Emery dispels £72m fears; explains how Arsenal are helping

Nicolas Pepe is doing individual training work to help him adapt to life at Arsenal.

The Ivory Coast international joined from Lille over the summer having scored 22 goals in Ligue 1 last season.

Pepe has since started three of Arsenal’s six games at the start of the campaign and is already being unnecessarily questioned. It is September.

Gunners head coach Unai Emery has used the 24-year-old as a second striker alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in two games, a 3-1 defeat at Liverpool and last week’s 2-2 draw away to Watford.

Now the Spaniard admits he and his coaching staff are working closely with Pepe to speed up his adjustment in the hope he can impress against Aston Villa on Sunday.

“He needs to adapt,” said Emery.

“He is playing well but progressively we know there is going to be more from him to help us and I want him to take the last step quickly in adapting for us.

“We are working with him – after training we are watching individual videos with him.

“He is playing well but also we need in our organisation to be strong with every player to improve a lot.”

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Guardiola claims mood is no different after Watford rout than Norwich loss

Pep Guardiola claimed he did not feel any different after Manchester City’s 8-0 win over Watford than after their loss to Norwich.

City achieved their biggest ever win of the Premier League era on a record-breaking afternoon, which saw Bernardo Silva score his first top-flight hat-trick and Sergio Aguero reach 100 goals at the Etihad Stadium.

A notorious pursuer of perfection, Guardiola was modest enough to describe the performance as no different to the one that saw them beaten 3-2 by Norwich last week – believing the quality of his squad made the difference against Watford.

Guardiola told BBC Sport: “When you shoot on target five times for five goals – the quality of players we had made the difference. In the first minutes we gave them two chances to score two goals and they didn’t.

“What I like the most is normally when it’s 5-0 at half time the second half is not serious, it’s boring but we did the opposite and we were more aggressive and made a very good second half.

“People still don’t understand, journalists, pundits, former players, losing games is part of life. Opponents always deserve respect. The same feeling I have now I had after Norwich so it was not a bad performance. We can lose the games but the important thing is the approach and how we react.

“We are one of the best teams in statistics for having the least shots on target against us. We improved as we could have conceded two but we know the men up front we have have a huge amount of talent.

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“Do you think after what these guys have done for two seasons they have to prove something?

“We listened after Norwich but people don’t understand that we can lose games. Sometimes I am surprised former players and pundits still don’t understand that. We have to prove for ourselves that there is desire to win and go to the latter stages of the season and try and win the titles.

“Bernardo was the best player last season. He was extraordinary. I think he doesn’t need to score three to get the credit he deserves but it’s important for the team that many players score.”

Pochettino worried as Tottenham’s away slump continues

Mauricio Pochettino admitted that Tottenham’s away form is a major concern after they fell to defeat at Leicester.

Leicester came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win, extending the frustrating start to the season for Pochettino’s side.

Wilfried Ndidi had a goal chalked off by VAR in the first half, before Harry Kane gave the visitors the actual lead just before the half hour mark with a remarkable finish.

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Serge Aurier thought he had doubled Tottenham’s lead after the break, but VAR struck again, ruling that Son Heung-Min was offside in the buildup.

From thinking they were 2-0 up, Spurs soon conceded two goals at the wrong end, with Ricardo Pereira equalising on 70 minutes, before James Maddison grabbed the winner with a strike from outside the box.

Pochettino told BT Sport: “That is football. It is true to concede two goals every game makes it difficult to win. Before we concede we were the best side. I am disappointed with the result but we have to keep working hard.

“Both sides are affected by this situation [VAR]. If we score the second the game is over. It gives belief to a team that could have been dead. After we concede at 1-1 we had chances to score the second. But in Premier League it is the most beautiful league because it is never over. In the big picture, I am disappointed but very positive and optimistic.”

Tottenham are yet to win an away match in the Premier League since January, a run that is concerning Pochettino.

“We need to improve our performance away from home. We are going to work hard and improve.”

 

'There is still nothing' – Hazard dismisses reports of Real Madrid agreement

The Belgium and Chelsea star insists media speculation saying he has reached an agreement with the Liga giants is wide of the mark

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Chelsea star Eden Hazard dismissed reports that he has already agreed a move to Real Madrid, insisting “there is still nothing” with the La Liga giants. 

Hazard has been strongly linked with Madrid for months, and although he has often spoken positively about playing for Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri, he has continued to flirt with Los Blancos.

He went as far as claiming playing for Madrid was a “dream” of his last year, though he was unable to follow Belgium team-mate Thibaut Courtois to the capital club last summer summer.

