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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wilkins: No unrest in Chelsea camp

Scolari: Swerved press conference

Wilkins: No unrest in Chelsea camp

Chelsea assistant boss Ray Wilkins dismissed suggestions of any unrest under Luiz Felipe Scolari following Saturday's 2-0 win at Bolton.

Scolari has now masterminded a new top-flight record of 11 away wins, with a 2-0 victory at Bolton helping Chelsea eclipse the previous mark set in 1960 by Bill Nicholson's Tottenham.

But there are claims the players are unhappy with his apparently lax training regime, and feel their play is becoming too predictable.

Skipper John Terry has also seemingly questioned the desire of his team-mates.

But at the Reebok Stadium there was little to suggest there are problems afoot, with the win keeping Chelsea a point behind leaders Liverpool in the battle for the Premier League title.

Scolari, though, did not attend the post-match press conference, with Wilkins insisting the Portuguese is currently feeling jaded and that it was time for him to have a day off from the media inquisition.

When asked whether there was any dissension in the ranks, Wilkins sternly replied: "None whatsoever.

"If you are looking for an angle then that team might have fallen apart, but the spirit and application in the camp is absolutely different class.

"You cannot perform like that if there is dissension about. They have performed to a very high standard."

After Kevin Davies shaved the crossbar with a free header in the eighth minute, he and Bolton were made to pay a minute later, with Nicolas Anelka on target.

Eleven months after his £15million move from Bolton to Chelsea, the France international netted the 99th Premier League goal of his career with a diving header inside the six-yard box.

Twelve minutes later and the points were sealed when Deco ended a 14-match drought with an exquisite scissor-kick from 15 yards.

Anelka and Deco should have added a third either side of the break as Bolton at least dug in and occasionally forced the issue, albeit without reward.

Instead, it was Chelsea left celebrating the continuation of their perfect away record, in contrast to their form at Stamford Bridge where they have dropped 12 points this season.

Wilkins added: "Our away results have been absolutely first class. We've a superb away record.

"At home, teams have come and blocked up the middle of the midfield against us and it's been a tad difficult to break them down.

"Sometimes they just come and play 10 players behind the ball and make it very difficult for us.

"Perhaps at times we've not tried hard enough to prise them open, but give credit to the opposition as well.

"They've worked out a plan to play against us, so it's up to us now to go against that.

"We will combat that and get back on track.

"But overall we are delighted with where we are at the moment, just a point behind Liverpool, so as far as we are concerned we're in a fantastic position."

If Howard Webb had awarded a cast-iron penalty on the hour when Terry clearly handled a Johan Elmander half-volley, then Bolton might have been given a lifeline.

But Webb, perhaps unsighted, turned away the vociferous appeals to the frustration of everyone in the home camp.

Bolton boss Gary Megson was also unhappy as he said: "I've said it before, and I'll reiterate it, but bigger teams get the decisions.

"I didn't think that that kind of decision would go our way.

"I have to admit I didn't see it properly. I just saw the shot and our players appeal, but it's no surprise it wasn't given.

"It would have been more of a surprise if it had."

Megson felt the problem, though, was that not enough of his players applied themselves in the first half, and by the time they did, it was too late.

"In the first half there were a few playing at the tempo we wanted and getting after the game in the right manner, but that was not enough," added Megson.

"The game was a bit tepid from our point of view when it needed to be intense.

"It was better in the second half, but we were 2-0 down, and that was the problem."

Gerrard: Enjoys being the main man

Gerrard: I won't be selfish anymore

Steven Gerrard has admitted to being selfish in his desire to be given a free-role and now vowed to play anywhere for the good of Liverpool.

Gerrard has complained in the past when moved away from the central role he has become accustomed to, saying his performances suffered as a result.

He admits he was wrong to be so stubborn but insists he is now happy to play anywhere to help the Reds in their quest for Premier League glory.

Rafa Benitez has asked Gerrard to play more defensively at times, while he has also had to switch out wide, but the 28-year-old maintains that he is only focused on the welfare of the team.

"I used to worry because I was selfish and wanted to be in my favoured position every game - like you do on the playground when you're a kid," Gerrard told the News of the World.

"But the game has changed. I have learned to understand I have a job to do for the team.

