Balotelli also posted an apology on Twitter, stating: “I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. “The post was meant to be anti-racist with humour. I now understand that out of context may have the opposite effect. “Not all Mexicans have moustache, not all black people jump high and not all Jewish people love money. “I used a cartoon done by someone else because it has Super Mario and I thought it was funny and not offensive. Again, I’m sorry.” The minimum FA ban for a race-related offence is five matches. Jewish representative group, the Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the FA’s involvement. “The Board of Deputies of British Jews is concerned by the racist meme shared by footballer Mario Balotelli on his Instagram account and welcomes the FA’s probe into the matter,” it said in a statement. “Footballers in particular have big followings of young people and should act responsibly when using social media.” The board’s president, Vivian Wineman, added: “Balotelli’s sharing of images which use unacceptable language and appeal to classic antisemitic tropes is troubling. “We were pleased to see his immediate retraction and apology but such language has no place in public discourse. We welcome the decision by the FA to investigate this matter.” The PFA said players must use better judgement when posting on social media accounts. “The situation regarding Mario Balotelli’s Instagram post reinforces the need for continued education and highlights how vigilant players need to be in all of their dealings with social media,” the PFA stated. “We strongly condemn all discriminatory language used in any context. “We are working with clubs and the FA to ensure players are aware of the impact of inappropriate and unacceptable language regardless of the forum. “Our club meetings and senior player diversity programmes serve to educate and inform our members in the areas of equality and diversity with a strong emphasis on the misuse of language. “The matter is now with the FA for investigation under a disciplinary system that the PFA has approved in conjunction with all the other football stakeholders.” Liverpool have been embroiled in a racism row before when striker Luis Suarez, now at Barcelona, was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in September 2011. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had nothing to add on the Balotelli issue as he had been occupied with the team’s match at Leicester. “I don’t know hardly anything about it. I have been busy preparing the team and I will probably find out more about it tomorrow,” he said. Mario Balotelli was swift to apologise but the Liverpool striker has been asked by the Football Association to explain his social media post which appeared to contain anti-Semitic and racist references. Press Association An investigation has begun and part of that involves the FA asking the player for an explanation. Press Association Sport understands Balotelli, currently injured so not in action against Leicester in the Premier League on Tuesday night, has been given until 6pm on Friday to provide a response to the FA. FA guidelines regarding when to charge someone over a comment on social media state “deleting an inappropriate posting, whilst advisable, does not necessarily prevent disciplinary action being taken”. The Professional Footballers’ Association, meanwhile, issued a statement in which it said: “We strongly condemn all discriminatory language used in any context.” The Italy international will be spoken to by his club. “We are aware of the posting which has since been promptly deleted by the player. We will be speaking to the player about the issue,” said a Liverpool spokesman. The controversial image of Super Mario appeared with the heading “Don’t be a racist”. The text then read: “Be like Mario. He’s an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican, he jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.” After criticism began to mount online Balotelli deleted the offending item and responded on his Twitter account: “My Mom is jewish so all of u shut up please”. He also described reposting the image as “my Unlucky moment”. Balotelli reposted an image of the computer game character Super Mario on his Instagram page which included the comment “jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew”. The Liverpool striker quickly deleted the posting on Monday night, claiming he was attempting to be “anti-racist with humour”, but the 24-year-old is now facing the prospect of a misconduct charge.
