..::Football III::..

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    Bale could miss Man City clash, admits Zidane

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    Zinedine Zidane is unsure whether Gareth Bale will be fit to face Manchester City in the Champions League next week after the Real Madrid boss confirmed the forward will miss Wednesday's clash against Villarreal with a muscle injury.

    Wales international Bale scored his 16th La Liga goal of the season in Saturday's 5-1 battering of Getafe as Real kept pace with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the race for the title.

    However, Zidane has since revealed that the 26-year-old will be absent against Villarreal and does not know yet if he will be available for their next two games against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday and then City next Tuesday."He has suffered from something this weekend," Zidane said at a pre-match news conference.

    "He is not with us [against Villarreal]. We hope at the moment that it is just an overloaded muscle."I hope he will be back with us for the next game."

    As well as Bale, Zidane also revealed that Madrid are without full-back Dani Carvajal for Villarreal's visit to the Santiago Bernabeu."We will go day by day [with Carvajal]," Zidane added. "He has a severe contusion.

    "He will not be here for Villarreal and we will see how he reaches the next game."
     

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    Zidane: Barca and Atletico still in the driving seat

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    Zinedine Zidane insists Real Madrid are capable of claiming a Liga and Champions League double, but warned the capital club still have it all to do in a thrilling title race.

    Liga champions Barcelona were cantering towards the defence of their title, but a shock loss of form has seen Luis Enrique's men lose three consecutive league matches to blow the race wide open.

    Second-placed Atletico Madrid are now only behind Barca courtesy of an inferior head-to-head record, while Zidane's men - who, like their city rivals, also have a Champions League semi-final to prepare for - are just a point adrift.

    After losing the derby 1-0 to Atleti in February, Zidane claimed that it was not possible for Madrid to win the title, but since then they have won seven straight league matches.

    Zidane believes Barca and Atleti are still in the driving seat, but challenged his team to win their remaining five matches to give themselves the best possible chance of a first league title since 2012.

    "It's being said that we are going to win everything, and I don't like it at all. We haven't won any title at all yet," Zidane said ahead of Wednesday's contest against Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    "We are capable of winning both titles, but it doesn't mean anything. We will fight until the last minute and I assure you we will work until the end.

    "I think that Barcelona and Atletico can win every game. If we win every game, but Barcelona do it too, we won't be the champions."I have always said that we must first move ahead of Atletico. They [Barca] are now tied with Atletico."

    Zidane had little interest in discussing Barca's slump, which also included a Champions League quarter-final exit to Atleti, choosing instead to focus on Madrid's ambitions.

    "I'm not thinking about that. I think more about what we have to do," he said."There are always difficult moments in the season, but that does not mean anything because they are still first. We must continue with the belief we can do something.

    "I do not know when I changed my perception [on the title race], but when we lost to Atleti that day it became more complicated."
     

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    Van Gaal demands Man Utd focus for Palace visit

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    Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has insisted his side cannot allow Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with Everton to distract them as they try to claim a top-four spot in the Premier League.

    United's 1-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday – combined with Arsenal's draw with Crystal Palace – saw Van Gaal's side move to within four points of the Champions League places.

    Ahead of their cup clash at Wembley, United face Palace at Old Trafford on Wednesday, and Van Gaal has no intention of resting players given what is at stake in the final five games of the campaign."I don't think our players shall do that [lose focus] because they have to focus on this game because we still have to qualify for the Champions League," he told reporters.

    "It is important to beat Crystal Palace and they have the same problem. They are also in the semi-final [against Watford] and maybe they are thinking about that game. But we have to win our game against them.

    "For us this game against Palace is important. We have to win, we need to win. We need to win this game more than Arsenal or Man City, they have the four-point gap.

    "It is too important a game to rotate. We have to win. We can only give pressure by winning."
     

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    Luis Enrique motivated by Barcelona slump

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    Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists he is relishing the prospect of trying to turn around the Liga champions' ailing form ahead of Wednesday's trip to Deportivo La Coruna.

    An alarming dip has seen Barca take just one point from four Liga matches, with the club top only by virtue of a superior head-to-head record over Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid a point further back.Sunday's 2-1 loss at home to Valencia was Barcelona's third in a row in La Liga, having previously lost the Clasico to Real and been defeated by Real Sociedad.

    Atleti have also dumped Barca out of the Champions League but Luis Enrique is remaining bullish as he tries to arrest his side's slump, crediting his upbringing in the northern Spanish city of Gijon for firing his passion for a fight."Maybe it's because I'm from Gijon but I get high on adversity," he told reporters.

    "You might find that strange - some people enjoy winning more; I like these kind of challenges. They motivate me. You can't imagine how I feel going into tomorrow's game and how thrilled we will be if we break this run."If it doesn't work out then I will be the first to congratulate who wins the league.

