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APRIL 01 – APRIL 07, 2010


Rafa pleased to silence the critics LIVERPOOL


Zola’s tragedy, Lampard’s marvel


teve Bruce couldn’t help but flash a small grin after hearing taunts of ‘your head is as big as a beach ball’ during a 3-0 defeat against Liverpool at Anfield. One manager who could ill-afford a smile over the weekend though, was West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola. A naturally bubbly and optimistic character, the Italian is balding faster than Benjamin Button and is losing his wits, charisma and perhaps most importantly, games that should be moving the Hammers further away from the drop zone. Zola, in need of some reflection time, headed to Sardinia to clear his head. The former Chelsea star is fighting a personal battle, one frighteningly similar to that of Leonardo Di Caprio’s character on Shutter Island. Whether he is in Italy or outside the gates of Upton Park it will be hard to escape the fact that it has been 43 years - which ironically is Zola’s age - since West Ham last suffered six consecutive league defeats. Zola fears that he might be one of the reasons why such a talented squad find themselves battling at the wrong end of the table and is thus unsure of whether he should walk the plank or stick around to see whether West Ham do or don’t avoid the drop. If he decides to wave arrivederci to Upton Park, Zola will no longer be remembered as a tragic hero, but rather as a coward who failed to stand by his own tactics, ethos and ideas of how to play the beautiful game. Zola calling it quits would be almost as disappointing as Aston Villa’s implosion against Chelsea, or should I say, against Frank Lampard in particular. The midfielder, who has been subjected to years of mockery over his non-existent weight problems, hit four goals past Martin O’Neill’s men and capped his performance off with two inch-perfect assists. Apart from temporarily ending Villa’s bid for a Champions League spot, Lampard netted his 151st goal for the club, which will be giving Sir Alex Ferguson a nightmare or two before Easter Saturday, when Manchester United host Chelsea at Old Trafford. The league’s best two squads, strikers and managers go head to head in a game that is sure to decide the title. With Chelsea having no European exploits to worry about, I’m putting my head on the block - Zola style - to predict that the Blues will leave Old Trafford with all the spoils before singing ‘We are the champions, champions of England’ come May.

LIVERPOOL manager Rafa Benitez believes the Reds’ 3-0 win over Sunderland on Sunday proves he has not adopted more negative tactics this season. Two goals from Fernando Torres, taking his tally to seven in four matches and 18 in 21 Premier League appearances, either side of Glen Johnson’s deflected strike, secured an eighth successive home league win. What was more impressive, however, was the opening 45 minutes in which Liverpool destroyed Sunderland with a high-tempo, attacking game. It would not have flattered the Reds had they been six goals to the good at half-time instead of the 2-0 scoreline they had to settle for. Centre-back Daniel Agger had three good chances, Maxi Rodriguez’s near-post header was tipped over by goalkeeper Craig Gordon while Torres also hit the post and then bundled the rebound wide. It left the always-difficult-to-please Benitez more than satisfied as he felt it justified his much-criticised tac-

Benitez: Orchestrated win over Black Cats tics. “Always you try to do your best and play a bit better,” he said. “But today we started with a really high tempo, passing the ball well and scoring an early goal always helps,” he said. “With the same tactics we scored more goals than anyone in the Pre-

mier League last year and more goals than anyone in England two years ago. “It is a question sometimes of accuracy, pass completion or just a little bit of luck.” Benitez paid tribute to the quality of Torres’ strikes, but the exacting manager stressed his star strik-

er could still get better. “It (the first) is one of Fernando’s better goals but also, with the second one, sometimes it is not just a good strike but to do the right thing at the right moment,” he added. “For me both goals were good.” A return to top goal-scoring form will no doubt have pleased Torres, who missed five weeks of the season after a knee operation in January, but he has continually stressed that the club needs to invest in players to keep him happy. Benitez said his - and his players’ - main concern was to secure Champions League qualification. “At this moment the main thing for all of us is to try to play well and win games and we will be closer to the top four,” added the Reds boss. “We know we have to keep going. You can see the players have confidence and if we play at this level we will win more games for sure. “That is the best way for the manager, the staff and players to move forward so we will try. “We are working behind the scenes to improve things for the future but now it is best to concentrate on football.”