Jamie Carragher thinks Liverpool did not do enough to prevent Steven Gerrard’s “surprise” exit from Anfield. Gerrard announced on Friday that his 17-year spell at Liverpool will come to an end in the summer when his contract expires. The 34-year-old is expected to see out the rest of his playing career in the United States and he then has ambitions of returning to the Merseyside club in some capacity. “If Steven Gerrard wanted to be a manager and was up to the job then of course you would love to see him in that dugout because of what he represents for the club. “But Liverpool Football Club shouldn’t be about giving people jobs just because of what they have done as players.” Graeme Souness achieved something Gerrard failed to do during his playing time at Liverpool – win the league title. In fact, he did it five times, and also won the European Cup on three occasions. The Scot failed to repeat that success during a three-year spell as manager though and he thinks Gerrard may not necessarily go into the role due to the stresses and strains of the profession. “It’s not just Steven, but I think players of his level might not have the desire to go into football management simply because it’s riddled with insecurity,” Souness said. “It’s a very, very hard job to do and someone who’s only played at the highest level, been an outstanding player, I’m not sure if he wants the aggravation of management.” Opinion may be split on Gerrard’s future, but there was almost universal acceptance that the midfielder deserves to be regarded as one of the club’s finest players. Gerrard may have failed to win the league, but he played a huge part in Liverpool’s dramatic Champions League final victory against AC Milan in 2005 and against West Ham in the FA Cup final 12 months later. Kirkby-born Phil Thompson believes Kenny Dalglish, with whom he played during the 1970s and 1980s, should be regarded as the only better player to have worn the famous red Liverpool shirt. “Steven is the last of a dying breed for my football club. That will be a massive hole to fill,” the former Liverpool defender and assistant manager said. “Steven has won plenty of trophies. He hasn’t won the Premier League but he is the next best to Kenny Dalglish and that is still a great accolade.” Liverpool’s current squad showered praise on Gerrard after Friday’s announcement. Striker Daniel Sturridge told Liverpool’s website: ”He will go down in history as one of the best midfielders in the game. He’s just unbelievable every day, a great leader and the perfect example for every young player around the country.” Lifelong Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert added: “He is Mr Liverpool. ”He’s number one for me and I think he always will be. He has meant everything to me, growing up as a Liverpool fan. ”The nights he has given Liverpool fans are unbelievable – I’ll never forget them and I know the Liverpool fans will never forget them.” Mario Balotelli paid tribute to Gerrard, likening him to his World Cup winning Italy team-mate Andrea Pirlo. “Wow. I think of him as being at the same level as Pirlo,” the Reds striker added. “Vision, technique but he is powerful as well. ”Stevie can do anything, he’s an amazing player. It’s going to be very difficult for the team to find another player like him in the future.” Rafael Benitez, who led Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, told Sky Sports News: “After the Champions League final he had the ambition to improve and be the best midfielder in the world. He was always amazing and had passion. Technically he is very good, physically very strong. You couldn’t stop him. “They are losing a player who everybody knows. He changed the games against Olympiacos (in 2004), AC Milan (Champions League final) and West Ham (FA Cup final). I think he was one of the best, if not the best, for sure.” Meanwhile, Michael Owen has described Gerrard as Liverpool’s “best and most influential player ever”. Former striker Owen, who came up through the youth ranks at the Reds alongside Gerrard, said: ” In many ways I shared my career with Stevie and, in my opinion, he was the best and most influential player ever to have worn the famous red shirt. “I know many will argue Kenny Dalglish deserves that extraordinary accolade but that wonderful era was just before my time. “It is often forgotten that he (Gerrard) was the one who was injury prone up to the age of 19-20 and in many ways our careers were a role reversal. He was a late developer but what development and what a player. “It has been a privilege to play so many games for both Liverpool and England with Steven Gerrard and he has undoubtedly earned his status as a true footballing legend,” added Owen, who is now an ambassador for BetVictor. Carragher admits Gerrard’s best playing days are behind him, but feels the club should have made every effort to keep their captain because of his experience. The Anfield club offered Gerrard a new contract, but Carragher, who played alongside the midfielder in the Liverpool first team for 15 years, thinks they should have pulled out all the stops to keep him on Merseyside. “From the club’s point of view, I am surprised,” the former Liverpool captain told Sky Sports News. “It was Stevie’s decision, but could the club have maybe done a little bit more? Maybe spoken about a coaching role in the future to try to entice him to stay? “You are not losing Steven Gerrard of 24 or 25 years of age. He’s not the same player at 34. No player is at that age, but I just think to lose that experience at the club, which he can pass on to the youngsters at the Academy and players in the first team now… “I just look at that and think from a club’s point of view and a supporter’s point of view I would have liked to have seen him stay in some capacity.” Gerard Houllier has little doubt Gerrard will one day become Liverpool manager, but Carragher thinks the former England captain will not be offered the position in the future unless the club are certain he will do a good job. “He’s got the name and the profile to do it,” the ex-Liverpool defender said. Press Association
Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre has left the door open for Steven Gerrard to return on loan once he moves to Los Angeles Galaxy. “I’ve said openly to Steven and his representatives, as have Brendan and the owners, that we see Steven as part of the family,” he told Liverpool radio station CityTalk. “The fact that he’s leaving at the end of the season doesn’t mean it’s the last we’ll see of him at Liverpool. “What that means, the details aren’t known yet, but we will keep a regular dialogue with him and I hope we will see him here again in the long term.” Asked if that could mean a return on loan next January, Ayre said: “It’s conceivable. It happens a lot in MLS, and it’s something we talked to Steven and his representatives about. “You can’t have someone who has so much of the club’s DNA in them and just expect that it will go away.” Last week Rodgers drew a line under the debate over Gerrard’s contract after the player said he would have signed a new deal had it been offered last summer. Liverpool’s approach did not arrive until November, by which time Gerrard was already considering other options having been told by Rodgers his playing time would be managed as the oldest member of the squad. Ayre insists the timing of a “substantial” contract offer would not have made a difference. The Reds captain will end his 25-year-long association with his boyhood club this summer when he departs for a new challenge in Major League Soccer. Principal owner John Henry and manager Brendan Rodgers have both said there will always be a role for the midfielder at the club whenever he decides to return from America, but Ayre has not ruled out the possibility of the 34-year-old pulling on the red shirt again. “Let’s assume that we’d made that offer (in the summer) and that he’d signed it. I think we’d still be in the same position today,” he added. “Just like any player, at any club, if he all of a sudden isn’t playing every week, they maybe start to think ‘Maybe this isn’t the place for me now’. “Steven may have signed that contract but we may have been sat round now in the same position. “We’ve had that before with very senior players. I had one come to me and say ‘I don’t really fancy this any more’. “Who knows how it would have played out? But I think Steven made the point last week that it (not playing every week) doesn’t appeal to him. “So the fact that he would have signed a contract last season actually doesn’t make any difference. “His point was that after playing every week, playing a bit-part role is not how he wanted to finish his career. “He wants to finish on a high and I am sure he will.” Press Association
Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino expects Harry Kane to get even better as the striker’s superb season continued with two goals at West Brom. It was Spurs’ sixth win in eight league games but Pochettino knows such form needs to be maintained for a top-four spot to be achieved. He said: “If we show this like we did today, this performance, maybe we have the possibility to arrive (there), but we need to be consistent from here to the end of the season. “We don’t speak about that. We need to focus on the next game – step by step. To challenge in the long term we need to play every game like we did today.” Kane’s form has led to reports the club could rip up a contract signed just five months ago to replace it with an improved one. Pochettino said: “This is a club decision and the player’s decision. This is business, but Harry wants to stay with Tottenham and Tottenham want Harry to stay long term.” Pochettino played down talk of an imminent exit for Emmanuel Adebayor, who did not make the matchday squad. He said: “We have 27 players in the squad and you need to pick 18 for the game.” West Brom had a good spell in the game between Spurs’ second and third goals but head coach Tony Pulis accepted the bad start was costly. Pulis, for whom defeat was a first since taking charge early in the new year, said: “The first 20 minutes was poor. I thought we started sloppy, gave the ball away too many times and didn’t play with any tempo. “Giving them a two-goal lead was disappointing. We needed a goal but their goalkeeper was absolutely fantastic. You look at the opportunities and the chances, then look at the saves he made, especially the two before half-time, wonderful saves. “Even in the second half we had opportunities but then they get a penalty and a third one, which kills it. If we could have got a goal for 2-1 it would have lifted us and put more pressure on them. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. It was their day.” Pulis, who gave a debut to new signing Callum McManaman, now wants to add more players before Monday’s transfer deadline. He said: “This week is a difficult week in lots of respects because of the window, trying to line up players. “It is difficult for myself but we have got to bounce back. Hopefully (on Tuesday) having brought a few in, I’ll be happy.” Pochettino said: “It is good for him, good for the team and good for us. It was a great performance. Always when the strikers score goals it is good for the team. “But I think always my focus is that a player can improve. He is young and, like other players, needs to show that he can improve. You cannot stop your improvement. “But I think that not only him, but all players showed character here. This was our challenge when we arrived at Tottenham, to show character and play in this way, like we did from the beginning.” Spurs made a superb start with Christian Eriksen continuing where he left off in the Capital One Cup semi-final in midweek to open the scoring with a brilliant free-kick after six minutes. Kane doubled the lead