    "Of course [I believe Barcelona will retain La Liga]. If I had any doubt about that I wouldn't be sitting here."We're on a negative run in a sporting sense but I don't think we need to take things out of their context. We just need to focus on what we can control."

    Barcelona's recent collapse marks a stark contrast to the run of 39 games unbeaten in all competitions that preceded their Clasico loss, but Luis Enrique remains content with his players' form.

    "There is not one solution, it is the sum of a number of different factors that have accumulated," he explained."Against Valencia it was quite unfair that we lost that game because we were clearly the superior side.

    "We were playing all the football, creating all the chances but didn't manage to turn the result around. I have nothing to criticise my team for, I think they have been doing the right things."
     

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    Van Gaal keen to protect Rashford

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    Louis van Gaal will continue to limit Marcus Rashford's game time for Manchester United to make sure the teenage striker maintains his freshness at a pivotal point of the season.

    Rashford has burst onto the scene at Old Trafford in the last two months with seven goals in 12 starts in all competitions, including vital strikes against Manchester City, Arsenal and Aston Villa.

    However, he has been substituted in seven of his appearances so far, as Van Gaal looks to protect the 18-year-old ahead of a run of fixtures that is set to determine whether or not United qualify for the Champions League.

    "I have changed him [Rashford] after 70 minutes, I believe, and that is also to give him a little bit of rest," the Dutchman coach told a news conference."He didn't train the day after [the Villa game] and also the day after that he didn't train.

    "I want to keep him fresh because he is in the momentum of scoring and that is very important for him but also for the team."United have no new injury worries ahead of Crystal Palace's visit on Wednesday, but will have Ander Herrera back after he missed the victory over Aston Villa with a foot problem.

    Luke Shaw has returned to light training in recent weeks, although Van Gaal says it is still too early for him to be considered for selection as he continues to recover from a broken leg.

    He added: "He [Shaw] is doing great. He's training with the physio but he has to train with the football coach, and that hasn't happened yet."
     

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    Ranieri ONLY targeting top 10 finish next season

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    Claudio Ranieri insists he will target only a top-half finish in the Premier League next season, despite Leicester City standing on the verge of winning the title.

    The Foxes have defied the odds throughout the 2015-16 campaign and hold a five-point lead over Tottenham heading into the final four games of the season.
    It has been a quite amazing turnaround for a team who narrowly avoided relegation last term, with Leicester's upturn late in Nigel Pearson's reign continuing following the arrival of the ex-Chelsea boss in July.

    However, Ranieri admits that he does not expect his side to launch another title challenge next term, even if they do end up being crowned champions.

    "This year is exceptional and we should know that," he is quoted as saying by AS.
    "When I arrived and I saw the players I thought we could do something good. We have given voice to the little teams, to the clubs with less chances ... and we have shown that it can be done."It's a demonstration that you can win in different ways. On top of everything you have to believe and fight for it. And this team, all of them, go to together in this.

    "[But] we are here because the favourites have slipped up a lot and this will not happen next season. Our reality should be to finish in the top-10."
     

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    Bayern Munich 2-0 Werder Bremen: Muller sends Bavarians into DFB Pokal final

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    A double from Thomas Muller kept Bayern Munich in the hunt for a treble, as the Bavarian side overcame Werder Bremen 2-0 to reach the DFB Pokal final.

    Bayern, who lead the Bundesliga and are into the last four of the Champions League, eased into their fourth cup final in five years as Muller scored in each half at the Allianz Arena, taking him past 150 goals for the club.

    Muller's milestone goal came after 30 minutes as he powered a header beyond Felix Wiedwald. That was the highlight of a half dominated by Bayern, but adding to their lead proved difficult and they were given a huge let-off on the hour.

    Under pressure from Fin Bartels, David Alaba looped his attempted clearance over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, but referee Tobias Stieler spared his blushes as he ruled it out for an earlier foul.

    Bayern duly put the game to bed soon after as substitute Arturo Vidal went down in the penalty area under a challenge from Janek Sternberg, allowing Muller to convert from the spot and secure the hosts' progression.Their opponents in May's final will be decided on Wednesday when Hertha Berlin face Borussia Dortmund in the second semi.

    After extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to nine matches against Schalke on Saturday, Bayern started well and threatened through the impressive Kingsley Coman.

    The young French winger delivered two teasing crosses into the Bremen penalty area in the opening 20 minutes, but Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski were unable to convert.

    Bayern continued to make all the running but uncharacteristically lacked quality in the final third, while Bremen were limited to a handful of counter attacks that failed to concern Neuer.

    The hosts eventually found their range as Muller opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark, the World Cup winner given the freedom in Bremen's penalty area to head home Xabi Alonso's corner.