Zola determined to stay and fight for West Ham WEST HAM Fabregas: Still happy at Arsenal

Fabregas rules out Barca return - again ARSENAL CESC FABREGAS has again expressed his happiness at Arsenal and insisted he does not want to join Barcelona or any other Spanish club. The Gunners captain was part of the Barcelona youth system before being brought to England by Arsene Wenger during his mid-teens, and quickly established himself in the Frenchman’s first team. The Spaniard has subsequently developed into one of football’s most influential midfielders and, as a result, has regularly been linked with a return to his old club. Real Madrid are also admirers of the 22-year-old, but Fabregas has no intention of seeking a move back to his homeland and insists he wants to win some silverware at Emirates Stadium. “We don’t need to talk about my future,” Fabregas told the Daily Star Sunday. “I don’t understand all the rumours about me. “I’ve always said that I’m happy at Arsenal. I can say a thousand times that I won’t go to a Spanish club, but nobody believes me. “Arsenal is my home and I don’t have any plans to leave.”

GIANFRANCO ZOLA says he is “determined to carry on” as West Ham manager amid reports he was set to quit the club this week. The Italian’s future has been the subject of intense speculation for the last few days after a disastrous run of form. The Hammers slumped to their sixth successive loss on Saturday after going down 1-0 at home to Stoke and after the game Zola admitted he was set to consider his future at Upton Park over the weekend. Zola has now decided to stay on and has vowed to lead the side to safety with the club currently above the drop-zone on goal difference “I am determined to carry on,” Zola told the club’s official website. “Losing on Saturday was emotional for everyone but I know we can turn it around and we have the ability to achieve our objectives.” “The owners have backed me and I am grateful for that. My only thought for now is to keep this club in the Premier League and that remains my goal. “I will give everything I can to make this happen between now and the end of the season. I’d have had time to think and reflect, and will have to work harder than we have

before. “I know we can get the results we need and it is just a question of making it happen. The performance was better on Saturday but it is still not the level we should be at. We can, and we will, do better as a team.” West Ham face Everton next Sunday and Zola is targeting a shock win at Goodison Park to boost his side’s survival hopes. “We will go to Everton determined to get a result,” added Zola. “People might not expect us to get something from the match but we will be positive. No one should write us off. “Although we are in a serious position we have time to sort things out and be in control of our destiny at the end of the season.” Zola admits their last six games will be like ‘cup finals’ as they aim to avoid slipping into the Championship. “We said before Stoke that one game would not define the season but we also know that each of the games we have left will be cup finals,” contined Zola. “They will be massive and I know the fans will once again get behind us starting with Everton and we will give everything to reward their support. They have been brilliant and we owe them.”

Zola: Under pressure

Trotters keen to keep Wilshere BOLTON BOLTON boss, Owen Coyle, has told Arsene Wenger he would be “delighted” to keep Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere on loan for another season. Wilshere joined Bolton during the January transfer window until the end of the season and the midfielder

has been hugely impressive during his short time at the Reebok Stadium And Coyle will ask Arsenal to see if there is any possibility of extending Wilshere’s loan spell for next term. “That’s a conversation for the summer, but I felt he was terrific (against Manchester United on Sat-

urday) and showed a mature head on young shoulders,” Coyle told the Daily Star. “That’s great for Arsenal, Bolton at the moment, and English football in the future. “If Arsene Wenger wants to give him to me for another year, I’d be delighted to take him.”


MELISSA REDDY WEST HAM ARSENAL LIVERPOOL BOLTON tics. “Always you try to do your best and play a bit better,” he said. “But today we started...