after 15 minutes as he showed good footwork to turn inside Andre Wisdom and then smash a shot past Ben Foster. He scored the third from the penalty spot after Joleon Lescott was penalised for handball. Pochettino said: “I am very proud of the players. I congratulate them because it was a good performance. “It was very important to start well because after the semi-final at Sheffield (United) always it is difficult, but I think from the beginning we were very aggressive and I think we played very well with and without the ball. “After 2-0 maybe we played at a slow tempo but after the second half I think we deserved it. I think at the end the result was fair.” The 21-year-old scored his 19th and 20th goals of the campaign as Spurs ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at The Hawthorns in the Barclays Premier League. Kane has emerged as one of the hottest young talents in the English game and Pochettino believes there is plenty more to come from him. Press Association
“We thought that to ride 200 winners was a good achievement and a good time to announce it. “Dave and JP thought it would be a good idea to announce before I just give up. “It will be business as usual until the end of the season and I will let myself enjoy it more.” Mrs McCoy said: “It’s a decision he’s battled with very much, some days he’s at peace with it and some days he’s sad. It will be great for him to go out on a high and hopefully we will get him out in one piece.” She went on: “It’s a very big decision and a decision like that he has to live with, so he has to make it himself. “He knew my preference for him to retire at the end of the season, but I never pushed him. He’s very much his own man and he makes up his own mind.” Winner of virtually every big prize there is in racing, including the Grand National, Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Champion Hurdle, McCoy said that “time waits for no man in sport”. He said: “I have been very lucky to have a great way of life for the last 25 years. “It was something that was always in the back of my mind, I wanted to retire while I was champion jockey and I thought 20 championships was a good number. Time waits for no man in sport. It’s not going to wait for me. “I think all of the decisions in my life I have made myself, I’m lucky that I’ve had really good people to bounce things off. “I think to become a jockey was the best decision I made. I’ve had a great way of life. “My mum and dad have no idea, I think they wanted me to retire so I thought they’d get more satisfaction hearing about it on the television. “I love riding and the thrill of it, it’s what has challenged me for the last 25 years so I will miss it. “I’ll never find anything that will replace that buzz, but I’m aware in sport that you can’t go on forever. “There’s so many people to thank – my mum and dad, the late Billy Rock, the late Toby Balding and his wife, Jim Bolger, JP and Noreen (McManus) have been fantastic. “All the horses, the stable lads, all the ambulance drivers and the doctors that have picked me up so many times over the years. “The lads in the weighing room who have been great colleagues, the lads that have driven me around the country and the valets that have looked after me every day. “There’s so many people for me to thank, and obviously Dave Roberts who has been with me from the day I’ve been here. A lot of people have made it possible.” Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus, said: “You have to be very proud of him, he’s been a great man to work with and we’ve had a great time together. It’s always sad when it comes, but that’s part of it and I hope now he stays in one piece and goes out at the top. “He didn’t say much about it, he’d be making up his own mind – I’m sure him and the boss had discussions and it’s always difficult when things are going well. He’s been fantastic and it will have been a tough decision. “He’s been having a fantastic season and it’s always difficult when things are going well. Like everything, things come to an end. “He has been a great ambassador for us and the sport of racing, he’s very kind to people. “You couldn’t say enough good things about him.” Asked about a possible replacement in the role of number one to McManus, Berry said: “It’s only landed on us this week, everything is up in the air.” That left a simple task for Mr Mole, who will test his credentials at the top level in the two-mile championship next month. All that was overshadowed, however, when 40-year-old McCoy revealed his retirement plan. “It’s going to be the last time I ride 200 winners,” he said. “Having spoken to Dave (Roberts, agent) and JP McManus (retaining owner), I am going to be retiring at the end of the season.” McCoy, who is 79 wins ahead of nearest rival Richard Johnson this season, continued: “I want to go out at the top, I want to go out as champion jockey and it will be my 20th year if I can win the jockeys’ championship. “I want to go out while I still enjoy riding and am still relatively at the top. “Dave Roberts and JP McManus were the only ones who knew, I got Dave to my house and Chanelle (McCoy’s wife) didn’t even know what the conversation was going to be about. “We decided that the right thing to do was to retire at the end of the season, but to announce it before the end of the season. Just minutes after Mr Mole gave McCoy his 200th winner of the season as Sire De Grugy unseated three out in an incident-packed Betfair Price Rush Chase at Newbury, the champion jockey told Channel 4 Racing of his intention to stop riding. Not seen since following up his Champion Chase success at Sandown last April, the Gary Moore-trained Sire De Grugy was sent off at odds-on but made a bad mistake four from home before parting company with Jamie Moore at the next. Press Association Tony McCoy stunned the racing world today as he announced he is to retire from racing at the end of the season.