    With five minutes of the half to play, Bremen were nearly handed an equaliser as Neuer - venturing outside his penalty area – gave away possession, but he was able to recover in time to hold on to Sambou Yatabare's attempted lob.Ribery and Coman continued to profit down the flanks after the restart but Bayern were still struggling to convert.

    Bremen thought they had punished their illustrious rivals just after the hour as Alaba's miscued clearance lobbed Neuer, but referee Stieler controversially ruled Bartels had fouled the Austrian in the build-up.

    To rub salt into Bremen's wounds, Bayern were awarded a penalty 10 minutes later when Sternberg was adjudged to have fouled Vidal, allowing Muller to slot home his second from the penalty spot.

    Alaba and Vidal both wasted late opportunities to add to Bayern's lead, but it mattered little as they made it 10 games without defeat in all competitions on their way to yet another cup final.
     

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    Newcastle 1-1 Manchester City: Anita grabs point for Benitez’s men as Aguero hits century

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    Sergio Aguero's 100th Premier League goal was not enough to earn Manchester City all three points at Newcastle United, who claimed a 1-1 draw that could prove vital in their battle to avoid relegation.

    In-form striker Aguero scored five times in this season's reverse fixture, and he put City in command in controversial fashion after just 15 minutes at St James' Park on Tuesday.

    The Argentinian was clearly offside when he glanced home Aleksandar Kolarov's free-kick to break the deadlock, but Newcastle did not let their heads drop and deservedly equalised just after the half-hour mark through Vurnon Anita's first goal in over two years.

    City, who saw captain Vincent Kompany return to the starting XI after his month-long lay-off from a calf problem, shaded the second half, with Aguero and Jesus Navas both testing Karl Darlow before Georginio Wijnaldum forced Joe Hart into a late save to preserve the visitors' point.

    But the Champions League semi-finalists were below par and could not find a winner, meaning Arsenal can reclaim third spot in the table by beating West Brom on Thursday.

    Newcastle, meanwhile, remain 19th and two points adrift of safety, but they will take heart from a spirited display ahead of Rafael Benitez's return to Anfield to face former club Liverpool at the weekend.

    After a bright start from the hosts, it was City who opened the scoring and, somewhat inevitably, it was Newcastle's nemesis Aguero who got it, albeit with some help from the officials.

    Kolarov whipped in an excellent set-piece from the left, and the offside Aguero got across the front post to nod beyond Darlow to make it 11 goals in nine Premier League appearances against the Magpies.

    City were warned when Moussa Sissoko had a great opportunity to equalise, as he seized on a loose ball and surged past the returning Kompany before shooting weakly at Hart.

    And Newcastle were level shortly after the half-hour mark when Sissoko switched play to makeshift right-back Anita, who cut inside and placed a left-footed shot in off Hart's far post.Referee Kevin Friend was unmoved when Aguero was brought down in the area by a clumsy challenge from Chancel Mbemba early in the second half, before Darlow got down well to tip Navas' low effort wide.

    Navas then teed up Aguero to fire straight at Darlow, before Manuel Pellegrini introduced Raheem Sterling - back after his groin injury - from the bench in an attempt to add some much-needed cutting edge to a lacklustre City attack.

    City had won a dozen Premier League games in a row against Newcastle, but - perhaps with one eye on next week's meeting with Real Madrid - could not rouse themselves to extend that run to 13, and had Hart to thank for their draw when he denied Wijnaldum late on.
     

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    Lorient 0-1 PSG: Ibrahimovic sends Blanc's men into Coupe de France final

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    Zlatan Ibrahimovic's superb second-half goal gave PSG a 1-0 win over Lorient on Tuesday and sent Laurent Blanc's men into the final of the Coupe de France.

    The holders had struggled to break down a resilient Lorient outfit but the prolific striker came to his side's rescue after 75 minutes with another fine goal.

    Ibrahimovic was given space on the edge of the box and his shot, with the outside of his boot, was too clever for Lorient goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte to keep out.
    The hosts had chances of their own, with Salvatore Sirigu denying both Abdul Majeed Waris and Benjamin Moukandjo, but PSG held on for their eighth straight victory over Lorient.

    PSG's hopes of a historic successive domestic treble are still alive as they extended a club record of 11 successive Coupe de France victories ahead of Saturday's Coupe de la Ligue final against Lille.

    Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta were both sidelined for the Ligue 1 champions, while Sylvain Ripoll made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Toulouse at the weekend.After a cagey opening, Maxime Barthelme's excellent cross could not be converted as the hosts, who have not beaten PSG since August 2011, started brightly.

    Referee Frank Schneider then had to be replaced by fourth official Sebastien Moreira after suffering an injury.

    With 26 minutes on the clock PSG had their first chance, as Edinson Cavani's header was cleared off the line before the striker went close again with a fierce half-volley that was inadvertently blocked by Ibrahimovic.

