Manchester City pick on me because I play for my country, says Kolo Toure

Kolo attack! City pick on me because I play for my country, claims disgruntled Toure

Former captain Kolo Toure appears to have paved the way for a January exit from Manchester City after launching a stinging attack on the Barclays Premier League leaders.

The Ivory Coast defender has hardly played for City this season after missing the first part of the campaign through suspension.

Now Toure would appear to have burnt his bridges at the Etihad Stadium by claiming he is being left out for reasons nothing to do with football.

City slicker: Kolo Toure has fallen out of favour at Manchester City

City slicker: Kolo Toure has fallen out of favour at Manchester City

In an interview in France, Toure claimed he is still paying for missing Premier League games while at the Africa Cup of Nations two years ago and rubbished 20-year-old City defender Stefan Savic.

The comments are remarkable after City stood by him during his six-month drugs ban.

Toure said: ‘I know my qualities and I have got nothing to prove here in England. They know me here. When you look at the performance of Savic against QPR, excuse me but I am relaxed.

Turning your back: Toure claims he is marginalised over his decision to represent his county

Turning your back: Toure claims he is marginalised over his decision to represent his county

‘To compete in the Africa Cup of Nations is catastrophic for a player these days. Coaches no longer want to sign players because of it. I feel it’s going to be more difficult for the Africans in football in the future.

‘I’m convinced that, if I’m not playing for City, then it’s not only for football reasons. If it was only about that then I would be playing every week. I’m a victim of that and it has to be said.

‘When I was in Angola for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010 the club hired a plane so that I could get back quickly to play in a game against Manchester United. I could not get back in time and we lost. I believe the club have not got past that and I’m paying for it now.’

Toure was a key signing for City in 2009 and was made captain by former manager Mark Hughes.

However, the former Arsenal defender lost his place last season and was then suspended for six months by the FA after failing a drugs test at the start of this year.

Toure has failed to re-establish himself in Roberto Mancini’s Premier League team because of the form of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott at the heart of the City defence. His appearances have been largely restricted to the Carling Cup and one Champions League game, a 2-0 defeat at Bayern Munich in September.

Toure believes African footballers in general are being discriminated against because of their obligations to the Africa Cup of Nations. Next year’s tournament takes place in January and will see Toure and brother Yaya leave City for three weeks after Christmas.

Kolo Toure added: ‘Clubs at this level always have big squads. It goes one way and then the other. I was captain here and so was Carlos Tevez. He is no longer here and who would have thought that would have happened African players are the victim of discrimination.’

Unimpressed: Toure hit out at the performance of team-mate Stefan Savic

Unimpressed: Toure hit out at the performance of team-mate Stefan Savic

Toure has interested newly wealthy French club Paris Saint-Germain and may join them in the January transfer window.

These latest comments will not endear him to Mancini after the club stood by the player during his ban that came after he took a diet pill given to him by his wife.

Another City defender, Aleksandar Kolarov, is expected to be out for four weeks with a groin problem.

Meanwhile, Manchester City have given AC Milan permission to speak to Carlos Tevez’s representative, according to the Italian club’s vice-president Adriano Galliani. The Serie A champions are interested in signing Tevez on loan in January.

Chelsea must be defensive, like Andre Villas-Boas

Like Villas-Boas, Chelsea must go on the defensive to preserve their Champions League place

However animated Andre Villas-Boas might have been when his side scored their second goal at Newcastle on Saturday, Chelsea’s manager was keeping such emotions in check on Monday night.

He was candid enough in response to certain questions. Particularly when it came to the isolation of Nicolas Anelka and Alex and whether that result at St James’ Park represented a pivotal moment in Chelsea’s season.

‘We would not be arrogant enough to think that,’ he said. ‘Our results have not been impressive and we need to start performing with more consistency before we can believe we are back on track.’

On the defensive: Andre Villas-Boas was giving little away prior to Chelsea

On the defensive: Andre Villas-Boas was giving little away prior to Chelsea”s crunch Champions League clash

But he was also more measured, defensive even; as defensive as his side need to be against Valencia this evening and defensive with regard to what started to feel like the elephant in the room at Stamford Bridge. Basically, what happens should Chelsea fail to progress beyond the first stage of the Champions League

On three occasions Villas-Boas refused to countenance such talk, insisting he had not even thought about the consequences of a result that would propel Valencia into the last 16 and leave Chelsea in UEFA’s second-tier competition for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.

Even with home advantage, it is a precarious position Chelsea find themselves in. A win sees them through, as does a goalless draw. But any other result, from a 1-1 draw to a win for a classy Spanish side sitting third in La Liga — one who have won five of their last six league games — leaves Chelsea and their manager facing some rather more difficult questions.

Villas-Boas recognises it will not be easy, not least because the circumstances for both clubs have changed somewhat since they last met back in September.

Stretched: Chelsea have made hard work of their routine Champions League group

Stretched: Chelsea have made hard work of their routine Champions League group

‘Valencia are in a better moment now,’ he said, knowing full well that the same cannot be said of Chelsea.

