Press Association The side will be led by Leigh forward Bob Beswick, who will match Finn’s record of 19 caps, while France will begin a new era following the retirement of regulars Thomas Bosc, Olivier Elima and Gregory Mounis under the captaincy of Jason Baitieri. “Following on from the World Cup, it is probably a slight disappointment that the teams aren’t going to be as strong as the ones which took the field last year,” French coach Richard Agar said. “You lose that continuity and momentum that you build up but, at the same time, I think it gives the new breed of players an opportunity, certainly in France’s case. “We are losing some experienced players who have been representing France for six, seven and, in some cases, 10 years. “They’re not going to be back so one of the themes that our guys have picked up and run with is the fact that this is a new generation of players. “The prize at the end of the day for those guys is to cement their place within the international set-up with the prospect of playing in a Four Nations at the end of it as well.” Fifteen of Agar’s 18-man squad are past or present Catalan players, with Toulouse gainly belated recognition through the late call-up of veteran forward Aaron Wood and young winger Tony Maurel. Ireland (from): M Hadden (Antrim), C Dunne (Athboy), Mikey Russell (Barnhall), S Hesketh (Batley), W Kelly (Belfast Met Scholars), H Peacock (Carcassonne), J Murphy (Dewsbury), L Ambler, C Casey, B Johnston (all Halifax), E Cosgrove (Keighley), R Mulhern (Leeds), B Beswick (capt), M Platt (both Leigh), J Toole (North Sydney), C Mulkeen (Oxford), S McDonnell (St Helens), G O’Keeffe (Treaty City), W Hope (unattached), B Hargreaves (Wigan St Patricks). France (from): J Baitieri (capt), J Bousquet, D Cardace, B Garcia, A Maria, E Pelissier (all Catalan Dragons), K Larroyer (Hull KR), J Fakir (Lezignan), R Marginet, F Vaccari (Palau), T Fages (Salford), J-P Baile, W Barthau, T Margalet, M Pala, M Simon (St Estève), T Maurel, A Wood (Toulouse). Ireland will be cast in the familiar role of underdogs when they launch their European Championship campaign against France in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, but this time they are not without hope. The Wolfhounds found themselves up against big guns Australia, England and Fiji in the 2013 World Cup and, not surprisingly, lost all three group matches. “We learned a lot from that,” Ireland coach Mark Aston said. “When you play against Australia and England there is always that little bit of doubt about whether we’d be able to compete. “But we will go into every game this year thinking we can win and that’s important.” The matches against the French, Scotland and Wales should provide a more level playing field and, with a place in the 2016 Four Nations Series as well as automatic qualification for the 2017 World Cup at stake, there is no shortage of incentive. The Irish secured home advantage for two of their matches from the open draw and Scotland will be the visitors to Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium next Saturday before Aston’s men bring down the curtain on the tournament against the Welsh in Wrexham on Sunday, November 2. Without most of the big games from the World Cup, including skipper Liam Finn who has joined the backroom staff after succumbing to injury, Aston has been forced to bolster his squad with players from Ireland’s fledgling domestic league, a strictly amateur competition. “It’s tough because the funding’s been taken away from Ireland and Scotland so there’s no full-time staff,” Aston said. “It’s all volunteers who are doing some good work and it’s coming on, but it’s slow and it’s always going to be slow when you haven’t got the resources. “But we’re not going to get hung up about it, we’ll give it a good shot and we’ll enjoy ourselves. “We’ve included five domestic players in the 20-man squad and two have got to play, so there’s something for those people playing in the Irish domestic competition to aspire to.”
