Rooney to miss out on ManUnited clash with Norwich

rooneyWayne Rooney was a surprise absentee from Manchester United’s squad for their Premier League clash against Norwich on Saturday.

Rooney had scored in United’s 3-2 win at Hull on Boxing Day but just 48 hours later there was no sign of the England striker at Carrow Road.

The 28-year-old, who has scored 11 times for United this season, didn’t travel with the champions to Norfolk and there was no immediate explanation for his absence.

Javier Hernandez replaced Rooney in United’s starting line-up, with the Mexico striker supported by Ryan Giggs and Shinji Kagawa, while Michael Carrick started in midfield.

Defender Rafael da Silva also missed out with a groin problem and Serbia’s Nemanja Vidic returned as one of five changes by boss David Moyes.

We are not afraid of facing ManCity-Iniesta

iniBarcelona are “not afraid” of facing Manchester City in the Champions League last 16 next month, the Spanish giants’ emblematic midfielder Andres Iniesta said in an interview published on Saturday.

Last week Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure said Barcelona – who he used to play for – were afraid of their impending clash because of the English club’s excellent form.

“They are quite afraid about us, the way they see us play in the Premier League at home especially, they’re quite scared,” said the 30-year-old, who joined Manchester City from Barcelona in 2010.

“We play fantastic football and we score goals, it’s total attack. But it’s going to be a tough game and for us we know if we’re to win we need to be at the top of our game.”

Asked about Toure’s comments during an interview with Spanish sports daily Marca, Iniesta said: “We are not scared. This is football, the Champions League and Barca can’t be scared of anyone.”

“It’s going to be an intense and exciting tie. I think City was the toughest side we could have drawn and will prove a good test for us,” the 29-year-old added.

Iniesta, who signed a three-year contract extension with Barcelona on Monday which will keep him with the La Liga leaders until at least June 2018, said he would like to end his career at the club.

“I think I still have many years left playing at the highest level and only time will tell where I end up. I’d like to end my career at Bara, but ultimately, my career will be defined by what I’ve won,” he said.

Under the deal he signed last week, after 2018 Iniesta’s contract will be automatically extended annually if he has played a certain number of matches in the previous season.

Winner of three Champions League trophies with Barcelona in 2006, 2009 and 2011, Iniesta was also key to Spain taking the World Cup in 2010 and being crowned European champions in 2008

Arsenal should be afraid of us-Pardew

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew insists Arsenal should fear his in-form side ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash at St James’ Park.

The Gunners put their title push back on track with a 3-1 win at West Ham on Boxing Day and will be hoping to end the year as top-flight leaders.

But Newcastle have moved within touching distance of the top four after a 5-1 thrashing of Stoke and Pardew believes Arsenal will not relish their trip to Tyneside.

When asked about the Gunners’ good form, he said: “Yes they are, but so are we and I think they will be as fearful of us as we are of them.

“We are at home and we will be expected by our fans to win the game.

“We are looking forward to Arsenal as we have a lot of confidence. The spirit is very high and the team is working hard together. That’s why we are going the right way.

“Arsenal are fighting to win the league. It’s good, because we have played well against big teams.

“We try to play a similar way – we want to play good football. I think it’s going to be a nice game to watch.”

Pardew admits there is a healthy competition for places in the Magpies squad, which is stark contrast to last season when his side was hampered by a lengthy injury list.

“Last year, it was difficult to try to find 11 players to play. At the minute, it’s difficult to find players to leave out,” he said.

“We are in great shape and we take it into the next game. That’s all you can do in my experience of this league.”

We are not selling Balotelli-Ac Milan

baloAC Milan have denied speculation that striker Mario Balotelli will be available to buy in next month’s transfer window.

Reports emanating from Italy claimed Milan president Silvio Berlusconi was ready to listen to offers for Balotelli after a bust-up with the former Manchester City forward.

Balotelli’s future at the San Siro has been the subject of conjecture for some time, with the 23-year-old reportedly unsettled with life with the Rossoneri.

Milan have moved quickly to dismiss the rumours and insist the Italian is not for sale.

“AC Milan deny absolutely and with strength the declarations that would have been referred to the Milan president about an unthinkable collocation of Mario Balotelli on the market,” read a club stament.

“Mario Balotelli is and remains a Milan player.”

Balotelli has made 12 Serie A appearances for Milan this season, scoring six goals in what has been a disappointing season for the Rossoneri this term.

Xavi Alonso to extend stay at Real Madrid

xavi aThe Madrid-based paper has claimed that the midfielder mulled over the decision last night, and has asked his agent Inaki Ibanez to begin negotiations on a new contract.

Los Blancos have attempted to tie the Spain international to a new deal for almost six months now – with his current contract set to end in June 2014.

Reports on Friday suggested that the former Liverpool man had decided to leave Santiago Bernabeu.

But Marca have insisted on Saturday that Alonso will now sit down with President Florentino Perez and discuss terms.

Talks on a new deal won’t begin until after January 6.

The issues up for discussion will be the length of the contract and his wage packet. The 32-year-old will want a minimum two-year extension, with a possible optional third year related to his performances and fitness. As for the financials, a salary of around €7 million a season is likely.

The sports daily has also revealed quotes attributed to Cristiano Ronaldo, telling Los Blancos to sign his team-mate Alonso as soon as possible.

“Xavi is irreplaceable,” he is believed to have said. “There is no one else like him.”

We'll beat Newcastle, i'm sure of it-Wenger

wengArsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident his title-chasing side can pass another stern test when they head to Newcastle on Sunday.

