't," Henry told Sportmasta in an interview at a launch event for the PUMA evoPOWER boot. "They are still somehow keeping up the pace in the Premier League, and every time they have been in a situation where they have to answer back to Man City and Chelsea, they have done it.

"Hopefully, they can carry on doing that. As an Arsenal man and a fan of the club, I want them to carrying on doing that the whole way and make sure they can win the league.

"The future will tell us if they are good enough, but right now for me, they are."

Arsenal's form this season has surprised many, with the club having gone without a trophy in almost nine years since Henry helped them to win the 2005 FA Cup. But the 36-year-old says that the summer addition of Mesut Ozil has been one of the keys to their improved displays .

"They have more experience now. They all get one more year, and there's obviously the arrival of Mesut Ozil – that was very important for the club," he added.

"With his calmness, his quality on the ball, his vision, he is a great player and can give an assist at any moment. He also has the quality and capacity to score goals at any moment, so it’s always great to have a player like that around in the dressing room on a daily basis, and at the weekend at the game."

The ex-Barcelona forward, who is now plying his trade in the MLS with New York Red Bulls, insists Wenger also has what it takes to make the right moves, if necessary, during the remaining days of the January transfer window.

"The boss knows best. People gave him a lot of stick because he didn’t win [a trophy] for a very long time, and we all know that Arsenal didn’t win for a very long time," continued Henry. "But I don’t know if Arsenal needs to buy or not, only he can answer that. But all I can say to you is the squad that they have right now is pretty efficient."

Arsenal are one point clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League after 22 matches, with Chelsea a further point behind.

Baines signs new long-term contract at Everton

Baines signs new long-term contract at Everton
Everton have confirmed that defender Leighton Baines has signed a new four-year contract at Goodison Park.

The left-back has been a long-term target for Manchester United, with David Moyes revealing in September that he attempted to secure a double swoop for Baines and Marouane Fellaini during the summer.



United ended up with just Fellaini, with the champions expecting Baines to hand in a transfer request to force through a future move - which the defender refused to do.

Everton then slapped a £25 million price tag on Baines' head in an attempt to ward off interest, and Roberto Martinez confirmed on Monday morning that the England international has committed himself to the club.

"We're delighted Leighton has signed for the next four years. It gives us a great boost internally and also for the fans," Roberto Martinez told reporters.

"He's more than a footballer. From every angle you look at it, to have his focus and tranquility for the next four years is a fantastic thing.

"He is one of the best left-backs in European football. He has the World Cup [coming] and I'm just looking at what Leighton can do and it is huge.

"It would be an understatement to say we are delighted to secure the best footballing years of Leighton Baines at our club.

"Leighton has just turned 29 and brings the right measure of maturity and football knowledge in a very specialised position on the pitch, bringing an infectious and positive influence to the rest of the squad.

"With the crucial games we have ahead, it is going to be vitally important to have Leighton's experience there to help us fight for our aims."

Draxler, Costa & Mangala - Why transfers this week could swing title race

Draxler, Costa & Mangala - Why transfers this week could swing title race
WELCOME TO WHAT COULD BE A TITLE RACE-CHANGING WEEK

One of the most well-worn cliches used by Premier League managers is that of a lack of value in the January transfer window and the difficulty in signing the very best players midway through the season.

Yet the next week could decide the destination of the title this season.

Only two points separate the top three teams in the table - and it means the next few days could define the tightest title race in years.


DRAXLER, ZOUMA, SHAW & MORE...
WHICH DEALS COULD STILL BE COMPLETED?
Rarely has the winter window had any impact on the outcome of the Premier League. Manchester United supporters may point to Henrik Larsson’s loan move in 2007, but even then the Swede scored just one goal in seven league appearances.

You probably have to go back to November 1992 for the last time a mid-season signing truly made a difference, when Eric Cantona moved from Leeds to Manchester United and helped the club to a first title since 1967.

So far, of the title protagonists, only Chelsea have been active in the transfer market. The Blues have re-signed Nemanja Matic from Benfica for €25 million to add steel to their midfield, while winger Mohamed Salah has completed his transfer to west London from Basel.

Jose Mourinho’s side look well set, two points behind leaders Arsenal and with money to spend should the opportunity arise to sign a top-class striker - how the Blues would love Atletico Madrid to part with Diego Costa this month - which is the only glaring weakness in the squad.

That money has become available following the £37 million sale of Juan Mata to Manchester United. While the champions are not in the running to retain the title this year, their move for the Spaniard proves that top players can be signed in January, even if clubs have to pay a premium price.

And his switch also strengthens a United side that has faced Chelsea twice already this season but has still to come up against Arsenal and Manchester City a second time. Should the Spaniard prove the difference in those ties, his sale by Chelsea will look all the more like calculated genius.