He can only hope that the events of the weekend do suggest some kind of turning point. The win at Newcastle, the words of support from Didier Drogba, even the fact that the 34-year-old Portuguese has received the backing of his employers in the way he has dealt with Anelka and Alex. On Monday he might have recognised them as ‘top professionals’, but they were not involved in training during the day.

Danger man: Roberto Soldado

Danger man: Roberto Soldado

‘For players on the transfer list the reality is that, eventually, the mind-set is not the same,’ said Villas-Boas.

It sounded brutal even if it probably amounts to the right decision. As long as he has read the situation correctly and believes the dressing room will be comfortable with such treatment of friends and colleagues.

This being Chelsea, the issue of whether the manager had the support of the players was never far away. Villas-Boas insisted he did. ‘Yes,’ he said in direct response to a direct question, having already had the unequivocal support of the articulate Daniel Sturridge.

‘I am behind the manager and I believe everyone else is,’ he said. ‘He’s going to be here for the next three years.’

If Chelsea are eliminated from the competition and poor results then come against Manchester City and Tottenham it becomes a struggle to see Villas-Boas still being around much beyond the next three games.

But there is a feeling at Stamford Bridge that Tuesday night might not be that critical for the manager, and that it is only a ‘life and death’ game within the context of the competition; that only if Chelsea start to slip down the Premier League table and out of contention for next season’s Champions League would Abramovich start to get an itchy trigger finger. History suggests otherwise, but there you go.

More of the same: The wild celebrations at St James

More of the same: The wild celebrations at St James” Park would be most welcome again on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea v Valencia: Match preview

Clearly, though, a good result would ease the kind of pressure Villas-Boas was obviously under until Salomon Kalou scored in the 89th minute against Newcastle and Chelsea were no longer vulnerable to the kind of late goal that has proved costly already this season.

On this point Villas-Boas was dismissive, however.

‘It’s irrelevant what the game represents to me,’ he said. ‘It represents, for this club, the continuation in this competition or not, so we approach the game with maximum care and with confidence.’

Villas-Boas said that Juan Mata had been useful in preparing for a game against his former club, even if he said it was impossible to ‘guess Valencia’s strategy’.

He spoke of the Spaniards being highly motivated and recognised the threat posed by players such as Jonas, Tino Costa, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba; not to mention the prolific Roberto Soldado. But he also said Chelsea would not be vulnerable to that classic continental counter-attacking style because of the more ambitious approach he has tried to implement.

‘We have more or less tested four different formations,’ said Villas-Boas. ‘The talent of these players and their qualities allow us to play what is best for the team in a precise moment.’

The key, though, is something Drogba touched on at the weekend when he said the players needed to get behind the manager. ‘There’s full belief in what we’re doing,’ said Villas-Boas. ‘We saw a great team spirit at Newcastle, and to score three there gives the value of this team a lot of credit.’

More credit tonight would still be most welcome. Not least for the manager.

Fulham 1 Liverpool 0: Christmas comes early for Jol as Reina gifts Cottagers win

Fulham 1 Liverpool 0: Spearing has off night as midfielder walks for reckless challenge

Premier League highlights

Few grounds can be decorated for the season of goodwill quite as cosily as Craven Cottage, bedecked with fairy lights and holly and a giant Christmas tree outside the dressing rooms.

But if ever a game defied its quaint location then here it was: a thrilling and pulsating skirmish laced with bitter feeling and controversy.

Clint Dempsey scored the only goal, tucking in a rebound after Pepe Reina spilled a shot he ought to have held from Danny Murphy, five minutes from time.

Jumping for joy: Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring Fulham

Jumping for joy: Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring Fulham”s winner against Liverpool

MATCH FACTS

Fulham: Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Dempsey, Murphy (Gecov 90), Etuhu, Ruiz, Dembele, Zamora (Johnson 71).

Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Kasami, Hughes, Frei, Briggs.

Booked: Dembele, Dempsey, Senderos.

Goals: Dempsey 85.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Spearing, Adam, Bellamy (Downing 77), Suarez, Carroll (Kuyt 77).

Subs Not Used: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Carragher, Kelly.

Sent Off: Spearing (72).

Booked: Bellamy.

Att: 25,688

Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).

Liverpool were already a man down after Kevin Friend decided Jay Spearing’s aggressive midfield challenge on Moussa Dembele was reckless enough to be worthy of a red card in the 72nd minute.

Spearing won the ball cleanly but he followed through hard into Dembele’s ankle and left the Belgian writhing on the ground.

Martin Jol thought it was a red card but Liverpool certainly did not, with seven players surrounding referee Friend to dispute the decision, which could easily lead to an FA charge for intimidation.

There was no shortage of flashpoints or talking points. Dempsey clashed angrily with Craig Bellamy in the second half, with Fulham’s match-winner fortunate to stay on the pitch after going head to head and screaming in Bellamy’s face.

