Warnock seeks Bluebirds fight

Neil Warnock is hoping to see his Cardiff City side rise to the occasion when they play host to title-chasing Liverpool at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Bluebirds gave themselves a massive boost in their bid to escape relegation from the Premier League when they won 2-0 at fellow strugglers Brighton on Tuesday evening, with City now just two points adrift of safety.

However, their next assignment could hardly even any tougher, with the visitors top of the table going into the weekend action and also having qualified for the Champions League semi-finals.

Warnock told reporters at his pre-match press conference: "We'll just have to play the best we can and put in a good performance against one of the best sides in the world at the moment.

"I don't like my teams losing concentration and the fans are really looking forward to it, so we've got to give a good account of ourselves for them.

"I don't want it to be an occasion where we say it's a lovely day and get battered; I want us to put up a fight and that's what we've been working on.

"We've got to keep those good standards up for the rest of the season."

When the two sides met at Anfield earlier this season the Reds claimed a comprehensive 4-1 victory, while the last time these two sides met in South Wales the visitors stormed to a 6-3 triumph.

Liverpool are 1/5 to win the game on Sunday and are 3/1 to do so by a two-goal margin, with the Merseysiders 4/6 to keep a clean sheet.

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Solskjaer plotting United future

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned his players that they are still playing for their futures in the closing weeks of the Premier League season.

Having enjoyed initial success after taking over at Old Trafford just before Christmas, Solskjaer has seen his side's form dip in recent weeks, with the Red Devils having lost five of the last seven games they have played in all competitions.

And the former United striker says he will be monitoring things very closely in the coming weeks, with the club expected to be big movers in the transfer market in the summer.

He told reporters ahead of a Sunday trip to Goodison Park to take on Everton: "There's no hiding place and everyone can see what your level is at. The performance on the pitch will determine where they're at – if it's short term or long term.

"I've learnt a lot about them over the months I've been here. Most of them have really impressed in their attitude and some need to get a reality check of where they're at.

"But most of the players know they can improve if they keep working as they do."

United are currently in sixth place in the Premier League standings, but they are just two points behind Arsenal, who currently occupy the all-important final Champions League spot of fourth.

The Red Devils are priced at 11/4 to finish in the top four, with the Gunners available at 4/9 and Chelsea 13/8.

Meanwhile, Solskjaer also confirmed that both striker Alexis Sanchez and midfielder Nemanja Matic are back in contention for the clash with the Toffees.

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Le Fondre strike beats Glory

Sydney FC beat minor premiers Perth Glory for the second time this season and closed in on second spot when they won 1-0 at Jubilee Oval.

The Sky Blues picked up a fifth victory in seven games to move five points clear of third-placed Melbourne Victory.

The performance was not the big statement Sydney FC fans had hoped for ahead of the Finals Series, and the only goal of the game won't make any highlight reels of 2018/19.

But Adam le Fondre's 16th goal of his first campaign for the Sky Blues was enough to down the visitors as they suffered just their third loss of the season.

The Glory made six changes to their squad and left five of their first team regulars at home.

Coach Tony Popovic handed his 17-year-old son Kristian his debut off the bench in the second half, and he came closest to a goal when his long-range shot threatened to drop into the net.

Perth weren't able to fashion a shot on goal, but neither did the hosts pose much of a threat up front.

The goal came eight minutes before the break, when a well-weighted Anthony Caceres cross found Paulo Retre at the far post and his header was deflected into lap of le Fondre standing on the goal line.

It was an unmissable chance, and gave him his first A-League goal in seven weeks.

The Sky Blues almost doubled their lead five minutes into the second half when le Fondre slipped a pass through Perth's defence to find Retre but the fullback could only find the side netting.

That miss was nearly punished moments later when Fabio Ferreira missed the target with a half-volley against his former team.

Meanwhile, Brisbane Roar are 7/2 to beat Newcastle on Saturday. The Jets are 7/10, while the draw is 16/5.

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McKay calling time on long career

Brisbane Roar captain Matt McKay has two final games in front of home fans before he heads into retirement.

The 36-year-old former Australia international is bringing down the curtain on his 18-year professional career.

The Roar are out of the running to make the A-League Finals Series, so McKay will bow out when the Roar face Adelaide United at Suncorp Stadium on 25th April.

Born in Brisbane, McKay holds the club's record for league appearances having played for them since the start of the A-League.

He led the club to their first championship and premiership in 2010-11 before moving to Scottish side Rangers.

He spent one season with the Glasgow club then played for South Korean side Busan IPark and Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League before returning to Brisbane for a second spell in 2013.