The likes of Luis Suarez, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have all been January signings. There will be players available in the final week of the window who could make the difference this season.

One such player is Julian Draxler. Arsenal officials will fly to Germany this week to hold talks over a deal for the Schalke attacker, who has a €45m release clause in his contract.

Arsene Wenger is reluctant to spend more than €36m on the German but the Arsenal manager only has to look at the impact of Mesut Ozil’s arrival last summer to conclude that it could be worth pushing the boat out.

Draxler would be the major signing to strengthen an attack overly reliant on Olivier Giroud and hampered by injuries. While everyone should take Arsenal seriously as title challengers, signing Draxler could make the difference as they battle against two superior squads in Chelsea and Manchester City.

City themselves look in need of a central defender as the fixtures pile up and they fight on four fronts.

The first-half display in Saturday’s FA Cup clash against Watford exposed the back-up centre-back pairing of Joleon Lescott and Martin Demichelis. They need a commanding defender to partner captain Vincent Kompany - and with Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi long-term targets, who could rule out a last -minute flurry of activity at Eastlands?

In such a closely fought campaign, it could make all the difference.

ROONEY - IS HE REALLY WORTH THE FUSS?

Even Manchester United supporters must have to wonder whether Wayne Rooney is worth all this fuss.

Reports have suggested that the striker has been given access to privileged information over the club’s transfer plans as United attempt to convince him to sign a new £300,000-a-week deal.

This is a player who has twice, very publicly, tried to force an exit from Old Trafford.

You would understand if a number of his team mates resent the special attention he appears to be receiving from David Moyes and club executives.

Rooney can hold United to ransom over contract negotiations, with just 18 months remaining on his current deal.

The England international has scored 11 goals in 24 games this season, but he has no right to demand or expect to be the main man, not in a squad that includes Robin van Persie and now Juan Mata.

If the 28-year-old stays at United, he is likely to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as the club’s all-time record goalscorer with 249 goals. He has so far netted 208 times for the club.

But Rooney’s antagonising behaviour and transparent lack of loyalty means United supporters will rarely utter his name in the same breath as Charlton.

The Dossier: Liverpool's Gerrard conundrum

The Dossier: Liverpool's Gerrard conundrum
In their last Premier League outing, Liverpool found themselves two goals down after 36 minutes and Steven Gerrard was struggling to contain Aston Villa’s high tempo.

“It didn’t work for myself or the team,” the England captain said of his deep-lying position.

“Villa put a lot of men around me and every time I tried to get the ball under control in the first half they swamped me.

“It wasn’t one of my better 45 minutes.”

Lucas, not fully fit, was sent on at half-time to provide balance and help salvage a draw by blunting Villa’s sharp transitions from defence to attack. The Brazilian was substituted 21 minutes after the restart but the point was evident.



Gerrard, in a pairing, is not the right man to anchor a midfield and in Liverpool’s current system with three central players, his exact purpose is now difficult to establish.

“There is absolutely no question Steven can play the [deeper] role and I don’t regard it as a setback, not at all,” Brendan Rodgers insisted after the 2-2 draw at Anfield.

“It is a mark of his identity as a player that he could influence the game in that offensive area.

“It just shows his importance to the team, with the pass he played to put Luis [Suarez] in [to win the penalty] and his composure to take the penalty under pressure. The system is irrelevant.”

But while his raking pass to Suarez was of the highest order, those moments have not been regular enough this season, and Gerrard has gone from Liverpool's dynamic lynchpin to a midfielder whose attacking influence is largely reliant on dead-ball situations.

Jordan Henderson’s evolution as a threat in attack has been key to Liverpool’s top-four pursuit. The 23-year-old’s inventive flick to assist Daniel Sturridge in the draw against Villa is the most recent example of his enhanced link-up play, which has been on display throughout the campaign.

Over the course of this season, Henderson’s contribution puts him among the Premier League’s elite. Only Luis Suarez (44) and Eden Hazard (50) have created more chances from open play than the Liverpool midfielder (42). Gerrard, in his reduced role, has created 23 chances from open play.

And amid his forays forward, Henderson has been able to boast similar defensive qualities to Gerrard. The amount of interceptions and tackles won between the duo are almost identical, while both are unsurprisingly dwarfed by Lucas, whose primary role is to be the shield and link between midfield and defence.

With the Brazilian now sidelined for two months with a knee ligament injury, and Joe Allen missing Liverpool’s FA Cup fourth round win over Bournemouth on Saturday, Rodgers faces the prospect of playing Gerrard and Henderson in a midfield two once again.

The combination has returned mixed results this season. Liverpool coasted to 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield in October but struggled in the following game when the pairing were put up against Newcastle United’s midfield at St James’ Park.