Burnley were full value for the two-goal lead given to them by Ashley Barnes and Danny Ings, but a header from Brunt just before half-time changed the game. Substitute Brown Ideye then equalised from another corner in the 67th minute to ensure West Brom stayed two points ahead of one of their fellow relegation battlers. Pulis said: “We started as though it was a Sunday morning stroll. Half of them looked as though they were still in bed. They deserved to be 2-0 up. The saving grace was the goal just before half-time. “As soon as I came through the door I knew how hard this one was going to be. The big thing today was not to lose. It is one defeat in six since I came to the football club.” Burnley have let two-goal leads slip in three of their last four games, although at least they held on to a point this time, which was enough to lift them back out of the bottom three. Manager Sean Dyche felt the second goal should have been disallowed for a foul on David Jones and also argued Burnley deserved a late penalty for a handball by Gareth McAuley. “I thought beyond two set-pieces we were excellent,” said Dyche. “First half I thought we were outstanding, the quality of our play, the progressive nature of our play. “The second (goal) was a disappointment, there is a foul on Jonah and he (Ideye) gets a free header. But t he way we responded to the second goal to try and get the third was excellent.” Dyche praised Ings’ performance, with the striker also setting up Barnes for the opener. The 22-year-old had been substituted against Sunderland last weekend amid intense speculation about his future, but stayed true to his word that he would see out the season at Burnley. Dyche said: “I thought he was excellent, his movement, his endeavour, his effervescence and a fine finish. Barnesy was excellent along with him. “I told the truth last week. The amount of media pressure on a young man can take a toll and I think it did last week but his response was excellent.” Saido Berahino lacks the right influences in his life to make the best decisions for his career, according to Tony Pulis. The West Brom boss was unhappy with an interview Berahino gave this week expressing his wish to move on to bigger things and the striker found himself on the bench for Sunday’s Barclays Premier League clash at Burnley. Pulis insisted it was for football reasons, but Berahino played all but the first 18 minutes of the 2-2 draw anyway after Victor Anichebe was forced off with a groin injury. Press Association It is far from the first time Berahino has found himself the subject of unwanted headlines and there have been reports West Brom are willing to cash in on their biggest asset in the summer. Pulis said: ” I felt he could do with a little bit of a rest with two massive games at home coming up. “Victor had done okay in the games we played previously. Unfortunately Victor felt his groin before the game. He wanted to play. After 15 minutes you could tell he was struggling and Saido came on and showed his attitude. “Saido is a top player. The problem is he lost his father at an early age and he has not had many mentors or people who can put him on the straight and narrow. “That happens a lot today. A lot of kids today get misguided advice. There is a lot of money thrown around in football and these kids can provide a lot of money to a lot of people.” Pulis hopes new signing Darren Fletcher can be a guiding hand for 21-year-old Berahino, who was called up to the full England squad earlier this season. Fletcher arrived from Manchester United on Monday and was made captain for his first game, taking the armband from Chris Brunt. “Brunty is happy to give Darren the captaincy and concentrate on his football,” said Pulis. ” I felt Darren was what we needed in the dressing room. We needed a leader and he has been wonderful.”
Press Association Since December, though, the Reds have improved markedly and on Sunday moved within two points of the top four, thanks to a seventh win during a 10-match unbeaten run in the Premier League. “At the start of the year we talked about how losing Suarez was going to have an affect but now we have overcome that,” Liverpool midfielder Allen said, following the latest victory at Southampton. “It took us a little bit of time to overcome that because the injury problems we had were not ideal. “We are certainly back up to that level and if anything with the different system we play this season we might even have taken a step forward. “Sometimes (criticism) gets taken out of hand but I don’t think it was unfair. There was no hiding places and we were not delivering as players. “There was no excuse from us. We knew there might be a difficult patch early in the season and that probably went on longer than we hoped and expected. “At the same time we always knew we would come through it and I think that was the biggest sign we would be where we are at this stage.” As well as the league, Liverpool are through to the FA Cup quarter-finals and travel to Besiktas on Thursday looking to secure safe progress to the Europa League last-16. After coming so close to capturing the Premier League crown last term, things looked like they were unravelling in the wake of the Uruguayan’s Anfield exit. Suarez’s move to Barcelona was compounded by injuries to, amongst others, Daniel Sturridge, and what proved a difficult transition for many summer recruits, leading pressure to mount on Rodgers. Allen says everyone at the club is “digging deep” to cope with their three-pronged attack, epitomised by the resilience showed in winning 2-0 at Saints on Sunday. The St Mary’s encounter was not without its controversy, though, as referee Kevin Friend waved away three strong, first-half penalty appeals from the hosts. Dejan Lovren handled after Filip Djuricic twice went down in the box, first under pressure from Emre Can and then Allen’s challenge. “If I am being honest I didn’t get contact on the ball, which was disappointing because I felt I could get it but missed it,” the latter said. “I didn’t really take him down either so it is one of them where my heart was in my mouth a little bit but at the same time I can see why it wasn’t given.” Those incidents along with others at the weekend led to widespread discussion about the merits of video technology – something Southampton captain Jose Fonte would back. Asked if he would support the introduction of such the measure, the Portuguese centre-back said: “Yeah, I think so, I think it would be a good solution. “It’s one of those days. Nothing went our way. We kept trying, we kept working hard. “They got a great goal really early on and then we put the pressure on them, and we just didn’t have any luck today, either with decisions or in the game itself.” Liverpool have at last adapted to life without Luis Suarez, with Joe Allen going as far as to suggest Brendan Rodgers’ side may even be better now.