Rumours have continued to link the 28-year-old with a move to Madrid throughout the season, with Hazard leaving himself open for a possible departure.

Zinedine Zidane’s return to Madrid only further fuelled rumours, which seemed to come to a head on Saturday when reports suggested the 28-year-old has already reached an agreement with Madrid for a five-year contract.

However, speaking while on international duty with Belgium, Hazard moved to quash such speculation, though he did little to ease the worries of Chelsea fans that a deal might eventually be reached. 

Initially, when Hazard recognised a Madrid question was forthcoming at a news conference, he said: “No, no, I’m not here to talk about Real.”

But he was pressed for an answer, replying: “There is still nothing. I’m focused on [playing against] Cyprus – that’s the only thing I’m working on now.”

The star man’s contract with Chelsea expires following the end of next season, and if he does not ink fresh terms the Blues risk losing Hazard for nothing in the summer of 2020.

However, the club also face a transfer ban and have failed in their appeals thus far, leaving them in a difficult spot in their hunt to replace Hazard should he depart. 

Hazard has scored 13 goals and set up another 11 in the Premier League this season.

He also helped Belgium get their Euro 2020 qualification campaign off to a fine start last Thursday, scoring a brace in a 3-1 victory over Russia in Brussels. 

Hazard and the Red Devils visit Cyprus on Sunday as they look to go two-for-two in their start of qualification. 

Lampard: My football philosophy is different but I respect Sarri's tactics

The Blues legend is enjoying the start of his managerial career at Derby and has respect for the way Maurizio Sarri is leading Chelsea

Frank Lampard is adamant that he is not trying to copy any of the managerial greats he worked with during his active career as he aims to develop his own management style and philosophy at Derby County.

The former England midfielder thrived at Chelsea under high-profile managers such as Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti and there is little doubt he will have picked up a trick or two from previous bosses.

Lampard is quick to stress he is his own man, though, and is looking to do things his own way at the Championship side, who sit eighth in the table with nine games to go.

“I try to be myself; I think that’s very important,” Lampard told Goal. “Copying anyone as a manager is a mistake. You have to find your own methods or your own ways. I certainly have no fear of tapping into a bit of the managers that I have worked with over the years, but I don’t think that I am similar to any of them.

“I try to take positive points from a lot of people I worked with. In terms of how I work, you have to be reactionary in games, but I try to take things in throughout the week and get all the information. Be as prepared as I can be and thorough with the staff that I have got. Then make decisions having done that work which I think gives you the best opportunity to have that success.

“In terms of style of play, I want to play good football. We want to try to play. We have been one of the teams in the Championship this season who try to play. We try to move the ball through the pitch, rather than being too direct, that’s not my style. It is not the way I want to play.

“I want my team to play good football, but on the other side of that, I want them to be really aggressive and win the ball back. So I don’t like to try and put myself into one style of play. I think it is important to be adaptable in terms of systems.

“You can’t always play that beautiful football that you are searching for because of the conditions and the opposition. So I think, in terms of trying to box yourself into one style I think it could be wrong in my opinion. But I want to play good football, I want it to be aggressive, I want the fans to see that we are a team that plays with passion and desire and wants to win games of football.”

With Lampard’s Chelsea past, it’s inevitable his name gets mentioned at Stamford Bridge when things are not going as planned. Back in February, the 40-year-old was the bookmakers’ favourite to become the club’s next manager after a poor run of results.

Such is the turbulent world of football management, however, current boss Maurizio Sarri has since stabilised his position, while Lampard has faced challenges of his own at Derby.

Lampard might have little time to worry about – or even watch – Chelsea in his role as Derby manager, but he is keeping a close eye on the way Sarri is leading the club and feels the Italian has perhaps been treated unfairly over his rigid philosophy.

“I respect managers who have a belief in a philosophy or system,” Lampard continued. “I have never worked with Sarri, but I did see his Napoli team play fantastic football.

“I think it has been unfortunate for Sarri himself, everyone has come up with this ‘Sarriball’ term, but I am not sure I have ever heard him actually milk that one or make it his own. I think he is just trying to win football games and he has brought in players who want to play the way he wants to play. Everyone has become a little bit focused on that fact. I think he is a very good manager.

“In terms of compared to my style, yes, I look at the players I have and what I can do with that. You try to play in the best way you can. When we played against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, Sarri spoke to me after the game. He was very complimentary about us, but he was talking about all the games we played over the last weeks.

