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Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina must prove he"s still the No 1 at Anfield

Liverpool goalkeeper Reina must prove he's still No 1 at Anfield

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UPDATED:

22:46 GMT, 16 November 2012

Brendan Rodgers is ready to re-launch
Pepe Reina's season but has warned the goalkeeper he is facing the
biggest challenge of his Liverpool career.

Reina has missed the last seven games
with a hamstring problem that he initially sustained on internatinal
duty but, now he is fit again, the Spaniard is poised to replace Brad
Jones between the posts for Saturday's game against Wigan Athletic.

Close eye: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and Pepe Reina

Close eye: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and Pepe Reina

Jones has not done much wrong during Reina's spell on the sidelines and the fact Rodgers is facing a decision to make about who to play has shown how much things have changed for him.

Since arriving at Liverpool from Villarreal in the summer of 2005, Reina has been the automatic choice as No 1 but while Rodgers has no doubt doubts about his ability, he wants to see an improvement in his form.

'I have no doubt with Pepe Reina,' said Rodgers. 'He has been very impressive since I came here and it's all about confidence. It happens to every goalkeeper. Look at Joe Hart against Sweden.

'He didn't seem to have that same happiness and physicality he had a few months. I have one of the top goalkeepers in the world, a top guy who is intent on making himself a better keeper and when we have that we have one of the best in Europe.

Focused: Reina during training

Focused: Reina during training

'He is really committed to his work, a model professional. I have been talking regularly with him to help him get back to the levels that he wants to be at. Pepe is determined to be a top goalkeeper here for next the nine or 10 years.'

There was a spell a couple of seasons ago when Reina was undoubtedly the best in the Barclays Premier League but his form has dipped over the last 18 months yet Rodgers feels the improvement Jones has made can actually help the 30-year-old back to where he once was.

'It's important for any player to know they have a challenge,' said Rodgers. 'Brad had been here two years and played four games, once from the bench. He's played ten games this season and done well, which is a credit to him.

'When I arrived he was number three but he has stepped up to the plate and I've seen great improvements in him over these months. He's shown that in his performances, so whatever happens we have a goalkeeper who has grown in confidence.'

Pepe Reina must prove he"s safe hands

Reina must prove he's safe hands as Liverpool stopper's form begins to raise questions

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 21 September 2012

For a man who is a creature of habit and exceptionally superstitious, the demolished petrol station on the road to Anfield will be troubling Pepe Reina.

Liverpool's goalkeeper follows a bizarre pre-match routine that involves him stopping at the same garage before every home game, regardless of whether he needs one litre or a couple of gallons, to ensure his tank is full to the brim.

This summer, though, the forecourt that has been as vital psychologically to Reina's preparations as any warm-up drill has disappeared.

Questionable: Pepe Reina's form has been erratic in recent weeks

Questionable: Pepe Reina's form has been erratic in recent weeks

Sadly for the Spaniard, so has his form. Mistakes against Hearts and Arsenal have highlighted the problem, but he would be the first to recognise that standards have slipped in the last two years.

Given Reina's iconic standing among Liverpool supporters and the outstanding reputation he holds within the game, that appraisal may seem harsh but just consider this self-assessment he gave during an interview with Sportsmail in December 2010.

'I'm not happy at all,' he said. 'I can be better in many ways. I'm disappointed because you always want to be really consistent and helping the team. I want to improve.'

Managers have changed since then but were you to ask him for a synopsis of how he has started this campaign, the answer would be the same.

As much as Liverpool need to beat Manchester United on Sunday, Reina needs a big performance in a big game.

Only a couple of years ago Reina,
whom Rafa Benitez signed from Villarreal for 6.5million in 2005,
smashed a club record for keeping 100 clean sheets in less than 200
appearances and crowned his first three campaigns by winning the Golden
Gloves.

So what has gone amiss There are a
number of theories.

The first is that there is a lack of competition for
a starting place as Reina's deputies Brad Jones and Peter Gulacsi are
not up to playing regularly in the top flight.

Come on! Some believe the frequent changes of coaching staff at Liverpool could be a factor

Come on! Some believe the frequent changes of coaching staff at Liverpool could be a factor

Secondly, there is a perception that he has become frustrated by Liverpool's inability to compete.

Perhaps the most significant point, though, centres on the coaching he is receiving.

Reina had a close bond with Jose Ochotorena when he first arrived and the rapport continued with Xavi Valero.

Any chance Although first choice at Liverpool, Reina is behind Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes in the Spain pecking order

Any chance Although first choice at Liverpool, Reina is behind Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes in the Spain pecking order

Since then he has worked with Mike Kelly – Roy Hodgson's long-time ally – and, currently, the former Tranmere keeper John Achterberg.