It seemed an over-reaction to a clumsy challenge from the Liverpool striker, who stepped on Dempsey’s foot as he chased him from behind. Bellamy pleaded his innocence, wiping his face to suggest he might have been sprayed with spit. Both players were booked.

Philippe Senderos, too, could have been dismissed. He was booked for a cynical foul on Charlie Adam on the edge of the penalty area. It was very close. It could easily have been interpreted as a penalty. Bellamy’s free-kick took a deflection and flashed wide.

Soon after, Senderos dragged Andy Carroll down in an off-the-ball clash. It was caught on the television cameras but it escaped the officials.

Winner: Dempsey slots home after Pepe Reina spilled Danny Murphy

Winner: Dempsey slots home after Pepe Reina spilled Danny Murphy”s effort

Clint Dempsey of Fulham scores the opening goal

From start to finish there was also a running battle between the home crowd and Luis Suarez, which ended with the Uruguayan flicking a finger towards the stands as he left the pitch after the final whistle to chants of ‘Cheat, cheat, cheat’.

He had worked hard up front alongside the largely anonymous Carroll and his frustration built up and boiled over as Liverpool dominated the first half but failed to beat the excellent Mark Schwarzer.

The Aussie keeper made a string of brilliant saves from Carroll, Adam and Jose Enrique but kept his best for the closing minutes, when he tipped a long-range effort from his former Middlesbrough team-mate Stewart Downing on to the post.

Out of order: Liverpool

Out of order: Liverpool”s Luis Suarez made a gesture to Fulham fans after they had taunted the striker

Jordan Henderson also rattled the woodwork in the first half. Collecting the ball on the left, the midfielder quickened his pace and skipped between Dempsey and Murphy before curling the ball towards the far corner.

This time, Schwarzer was well beaten and relieved to see it thud into the post and bounce away to safety. Henderson was involved again, moments later, linking up well to produce another glimpse of goal for Carroll but this time Hangeland’s challenge was enough to deny the 35million England striker.

Harsh Jay Spearing was sent off for this foul on Fulham

Harsh Jay Spearing was sent off for this foul on Fulham”s Mousa Dembele

Suarez took issue with what he thought was too much physical attention from Fulham’s central defenders, Hangeland and Senderos, in the first half.

He raised the issue with referee Friend, who seemed to respond by encouraging the striker to try harder to stay on his feet but the next time Suarez went to ground, Friend blew for a free-kick. Dembele, who made the challenge, kicked the ball away in a temper.

Suarez was jeered off at half-time and tension resurfaced when he burrowed into the Fulham penalty area once again, fell under an innocuous challenge from Hangeland and grabbed the ball.

Incensed: Kenny Dalglish felt Spearing was harshly treated by Kevin Friend

Incensed: Kenny Dalglish felt Spearing was harshly treated by Kevin Friend

On the advice of his linesman, the referee gave a free-kick to Fulham.

Ultimately, Spearing’s red card changed the game, giving Fulham a little extra hope and a little extra space in midfield at a time when they were bracing themselves for a late onslaught from the visitors.

Liverpool had dominated but Jol’s team had always been dangerous on the break and their slick approach helped contribute to a wonderful spectacle.

Controversy: Spearing is given his marching orders (above) as Liverpool

Controversy: Spearing is given his marching orders (above) as Liverpool”s players protest (below)

Liverpool players surround referee Kevin Friend after he sent off Jay Spearing

The initial tackle appeared to have been made just outside the line, but contact continued well inside the area.

Friend was well positioned and refused to award a penalty with Bellamy hitting the free-kick into the wall.

Carroll, Liverpool”s 35million signing from Newcastle, saw a shot head towards the corner flag and was taunted with chants of “what a waste of money”.

Suarez had his goal disallowed and Liverpool”s frustration boiled over in the 72nd minute when Spearing was sent off for his challenge on Dembele.

Crunch: Dempsey and Craig Bellamy came together as they challenged for the ball

Crunch: Dempsey and Craig Bellamy came together as they challenged for the ball

Reina made a good save after only six minutes to thwart Dembele, then another from Dempsey, who also hit the bar with a vicious strike before he scored the winner.

The victory, Fulham’s first at home in the Premier League since they thrashed Queens Park Rangers 6-0 two months ago, relieved the pressure on Jol and eased the team a couple of places away from the relegation zone.

An ankle injury to Murphy in stoppage time, however, marred the celebrations but Fulham’s disappointment will be as nothing compared to Liverpool’s.

Poor show: Andy Carroll (centre) had an off night in front of goal as the striker

Poor show: Andy Carroll (centre) had an off night in front of goal as the striker”s struggles continued

Kenny Dalglish brought the Reds to Craven Cottage after six away wins in succession. They won twice in the neighbourhood against Chelsea and three points last night would have launched them back into the top six, primed for a festive assault on the top spots.

It did not quite go to plan. Spearing’s red card gives the manager a midfield problem after the long-term knee injury suffered by Lucas Leiva, Carroll continues to look like a very expensive misfit and Suarez could be back in bother.