The Gunners returned to the top of the Premier League table after coming from behind to win 3-1 at West Ham on Boxing Day.

This weekend, Wenger’s side face a Newcastle side with aspirations of breaking into the top four after winning seven of their last nine games, including a 5-1 hammering of Stoke last time out.

“Newcastle are in full confidence, they are doing well and won again on Boxing Day with a big score,” said Wenger, whose side are a point clear of second-placed Manchester City in the Premier League table.

“That will all be another test, but our team wants to do well, the character is great and our concentration is top.”

Arsenal will be without top-scorer Aaron Ramsey for their next two matches and possibly even the FA Cup third-round tie with Tottenham after he suffered a thigh injury at Upton Park.

However, Wenger does have options in midfield, with Lukas Podolski, who came off the bench to score against West Ham, returning to full fitness and Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere also vying for a starting place.

“We have a very short time to prepare, but maybe we can rotate a little bit as well,” said Wenger. “I will have to make the right decisions.

“I rested (Santi) Cazorla for a few games and you could see against West Ham he had an outstanding game and what a difference that makes when the player is fresh.

“I rested (Tomas) Rosicky, (Jack) Wilshere will come back from suspension, so we will have two more options.

“We have (defender) Laurent Koscienly who can maybe come back as well, maybe who is fresh as well.”

Coach Mirko Slomka sacked

sacjHannover have sacked their long-serving coach Mirko Slomka after a miserable first half of the season.

The former Schalke coach took the reins in January 2010 and saved the club from relegation that season before qualifying for Europe on two occasions.

However, they have endured a dismal 2013-14 campaign so far, losing all eight of their away games, and now sit only four points clear of the relegation zone. As a result, the club opted to relieve Slomka of his duties.

“It was not an easy decision for us, but we became convinced that we want to change things,” Hannover sporting director Dirk Dufner said in a statement to the media.

Club president Martin Kind personally thanked Slomka for his great efforts and said that the two consecutive appearances in Europe “will always be connected to his name.”

The Bundesliga side want to present a new coach within the next few days, with Greuther Fuerth coach Frank Kramer believed to be among the candidates.

Slomka is the fourth Bundesliga coach to lose his job during the 2013-14 season, with Bruno Labbadia leaving Stuttgart, Thorsten Fink exiting Hamburg and Michael Wiesinger departing Nurnberg

Former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace Mackay as Cardiff Boss

sodCardiff City owner Vincent Tan has made arrangements to name former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Malky Mackay’s replacement, according to widespread reports.

Solskjaer is currently in charge of Molde, where he has won two league titles and Norway’s main cup competition, and has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs in recent years.

Cardiff, who have finally dismissed Mackay after a long period of uncertainty, now appear confident of giving the 40-year-old his first managerial role in England.

Molde press officer Per Lianes told Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper on Friday that there had been no developments over Solskjaer’s position, but Sky Sports News reported on Saturday morning that he is the only man on Cardiff’s shortlist and The Guardian also puts Solskjaer as the No.1 target.

The Sun, meanwhile, quotes a source close to Tan as saying: “Solskjaer is the manager Vincent has chosen. It’s 90 to 95 percent on the way to being done.”

The Daily Mirror also quotes a source as saying it is “95 percent certain” that the former Norway international will take charge, adding: “We are very confident — and he will be given whatever it takes to keep the club in the Premier League.”

The Sun suggests he will be given 25 million pounds to strengthen the squad next month, with the 3-0 defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day leaving the Bluebirds just one point clear of the relegation zone.

Tan was upset with Mackay and his staff for overspending by 15 million pounds in a summer spending spree that saw the club break its transfer record on three occasions, and the club released a statement warning he would not be given “a single penny” in January when the Scot requested further funds.

Mackay had then been told to quit or be sacked and, although he was granted a stay of execution, Thursday’s defeat brought an end to his reign.

One of Tan’s associates told The Sun it was on-field results that ultimately resulted in Mackay losing his job rather than off-field strife.

The associate is quoted as saying: “They’ve only won four league games, won two of their last 12, and the goal difference is minus 15. The team are one point above the relegation zone and Mr Tan did not go into this to get relegated. It was time for a change.”

Zanetti undecisive on retirement

ZANJavier Zanetti has yet to make up his mind whether he will carry on playing beyond the summer, but he is certain he wants to remain at Inter Milan, even if it is not as part of the playing staff.

The 40-year-old recently made his return to action after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and with no negative reaction shown to that injury, extending his playing days by another year is a serious consideration for a man who has worn the Nerazzurro shirt for over 18 years.

Even if the former Argentina international does hang up his boots in May, he will instead put on a black and blue tie and carry on devoting his days to the Serie A club, although he told Italy’s ANSA news agency he has no intention of putting on a tracksuit and coaching once his playing days are over.

“I just want to end this season as well as possible and then we’ll see together with the club what is the best thing to do,” Zanetti said.

“My wish is to continue being part of this great family. I would work as a part of the managerial staff, but not coaching because even though I have a lot of experience, I’d say I’ve seen enough of training camps in these 20 years.”

Zanetti has seen plenty of trophies in that period too, not least the 2010 Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble. Taking another shot at the Champions League next season is a realistic goal, considering Inter are only five points behind third-placed Napoli at the turn of the year.

“We could make it into the Champions League because the league’s very even and there are lots of games to come,” Zanetti said. “I didn’t see a great difference between us and Napoli when we played them.”