McKay played every game in Australia's Asian Cup campaign in 2011 when they lost to Japan in the final, and was also in the squad when they won the tournament on home soil in 2015.

He won 59 caps between 2006-16, scoring twice, for the Socceroos.

After returning to the Roar, McKay helped the club under Mike Mulvey win another A-League double in 2013-14.

"I'm grateful for everything football has given me," he said. "I've had an enjoyable career with plenty of highs and lows, but I've always had a smile on my face and that's what's made it for me.

"I've always tried my hardest and I think that's what has made my career last as long as it has – I've always given my al. I was there from day one at the Roar and played with some immense players with a great work ethic, which has been really special."

Brisbane Roar are 7/2 to win their next game against Newcastle Jets, who are 7/10 with the draw 16/5.

Benitez tells Magpies to focus

Newcastle United head coach Rafa Benitez has warned his players against losing focus before his side are certain of securing their Premier League status for another season.

The Magpies are seven points clear of the drop zone ahead of their clash with Southampton on Saturday and Benitez does not want uncertainty about the futures of both himself and some of his squad to get in the way of his preparations.

He told reporters: "I just concentrate on preparing the team and preparing for the next game.

"I have to try to keep the players focused – that is the difficult thing because everyone has their own future ahead and they are thinking about different things.

"We have to manage different players in different ways, but the only thing you can do is make sure you train well and explain things the best you can.

"My concern, when I was reading different stories about players, is that we are losing focus. We still need to win another game.

"We need to make sure we are safe and then, after that, if people start to lose focus, okay. But at the moment, we have to be sure we can get another three points."

Benitez only has two major injury absentees for the meeting with the Saints at St James' Park, with Florian Lejeune and Sean Longstaff (both knee) both long-term absentees.

The meeting of the two sides on the South Coast earlier this season ended goalless and another 0-0 draw on Saturday is priced at 13/2, with a 1-0 Newcastle victory available at 13/2, while the hosts are 13/8 to keep a clean sheet.

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Sarri voices Chelsea concerns

Boss Maurizio Sarri warned his Chelsea side that they have to stop starting slowly after half-time in games, despite having reached the semi-finals of the Europa League.

The Blues completed a 5-3 aggregate success against Slavia Prague by winning the second leg of their quarter-final tie 4-3 at Stamford Bridge, but the hosts made it a tougher evening than it needed to be by conceding two goals inside the opening nine minutes of the second half.

And it was that situation which concerned Sarri, who has seen his team do something similar on a number of occasions in recent games and who is aware that Chelsea will need to tighten up if they want to reach the final.

He told the club's official website: "We did very well in the first half and of course we are really happy to reach a European semi-final, because we know that is not easy.

"To reach the final would be great for us, but we need to study Eintracht Frankfurt very carefully now, because they are a great team with a wonderful striker in Luka Jovic.

"At half-time I told them to start with the same application as they started the first, but we didn't do it. It's not easy to understand.

"It's a problem we have had for the last two months where we start the second half badly. We need a solution to solve this because in the last ten matches it has been the same.

"Maybe at the end of the first half we thought we had qualified already, but against this opponent that wasn't true."

Chelsea are now priced at 6/4 to win the Europa League, with Arsenal available at 5/2 and Valencia 7/2.

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Injury puts paid to Ramsey

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey may have played his last game for the club after being injured in the 1-0 Europa League quarter-final second leg victory at Napoli.

Wales international Ramsey, who has agreed a move to Italian giants Juventus in the summer, is a doubt for the final weeks of the campaign due to a hamstring problem which forced him off after 34 minutes of action in Naples.

An Alex Lacazette free-kick eventually proved decisive in the game, with the Gunners completing a rock-solid 3-0 aggregate success to set up a semi-final clash with Valencia.

However, head coach Unai Emery admitted that the win had been clouded by the potential loss of Ramsey.

He told reporters: "It is a muscular injury, normally it will be some weeks out for him. He was in a very good moment, he was playing with a big commitment to do something important for us.

"His injury can give us some matches without him. I don't know if we'll see him again before the end of the season."

Meanwhile, Emery was delighted with the overall performance of his side, who have now kept six clean sheets in their last seven games in all competitions.

The Spaniard added: "It was a very difficult game, but we made it look easier because we played really well. We controlled the game really well and we defended really well too.

"We scored the goal which was very important for us and it gave us a big advantage after the first leg. Then we defended really well and created some good opportunities going forward."

Arsenal can now be backed at 5/2 to win the Europa League, with Valencia priced at 7/2 and Chelsea available at 6/4.