“He is not just looking at how Chelsea are playing, he is looking at his opponents, and he is trying to get good results for Chelsea Football Club. I have got respect for him. I don’t know him that well but I have got respect for him.”

Sarri found himself at the heart of a massive row when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted in the cup final against Manchester City, leading to claims that player power has long been an issue at Chelsea that cost a number of managers their job.

Nevertheless, Lampard was quick to laugh off such suggestions and stressed his belief that player power has become a lazy label to tar Chelsea players with, denying having seen it as an issue during his time at Stamford Bridge.

“It was massively overplayed,” Lampard added. “It was overplayed to the point where it was false. We had a massive strength at Chelsea. We had fantastic managers at different times, but the strength was that the dressing room wanted to win and had a real desire to be winners.

“That’s certainly what I want as a dressing room, as a manager now. It is a very cheap and easy statement to say a problem at Chelsea is player power. Chelsea is a club that has changed managers. It is a club that demand results.

“I think rightly so, it has gone into that bracket now, and it has a way of working. I think as a player, all I would worry about is what I did every week. Was I at my best? All John Terry concerned himself about was that. Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole; They were all great professionals.

“So if you call having strong personalities as a player [a weakness], then I think that’s a cheap and easy way to look at it. It became more of a media word than something that was real. The fact is that Chelsea were not winning enough games in a period of time.

“They are getting judged just as Manchester City do, Manchester United do and Liverpool do. It is such a top end job and such a top end club that people look into every avenue when results are not perfect. I think player power was the first call, ‘let’s look at player power’. It is not the right answer.”

That Chelsea upbringing has given Lampard a platform to come into a club with a huge history like Derby in his first role as a manager.

Like the Blues, the Championship side have world-class facilities in place and Lampard’s openness to new ideas has led him to work with Nano M, who seek to promote well-being and healthcare in professional sport.

“We are very forward-thinking here at Derby,” Lampard concluded. “I came into the club that was already forward-thinking before I got here. We have got a fantastic analysis department. We are trying to certainly stay at the top of the game in that aspect. In the modern game, it is important that you use data and analysis. It is never my first call, but it is always a huge part of the process to be ahead of the game.

“I haven’t changed the medical team here at all. I think it is fantastic and you can see the facilities we have got here are excellent. It is Premier League standard. For the modern-day player, you have to have those foundations at the club to try to move forward and you must never stand still in any department.

“As a manager, I certainly don’t get involved in areas that are not my strength and you have to trust in the people that you have got working in those areas to try to maximise performance at the end of the day. So I think we are always trying to look forward and move forward on all those fronts.”

Frank was speaking as ambassador for Nano M, find out more on Twitter or Facebook

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Barcelona starlet Abel Ruiz modelling his game on Luis Suarez & David Villa

The 19-year-old attacker, who finished 27th in this year’s NxGn countdown, studies the movement of two of the greatest strikers in the club’s history

Barcelona B striker Abel Ruiz says he is modelling his game on Luis Suarez and David Villa in the hope of becoming the club’s next great striker.

Villa arrived in Catalunya from Valencia in 2010 and won the treble in his first season at Camp Nou, even netting the killer third goal in the Champions League final win over Manchester United at Wembley.

Five years later, Suarez enjoyed an equally successfully debut campaign, with the Uruguayan teaming up with Lionel Messi and Neymar to form arguably the greatest attacking triumvirate the game has ever seen.

While Villa has long since moved on, Suarez is still at Barca, and last month struck twice in a 3-0 win at Real Madrid to earn Ernesto Valverde’s senior squad a place in the Copa del Rey final.

Aspiring attacker Ruiz, who finished 27th in this year’s NxGn, was watching closely, once again left in awe as the 32-year-old converted his only two shots on target in the whole game.

“The first goal summed up his style,” the 19-year-old told Goal when asked about Suarez’s first-time finish from an Ousmane Dembele cut-back. “It was an amazing game and amazing goal.

“I am now focusing on Luis Suarez. I love his aggressive attitude and the way in which he goes looking for goals.

“But I also loved David Villa. He is one of the most complete strikers I’ve ever seen. I would like to have some of his movements.

“So, I am still learning from both of them. But thank you very much for including me on the NxGn list!

“It makes me feel so proud to see my work and my efforts recognised in that way.”

A prolific goalscorer at under-age level, both for club and country, Ruiz caught the attention of scouts from top Premier League teams after striking six times as Spain finished runners-up at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup.

However, the Valencia academy product ultimately decided to stay at Barca and is now lining out for the Blaugrana’s reserve team in Spain’s third tier.

