International News - Issue 289




Chelsea And Arsenal Handed Horror Draws Against PSG And Barcelona

Arsenal have been drawn against holders Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League. Chelsea will face Paris Saint-Germain in the knockout stages for the third season running, while Manchester City's opponents are Dynamo Kiev. Arsenal were always vulnerable to a difficult draw having scraped through their qualifying group as runners-up, and the nightmare scenario was confirmed when they were pulled out with the current champions. Barca eliminated Arsene Wenger's side in successive years in 2010 and 2011 and denied the Gunners the trophy with two late goals in the 2006 final at the Stade de France. And the Londoners will be long odds-against to reverse those results against opponents boasting two of the three Ballon d'Or nominees in Lionel Messi and Neymar. Chelsea, on paper at least, have been handed one of the more difficult draws possible as group winners and must take on a PSG side that knocked them out at the same stage last season. The teams also met in the quarter-finals the previous year, Chelsea winning that one on away goals. City's tie against the Ukrainians represents a chance to get beyond the last 16 for the first time, and their away leg will be played in an empty stadium as punishment for previous crowd disturbances and racist behaviour among Dynamo supporters. The stand-out tie elsewhere sees last season's runners-up Juventus paired with Bayern Munich. 

Last-16 ties (first team named at home in first leg):

Feb 16/March 9
Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea
Benfica v Zenit

Feb 17/March 8
Gent v Wolfsburg
Roma v Real Madrid

Feb 23/March 16
Arsenal v Barcelona
Juventus v Bayern Munich

Feb 24/March 15
PSV v Atletico Madrid
Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City

Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Muller says the Bavarians have fond memories of their previous battles with Champions League last-16 opponents Juventus. The teams were pitted against each other in the knockout stages of UEFA's premier club event following a draw in Nyon, Switzerland last Monday. Bayern saw off last year's finalists in the 2012/13 quarter-finals en-route to winning the European Cup, while they also dispatched the Serie A champions in the 2009/10 group stage. "Juventus have a very clever team and Mario Mandzukic is obviously a great striker. We all know him from his time at Bayern," Muller told the club's official website. "We have nothing but good memories of Juventus in the Champions League. "I am really looking forward to playing at the Juventus Stadium. That will be a great experience." Muller's teammate Philipp Lahm is likewise looking forward to the two-legged tie, which will start either on February 16-17 or 23-24. "It will be a great tie between two top teams, a European classic," Lahm stated. "Juventus made it to the final last season and it will be a major challenge. "But we want to make the quarter-finals and will give our all to make it."

Jurgen Klopp will return to Germany for the Europa League Last 32, but to Augsburg rather than Borussia Dortmund. Premier League rivals Manchester United have been drawn against Danish club FC Midtjylland, while Tottenham Hotspur face a tough ask against Italian outfit Fiorentina. There are two massive ties between German and Portuguese clubs, with Dortmund up against FC Porto, while Bayer Leverkusen have Sporting Lisbon. Other mouth-watering draws sees Villarreal against Napoli, and one certain to keep the stadium security busy, Galatasaray against Lazio. 

FULL DRAW

Valencia vs Rapid Vienna
Fiorentina vs Tottenham
Dortmund vs Porto
Fenerbahce vs Lokomotiv Moscow
Anderlecht vs Olympiacos
Midtjylland vs Manchester United
Augsburg vs Liverpool
Sparta Prague vs Krasnodar
Galatasaray vs Lazio
Sion vs Braga
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Schalke
Marseille vs Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla vs Molde
Sporting Lisbon vs Bayer Leverkusen
Villarreal vs Napoli
Saint-Etienne vs FC Basel

'Louis van Gaal taking Man Utd backwards' says Rio Ferdinand. Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand believes the club is going backwards under manager Louis van Gaal. A shocking 2-1 Premier League defeat to bottom club Bournemouth last Saturday followed their group-stage exit from the UEFA Champions League last week. Ferdinand feels the players are scared to express themselves under the rigid Dutchman. “Players are playing it safe because they are afraid of the consequences if they try to take chances,” Ferdinand told The Sun. “Manchester United are going backwards again and I don't see that changing because the manager will not change. They have to be allowed to express themselves.” Ferdinand also supported the idea of bringing in a different manager at the end of the season, but fears the Red Devils might not qualify for the Champions League again, which would make getting a top manager more difficult. “Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti will be available this summer and the question is will they be able to do a better job than Van Gaal,” Ferdinand added. “The board and owners might want to be loyal to Van Gaal after investing so much in him but they also have to do what is best for United. “And if United finish outside the top four, that will be catastrophic. It might rule out the chance of getting either Guardiola or Ancelotti. It will be more difficult to attract the best players, too. The next six months are absolutely crucial.”

Arsenal attacker Theo Walcott says it is a dream to play alongside in-form striker Olivier Giroud. Walcott praised Giroud after the Premier League leaders' 2-0 victory over ailing Aston Villa last Sunday. The Frenchman scored at Villa Park to cap off a fine week following his hat-trick against Olympiacos in the UEFA Champions League four days earlier. Giroud has now scored 14 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions this season. "It's not just his goals, it's his general play and everything about him," Walcott told his club's website. "The way he holds the ball up, he blocks it and defends it, and he works hard for the team from defensive corners and everything. "He's in great form at the moment. He's a dream to play with and he makes our job a lot easier. As soon as I won the penalty, I just knew that he would score. "Confidence is streaming through him and you want that in the busy Christmas period. You want players that are on form and he's definitely one of them."