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Europa League: Emery Marks Milestone With Comfort in Naples

Napoli 0-1 (0-3 on agg.) Arsenal

In his 50th game as coach for Arsenal, this was a memorable evening for Unai Emery.

A place in the semi-finals of the Europa League – a competition he has won three times – secured with something to spare and a tie now against one of his former foes in Valencia.

The us Europa League 2019 betting odds on an all-English final next month grow closer.

Highlights of the game

The Partenopei have strong European home form this season and dream of emulating their UEFA Cup triumph of 30 years ago.

Although Napoli knew the task in front of them as they trailed following last week’s first leg. Arsenal absorbed home pressing early on with relative comfort and it took an important block by Allan to prevent the hosts falling behind.

Had they scored first, it would have been game on – and they went close a few times.

In the 17th minute, Kalidou Koulibaly started the move which led to Jose Callejon being denied the opener by Petr Cech.

Arkadiusz Milik had a goal disallowed, flagged for offside (there is no VAR in operation in this tournament), and then sent a header wide from a Piotr Zielinski ball.

Alex Meret got behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot before the Gunners suffered a blow when Aaron Ramsey pulled up with a hamstring injury.

However, no sooner had he been replaced by Henrikh Mkhitaryan – a winner of this competition two seasons ago – then the crucial goal arrived.

Alexandre Lacazette’s free-kick was well executed, but the Napoli wall and its positioning will have disappointed boss Carlo Ancelotti.

A Zielinski shot charged down on the stroke of half-realistically signalled that any chance of a comeback was over.

Two fine saves by Meret– one for the Europa League 2019 highlights collection – kept out Aubameyang early in the second period and there was more home frustration as Dries Mertens bundled the ball home at the other end only to be once more ruled out by the offside flag.

Over 2.05 @ 2.08 Arsenal Asian Handicap -0.25 @ 2.14 1X2 Arsenal @ 2.50 Third Line text CLICK HEREDisclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.Premier League

Their spirited efforts remained as Milik’s goal-bound effort was deflected away by Laurent Koscielny and the same player should have done better after an attempt from a Mario Rui cross before Koulibaly nodded wide but realistically the home side knew the game was up.

Unbeaten at home in Europe this term and with an impressive record at the Stadio San Paolo, this was one game where they rarely looked like salvaging once Lacazette had extended Arsenal’s advantage.

They are two games away from a first European final since 2006.

Key statistics

Arsenal have now won six of their last 10 matches in Italy.

Since his debut for Arsenal in August 2017, Lacazette has had a hand in 46 goals in all competitions (33 goals, 13 assists), more than any other player for the club.

Napoli have been knocked out each of the last nine times they lost the first leg stretching back to a turnaround against Juventus in the 1989 UEFA Cup quarter-final.

This was Napoli’s 50th match in the Europa League – the 12th club to reach that landmark.

Arsenal have won six of their seven knockout ties in Europa League in the last two seasons. Before that, they had lost in the Champions League round of 16 in seven successive seasons.

Until tonight, Napoli had won five of their seven home fixtures against Premier League opposition, including against Liverpool in this season’s Champions League group stage, Swansea City in Naples in their 2014 UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie, and Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League round of 16.

The Gunners have won both of their previous European quarter-finals against Serie A opposition without conceding a goal – 1-0 on aggregate against Torino (0-0 away, 1-0 home) en route to their 1994 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup triumph, when they defeated another Italian club, Parma, 1-0 in the Copenhagen final, and 2-0 on aggregate against Juventus in the 2006 UEFA Champions League (2-0 home, 0-0 away).

Napoli have won only three of the 13 UEFA competition ties in which they have lost the first leg away, suffering elimination on the last five occasions.

Ancelotti coached Arsenal goalkeeper Cech at Chelsea and was the Real Madrid boss when the Spanish club sold Mesut Özil to Arsenal in September 2013.

What’s next?

Unai Emery has been working wonders for Arsenal in the Europa League

Unai Emery with Aaron Ramsey in the sideline

Napoli host Atalanta on Easter Monday before a trip to Frosinone on April 28 as they aim to secure the runners-up spot in Serie A.

The Gunners’ hectic schedule continues by hosting Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Easter Day followed by a trip to Wolves next midweek.

 

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Premier League: Liverpool’s Title March Heads to Wales

Cardiff City vs Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League bandwagon rolls on to South Wales on Sunday for a huge clash against relegation threatened Cardiff City.

After clawing its way back into the survival race Neil Warnock will have his side set up to fight tooth and nail against Liverpool, and the Cardiff City Stadium will be at its hostile best.