“It’s been a very good season so far,” he said. “In the championship we are doing good things and I am happy with my development as well.”

Making the leap from the Barca B team to senior squad has arguably never been harder but Ruiz is in no doubt that he made the right choice in remaining at Camp Nou, particularly as he regularly gets the opportunity to train with Messi & Co.

“I’m here because I trust in this club, just like the rest of my team-mates in the B team,” he explained.

“We all think we can join the first team and this is our goal. We try to improve ourselves every day in order to achieve that dream.

“And working with the first team is incredible. It is another world to us.

“They are the elite, the best and the most experienced players in the world.”

Consequently, Ruiz’s team-mate Juan Miranda, who made his senior squad debut against Tottenham in December, says the chance to work alongside the likes of Jordi Alba offers invaluable insight into his role and what’s required at the highest level.

“I am so grateful that Valverde allows me to work with the first team,” the left-back, who finished 38th in this year’s NxGn list, enthused.

“I pay particular attention to Jordi Alba’s movements because he plays in my position.

“But I try to watch the whole team. I learn from every single player, how they apply pressure, how they attack and how they defend.

“It is a very complex team to understand!”

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'Ronaldo is not selfish, he supported me non-stop' – former Man Utd defender Fabio

The Portugal star is often cited as being egotistical but his former team-mate feels he owes a great deal of his career success to the 34-year-old

Former Manchester United full-back Fabio da Silva has praised Cristiano Ronaldo for helping him and brother Rafael settle in at Old Trafford, stating that the Juventus star in very unselfish in nature.

The Brazilian pair joined the Red Devils in 2008 and spent six years together at the club, with Rafa staying an additional season before swapping the Premier League for Ligue 1 football with Lyon in 2015.

Fabio also plies his trade in France these days with Nantes, having spent time with Cardiff and Middlesbrough in between.

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At 28 years old, the pair are well travelled these days, but their initial integration in Europe could have been very different if it had not been for a certain Portuguese attacker.

“Some people were incredibly kind to us, like Darren Fletcher,” Fabio told ESPN. “He helped us a lot and we’re still friends.

“Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano, who spoke Portuguese, were also a big help – we didn’t know a single word of English.

“I’ve heard Cristiano called selfish, but he gave us non-stop advice both on and off the pitch.

“When I made my debut against Tottenham, I played alongside him. Cristiano told me not to take any risks in our half because he might not be able to get back to help me.

“Then he said, ‘When you get into the opponents’ half, you can do whatever you like’. With Cristiano supporting me, I felt so positive.”

Fabio went on to talk about another Brazilian who was in the ranks at the time, Anderson, who he cites as a great person and friend, although noted that his offers of support were a tad more questionable than those of Ronaldo.

“Anderson was another great friend. Cristiano and Fletch were older and more serious, Anderson was my age,” he said.

“We’d go to a Brazilian restaurant with Anderson and he offered to teach us English for free, which was nice of him, but his own English was not the best! He did teach us lots of swear words in English though!

“Everyone loved Anderson, he has the biggest heart. Even now, we have a group chat of former players and Anderson is in there, still writing in English and still using words that only he understands!”

'Griezmann could regret leaving Atletico Madrid' – Barcelona star Umtiti

Amid fresh speculation linking the France international with a move to Camp Nou, his fellow-countryman has attempted to calm rumours over his future

Antoine Griezmann has shown no indication of being unhappy at Atletico Madrid and wanting to reignite a move to Barcelona, according to France and Blaugrana defender Samuel Umtiti.

Following Diego Simeone’s side’s exit from the Champions League at the hands of Juventus, reports re-emerged linking the 28-year-old with a move away from the Spanish capital.

Less than a year after rejecting a move to the Catalan giants and signing a new contract until 2023 with Atletico, speculation was rife that Griezmann was unsettled at Wanda Metropolitano.

Umtiti has linked up with the forward for the start of France’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, which began with a comfortable 4-1 win in Moldova, with Griezmann getting on the scoresheet.

But the centre-back has sensed no signs that Griezmann is unsettled with his current club and warned him that he could live to regret leaving behind a side which is built to get the best out him.

“I know Antoine is very happy in Madrid, it’s going well for him, it’s a team that plays for him, and after that, in a career there are choices that we can take and that we can regret,” he explained to Telefoot.

“But I know he feels good there. He could play in any club around the world because of his qualities, whether in Barcelona or elsewhere, and be happy and successful.”

Umtiti himself returned to the France team for the first time since September having missed swathes of the 2018-19 campaign with a knee problem.

