International News - Issue 286

Real Madrid Keep Faith In Rafael Benitez

Real Madrid have announced their full backing for under-fire manager Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard has not been a popular choice at the Bernabeu, and his popularity took an even bigger dip following last Saturday’s crushing 4-0 defeat at home to Barcelona. Real president Florentino Perez called a press conference for tonight which many thought could spell the end of Benitez’s reign, but instead the club has back the former Liverpool and Napoli boss. “We have had a board meeting and analysed the sporting situation at Real Madrid. Rafa has all our support and all our confidence,” Perez said. “Rafa Benitez has all the ability and has only just started his job here. Let him keep working and he will achieve his objectives.”

Thibaut Courtois has handed Chelsea a much-needed boost by returning to first-team training as he closes in on a comeback from knee surgery. Courtois, 23, has not played for the Barclays Premier League champions since their home defeat by Crystal Palace on August 29 after damaging his medial ligaments at their Cobham base. Last week Thursday he was able to complete a session with the rest of Jose Mourinho's squad as part of his ongoing rehabilitation with a view to returning to playing in the coming weeks. While Asmir Begovic has proven himself as an able No 2 for a top side, Chelsea's title-winning keeper can offer some much needed defensive stability and leadership to a side sorely lacking both qualities. The faltering champions have kept just four clean sheets in 18 games this season, a steep decline for a defence that conceded just 32 times on their way to last season's league triumph. 

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has expressed his desire to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club, and hopes a deal will be struck at the end of the season. Ronaldo left Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2009, in what became a world-record transfer fee of £80-million (R1,6-billion), and has enjoyed a successful six-year spell in the Spanish capital. However, reports have been circulating that the Portuguese international could be leaving the La Liga side at the end of the season, with Paris Saint-Germain a possible option. Speaking after United's 2-1 win over Watford of last weekend, van Gaal has also voiced his desire to bring the 30-year old back to the Premier League. "Ronaldo plays on the wings and he is fast and scores goals. There is no trainer in the world that doesn't like him," said the Dutchman. "Of course we are looking - but we are looking at all players, not just Ronaldo. But these players are mostly ungettable. "With Ronaldo, let's wait and hope."

Chelsea can secure the transfer of in-form Shakhtar Donetsk star Alex Teixeira if they’re willing to bid above £30million this January. The prolific Brazilian is rumoured to be high on the Blues’ list of priorities this winter, with the club’s current crop of strikers badly under-performing. According to the London Evening Standard, Teixeira is seen as the answer up front, despite mainly playing in an attacking midfield role for Shakhtar this term. The 25-year-old has 21 goals in 22 games in all competitions and has previously been quoted as saying he’d be enthusiastic about joining Chelsea. ‘I have an offer, it was a pleasure to know that Chelsea want to sign me. It would be great if the transfer happens in January,’ he said last month. It’s a steep price for a man who still hasn’t been seen as good enough to play for Brazil, his national side, but his worth has been quickly increasing. 19 goals in 13 league games this season will go a long way to help justify the price tag.

Former Barcelona midfielder Xaxi Hernandez has labelled last Saturday’s El Clasico match-up as “historic”, saying Barca gave Real Madrid a footballing lesson. The Catalans ran out comfortable 4-0 winners at the Bernabeu, embarrassing Los Blancos on their home turf, with their former midfield maestro Xavi feeling it could have been even more for the reigning La Liga champions. "Although they didn't get the manita [the little hand, meaning five goals] it could have been much more than five for the chances they had," he told EFE. "Madrid, too, had two or three, but Barcelona had more than 20 clear chances and it could have been a bigger goal haul." The 35-year-old, now plying his trade in Qatar, feels Barca handed their rivals an “incredible” footballing lesson, and were mightily impressive as they extended their lead at the top of the Spanish standings to six points. "It was an historic game - 0-4 at the Bernabeu - and moreover with the way they played football,” he said. “I think Barcelona gave a footballing lesson yesterday, an incredible one in my opinion. I enjoyed it a lot in the hotel and I congratulated them." Xavi then rated his side’s performance, insisting it was faultless, while labelling his former midfielder partner Andres Iniesta’s goal as the game’s best. "All the goals were great, but Andres' was spectacular," he said. "I think the whole team was a 10 out of 10."

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Gareth Bale insists he has no intention of leaving Real Madrid anytime soon. Bale has regularly been linked with a return to the Premier League, but the Welsh winger insists he remains committed to Los Blancos. "My plan when I first started playing football was to try to reach the pinnacle - and Real Madrid is the pinnacle," he said in an interview with several national newspapers. "Now I'm here, I want to win trophies and to win titles, and just do the best I can for my career. I will never say never when it comes to going back to the Premier League, because you don't know what the future holds. "But I am enjoying my time here. I am very happy." The 26-year-old has scored 30 goals in 65 La Liga games since his world record £85m move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.