The lack of Lucas’ presence was highlighted by Yohan Cabaye’s opener as the France international was allowed to run unchallenged for 20 yards from the halfway line for the game’s opening goal in the 2-2 draw.

Gerrard scored the equaliser from the penalty spot and that has been one of the 33-year-old’s major influences in Liverpool’s campaign. Rodgers’ men lead the way in the Premier League with 14 goals from set-pieces and Gerrard has provided five of those, as well as scoring all four of Liverpool’s penalties.

But is the Liverpool captain now too refined during open play to make an impact at either end of the pitch?

Minutes played Goals (excluding pens) Assists from open play Chances created  from open play Passes into attacking third Interceptions Tackles won
Steven Gerrard 1497 1 1 23 202 19 33
Jordan Henderson 1959 1 6 42 171 19 39
Yohan Cabaye 1509 7 0 20 194 46 35
Aaron Ramsey 1495 8 6 26 181 19 56
Ramires 1889 1 2 24 177 22 53
James McCarthy 1475 0 3 27 142 30 41












Compared with Cabaye, undoubtedly Newcastle’s talisman this term, Gerrard has made less than double the number of interceptions than the Frenchman, while both share a similar amount of tackles won, as well as chances created from open play. And excluding penalties, Cabaye has scored seven goals to Gerrard’s one.

Arsenal’s breakthrough star Aaron Ramsey also holds better defensive and attacking figures than Gerrard. The 23-year-old has registered the same amount of interceptions (19) as Gerrard but has won more tackles and has created marginally more chances. Gerrard loses out again in front of goal, with Ramsey striking eight times in the league before his injury on Boxing Day.

And it’s a similar story when compared with Ramires. Chelsea’s Brazilian box-to-box midfielder has made more interceptions, won more tackles and has created more chances than Gerrard.

Gerrard will be facing James McCarthy in Tuesday’s Merseyside derby but the Everton midfielder heads into the fixture with a more proficient balance in his game.

Though he’s not scored in the Premier League this season, McCarthy too has made more interceptions, won more tackles and created more scoring opportunities for his team-mates than his Liverpool counterpart.

Those calling for Gerrard to be pushed further forward will likely see a detriment to Henderson’s influence in attack and given his contribution this season, Rodgers can be excused for not wanting to disrupt his side’s balance.

In the four games Gerrard missed in December, Liverpool hammered Tottenham at White Hart Lane with Henderson particularly effective when linking up with Suarez.

It was a similar story in the 3-1 win at home to Cardiff City. Henderson registered two assists, one of which included a superb chipped ball into Suarez’s path.

And Liverpool rightly felt aggrieved that they came away from the Etihad Stadium without a point. Rodgers’ men had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, while Suarez had a strong case for a penalty rejected.

Given his statistics this term, it’s difficult to argue a case where Gerrard would have made the telling contribution against City, or in Liverpool’s subsequent loss to Chelsea, from anything other than from a set-piece.

Gerrard’s number of passes into the final third this season (202) eclipses that of Cabaye, Ramsey, Ramires, McCarthy and Henderson but it highlights the Liverpool captain’s stifled capacity.

As long as Henderson continues to flourish in Liverpool’s attacking third, Gerrard will be required to hone his ability to read threatening situations and construct play from his deeper role.

The Liverpool manager certainly believes it is a project worth pursuing.

Mata in line for Old Trafford debut

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata

David Moyes has indicated he wants the former Chelsea man, who completed a £37.1 million move on Saturday, to be involved, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returns to his former club

The Spain midfielder completed his £37.1 million move from Chelsea on Saturday and is expected to go straight into the starting line-up.

Mata's arrival is a timely boost for United, who crashed out of the Capital One Cup on penalties in their semi-final against Sunderland last week on the back of a 3-0 top-flight defeat at Chelsea.


Manager David Moyes will be expecting Mata to provide the touch of class that United have been lacking in what has been a disappointing season so far for the Premier League champions.

United's prospects of retaining their title are forlorn, as Moyes' men are seventh in the table and 14 points adrift of leaders Arsenal.

Moyes will still be confident of clinching qualification for the Champions League, though, with Liverpool six points better off than the Old Trafford outfit.

United drew 2-2 at Cardiff back in November in the first meeting between the two sides since 1975, but Solskjaer has since replaced Malky Mackay at the Welsh club.

The 40-year-old can expect a rapturous reception on his return to Old Trafford, where he spent 11 years during his playing days and enjoyed a major role in such a successful period in United's history, including scoring the winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

The Norwegian has been charged with the task of keeping Cardiff in the Premier League, but they slipped to the bottom of the table with a 4-2 defeat at Manchester City in their last top flight match.

Cardiff need to improve their away form if they are to avoid a return to the Championship, as they have won only once on their travels in the top flight.

