Manchester United boss Van Gaal braced for Derby duel in FA Cup

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has his back to the wall once again ahead of his side’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at second-tier Derby County on Friday.

Saturday’s woeful 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton prompted press reports that Van Gaal had offered to resign and although those claims were rebutted by figures within the club, defeat at Derby will see the speculation ramp up all over again.

United needed a stoppage-time Wayne Rooney penalty to overcome third-tier Sheffield United in round three and the United captain is anticipating another testing evening at the iPro Stadium, where United won 4-1 in the fifth round in 2009.

“We know, as we’ve played there before, that it will be a difficult game with a good atmosphere on Friday night,” Rooney told MUTV.

“I’m sure they will be really up for it with their crowd and we will be up for it as we’ve experienced these games. The players who joined us last year and played against Cambridge and Yeovil will have seen that an FA Cup tie like this is more of a battle than a football game.

“We have to be ready for that and be ready for a tough game as the cup is full of surprises. Derby have nothing to lose. No-one is expecting them to win and they will try to cause an upset. We know that and have to be ready for that.

“It will be a difficult night for us. Sheffield United at home was a tough game, so we have to be ready to battle and win the battle. Hopefully then our qualities will show through.”

Derby, managed by former Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clements, go into the game on the back of a heavy 4-1 loss to Championship promotion rivals Burnley, which left them fifth in England’s second division.

But Clements is relishing the chance to lead his players out against United, who Derby last overcame in the FA Cup in 1897.

“What a challenge, to play one of arguably the biggest clubs in world football,” he told the Derby website.

“It’s clear they’re not having the best time themselves at the moment, but it’s an opportunity for two teams to come together and put in a performance.

“It’s going to be nice to put ourselves up against a very good side with world-class players, and a fantastic coach in Van Gaal.”

– Arsenal seek Burnley reaction –

Van Gaal’s defensive injury problems continue to mount, with right-back Matteo Darmian, who sustained a rib injury against Southampton, joining Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and auxiliary full-back Ashley Young on the sidelines.

Central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is also unavailable with a knee injury.

Derby could award a debut to Swedish international left-back Marcus Olsson, who signed from Blackburn Rovers this week.

Holders Arsenal continue their quest for a third successive FA Cup trophy — a feat last achieved by Blackburn between 1884 and 1886 — at home to Burnley on Saturday.

Arsenal squandered an opportunity to regain top spot in the Premier League last Sunday when they lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea, which left them without a win in three games, and right-back Hector Bellerin has urged his teammates to put the disappointment behind them.

“We need to focus on the next game and it does not matter about the trend,” the Spaniard told the club website.

“We are not thinking about that. We are just thinking about winning and getting ahead.”

Liverpool host West Ham United on Saturday, while Manchester City visit the Premier League’s bottom club, Aston Villa.

Liverpool and Manchester City both reached the League Cup final in midweek.

Guus Hiddink’s quest to repeat his 2009 FA Cup triumph with Chelsea continues on Sunday when his side visit second-tier Milton Keynes Dons, who famously humiliated Manchester United — and Van Gaal — 4-0 in last season’s League Cup.


Friday (1945 GMT):

Derby County v Manchester United

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Arsenal v Burnley, Aston Villa v Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers v Leeds United, Bury v Hull City, Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (1245 GMT), Crystal Palace v Stoke City, Liverpool v West Ham United (1730 GMT), Nottingham Forest v Watford, Oxford United v Blackburn Rovers, Portsmouth v Bournemouth, Reading v Walsall, Shrewsbury Town v Sheffield Wednesday, West Bromwich Albion v Peterborough United


Carlisle United v Everton (1330 GMT), Milton Keynes Dons v Chelsea (1600 GMT)

Photo Credits : AFP

Ronaldo returns for depleted Real in Madrid derby

World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo returns for a Real Madrid side otherwise stricken by injuries and suspensions as they look to beat Atletico Madrid for the first time in six meetings this season on Saturday.

Ronaldo completed his two-game ban for kicking out at Cordoba defender Edimar as the European champions sneaked past Sevilla to open up a four-point lead over Barcelona at the top of the table on Wednesday.

However, victory came at a cost as World Cup star James Rodriguez broke a bone in his right foot that will keep him out for two months, whilst centre-back Sergio Ramos will also be sidelined due to a hamstring problem in the coming weeks.

