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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Latest Premiership News - Evra handed four-game ban and fine

Evra handed four-game ban and fine

Manchester United defender Patrice Evra has been banned for four matches after the FA ruled he attacked the Chelsea groundsman last season.

Chelsea have also been fined £25,000 because of Sam Bethell's own conduct during the altercation, following the Londoners' controversial 2-1 win.

However, an allegation that Bethell had 'engaged in racist conduct or language' was not proved and Chelsea were cleared of that charge.

Evra, meanwhile, has also been fined 15,000 for his actions at Stamford Bridge.

Scolari hails quality of the Premiership

Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari reckons the Premier League is tougher to win than the Champions League because of the tactics of away sides.

The Blues can set a new record for consecutive away wins in the top flight if they defeat Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday, but their formerly bullet-proof home form has deserted them this season, with three draws and two defeats in eight games at Stamford Bridge a damaging blight on Scolari's record so far.

Chelsea remain just a point behind leaders Liverpool, who while unbeaten at Anfield have suffered frustrating goalless draws at home to Stoke, Fulham and West Ham, and Scolari believes both sides' struggles on home turf highlight the difficulties of stringing together a successful title campaign.

"In England I think it is more difficult to win the Premier League than the Champions League," Scolari told Chelsea TV.

"We have had so far this season seven games away, and how many points have we lost away? Nothing, zero. And here [at Stamford Bridge]? Here it is too many.

"It is difficult because very good teams, when they play away, they have a good system that is difficult for us.

"Look at the other teams. Look at Liverpool, they are in in front of us by one point, but when they play...they have big problems.

"It's difficult to win in the Premier League."

Scolari added that he does not value either the Premier League or the Champions League higher than the other, and vowed to battle on all fronts to bring silverware to the London club in his debut season.

"When I came to Chelsea, I came to win all the competitions," he said.

"If we win the Premier League I am happy; if we win the Champions League, more happy, because it is two titles."

Agger doesn't want to do one - Rafa

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool defender Daniel Agger does not want to leave Anfield - and says talks over a new contract are on track

The Reds manager has refuted suggestions contract talks have stalled because the 23-year-old wants a massive pay-rise.

Benitez revealed he held talks with Agger on Friday and was assured the player sees his future at Anfield.

The Spaniard said: "Agger is very happy here. I have spoken to him today about the things that have been said about his contract, and it was a very positive conversation.

"He is pleased and happy to stay here. He knows he has not been playing at the same level he achieved last season, but I am still pleased with him.

"He is not playing badly, but he knows he can do better. I have great confidence in him and he is a fantastic professional and he wants to stay with us."

Benitez added: "He is very competitive, and his only concern is how he can improve. His commitment to the club is 100% and he does not want to leave.

"His new deal is not a problem. He has an agent (to deal with that) and Daniel can concentrate on football.

"He was surprised about suggestions regarding his contract because when I spoke to him three weeks ago he was only thinking about his own game.".

Big Phil warns rivals off star Essien

Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari has issued a hands-off warning over Michael Essien, despite a whole host of top clubs coveting the midfielder.

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho's current club Inter Milan have been the latest side to be linked with the player, with Sulley Muntari claiming Essien would be an ideal addition to their squad.

But Scolari insists he wants to keep Essien, who is currently battling to regain fitness after damaging his cruciate knee ligament while playing for Ghana in September.

The Chelsea boss said: "Inter, AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid all want Essien but he is injured and he is at Chelsea.

"If I stay for three years I don't want him out, I want him to stay with me.

"This is because he is very good player who can play in five positions very well. He is young and dedicated. He is our player and I think he is happy here."

Despite rumours of a return in January, the 25-year-old is not setting a specific date for a comeback.

But Scolari believes it could be sooner rather than later as Essien, who had been expected to be out for most of the season, is working overtime to be fit.

He said: "Michael Essien is good news for me everyday. He is recovering quicker than we thought.

"He comes here at 10.30 in the morning and doesn't go until four in the afternoon. He tries to come back early. It is good for us. He is a fantastic example for other players.

"I don't want to put pressure on him but I think we will have good news sooner than we expected."

Scolari has been handed another injury boost with the news that Ricardo Carvalho should be back from a knee injury just after Christmas.

"The doctor says to me maybe 14 days more minimum. Maybe Ricardo will be fit for the games over Christmas on December 26 or 28," Scolari added.

Casillas denies mega-bucks City talk

Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas insists he is happy at the Bernabeu despite reports linking him with a £129million move to Manchester City.

Reports in Spain on Tuesday suggested City, backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group, have already taken steps to sign Casillas and are willing to pay the massive 150million euro buy-out clause in his contract.

It has also been suggested that City will try to tempt the Spain international away from the Bernabeu with an annual wage of around 13 million euros.

But in an interview with the Real Madrid website Casillas moved to put an end to such reports.

"I don't want to talk about it because I'm very happy in this team," he said. "I've been here (in the first team) for nine years and this is bigger than anything else, this is where I'm happy."