Many wonder whether the changes are impacting on Reina. There have been stories that the 30-year-old will be moved on but he has no desire to leave.

Just as importantly, Brendan Rodgers wants him to stay. 'I've never had a problem with Pepe,' said Rodgers. 'He's a key member of the squad.'

But until he recaptures his top form, questions will keep being asked. What better place to start answering them than in the biggest game of all.

Manchester City out to do it the hard way as Real Madrid loom in Champions League opener

Manchester City out to do it the hard way as Real Madrid loom in Champions League opener

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UPDATED:

14:32 GMT, 15 September 2012

Manchester City's rapid rise continues apace as they return to the Champions League as champions – and with a 'mouthwatering' trip to European heavyweights Real Madrid – next week.

City tasted the continent's elite competition for the first time last season but it ultimately proved a mere side story in the most memorable campaign of their recent history as they landed a first title in 44 years.

Coming after the FA Cup success of the year before, that represented the next step in the Eastlands revolution that began with Sheik Mansour's takeover of the club in 2008.

Now, having put last season's group stage exit down to experience, City will attempt to flex their growing muscle in the Champions League once again.

Up for it: Manchester city are chomping at the bit to get their second Champions League campaign started

Up for it: Manchester city are chomping at the bit to get their second Champions League campaign started

But to do so, it will have to be done the hard way with a group draw even tougher than last year's Napoli, Bayern Munich and Villarreal assignments.

This time they face Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, all past winners and last season's top teams in Spain, Holland and Germany respectively – a true champions league.

City first-team coach David Platt said: 'For me, any Champions League draw is going to be difficult but if you're going to progress in the competition, you're going to have to do well.

'I think it's a great point for the football club that Manchester City are drawing Real Madrid in the Champions League. I think it's a mouthwatering prospect.'

City's maiden Champions League campaign will eternally be remembered for the night in Munich last September when Carlos Tevez infamously did not appear as a substitute.

Rearing to go: Roberto Mancini will look forward to harnessing a refocused Carlos Tevez

Rearing to go: Roberto Mancini will look forward to harnessing a refocused Carlos Tevez

An almighty row between club and player over whether or not the striker had refused to play erupted and cast a shadow over most of the rest of the season, a significant portion of which Tevez spent in Argentina without permission.

But while City were without Tevez's talent and experience for most of their last European campaign – a factor which may have been critical as they were edged out despite accumulating 10 points – this term could be markedly different.

Tevez, 28, has returned this season with his appetite for City renewed – he is leaner, hungrier and in form.

Mancini said: 'Carlos is improved with his behaviour – he worked serious in pre-season, I think he is another player with us.'

Another player Mancini believes will
get better this season – despite making a remarkable impact since his
38million club record move from Atletico Madrid – is Tevez's countryman
Sergio Aguero.

The 24-year-old struck 30 times in his debut season at the Etihad Stadium but Mancini thinks there is still plenty more to come.

Aguero is hoping to play a part at the Bernabeu after recovering from the knee injury suffered against Southampton last month.

When asked if Aguero can get better, Mancini said: 'I think so. It is difficult to score more than 20 goals in the first season in the Premier League. But this year if he is lucky with injuries I think he can score more goals.'

Swansea expect to unveil Michu on Friday

Swansea set to unveil 2m Michu on Friday after midfielder agrees three-year deal

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UPDATED:

18:36 GMT, 19 July 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Swansea City expect to wrap up a 2million deal for Rayo Vallecano midfielder Michu on Friday.

The 26-year-old, who scored 15 goals
in La Liga last season, completed a medical in south Wales on Thursday
and has agreed personal terms on a three-year deal at the Liberty
Stadium.

Soon to be a Swan: Michu is close to joining Swansea

Soon to be a Swan: Michu is close to joining Swansea

Michu is the third new signing of
Michael Laudrup's reign, following the arrival of midfielder Jonathan de
Guzman on loan from Villarreal and the 2million signing of Chico from Genoa,
and his arrival is seen as something of a coup at Swansea.

His form last season – he was the
highest scoring midfielder in the Spanish top flight – drew interest
from Manchester United, Liverpool and Seville.

But Rayo Vallecano's dire financial
state has forced them to sell the Spaniard for well below the 3.14m
release clause in his contract.

Euro 2012: Cesc Fabregas in Spain squad

Injured Fabregas in Spain squad as Pedro gets nod after brace in Copa del Rey final

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UPDATED:

12:11 GMT, 27 May 2012

Barcelona forward Pedro has been rewarded for his two goals in the Copa del Rey final on Friday by being included in Spain's 23-man squad for the European Championships.

Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo was also selected among manager Vicente del Bosque's strikers, meaning there was no place for Roberto Soldado or Adrian Lopez despite the latter's goalscoring debut against Serbia on Saturday.

Atletico Madrid's Juanfran is included thanks in part to an injury suffered by Andoni Iraola in the cup final and Cesc Fabregas also makes it despite being ruled out for just over a week with a hamstring strain.

Midfield maestro: Pedo has made the cut and will feature for Spain this summer

Midfield maestro: Pedo has made the cut and will feature for Spain this summer

SPAIN SQUAD

Casillas (Real Madrid), Valdes (Barcelona), Reina (Liverpool)

Alba (Valencia), Albiol, Arbeloa, Ramos (all Real Madrid), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Pique (Barcelona), Martinez (Athletic Bilbao)

Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas (all Barcelona), Alonso (Real Madrid), Silva (Manchester City), Cazorla (Villarreal), Navas (Sevilla), Mata (Chelsea)

Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Torres (Chelsea), Negredo (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona).

Del Bosque fielded five debutants in the 2-0 win over Serbia and of those, Adrian made the strongest impression as he opened the scoring and won the penalty from which Santi Cazorla sealed the victory.

The coach told Marca: 'All those that have been with us can feel a little hurt.

'We have taken them and left them, but in August there are new squads. They need to be aware that they are very close to the national team.

“The seven that have been left out are a little upset, but they are good sportsmen. It was unthinkable that someone would debut and then come with us.

'We always had Pedro in mind. He has had an irregular season like many others, but we valued his trajectory over the medium term and for this reason we have taken him. We need wide players that are efficient and can complement the bench.

'I didn't have the Olympics in mind when it came to Adrian. Mata and Javi Martinez will be in the same position. We have preferred other options, but we recognise that he has been brilliant in these days with us. He has done everything very well.

Fine form: Spain celebrate their friendly win over Serbia

Fine form: Spain celebrate their friendly win over Serbia

'Negredo and Soldado are two extraordinary and distinct players. One is quicker but the other offers more to the play of the team.'

Del Bosque also reflected on how the squad had evolved since winning the World Cup in South Africa two years ago, but again lamented the absence of David Villa and Carles Puyol through injury.

'Villa is irreplaceable, for his characteristics and effectiveness no one can do better than him,' he said. 'We feel the same with Puyol, who is also a fundamental miss for us.

'We have come four years since the last Euros and there has been a 50 per cent change in what was a relatively young squad. There were seven changes before South Africa and three since.

Missing out: Adrian Lopez has not been included in Spain's squad

Missing out: Adrian Lopez has not been included in Spain's squad

'It is a ratification of the fact we are building usefully. Groups have to go and be filled with new people but we have a plenitude of players and I don't expect such a generation to last. However, we cannot have any doubt in these players.'

Finally, the former Real Madrid boss touched on those who did not make the squad due to last-minute injuries, as well as Fabregas' hamstring strain.

'In the case of Cesc the doctors are optimistic. We didn't believe there was any chance of not naming him.

'Thiago Alcantara has a problem of certain importance that also puts his participation in the Olympics in doubt and in the case of Iraola, he has all our appreciation but it seems he has been playing with a great desire and is not physically right.'

Real Madrid reveal plans for holiday resort in UAE

Smile Jose, it'll be fun! Real Madrid unveil plans for holiday resort in the UAE

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UPDATED:

16:11 GMT, 22 March 2012

Real Madrid have unveiled plans to build a $1billion holiday resort in the United Arab Emirates that is due to open in January 2015.

'Real Madrid Resort Island' will be supported by the government of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the club said on Thursday.

A presentation at the Bernabeu showed plans for sports facilities, a marina, luxury hotels and villas, an amusement park, a club museum and a futuristic 10,000-seat stadium with one side open to the sea.

Cheer up, Jose: Mourinho (centre) at the unveiling of Real Madrid's holiday resort on Thursday

Cheer up, Jose: Mourinho (centre) at the unveiling of Real Madrid's holiday resort on Thursday

Getting shirty: A UAE ambassador with club legend Zinedine Zidane (centre) and striker Karim Benzema

Getting shirty: A UAE ambassador with club legend Zinedine Zidane (centre) and striker Karim Benzema

'It is a decisive and strategic step that will strengthen our institution in the Middle East and Asia,' said Real president Florentino Perez.

The 430,000-square metre facility is expected to attract around one million visitors in 2015.

Real, nine-times European champions, said the artificial island's location put it equidistant between Europe and the Far East, adding that more than half of their estimated 300 million followers were based in Asia.