"You can't afford to be selfish. If I play out of position and we get a win I still get the same buzz.

"If the manager says to me I'm playing centre midfield or off the front man, there's no massive difference to me.

"But yes, I enjoy playing further forward, especially behind Fernando Torres.

"I'll play wherever the manager wants me to play and not worry about it."

Gerrard feels Benitez is one of the best bosses in the business and has saluted his man-management skills.

He said: "You have to take your hat off to him. He's one of the best managers there is.

"Rafa is the type that when you finish a game as man of the match having scored three goals, he won't even mention it. Instead, he'll mention that you never used your left foot at a certain point!

"But Rafa does it right. When I need a pat on the back I get it.

"I have had lots of 'well dones' from him, but when I need a kick up the backside I get it too."

Manchester United: Chasing third straight title

Fergie hopes to stay in touch at top

Sir Alex Ferguson says Manchester United must be within three points of their rivals by the New Year if they are to win a third straight title.

Nemanja Vidic's last-gasp strike allowed United to claim a 1-0 win over managerless Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, keeping them five points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand.

Maintaining close proximity over the next three weeks will not be easy as the Red Devils miss a game due to their participation at the Club World Cup in Japan.

But if Ferguson ushers in 2009 with his team within a win of Rafael Benitez's side and their closest pursuers Chelsea, he thinks the championship will be in United's grasp.

"If we get within two or three points of the top two by the turn of the year, we will have a marvellous chance," he said.

"It has not been easy for us but we have coped very well. Our form has been very good."

United head to Tottenham next Saturday before leaving for the Far East.

However, they will do so without Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney, who like the Frenchman is also suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season for a foul on Teemu Tainio.

In addition, Cristiano Ronaldo is a doubt after suffering a heavy bang on his hip which eventually saw him leave the field in bizarre fashion, the Ballon D'Or winner booting the ball out of play and then walking to the touchline before Ferguson had a chance to even get a substitute stripped.

"He got real kick on the hip-joint, just like Wayne Rooney did last year when he was in pain for a while and missed a couple of games," said Ferguson.

"We will see what he is like on Sunday, although I was going to make changes for the Champions League game against Aalborg on Wednesday anyway."

Ferguson also revealed he had tried to explain his decision to omit Carlos Tevez to the South American, who might have expected to start having scored four against Blackburn on Wednesday.

"I had a long chat with Carlos," said the United chief.

"If the performance had not been as good against Manchester City last week he would have played. But I couldn't get him on quickly enough in the second-half.

"He brought energy to the front part of the pitch. It was a really good half hour."

Benayoun: Celebrates goal at Blackburn

Benitez: We can handle the pressure

Rafa Benitez reckons Liverpool proved they can handle the pressure of a title race after winning 3-1 at Blackburn day to cement their top spot.

Goals from Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun and Steven Gerrard gave them a comfortable victory at Ewood Park - just the result Benitez wanted after successive goalless draws against Fulham and West Ham.

Benitez said: "We have shown we can manage the pressure. When you have a game like this, you know you might have problems.

"But we were more clinical than other days and that is important with the Christmas programme coming up.

"We are in a very good position so it is vital we play with confidence and that the players pass the ball well.

"We had plenty of possession in the first half and although we did not create many chances, Yossi could have scored.

"Then after we made the breakthrough, we created more space and had more options.

"It is important the strikers get goals and I am pleased when the midfielders do so as well. It does not matter to me who scores."

Benitez left Robbie Keane on the bench and then resisted the temptation to give him a run-out when Ryan Babel took a knock, instead drafting in Nabil El Zhar.

The Spaniard, though, stressed it was purely a tactical decision.

He added: "Dirk Kuyt was doing really well and I just needed a different option in wide areas. That is why I did not choose Robbie."

Alonso opened the scoring in the 68th minute with a low drive after Kuyt's mis-hit following a cross from Gerrard.

Benayoun extended the lead 11 minutes later with a superb solo effort. He latched on to a ball over the top from Kuyt, skipped away from Stephen Warnock before rifling a shot into the corner.

Although Roque Santa Cruz headed a consolation goal in the 86th minute, Gerrard had the final word in stoppage time after being set up nicely by substitute Albert Riera.


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