Left-back Marcelo misses out at the Calderon too after his appeal against his fifth yellow card of the Liga campaign was dismissed on Thursday.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti is short of defensive options with Pepe also out with a rib injury, but he insisted he has confidence in the inexperienced pairing of Raphael Varane and Nacho in central defence.

“What we lose above all is experience, but sometimes enthusiasm is a good thing,” said Ancelotti.

“The two of them (Varane and Nacho) give me a lot of confidence. Ramos and Pepe are among the best defenders in the world, but I am not worried.”

Atletico have bounced back from their heartbreaking Champions League final defeat at the hands of Real last season to beat them in the Spanish Supercup and Copa del Rey over two legs this season, as well as winning 2-1 at the Bernabeu in La Liga earlier in the campaign.

However, defeat this weekend would see them fall 10 points behind the league leaders and all but end their defence of the title.

“I think it is important because the last games against Atletico weren’t good, so we have to change this bad run,” added Ancelotti.

“It will be a very difficult game, but we want to do something different.

“The motivation is so big for this game being a Madrid derby we don’t need the motivation of leaving Atletico 10 points behind.”

In contrast to the visitors, Diego Simeone has a fully-fit squad to choose from for the first time since November and defender Diego Godin insisted their desire to beat their cross-city rivals hasn’t been diminished by recent success.

“We want to win, we always want to win and even more so against Real Madrid,” said the Uruguayan.

“It is a different game and just because we have won the previous games doesn’t mean we will win this one.

“We need to prepare well, continue with what we have been doing and that will help us get closer to the result we want.”

Barcelona will be eager to capitalise should Real slip up when they travel to face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

The Catalans have been in scintillating form since their last visit to the Basque country ended in defeat to Real Sociedad at the beginning of January, winning eight games in a row and scoring 29 goals in the process.

However, they have failed to win in any of their previous three trips to Bilbao, including a 1-0 defeat on their first visit to the new San Mames last season.

Elsewhere, Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal continue their fight for the fourth and final Champions League place.

Villarreal have the easiest task on paper when they host relegation threatened Granada on Saturday.

Sevilla make their second trip to the capital in five days as they travel to Getafe, whilst Valencia are away to Espanyol on Sunday.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid (1500), Villarreal v Granada (1700), Levante v Malaga (1900), Real Sociedad v Celta Vigo (2100)


Cordoba v Almeria (1100), Getafe v Sevilla (1600), Espanyol v Valencia (1800), Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona (2000)


Elche v Rayo Vallecano (1945)

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal in search of derby delight despite Sanchez setback

Per Mertesacker remains confident Arsenal can overcome north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur this weekend although Alexis Sanchez will be absent from the Gunners’ line-up.

Sanchez has been ruled out of Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane after failing to recover from the hamstring that kept him out of Arsenal’s comfortable 5-0 victory over Aston Villa last weekend.

The loss of the Chile forward is a blow to Arsene Wenger’s side as they attempt to repeat their success in last season’s corresponding fixture in March.

While Arsenal make the short journey to the home of their nearest neighbours and fiercest rivals full of confidence after an impressive recent run, Spurs are also heading into the game in good form.

Gunners centre-back Mertesacker knows Mauricio Pochettino’s men will present a testing challenge as Wenger’s side attempt to extend their run of five straight victories.

But the Germany international believes the key will be whether Arsenal can maintain their defensive solidity that has produced four clean-sheets in their last five games and left them level on points with fourth-placed Southampton heading into this weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures.

“We know from recent years that defensive unity is vital especially against our north London rivals, so we have to be really cautious on the defensive front,” Mertesacker said.

“We did very well last season, as we scored very early and then defended well until the end, so it’s going to be the target for this year.”

Arsenal have reacted well to the New Year’s Day defeat by Southampton and their sequence of victories have moved the Emirates Stadium club back to the brink of the top four and in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Only goal difference is keeping Arsenal out of the Champions League places at present, with Tottenham one place and two points behind.

The loss of Sanchez will be partly eased by the return of Danny Welbeck to the squad for the first time since the former Manchester United forward featured in the victory over West Ham in late December.