He said: “You see the way he plays. He is a kid that is very strong-willed and strong-minded. He should have had a hat-trick, his performance was outstanding. “I will speak to Raheem. Until then, it is something we will deal with internally.” Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes Sterling has been guilty of naivety on occasion over the last year, with regard to his publicised problems away from the field, but added that the youngster can treat the experience as a learning curve. “Whether you’re a Premier League footballer or you’re a 20-year-old kid or whatever, you make mistakes at that age. I did and I’m sure we all do,” Carragher said on Sky Sports. “It’s just important he learns from it because Raheem Sterling, for how good a footballer he is, needs to be on the back pages, not on the front pages and that’s a problem for him in these last few months. “But he’s a young player, he made a few mistakes and hopefully in years to come he learns from them.” Press Association Sterling impressed on the field, scoring the opening goal, but Rodgers was immediately asked about The Sun’s report after the game. Rodgers said: “For me it is something that when you are professional sportsperson at the top level of the game, I don’t think it is something you should be doing. It is as simple as that. “But I will speak to him on it, to see what he says on it. As you can imagine, I have only seen this today. “We want players here who are super-professional and focused on their football. I know he is. He very much is focused on his football and improving as a player. “As I have said before, young players make mistakes. As long as they learn from them, that is what is important.” The matter adds to the controversy currently surrounding Sterling amid a wrangle over a new contract. Sterling risked the wrath of supporters a fortnight ago by admitting he had rejected a £100,000-per-week deal in an interview that was not sanctioned by the club recently. Another newspaper also published pictures of him allegedly smoking a shisha pipe over the weekend. Rodgers stressed that any repercussions following the latest matter would be dealt with internally. He added that he did not feel the matter was a distraction. Rodgers stressed that he felt Sterling was “super-professional” but he would need to speak to the 20-year-old about the latest reports concerning his off-field behaviour. Footage of Sterling apparently inhaling the substance, known as “laughing gas” and described as a legal high, was published on a newspaper’s website during Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat of Newcastle at Anfield on Monday. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has warned Raheem Sterling about the lifestyle he expects him to lead after the striker was apparently filmed taking nitrous oxide.
Nigel Pearson completed his Barclays Premier League rescue mission as Leicester ended their fears of the drop with a 0-0 draw at Sunderland. On an afternoon of few clear-cut chances, the home side enjoyed the better of them in front of a crowd of 46,705 at the Stadium of Light, but failed to work City keeper Kasper Schmeichel hard enough to extend their run of victories to three. However, opposite number Costel Pantilimon enjoyed an equally uneventful afternoon and both Pearson and Dick Advocaat had to make do with a point, an eminently more satisfactory return for the former. The game represented a meeting of two of the in-from sides in the lower reaches of the table with Sunderland having won their last two and the Foxes looking for a seventh victory in eight attempts to cement a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes. Predictably, it unfolded in robust fashion with both teams trying to press the ball and giving no quarter in the search for tangible reward. Advocaat’s men started the brighter and might have taken a seventh-minute lead had Schmeichel not got down smartly to his right to turn Sebastian Larsson’s dipping free-kick around the post. However, Leonardo Ulloa was only just unable to reach the ball after Marc Albrighton headed Esteban Cambiasso’s cross back across goal two minutes later, and Wes Morgan headed tamely at Pantilimon from Albrighton’s 15th-minute cross. But as the half wore on, it became increasingly scrappy with neither team able to exercise any measure of control and Black Cats midfield duo Liam Bridcutt and Lee Cattermole went into referee Martin Atkinson’s notebook as the battle intensified. The home side were enjoying the better of open play with front three Danny Graham, Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham all lively, and Graham saw a close-range 24th-minute shot beaten away by Schmeichel. Press Association The hard-fought point the Foxes collected on Wearside extended their haul to 19 from the last 24 on offer and that, coupled with Hull’s defeat at Tottenham, ensured they can relax going into the final week of the campaign. For Sunderland, however, the wait goes on, although they need a maximum of just one point from trips to Arsenal and Chelsea to be mathematically assured of their place in the top flight next season, although defeat for the Tigers by Manchester United next weekend will do the job for