These are often the games which provide the biggest tests; a team with four games left to earn another year at the top flight will never, ever roll over. So Liverpool will need to be at its best, and be patient. The way the Reds are playing they can break down any defence, but they don’t want to get into a war with Warnock’s warriors.

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Talking Points

Reds ready to go all the way

This has been the best Premier League title race in a while, and Liverpool showed just how well prepared they are with a vital 2-0 win over Chelsea last weekend. The Blues’ Eden Hazard has been in scintillating form but Liverpool put on a confident, energetic and ultimately impressive performance to win the game.

Manchester City’s shock exit from the Champions League last night, to Spurs on away goals, will have left Pep Guardiola’s team more determined than ever to take a clean sweep of domestic titles. But is the momentum beginning to swing towards Merseyside?

Liverpool coasted through to the semi-final of the Champions League with a 1-4 win against Porto. Klopp’s philosophy is that his best players can keep playing as long as they are winning; and all three of his main strikers were on target. Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino all scored in Portugal, as did defensive lynchpin Virgil Van Dijk.

Wing back Andrew Robertson has had a superb season for the Reds as a key part of their defence, as well as making nine assists with his incisive runs and accurate crossing.

The Premier League 2019 betting odds still marginally favour Manchester City on the assumption they just can’t lose. But they did against Spurs over two legs…

Cardiff can still catch the falling Seagulls

The Bluebirds are still fighting for their lives, but after defeat last weekend to Burnley they face an uphill battle, but they certainly haven’t given up just yet.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing eyes to secure a positive Premier League 2019 results against Liverpool

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing celebrates goal against Brighton & Hove Albion

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock doesn’t feel his team has been getting fair treatment from the officials recently and his comments have got him into trouble, but anyone who saw Chelsea’s offside equaliser a couple of weeks ago will have some sympathy. And midfield dynamo Harry Arter has issued a rallying call to his team-mates, saying: “We’ve faced adversity this season, on and off the pitch and we feel like if we are going to stay up, we will really have battled against everyone.”

And he adds a dose or realism: “The reason we’re in this position is that over the course of the season we haven’t been good enough at times.

Recent Premier League 2019 results haven’t been going in Cardiff’s favour, with Burnley, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Southampton all easing away from the relegation places.

But the Bluebirds knew that Chris Hughton’s Brighton was still within reach after a poor run of form culminating in a 0-5 home reversal against Bournemouth. And on Tuesday night when the two teams clashed, Cardiff came out on top to claw their way to within two points of the sad Seagulls. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing scored a brilliant early strike to put the Bluebirds ahead before centre back Sean Morrison made the points safe as Cardiff completed a crucial double over Brighton.

With four games left Warnock knows his team must win at least another one, and probably two, to make a dramatic escape.

History

Liverpool has won all five of the Premier League meetings with Cardiff City, the last being a 4-1 victory at Anfield back in October when Sadio Mane scored twice.

While Liverpool has three strikers banging the goals in for fun; Cardiff’s top scorer is Victor Camarasa with five; and Mendez-Laing’s cracker on the South coast was only his second of the season.

Cardiff needs more wins, but may have to wait…Liverpool hasn’t lost in its last 17 games.

Betting Tip

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Cardiff City vs Liverpool Cardiff +2.00 @ 1.90
April 21 23:00

Cardiff is at 15.00 to win with us with Liverpool at 1.21 and the draw at 5.60; so all reason points to an away win.

Warnock is a wily old bird though, and when Cardiff faced Manchester City recently he set his team up to concede as few goals as possible and they went down 2-0. I am sure this game will follow a similar pattern but wouldn’t rule out a goal for the battling Bluebirds.

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Bielsa: We need to stay calm

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa accepts that it is difficult to stay calm as the Championship campaign reaches a climax.

Leeds face Wigan Athletic on Friday and can be backed at 4/11 to beat the Latics, who are 6/1 to be relegated this season.

Sheffield United's recent wobbles have allowed Leeds to move closer to automatic promotion and Bielsa is keen to finish the job off.

"It is true that it is difficult to stay calm," said the 63-year-old former Chile and Argentina manager. "When the atmosphere close to you is excited it is more difficult to be calm inside yourself.

"You need to have a link with the amateur spirit, because then you have a link with the fans and at the same time there are no footballers who are not fans or don't have this feeling. Professionals need to have balance and calm.

"Our objective is to be focused for the three points that we play for in each game. After every game we have to adapt to the new reality that is the table."

Leeds are 1/5 to be promoted this season while Sheffield United can be backed at 4/5 to go up.