Chelsea star Eden Hazard has downplayed talk of a rift between himself and head coach Jose Mourinho. Last season’s Player of the Year is yet to score in 19 matches across all competitions, despite a good showing in Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Norwich last Saturday. Rumours suggest his relationship with the Blue manager may be strained, yet the Belgian attacking midfielder has denied such claims. "I heard a lot of things about this, but no, everything is good with him," Hazard said. "I don't have a problem with him. He is the best manager. He is the best manager for Chelsea and we hope we can win a lot of trophies together. "Maybe not this season because it will be difficult, but next season and on."

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona has undergone another operation. The 55-year-old former World Cup winner had another gastric bypass procedure in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo after struggling with weight problems and complications from the original operation a decade ago. Maradona’s doctor, Carlos Felipe Chaux, says the operation was a success. “He told me he was feeling fine and that he wasn't in any pain. He's in very good physical condition and very good health. His heart is very well and all his vital signs are normal,” Chaux told AFP.

Turkish club Antalyaspor are hoping to land an ambitious double signing of Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho. The Brazilian playmaker is a free agent after leaving Brazilian side Fluminese, while the Italian midfielder’s season with MLS side New York City is now over. Antalyaspor chairman Gultekin Gencer is hoping to have deals for both players in place within the next few days. “We've had talks with Pirlo and his agent. He is willing to play for Antalyaspor,” he told IHA. “We also have ongoing talks with Ronaldinho and his representatives. He is ready to come to Antalyaspor as well. “We have an agreement in principle with both players. If we can find financial backup, these deals will be finalised."

Jose Mourinho has ruled his team out of the title race but believes they can still secure a top-four finish. The champions ended a three-game losing run in the Premier League with a 1-0 win over Norwich City at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Mourinho's men are now 15th on the table with 14 points from 13 games - 14 points shy of leaders Leicester City, and 12 behind fourth-placed Arsenal. "It's a bit of a relief," said Mourinho. "The pressure was there - I was feeling, the players were feeling too. We coped well with that and we got a result which obviously we needed very, very much. "Fourth position for me is not an impossible mission. If you ask me the title I would say impossible mission. "Maybe Tom Cruise can do it (but) it's complicated because you have to recover points from four candidates. "But to grab one of the (teams) that go up and will also have a little bit of a collapse... the fourth position is a difficult position but a possible target." Meanwhile, Mourinho was pleased to see playmaker Eden Hazard pick up a man-of-the-match award against the Canaries. "Every top player that is not performing well they feel it probably more than the others that are not so good," he added. "Eden created chances for us, which is important and I think also for his confidence."

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy equalled Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 12-year-old record with his tenth successive League goal as The Foxes recorded a 3-0 win over Newcastle United. Newcastle, with just two wins thus far this season, were in desperate need of points, yet found themselves a goal down at the break as Leicester’s in-form frontman Vardy – a doubt before the game after picking up a knock with England on international duty – showed his class by slotting home at the near post in first-half stoppage time, scoring for the tenth game in a row to equal former United striker van Nistelrooy’s record set in 2003.

John Stones has all the attributes to play for Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, or even Bayern Munich. That is the view of former England international Phil Neville, who used to be a teammate of the Everton defender at Goodison Park. Stones was the subject of a failed bid from Chelsea during the off-season, with Real and Barca now linked, and Neville is confident the 21-year-old can make it at a big club. “You see qualities that Rio Ferdinand had when he was young,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “The ability to come out from the back, go into midfield, the composure on the ball, the range of passing. He has those qualities. “When you talk about Stones and the next level, one is obviously to play for England, but I think he can play; not just at the best clubs in England, but at the best clubs in Europe. I really do. “One of the big boys in Spain, or Bayern Munich … I think he's at that level. They'll be looking at him and thinking this boy is something special.”

Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin is out for at least two months with a knee injury. The 24-year-old, along with Mikel Arteta, limped out of the 2-1 Premier League defeat at West Brom last Saturday. Coquelin was replaced by Arteta after just 14 minutes at The Hawthorns, before the Spaniard was taken off himself just four minutes into the second half. Coquelin underwent scans on Sunday and manager Arsene Wenger confirmed on Monday he will be out at least until the end of January, when Arsenal face Chelsea. Wenger said: "I'm always a bit cautious because we had lots of bad surprises on the scans, but it is at least two months. "I can't say more than that but certainly for the next two months we will play without Coquelin. "We have players who can play in this position like Mathieu Flamini, but also Calum Chambers, who has been educated as a central midfielder. So this is a good opportunity for other players to show us they can do the job." Arsenal already have a string of injury problems with Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky all sidelined. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is close to a return to action and could feature in the next Premier League game away to Norwich on Sunday. Arsenal hope to have Walcott and Rosicky back in contention for the Christmas period and the next few weeks will dictate whether Wenger decides to look for a new player or two in January. "Whether I do something in January depends on what comes out of the scan on Francis," he said. "I will do what is needed in January, bearing in mind that January is not an ideal transfer market." 

Chelsea have opened talks with Willian regarding a contract extension, according to reports. The Blues will place a new contract on the table worth £100,000-a-week that will run until 2020. The deal is worth roughly £20.8m across the next four years as the Blues look to tie their biggest stars to new contracts, according to the Evening Standard. Willian is the club’s top scorer this season with five goals to his name. And his hardworking attitude has endeared him to Chelsea’s management team and fans alike.