Hughes had to take Ireland off at half-time of the Barclays Premier League contest at the Britannia Stadium due to a calf injury the Potters midfielder sustained when being tackled by Tigers defender Figueroa just before the break. The manager after the game revealed Ireland had to have “something like 12 or 15 stitches” and claimed Figueroa should have been shown a straight red card. Stoke boss Mark Hughes has accused Maynor Figueroa of making an “horrendous tackle” on Stephen Ireland during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Hull, rating the challenge as worse than Ashley Barnes’ on Nemanja Matic last weekend and hitting out at the officials for taking no action. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho labelled Barnes’ tackle on Matic – also not punished during the game – as “criminal”. And Hughes said: “I think there has been a lot of debate about a certain challenge in the Chelsea-Burnley game and I think this one is actually worse than that. “Stevie didn’t get up and run after the lad because he wasn’t in a position to do so, due to the injury he had sustained. “We are upset by that challenge and what it might entail for Stevie – he is going to be missing for any number of weeks. It was a terrible challenge. “You just ask for the key moments in games to be refereed correctly, and I think that’s the main gripe at the moment – key decisions are not being made correctly, or things are being missed on too many occasions. It has to improve.” Asked about games being ‘re-refereed’ after the final whistle, Hughes added: “I’m not advocating anything, but I think it’s a case of we have professional referees now and it is not a part-time job. It’s about time they did their job correctly.” Giving his assessment overall of what was a scrappy contest, the Welshman said: “I thought we were the only team with an attitude of being positive and showing ambition. “Hull came with a gameplan to make it difficult and get people behind the ball, which is their right. “But in terms of trying to make a game of it, doing the right things and being creative, there was only one team deserving of the victory.” Hull boss Steve Bruce had his own complaints about the officials, insisting Crouch – who scored a minute after coming on, notching his ninth goal of the season and fourth in four appearances – had been offside. Bruce said: “The defenders were adamant he was. They had done enough, because he is offside, but unfortunately, the linesman hasn’t seen it that way. “You expect them to get those decisions right. It is disappointing. “I don’t think we ever deserved to win the match, but you don’t expect to lose the game to something like that, not at this level. “I know they have a difficult job, made very difficult here – they get put under pressure from all sorts of people here. But if the linesman does his job properly, then we get a point.” Bruce, whose side are four points above the relegation zone in 15th while Stoke are 10th, also revealed Robbie Brady had missed the game due to a calf injury, and that top-scorer Nikica Jelavic had sat it out due to having a knee “twice as big as it should be”. Referee Neil Swarbrick had allowed play to continue at the time, and he and his assistant were strongly condemned by Hughes, who was quick to compare the incident to the one involving Burnley forward Barnes and Chelsea midfielder Matic at Stamford Bridge last Saturday which has drawn so much attention over the past week. Reflecting on the victory, Hughes – whose side’s winner came in the 71st minute when Ireland’s replacement Charlie Adam delivered a cross that fellow substitute Peter Crouch headed home – said: “We were really pleased. “But I have to say, it is tempered somewhat because we have Stevie Ireland having been on the end of an horrendous tackle in the first half – one that should have seen a straight red card, to be perfectly honest. “Why the referee or his assistant haven’t seen the severity of that challenge… He (Ireland) has come in at half-time, rolled his sock down, and I think everyone was taken aback by the severity of the gash on his calf. “He has got something like 12 or 15 stitches in the leg wound, so for the officials to not see that challenge – I’ve seen it on video, and it is shocking. “I’m highlighting it not because I want to get anyone in trouble – I’m just saying that, on the day, I thought the referee was poor. “We had two players shown yellow cards, and in comparison to that challenge on Stevie Ireland, I think it is remarkable, astounding that the referee hasn’t sent the lad straight off. They need to be better. “The assistant referee was only 10 yards away for goodness’ sake, so he needs to see that challenge. It is a poor one.” Press Association