Dejan Lovren is expected to have a scan after sustaining a knee injury in Liverpool's 2-2 draw with West Brom. The defender was stretchered off in the second half at Anfield following a tackle from Craig Gardner and required oxygen and a leg brace. After the game, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said: "It's a hard situation, he hit him full, but we hope it's not too serious. It's a cut, and blue at this moment. We hope it's not too serious." Gardner caught the Liverpool defender high up his shin but West Brom boss Tony Pulis felt the midfielder played the ball in the challenge, and highlighted two other tackles on his own players that he felt merited closer scrutiny. "There's two challenges we are very disappointed with, the [James] Milner challenge on Gardner, where it looks a very poor challenge, and then [Martin] Skrtel's challenge on [Salomon] Rondon," Pulis said. "That's completely over the ball, so I'd look at those two. I think Gardner's challenge, he actually plays the ball. The other two, they don't play the ball."

James Wilson's immediate impact in the Championship with Brighton has increased the possibility that he could be recalled by Manchester United. The striker has scored in his last two games for Chris Hughton's side to help them remain unbeaten and stay top of the table. After netting a fine solo effort in a 3-2 win against Charlton, Wilson also got the opener with a near-post volley in a 2-2 draw at Derby last weekend. Wilson, 20, was signed on a youth loan by Albion which gives United the right of recall from the end of December, and it seems increasingly likely he could be taken back by United manager Louis van Gaal given his parent team's poor form in recent weeks. Wilson's temporary move from Old Trafford was something of a surprise given the lack of recognised forwards in United's squad. Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Javier Hernandez all left the club in the summer leaving them short of attackers. Hernandez's departure has been hard for fans to stomach given he has scored two more goals for new club Bayer Leverkusen in the last two months than United have as a whole. It seemed as the new season began that Wilson, who turned 20 at the start of the month, would get more opportunities to play. However, he only played the final eight minutes of a 3-0 loss at Arsenal and the first half against Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup before being moved on. Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are now the only strikers Van Gaal has to call upon, but Martial has not scored in the Premier League since September. Although Rooney did find the net more recently during a 3-0 win at Everton in October, that strike is one of only two he has in the league. United lost 2-1 at Bournemouth last time out and have failed to win any of their last five games, although they did win their previous three, a run which came after four consecutive draws. England U21 international Wilson is due to spend the rest of the campaign with Brighton but it remains to be seen if he will see the deal out. He recently said he was not thinking about an early return to United, insisting he had gone out on loan to score goals and help Hughton's men win promotion.

Luis Enrique expects to have "at least a year off" when his tenure as Barcelona coach comes to an end. Luis Enrique says he is ready to follow the example of predecessor Pep Guardiola and take a sabbatical when his time as Barcelona coach comes to an end. Last season, Luis Enrique emulated his former Camp Nou team-mate Guardiola by winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in his first campaign in charge. Guardiola went on to collect a total of 14 major honours in four seasons as Barca boss but spent 12 months away from soccer before taking the reins at Bayern Munich from the 2013-14 season – a policy Luis Enrique seems to see merit in. "When I leave Barca I'm sure I'll take at least a year off," he said in an interview with Barca TV, where he outlined his ambitions to steer another golden period for the club.  "We have to keep improving," he said. "This team has what it takes to break records. We've got some really attractive challenges ahead of us. "Being praised constantly weakens you. You have to develop every year. The biggest challenge is to keep winning and kicking on in every competition." Luis Enrique explained that he likes to foster a close relationship with his players and to involve himself in a positive dressing room atmosphere. "I like to be close to the players and listen to what they've got to say and feel," he added. "Then I make decisions from a coach's point of view, thinking about what's best for the team. The players are smart enough to understand that. "I like there to be a good atmosphere in the dressing room, for music to be played before matches. We have to entertain the fans and have a good time ourselves." The defending champions lie on top of La Liga, but a 2-2 draw against Deportivo La Coruna last time out allowed Atletico Madrid to pull level on points.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho says he feels betrayed by his players following yet another league loss, this time to high-flying Leicester City. The Blues succumbed to their ninth loss in 16 Premier League matches as they went down 2-1 to the Foxes on Monday night, leaving them in 16th in the EPL standings. And their Portuguese tactician seems to have shifted the blame onto his players, saying they did not listen to his tactics. "One of my best qualities is to read the game for my players and I feel like my work was betrayed," he said after the game. "One possibility is that I did an amazing job last season and brought the players to a level that is not their level and now they can't maintain it." Chelsea are now just one point above the relegation zone, yet Mourinho is adamant his side will not be sucked down into the relegation dog fight. "I accept we are in the relegation zone but I don't accept we are in a relegation battle," he said. "You look at the table and we are there but you think you are in a relegation battle if you think you are there for three or four months. I don't think that. "To turn things around, I know only one way - working at the top level. "Day by day in training I have no complaints with [players]. But it is frustrating to see what they are doing in training and what they do in matches." Despite the pressure he faces as coach, Mourinho remains defiant as ever. “The only thing I can say is that I want to be the manager," he added. "I have no doubts and I think you know me well enough to know that I am not afraid of a big challenge and in this moment it is a really big challenge. "I want to stay and I hope Mr Roman Abramovich and the board want me to stay because I want to stay."