    The Sweden international then went close twice in close succession, first heading a Blaise Matuidi cross just wide and then narrowly clearing the crossbar with a fierce long-range drive.

    Waris lashed an effort well over the crossbar shortly after half-time and the striker worked himself another opening after 61 minutes when PSG's defenders backed off, but Sirigu saved the striker's 20-yard shot easily.

    Angel Di Maria's 25-yard drive fizzed just wide of the post before Sirigu made another good save, this time from substitute Moukandjo who had broken clear, and that missed opportunity proved crucial as Ibrahimovic then put PSG into the lead.

    The striker was given time and space and produced a sublime finish with the outside of his boot to beat Lecomte - his 14th goal in 12 Coupe de France matches.

    Lorient had progressed in eight of their last nine home games in the competition but they could not find an equaliser, Sirigu saving Zargo Toure's header in the last minute, with PSG holding on to book their 14th final appearance.
     

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    Van Gaal: Not much between Manchester United and Tottenham

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    Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal claims there is not much difference between his side and Tottenham, despite trailing Spurs by 12 points.

    The Red Devils take on Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Wednesday aiming for a victory to keep alive their hopes of finishing in the top four, while Spurs still harbour genuine hopes of pipping Leicester to the title following their 4-0 demolition of Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.Mauricio Pochettino’s men beat the Red Devils 3-0 earlier this month but Van Gaal claims his side are on a similar level.

    “We have beaten Tottenham 1-0 [in August] and until the 70th minute I think we were the better team but then a miscommunication,” he told reporters.

    “So I don’t think there is a lot of distance between Tottenham and Manchester United, but the distance is in points. They have won more, they are scoring more and that’s because they have more creative players.” Van Gaal also claimed he was lacking creativity at Old Trafford despite having players such as Juan Mata, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial in his squad.

    “I have said in advance what we need and in my opinion I don’t have a senior creative player,” he added.

    “We can’t get every player because it depends on the player and the club and how much Manchester United wants to pay."
     

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    Klopp: I won't treat Sturridge like an orange

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    Jurgen Klopp insisted he will continue to manage Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge's game time as the season comes to an end.Klopp has urged caution since Sturridge returned from a variety of injuries, including hamstring, foot, knee and hip problems.

    The England international has been rotated by Klopp, starting and scoring in Liverpool's 2-1 Premier League victory at AFC Bournemouth last week, having come off the bench in the dramatic 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League.

    And as Liverpool prepare to host Everton in Wednesday's Merseyside derby, Klopp has no plans to change his approach."If you think Daniel Sturridge can play from the first to the last minute in the last nine games, fine," Klopp told reporters.

    "Yes, he is in brilliant shape. I know it. The best thing for us, for him and for England for the European Championships is to keep him in the best shape since I have been here.

    "Now we can say 'Oh my God, Daniel is back, let's push him through all these games!' Yeah?"If you think that is right, write it. If not, don't ask me anymore. We will do what we think.

    "But still, after this long period, you cannot use him as an orange and take each little bit of the juice."
     

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    :love:Man Utd Under-21s win Premier League title

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    Manchester United’s Under-21s have been crowned Premier League champions for the second season running after beating Tottenham 3-2 at White Hart Lane.

    Warren Joyce’s side won the title thanks to goals from Andreas Pereira, Donald Love and Guillermo Varela, with United claiming the title for the third time in its four-year history.Love gave the Red Devils the perfect start, as he thumped home a low drive after being set up by Andreas Pereira on the edge of the box.

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    Pereira then doubled the visitors' lead, volleying home a Varela cross 10 minutes later although Will Miller grabbed a goal back for Spurs before the break.

    The young Brazilian then came close to grabbing his second of the game, smashing an effort off the woodwork late on before Joe Pritchard looked to have secured Spurs a draw after converting Marcus Edwards' cut-back.However, there was still time for late drama, Varela volleying home after Paddy McNair's shot had been blocked on the line by Josh Onomah.

    The victory moves United to the top of the table, ahead of Sunderland who have played all their fixtures, with two games, against Southampton and Chelsea, left to play.
     

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    Manchester United Vs Crystal Palace
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    Manchester United Starting Line-up


    David De Gea
    Chris Smalling
    Daley Blind
    Antonio Valencia
    Matteo Darmian
    Juan Mata
    Anthony Martial
    Wayne Rooney
    Morgan Schneiderlin
    Jesse Lingard
    Marcus Rashford

    &

    Crystal Palace Starting Line-up


    Julian Speroni
    Adrian Mariappa
    Pape Souare
    Damien Delaney
    Martin Kelly
    Yohan Cabaye
    Wilfried Zaha
    Lee Chung-Yong
    Mile Jedinak
    Bakary Sako
    Emmanuel Adebayor

     
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