He was absent from the last three La Liga games of last season with the same problem but played through the pain barrier at the World Cup.

In Russia, his partnership with Raphael Varane underpinned France’s run to the final, where they overcame Croatia to lift the trophy for a second time in Moscow.

The 25-year-old now admits he took a major risk playing with the fitness issue but feels justified in his decision, despite the problems which have followed.

“Yes, I took a risk. It’s every four years and you’re never sure if you will play it many times,” he added.

“So it was a dream that I realised. I forced it on my left knee and it has made things a bit more complicated over this season. But I do not regret that choice.

“I feel good. I’m trying to get back to the rhythm after several months of inactivity. It’s pretty complicated.

“Training and matches is the only way I’m going to find the rhythm and feel good.”

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Pochettino expecting 'magic' from Tottenham's new stadium as 'dream becomes true'

Spurs are finally in a position to leave Wembley and return to their true home, with the man at the helm excited about the future in north London

Mauricio Pochettino is hoping for “magic” at Tottenham’s new stadium, with the club seeing their “dream become true” as they prepare to finally return to their spiritual home.

Since seeing the doors slam shut at White Hart Lane in 2017, Spurs have been forced down the road to Wembley.

The best part of two seasons has been spent at England’s national stadium.

Delays to the scheduled opening of a new purpose built venue has frustrated all concerned, with Tottenham having hoped to be back in familiar surroundings by now.

They are, however, edging ever closer to opening a new era, with test events being staged at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The first of those took place on Sunday, with an arena which has cost over £1 billion to complete playing host to an U18 clash between Spurs and Southampton.

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Pochettino was among those in attendance and is looking forward to playing his part in an exciting future in stunning settings.

The Argentine said of the move back across north London: “My feeling is unbelievable, it is so difficult to explain in only a few words.

“So excited, I think I felt the same when we left the last day White Hart Lane, we left crying, now here we feel the same emotion, our dream becomes true and we need to say thank you to Daniel Levy because in 2001 when he started to believe in that dream he made possible for it to be here.

“It is a lot of people who worked so tough to make this dream a reality, for us. Thank you so much to the fans for being patient.

“We are in a good place in the Premier League, and we have a tough draw in the Champions League, I think with all 62,000 people we can make possible our dream to be in the semi-final, why not. We believe.”

Tottenham are due to face domestic rivals Manchester City in the last eight of the Champions League.

The first leg of that tie will be staged at Spurs’ new home, with a Premier League clash against Crystal Palace taking place six days earlier on April 3.

Pochettino is eager to get going, adding: “I had the opportunity at White Hart Lane as a manager, with Southampton and then Tottenham.

“You feel the support, the atmosphere, the energy It’s going to be a massive impact for the team.

“It’s our new house and when we start to feel that it’s our home it’s going to be magic.

“I was talking to Daniel before, it’s one of the best in the world.

“When we start to feel it’s our home, it’s going to be unbelievable. I really feel the future of the club is going to be fantastic.”

Birmingham City considering EFL appeal over nine-point deduction

The English Football League has penalised the West Midlands club a nine-point deduction over financial issues

Birmingham City claim to have made changes to ensure spending rules are not broken again, but the Championship club are yet to confirm if they will appeal against a nine-point deduction.

The English Football League (EFL) announced on Friday that Birmingham have been docked points following an investigation into the club’s finances.

Birmingham were found to have breached rules on profitability and sustainability, with the deduction immediately coming into effect.

Garry Monk’s side, therefore, drop from 13th in the Championship table to 18th, five points clear of the relegation zone, with eight games of the season to go.

Birmingham have 14 days to decide whether or not to lodge an appeal against the punishment, with the club releasing a statement in response to the EFL’s announcement.

“The club has put measures in place to ensure future spending is within acceptable limits and since August we have adhered to an EFL business plan, which imposed transfer restrictions upon us,” Birmingham said.

“When the club’s owners took over, Birmingham City Football Club was in a dire position and investment was critical across many aspects of the business, including the first team, women’s team, academy and the infrastructure.

“Then, as now, decisions by the owners and the board of directors were taken with the club’s best interests at heart and a determination to halt a cycle of decline and stagnation, with the intention of pushing on to fulfil ours and our fans’ ambitions.

“This season we have taken significant strides forward on and off the pitch and the owners’ commitment and intention to drive continued improvement of the club’s fortunes will not diminish.

“Birmingham City Football Club notes that it has 14 days in which to appeal the decision of the independent Disciplinary Commission and with that in mind we will be making no further comment.”

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