France striker Giroud’s fifth goal in as many games set Arsenal on course, before Sanchez ended a seven-game drought. Giroud’s 13th goal of the season calmed Arsenal who had headed into the break unsettled and unnerved by a spirited effort from relegation battlers Rangers. Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez guided Arsenal to a routine 2-1 Premier League victory at struggling QPR, despite Charlie Austin striking back late on. Press Association After Austin and Zamora both failed to reach the whipped ball, Ospina was forced to turn the cross round his left post. Arsenal were restricted to just one tangible goal-scoring opportunity in the first-half, Santi Cazorla hitting the target but failing to test Rob Green. The Spain midfielder will no doubt have been frustrated not to catch his effort cleanly enough to blast past the in-form QPR keeper Green. Arsenal finally found their missing fluency after the restart, Rosicky immediately carving in behind Sandro to tee up the onrushing Mesut Ozil. The Germany midfielder could not convert Rosicky’s cross from close-range, and wound up complaining he was pulled back by Karl Henry. Rangers’ defensive midfielder certainly made contact, and was fortunate not to cost his side a spot-kick. Sanchez weaved and stepped his way to another Arsenal chance as the early part of the half unfolded, but the Chile hitman curled his effort comfortably wide. Austin had another 20-yard effort blocked as QPR attempted a rally, before Phillips fired a piledriver just the wrong side of the near post. When Arsenal’s lead finally came, the Gunners struck through Arsene Wenger’s time-honoured tradition of the counter-attack. Ozil fed Sanchez to saunter from halfway to the edge of QPR’s area, and the home defence backed off and allowed the Chilean to set Gibbs through on the overlap. Even if Sanchez’s reverse pass was neat, it should have been obvious: instead QPR let Gibbs steam through and produce a low cross that Giroud turned home via a deflection. Sanchez then doubled Arsenal’s lead inside 10 minutes, turning Darnell Furlong inside out before dispatching an accurate low shot past Green. Just when Arsenal expected to coast home, up popped in-form striker Austin to blast home on the spin and hand Rangers a lifeline. The sharp poacher’s 15th goal of the campaign raised home hopes at the death, but – despite the rally – Arsenal still tiptoed across the line. Austin set up a fraught finish with a fine 20-yard strike on the turn for Rangers, but Arsenal were still able to cling on for victory. The Gunners’ superior class and counter-attack quality proved decisive, with Sanchez influential in the build-up to Giroud’s goal before pilfering his 19th finish of the campaign. Arsenal were denied a clear penalty when Karl Henry pulled back Mesut Ozil to stop the German tapping in from two yards, but the visitors were able to shake off referee Kevin Friend’s error. Arsenal’s 10th win in 12 games in all competitions keeps them third in the table, even though the Gunners spent the entire first half at Loftus Road struggling for any kind of control. Rangers wasted little time squeezing Arsenal right across the pitch, with stand-in skipper Bobby Zamora offering a talismanic performance. The veteran target man teed up strike partner Austin for two promising 20-yard efforts, but the in-form poacher could not provide a telling enough finish on either occasion. Austin’s second long-range effort had David Ospina frozen to the spot, with the Arsenal keeper forced to watch the ball whistle just past his right-hand post. Matt Phillips ran Arsenal’s right flank ragged in the first half, and his most dangerous cross almost crept past Ospina and into the net.