Solskjaer's side did win at Bolton Wanderers in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday, but Cardiff have taken just a point from their last six Premier League games.

The Cardiff boss will be hoping United strike duo Robin van Persie (thigh) and Wayne Rooney (groin) are not yet ready to return.

Moyes will also assess the fitness of Rio Ferdinand (knee), Nani (hamstring) and Michael Carrick (ankle), but captain Nemanja Vidic will not definitely not feature as he serves the second of a two-match suspension following his red card at Chelsea.

Kenwyne Jones could make his Cardiff debut if a swap deal with Stoke City involving Peter Odemwingie goes through in time and forward Jo Inge Berget could make his bow following his move from Molde last week.

The likes of Fraizer Campbell, Steven Caulker and Craig Noone are expected to return to the starting line-up. 


Boardroom blues fail to knock Barcelona off

Boardroom blues fail to knock Barcelona off their stride
 Crisis? What crisis? Barcelona endured turbulent times in a week that saw Sandro Rosell step down as president and the club reveal the figures behind the controversial deal to sign Neymar last summer. Off the pitch, things were looking bleak. But back on it, the outlook already appears much more rosy.

There were plenty of question marks ahead of Sunday's visit of Malaga: How would Rosell's resignation affect the players? How much would the revelations of the real cost of Neymar's transfer impact on the rest of the squad? And how would all the upheaval at boardroom level influence the team with Real Madrid and Atletico breathing down their necks in the race for La Liga?

The answer to all of the above, however: not at all. Barca took the lead in the Camp Nou clash at home to Bernd Schuster's side after 40 minutes through Gerard Pique, but the Catalans created numerous chances prior to the defender's opener, with Alexis Sanchez striking the post, Cesc Fabregas firing wide, Lionel Messi missing the target from an acute angle and the visitors keeping the home side at bay with some desperate defending, which included several cynical challenges.

Messi, dropping deeper than usual in more of a creative midfield role at times, set up Pedro for 2-0 early in the second half and also started the move which saw Alexis add another. Three and easy: what had looked like a tricky test and even a potential banana-skin for the Blaugrana following events at boardroom level leading up to this match, ended up as a Sunday stroll. And it could have been many more.

TRANSFER TALK.

Manchester City eye summer move for Sagna

Manchester United are contemplating a summer move for Bacary Sagna but face competition from Monaco and Galatasaray.
Source: Daily Star
Monday, January 27, 2014 9:33 AM

Rennes made a new bid at Ntep

The Bretagne club mad a new bid, with higher wage, at French international U21. Rennes and Auxerre have an agreement of 6M€ (plus bonus) for the forward.
Source: L'Equipe
Monday, January 27, 2014 8:41 AM

Grenier to replace Cabaye in Newcastle ?

Clement Grenier is Newcastle target n°1 in case of Cabaye's departure for PSG. But Jean-Michel Aulas, Lyon's chairman, doesn't want to sell the French international midfield this winter.
Source: L'Equipe
Monday, January 27, 2014 8:39 AM

Man United reject PSG bid for Januzaj

Manchester United are understood to have turned down a January bid from Paris Saint-Germain for teenage playmaker Adnan Januzaj.
Source: The Guardian
Monday, January 27, 2014 12:35 AM

Rooney to sign new contract and be named captain

Wayne Rooney will be named new Manchester United captain when he agrees to a deal worth £300,000-a-week. The striker has also been made awar eof David Moyes' transfer plans.
Source: Daily Mirror
Monday, January 27, 2014 12:30 AM

Cabaye bidding starts at £25m

Newcastle will not entertain any offers for Yohan Cabaye below £25 million after rejecting a £14m bid from Paris Saint-Germain for the France international.
Source: Daily Mirror
Monday, January 27, 2014 12:25 AM

Allardyce hopes for Osvaldo loan

West Ham boss Sam Allardyce is keen to take Dani Osvaldo on loan after the striker was suspended by Southampton following a training ground altercation.
Source: Daily Mirror
Monday, January 27, 2014 12:20 AM

Newcastle reject PSG Cabaye bid

Paris Saint-Germain are understood to have had a £14 million bid for Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye rejected.
Source: BBC
Sunday, January 26, 2014 8:05 PM

Diego Costa has verbal agreement to join Chelsea

According to 'La Sexta', Chelsea has already agreed a 38 million euro fee with Atl├ętico de Madrid for striker Diego Costa in the next transfer window.
Source: La Sexta
Sunday, January 26, 2014 4:30 PM

Barca interested in Mandzukic?

Mario Mandzukic was left out the 18-man squad of FC Bayern against Gladbach on friday. Barcelona could profit: According to spanish media The Catalans are interested in obligating the croatien international.