The 27-year-old Casillas has been at Madrid since he was eight and earlier this year revealed he would like to become president of the Spanish club once he retires.

He also penned a new contract with his hometown club in February that ties him to Madrid until the end of the 2016/17 season.

I almost joined Arsenal - Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo admits he came "within a whisker" of signing for Arsenal before eventually joining Premier League rivals Manchester United.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger met the Portugal winger three times in a bid to bring the player to north London.

But United gazumped the deal by entering negotiations and bidding three times what Arsenal offered for the recently-crowned 2008 Ballon d'Or winner.

This was confirmed by Ronaldo, who signed for United in August 2003 for just over £12million pounds in an interview he gave with France Football.

"I came within a whisker of doing it," he said. "Wenger is someone I respect a lot. He is very intelligent."

Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo's agent, added: "That is what happened. Everyone wanted Cristiano; Real (Madrid), Juventus, Barcelona.

"But only Arsenal and Manchester United attempted to take him from there (Sporting Lisbon) that season. The others wanted to leave him at Sporting at least a year."

It is widely believed Ronaldo's sensational performance in Sporting's 3-1 win over United in a friendly on August 5, 2003 convinced the English club to sign him.

But Mendes revealed a deal had been agreed before that friendly, adding: "Everything was in place before, since an agreement had been reached the day before the match."

Ronaldo has gone on to become arguably the world's greatest player.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson, who Ronaldo labels 'The Master', the 23-year-old has added deadly finishing to his repertoire of skills and tricks.

After five years at Old Trafford, it looked as if he was going to sign for Real Madrid last summer but he ended up staying at United.

"I don't want to return to that. I have already spoken a lot about it," he said.

"I am at Manchester United and I feel very good at this club. I don't want to create other problems.

"For two or three months, people have spoken more about this than about football and I don't want to talk about it any more."

Another uncertain period for Ronaldo at United came after the 2006 World Cup.

His Portugal side knocked England out of the tournament on penalties in the quarter-finals, but during the match he was involved in getting Wayne Rooney - his team-mate at United - sent off.

Ronaldo was seen asking the referee to dismiss Rooney and as a result he was given a hard time by the English press and fans the following few months.

But Ronaldo said: "If I had to do it again, I would do it again. I was defending my colours, my country.

"What I did on the day was normal. When I came back to England after the World Cup, there were all these people booing me. That made me stronger.

"It was a test of my character. I learnt a lot because of this."

Ronaldo was named Ballon d'Or winner in the early hours of Tuesday morning and will lift the trophy at an awards ceremony in Paris on Sunday night.

He admits it was a childhood dream to win that accolade and feels Ferguson has made it all possible.

"I am a great professional thanks to him," he added.

"It's him who took me from Sporting and brought me to Manchester. He is a great man. A great manager. His record of achievements speaks for itself. Most important is his personality - I love working with him.

"My concentration has changed. I have become a winner. Here, you always have to win and I know the pressure of winning matches, trophies. And it is here, with Alex Ferguson, that I started to believe I could win the Ballon d'Or."

Ince tips Rovers to stop the rot

Paul Ince insists Blackburn can end their poor run of form against Liverpool on Saturday, despite admitting the Reds look like title winners.

Defeat on Saturday would increase the pressure further on Ince, who saw his former Manchester United team-mate Roy Keane resign as manager of Sunderland.

Ince expressed his disappointment at Keane's departure and blamed the media for forcing him out.

The Rovers boss said: "There are certain people out there who want to put you down and it's more so the young managers and that's the annoying thing, they don't want to give people a chance.

"Sometimes they can drive you out of a job and that's probably what they've done with Keano.

"I was very disappointed because Keano's an excellent young manager and we've been clamouring for new managers for years. We've had the same managers for the last 20 years doing the rounds.

"People forget what he did for Sunderland last season taking them from near the bottom of the Championship into the Premier League; not many managers could have done that."

The meeting with Liverpool follows on from Blackburn's 5-3 defeat by Manchester United in the Carling Cup on Wednesday, but Ince believes facing the top four could provide just the opportunity Rovers need.

"We're under no pressure to win the game," he continued. "It's a funny old game; our form's not been the best and we're desperate for a win so why can't it be against Liverpool?

"They're a good side; they've started off really well. They're not actually playing fantastically well but they're grinding out results, which is the sign of a side that can go on and win the Premier League.

"They're a team full of confidence and it's good to see them up there. But it's another chance to kick-start our season because we know after tomorrow we've got five or six games where we should be picking up points."

Ince could be without Brett Emerton and Roque Santa Cruz after both picked up knocks against United while Zurab Khizanishvili (groin) is definitely out, but Chris Samba and Keith Andrews will return.

One player who will be desperate to impress is former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock, and Ince has lavished praise on the England hopeful.

"He's been awesome," added Ince. "Every game, every training session, he comes and gives 110 per cent. He's a top-class player and we need everyone to be like Stephen Warnock."