Martinez has accepted that his team – 14th in the Premier League, six points clear of the relegation zone with just 28 from 28 games – are in a survival fight on the domestic front. However, the Spaniard wants all thoughts of that to be put to one side by his players when they host Ukrainian league leaders Dynamo on Thursday evening, stressing the need for each challenge Everton have between now and the end of the season to be approached “in isolation”. Boss Roberto Martinez feels Everton have “10 finals” ahead of them in the Barclays Premier League – but has emphasised that the focus for now must be on Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg against Dynamo Kiev. Press Association While in Europe Everton have won five of eight individual games and lost only one this term, in the league they have triumphed just once in their last 12 fixtures and been beaten in seven of those. Toffees goalkeeper Tim Howard has suggested a key factor in the domestic struggles has been that the team have lost the element of surprise they had when Martinez first came to the club. The manager, meanwhile, says other sides learning to show Everton more “respect” has had a role – although he is not looking to make excuses. “I don’t think it is such a thing as ‘working a team out’, but I think it is true we have had a lot of respect (from other teams) this season in a football way,” Martinez said. “Teams come to Goodison very wary of what we can do. “It has been a very difficult season in which to get back-to-back results and develop good momentum. “But now, the time for talking about the season is over.” Everton defender John Stones (virus) and midfielder Leon Osman (knock) will be assessed ahead of Thursday’s game. Christian Atsu, recently out due to illness, could return to action with fellow winger Aaron Lennon (cup-tied) unavailable, while Leighton Baines (thigh), Bryan Oviedo (hamstring), Tony Hibbert, Steven Pienaar and Aiden McGeady (all knee) remain sidelined. Dynamo go into the contest amid reports suggesting Arsenal are interested in their Austria centre-back Aleksandar Dragovic. When asked about such talk, Dynamo boss Sergei Rebrov said: “You are asking about one of the best players in my team and I don’t want to lose this player. “He is a top-class player and I hope he will stay with us.” As well as turning out for Dynamo and Ukraine in his playing days, Rebrov was also a striker for Tottenham and West Ham. And the 40-year-old added: “Of course I am still following Tottenham, West Ham – all the teams I played for. “I’m glad because I think Tottenham are getting better. (Spurs striker) Harry Kane is a very good forward, scoring not just lots but some very important goals. “I’m also very pleased for my good friend Tim Sherwood (his former Tottenham team-mate), who is doing a good job as Aston Villa manager. “The Premier League is always interesting for me, whether you are playing in it or just watching it. And it is a very hard league.” Martinez, who guided the Merseyside outfit to a fifth-placed top-flight finish last season in his first campaign in charge of them, said: “We know the severity of the situation in the league. “We have 10 games to go, and we will take that as 30 points to fight for and 10 finals. “But the only focus for now is Dynamo. “We don’t want to take things lightly. The last time we were involved at this stage was 2008. “You should not underestimate how much work has been put in over the last 16 months to get into this position. So we must focus on this tie, and the home leg, which is vital. “European football is something we want at Everton. “I think we have enough quality and experience to understand that tomorrow we need to make it a big European night at Goodison, and then the responsibility in the dressing room will be to get ready after that for the next game (the Premier League home game against Newcastle on Sunday). “One competition should not get in the way of the other.”