But one man present at the unveiling of the plans looked decidedly unimpressed. Madrid manager Jose Mourinho could not force a smile for the cameras.

Glum: Mourinho looked downcast with Benzema and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos (centre)

Glum: Mourinho looked downcast with Benzema and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos (centre)

Frustration: Real Madrid dropped more points in the La Liga title race at Villarreal on Wednesday

Frustration: Real Madrid dropped more points in the La Liga title race at Villarreal on Wednesday

Perhaps that has something to do with his team's result on Wednesday night. Despite Cristiano Ronald scoring yet again, for the second time in four days the La
Liga leaders conceded a late free kick as they slipped to a
1-1 draw at Villarreal.

And, not only that, Mourinho, who had already been warned
by the referee and had seen one of his assistants ejected for
complaining, was sent off in the 84th minute for protesting the foul that set up Marcos Senna's equalizer for the Yellow Submarine.

Madrid's Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil were then both sent off a minute later as Madrid played the final five minutes with nine men.

The dramatic draw on Wednesday broke
Madrid's 10-game away winning run and allowed Barcelona to close to
within six points as the title race enters its home stretch with 10
games to play.

Real Madrid draw with Villareal

Mourinho sent off as Madrid are held at Villarreal to offer Barca hope in La Liga title race

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UPDATED:

23:32 GMT, 21 March 2012

Nine-man Real Madrid suffered another La Liga title wobble at El Madrigal as Marcos Senna struck an 83rd-minute equaliser to grab a 1-1 draw for struggling Villarreal.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring on 62 minutes for Jose Mourinho's men, who had seen their 11-match winning run in La Liga ended by a home draw with Malaga on Sunday.

Dejected: Real Madrid were held to a draw at Villarreal

Dejected: Real Madrid were held to a draw at Villarreal

Leveller: Marcos Senna fired home a free kick to earn Villarreal a point

Leveller: Marcos Senna fired home a free kick to earn Villarreal a point

But after Senna's leveller the visitors imploded with Mourinho sent from the dugout and Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil both red carded as Madrid were forced to settle for limping six points clear of second-placed Barcelona.

Mourinho was dismissed for his reaction to the equaliser, Ramos for a second yellow card and Ozil for apparent dissent all in the space of three minutes.

Opener: Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid ahead at Villarreal

Opener: Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid ahead at Villarreal

Opener: Cristiano Ronaldo put Real Madrid ahead at Villarreal

Maradona City break will give Aguero and Tevez a boost

Maradona City break will give Aguero and Tevez a boost

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero has received a morale-booster with a family visit from father-in-law Diego Maradona.

The former Argentina player and
manager is now boss of Dubai team Al Warsi and flew in on Saturday to see
his daughter Giannina, Aguero and two-year-old grandson Benjamin before
City play Porto in the Europa League on Wednesday.

Best of friends: Maradona and Tevez

Best of friends: Maradona and Tevez

Aguero recently said: 'He follows me pretty closely. He always wants to know how we are getting on and we keep in regular contact.'

The timing of Maradona's visit is perfect for Aguero, who has dropped below peak form in recent weeks and has managed just two goals in his past eight matches.

Boost: Sergio Aguero not in top form

Boost: Sergio Aguero not in top form

City's players return to training on Monday after a weekend off and Carlos Tevez will be told to continue training on his own following four months at home in Argentina.

Intriguingly, Maradona knows both Tevez and the manager he has fallen out with, Roberto Mancini.

City have been hit with a third UEFA charge of the season relating to the behaviour of their supporters.

UEFA have accused City fans of causing danger by letting off fireworks before kick-off in Oporto on Thursday.

The club have already been fined around 5,000 for a similar offence this season against Napoli and they were also punished when objects were thrown by City fans on to the pitch against Villarreal.

In contrast to the speed with which they charged City, UEFA are being slow to investigate claims that Porto fans racially abused Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure.

Kenny Dalglish hails Liverpool defence

Dalglish hails team effort as Reina maintains impressive clean sheet record

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish believes the whole team can share the credit for goalkeeper Pepe Reina moving to the top of the pile in terms of Barclays Premier League clean sheets.

The goalless draw at home to Tottenham on Monday may have been disappointing in some respects but it earned the Spain international his 10th shut-out in 24 matches.

That put him level with Manchester City's Joe Hart in the race for the golden glove, which Reina won in three consecutive seasons from 2005.

Fine form: Pepe Reina ensured Tottenham failed to score at Anfield

Fine form: Pepe Reina ensured Tottenham failed to score at Anfield

In 244 league appearances for Liverpool since joining from Villarreal in July 2005 he has kept a total of 118 clean sheets.