Arsenal manager Wenger said: “The latest is that Alexis is not ready. He is not far away, the Leicester game is a possibility. He is of course very difficult to keep quiet! He is training but it’s light training.

“Welbeck is back in the group,” the Frenchman added. “Apart from that we have the same squad available as last week.”

– Adebayor uncertainty –

Tottenham’s build-up to the match has been overshadowed by a row over the future of striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Togo forward was keen to leave White Hart Lane and join West Ham United but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy refused to sanction the move.

Adebayor has found himself out of Pochettino’s line-up but the manager is happy to put the uncertainty surrounding the future of the forward and a number of other fringe players behind him.

“Always when the window arrives always different situations and different things happen, but now it is good because it’s finished and we all need to be focused to try to help the team,” said Spurs boss Pochettino.

“The players are focused and try to help,” the Argentinian added.

“I’m very happy. We have a very good squad.”

The future of Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid target Hugo Lloris has also been questioned but Pochettino is convinced the France goalkeeper will stay with Spurs.

“Hugo is happy here with us,” he said. He is very happy. It is difficult for this type of club to get him because Hugo is happy here.

“He is happy here and maybe in the future, in his mind, he is playing in the Champions League with Tottenham.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Injured Rodriguez, Ramos out of Madrid derby

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that James Rodriguez and Sergio Ramos will miss the Madrid derby against La Liga champions Atletico on Saturday after suffering injuries in his side’s 2-1 win over Sevilla on Wednesday.

Ramos limped off with a hamstring problem after only eight minutes, whilst Rodriguez suffered an injury in his right foot after opening the scoring.

Ancelotti is short of defensive options with Portuguese international centre-back Pepe also currently sidelined due to a rib injury.

However, the Italian insisted he is confident that youngsters Raphael Varane and Nacho can handle the challenge posed by Diego Simeone’s men.

“Sergio had a hamstring problem, we need to wait a few days to evaluate it. James had a problem in his right foot, I don’t know exactly what but it is sure that they won’t be available,” said Ancelotti.

“I have confidence in the others. Nacho and (Raphael) Varane did very well, I have a lot of confidence in them.

“What we lose above all is experience, but sometimes enthusiasm is a good thing. The two of them (Varane and Nacho) give me a lot of confidence. Ramos and Pepe are among the best defenders in the world, but I am not worried.”

Left-back Marcelo is also set to miss the game after picking up his fifth booking of the season in the second-half, but Ancelotti said the club will appeal that decision in the hope he will be cleared to play.

“We will appeal Marcelo’s yellow card because for me it wasn’t even a foul.”

Jese’s first La Liga goal since suffering a cruciate ligament injury last March put Madrid 2-0 up at half-time.

And they withstood a late Sevilla rally in the final 10 minutes after Iago Aspas had pulled a goal back.

Victory took the European champions four points clear of Barcelona at the top of the table and seven ahead of Atletico in third.

Despite their key absentees, Real will receive a massive boost with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo from a two-game ban.

“It is important to have Cristiano back. Without him we have won two games, but it is sure that he will help us in the derby.”

Real haven’t managed to beat Atletico in any of their five previous meetings this season and Ancelotti said that was greater motivation than the chance to all but end Los Rojiblancos title defence.

“I think it is important because the last games against Atletico weren’t good, so we have to change this bad run.

“It will be a very difficult game, but we want to do something different.

“The motivation is so big for this game being a Madrid derby we don’t need the motivation of leaving Atletico 10 points behind.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Fiery clash between Gor and AFC ends in draw

File Photo courtesy of The Star

The much anticipated clash between arch rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards ended in a 2-2 draw at the Nyayo national stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The derby was however not without its fair share of drama as the referee was forced to stop the game for at least half an hour just before half time after rival fans clashed on the terraces.

Police had to use tear gas to control the crowd and allow the game to conclude.


Derby weekend as Gor and Leopards clash

                                                                                                                        Gor and Leopards fans at a past match. File Photo courtesy of The Star

15 ,000 tickets have been printed for Sunday’s Kenyan Premier League match between AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.

VIP tickets will cost 500 shillings with terrace tickets going for 300 shillings. The tickets will start selling at 8am on Sunday.

The match will kick off at 3pm at the Nyayo National Stadium.