A remarkable first campaign at the helm has led to continental football returning to Southampton for the first time in 12 years, with Vitesse now standing in their way in the Europa League third qualifying round. “It was a great experience for me,” Koeman said. “It was my first club to be first-team manager. “At that time, Vitesse was growing. It was two years because they got some problems with the chairman at that time and with the sponsor of the club. “After that, the club was a little bit more down and now it’s in a new situation in the club because they have an owner who is connected to Chelsea. “In my time, we played in front of 25, 26,000 people every home game and now if they play against Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord, there is 20,000 or 22,000 maximum. “Maybe the people lost a little bit of the connection, the feeling with the club, because it is not really like before. I don’t know. That’s from a distance.” Koeman is referring to the relationship with Chelsea which goes back to 2010, when Vitesse became the first Dutch club to be bought by foreign investors. Nemanja Matic, Patrick van Aanholt and Tomas Kalas are among a string of players to have swapped west London for Arnhem on a temporary basis. After being part of the backroom team with the Dutch national team and Barcelona, the former defender took his first step into management at the turn of the millennium in Arnhem. Koeman’s time at the GelreDome was short but relatively successful, setting him on a path which included stops at the likes of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord, Benfica and Valencia before taking the reins at St Mary’s last summer. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman believes Chelsea’s influence makes former club Vitesse Arnhem a difficult club to coach. Izzy Brown, Lewis Baker, Nathan and Danilo Pantic are the current crop farmed out by Chelsea – a situation which would make Koeman uncomfortable as Vitesse head coach. “I didn’t have that at that time and I don’t know,” he said. “It looks like it is difficult, it looks difficult for the manager because you start every season with a new team and that’s difficult. “It is difficult to have really the spirit in the team, I think, because all the young players come to play, but they still like to go back to Chelsea or even to play at a higher level. “I don’t know if I can work in that. I don’t know.” Southampton are favourites to win the third qualifying round first leg against Vitesse, which Emmanuel Mayuka and Gaston Ramirez will not be available for on Thursday. The former has been linked with a move to Spartak Moscow and told he has no future at St Mary’s, while Ramirez, a club-record £12million signing in 2012, has yet to prove his worth to Koeman. “The future is difficult because Gaston has had a lot of injuries in the last two years and that’s the big problem of Gaston,” he said. “We had a good hope for this pre-season but after one week he was injured again. “He didn’t travel with the team to Austria or Holland and it is difficult because the rest of the players are in good shape. “You come from behind and the past is not very positive. You know his situation. “We have a lot of young people coming into the squad and we have enough strikers and for Mayuka there is no future in the club. There is some contact with Les Reed about Mayuka.” Press Association
Press Association Monk got the better of Louis van Gaal twice last season as Swansea completed the league double over United for the first time, two of the real low points in the Dutchman’s first campaign as his Old Trafford tenure took time to make an impact. But, ahead of their reunion at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, Monk feels van Gaal is moving in the right direction after further heavy investment in this summer’s transfer market and believes they must produce their “best performance of the season” to take anything from United this time around. That is not an insignificant comment considering they drew at Chelsea on the opening day of the season, but Monk feels United are ready to challenge once more for the title they last won in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign in charge in 2012-13. “They can win it with the squad they’ve got after the amount of money they’ve spent,” Monk said. “With the quality they have, they should be competing for the title. “You can see that they are going to be right up there contending for it and I think that’s probably the minimum standard for Manchester United. “They had a transition period last season with the new manager coming in. They’ve seen his way or working and this season they look a stronger outfit.” United have yet to concede in the Premier League so far this season with clean sheets kept against Tottenham, Aston Villa and Newcastle. But they have scored only twice in picking up seven points from those games and, despite a comprehensive Champions League victory over Belgium’s Club Brugge in midweek, the jury remains out on whether United have found the right attacking formula to trouble top-flight defences. “They’ll be looking to carry on the momentum they’ve started the season with, so it’s important we battle our way into it and show our quality as well,” Monk said. “So far we’ve managed to produce a good level of performance and it’s important we keep the standard we’ve been setting. “But we have to produce probably our best performance of the season to make sure we come away with the right result.” Wayne Rooney ended his 10-game United goal drought with a hat-trick in Bruges but Monk said it came as no surprise to him. “When strikers aren’t scoring or going through periods they’re not scoring they’ll always get questioned, especially at the level, the type of player he is and what he’s done in his career,” Monk said. “But there’s never any danger that a player like that will stop scoring goals. He’s done it throughout his career. “He scored some good goals in midweek and he’ll be confident. “It’s something we have to nullify and do the best we can to stop them adding more goals to their tally, but the important thing for us is to impose ourselves on the game.” Swansea manager Garry Monk expects Manchester United to be Barclays Premier League title contenders this season.