And while the 29-year-old has undoubtedly played a key role – highlighted when he made a good block to deny Gareth Bale in a late one-on-one at the start of the week – Dalglish feels everyone has contributed.

'The clean sheet on Monday was Pepe's 10th of the season, which puts him at the top of the list in the division,' said the Reds boss, whose side have the second best defensive record behind leaders City.

'But while it is the goalkeeper who gets the recognition, everybody plays a part in achieving those clean sheets.

'Pepe made a really good save late on in the game on Monday and, like the rest of the team, made an important contribution to us getting the result.

'Like everything else, whether you're attacking the goal or whether you're defending it, everybody has to be taken into consideration.

'They have all made a contribution to us not losing too many goals.'

Solid: Daniel Agger (right) has formed a good partnership with Martin Skrtel

Solid: Daniel Agger (right) has formed a good partnership with Martin Skrtel

'The forwards work hard to play their part and you could go straight through the team,' Dalglish told LFC Weekly.

'In the same way, everybody contributes to making a goal.

'Individuals rightly receive praise on occasion but the most important thing for us is that they are in it collectively.

'That's the reason why they have been successful. It's a good recipe.'

The form of centre-back duo Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel has helped tighten things up at the back with the latter, in particular, impressing in recent weeks.

Further up the field it has been summer free transfer Craig Bellamy who has stood out, taking over as leading scorer with nine goals while Luis Suarez was serving his eight-match suspension.

That form earned him the player of the month award for the second time since re-signing for the club in August.

Leading the way: Craig Bellamy was named Player of the Month for January

Leading the way: Craig Bellamy was named Player of the Month for January

But after a hectic January, which saw Liverpool play eight matches, progress to the Carling Cup final at the expense of Manchester City and knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup, the Wales international believes the team are now well placed to kick on in the final third of the season

'It's been a tough month for us but fortunately we've come through it and going into February we're in good shape,' said the 32-year-old.

'We had eight games in the space of three or four weeks and the squad's been tested.

'We've got a chance to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals if we beat Brighton, we're in the final of the League Cup, we're four points off fourth and have a fully fit squad.

'We have a good chance to up the charge and end the season on a real positive note.'

Valencia 1 Barcelona 1: Messi misses penalty as Barca are held

Valencia 1 Barcelona 1: Messi misses penalty as Barca are held at Mestalla

Lionel Messi had a penalty saved as Barcelona drew 1-1 at Valencia in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at the Mestalla.

The Argentinian wasted the chance to put the visitors in front after Carlos Puyol had cancelled out Jonas' opener for the hosts.

The visitors rode their luck in the first half, though, and might have had goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto sent off inside 20 minutes when a clear handball outside the area went unspotted by the officials.

Gutted: Lionel Messi holds his head in his hands after missing a penalty

Gutted: Lionel Messi holds his head in his hands after missing a penalty

Barca went into the game on the back of a goalless draw with Villarreal which dropped them seven points behind Real Madrid in the race for the Primera Division title, and struggled early on against Valencia.

They had a let-off when Pinto rushed off his line to close down Roberto Soldado and was out of his area when he stopped the ball with his arm as the striker looked to poke it past him.

Denied: Messi sees his penalty saved as Barcelona drew at Valencia

Denied: Messi sees his penalty saved as Barcelona drew at Valencia

The offence went unpunished, though, and the keeper survived another scare when Soldado volleyed powerfully over from an Ever Banega corner.

Alexis Sanchez stabbed horribly wide when through on goal for Barca, but Valencia were on top and went ahead in the 27th minute when Jeremy Mathieu raced down the left and pulled the ball back for Jonas to sidefoot into the top corner.

Goal: Barcelona's players celebrate after Carles Puyol scored against Valencia

Goal: Barcelona's players celebrate after Carles Puyol scored against Valencia

But Puyol headed Barcelona level in the 35th minute, moments after Alves had brilliantly turned Sanchez's shot round a post.

The Chilean had a goal ruled out for offside three minutes after the break, going a fraction too early as he looked to run out to a Messi through-ball.

The Argentinian's night was not going any better as he saw his penalty saved in the 56th minute.

In front: Jonas scored the opening goal for Valencia before Barcelona hit back

In front: Jonas scored the opening goal for Valencia before Barcelona hit back

Thiago Alcantara was clearly tripped in the area, but Messi's weak penalty was a good height for Alves and not close enough to the corner, the keeper diving to his left to push the shot away.

Substitute Dani Alves fired against the far post when he should have scored as the Catalans dominated the second half, but they could not find a winner.