them. But with midfielder Riyad Mahrez starting to make his presence felt, City gradually worked their way into the game, although they exerted the greatest pressure from set-pieces without ever actually troubling Pantilimon. Sunderland full-back Patrick van Aanholt was relieved to see Ulloa’s back-heel from Mahrez’s 47th-minute cross loop off him and over his own crossbar as Leicester resumed in determined fashion. But the home side responded and full-back Billy Jones drilled a cross just over Wickham’s head after a determined run past Jeff Schlupp down the visitors’ left. As news of goals from Loftus Road and White Hart Lane filtered through, the temperature rose at the Stadium of light and with Adam Johnson having replaced the more defensive Bridcutt, Sunderland full-back Van Aanholt whistled a 62nd-minute shot across the face of goal. Johnson tested Schmeichel at his near post with a well-struck shot 18 minutes from time, but as time ran down, the tension began to kick in once again. Cambiasso was handed a chance to put Pantilimon’s goal under pressure with 10 minutes left on the clock, but his free-kick flew high and wide, and substitute Steven Fletcher glanced a header just wide from Johnson’s 84th-minute free-kick as the deadlock remained unbroken. Foxes substitute Andrej Kramaric might have won it deep into injury time when he capitalised on a mix-up between skipper John O’Shea and Pantilimon, but with the goal at his mercy, he could not find the target.
An impressive maiden top-flight season with Burnley has led to the 22-year-old to agree a move to Merseyside at the end of his contract on July 1, continuing a remarkable ascent which started on the south coast. A graduate of the Bournemouth youth system, Ings spent part of the 2010/11 season on loan in the Conference South with Dorchester Town before returning to the Cherries and then moving on to Turf Moor. Press Association That rise makes the striker’s move to Liverpool all the “more special” and he cannot wait to link-up with Brendan Rodgers’ side. “Of course it is a boost being a Liverpool player,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started. “To work with Brendan Rodgers and the players at Liverpool is an unbelievable dream come true for me, really. “I can play in a number of positions, on the left, as a number 10, or off the right. The strikers at Liverpool are fantastic and there will be competition. “The way I looked at it I will get a lot more game time playing in different positions, learning my trade as a young professional, and I think he is the right manager for that. “He is good with young players and as soon as I knew he was interested it was a no-brainer and it was best for me to join Liverpool.” Ings is looking forward to the new challenge that awaits at Anfield, where he will wear the number 28 jersey next season. He wore 10 at Burnley last term but that number is occupied by the impressive Philippe Coutinho – not that the forward believes he would deserve it yet anyway. Danny Ings’ move to Liverpool is an “unbelievable dream come true” but the striker knows he has a lot to prove, which is why he would not dream of wearing a number made famous by true Anfield greats. Ings believes such numbers at clubs like Liverpool are a reward for proven players, which is why he would never dream of taking the number eight vacated by Steven Gerrard or the available seven worn by the likes of Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez. “I stayed away from the low numbers,” Ings said. “You have got to take that pressure off yourself as a young lad coming through. That is what I personally think. “I would make sure I am established before taking any of those numbers,” he continued. “It is such a huge club. That was the thinking behind it. “I wouldn’t want to go to Liverpool and chuck a shirt on my back like that – it is pressure you don’t need. The expectation at clubs like that is huge. “Obviously I am going to work my socks off to earn that number one day. For now I will take a high number and work hard.” Ings is currently away with England at the Under-21 European Championship and Liverpool are planning to give him a three-week break following its culmination. The forward is well aware of the need for a break, but admits he may find it tough to take the full three weeks such is his desire to impress. “I will be raring to go so I will probably only have two and join up with them on tour because I don’t want to be playing catch-up,” Ings said. “I would prefer to be around the squad and ready to go for the start of the season.” There is renewed hope that England could yet make it all the way to the Prague finale following a spirited, if somewhat fortuitous, win against Sweden. The dry Olomouc pitch made it tough for the Young Lions to break down the Scandinavians, but substitute Jesse Lingard’s strike five minutes from the end was enough to secure a 1-0 win. Gareth Southgate’s other changes also made an impact at the Ander Stadium, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressing in midfield and Ings proving a nuisance behind Harry Kane. The Liverpool new boy’s performance as a half-time replacement only strengthens his chances of starting Wednesday’s crunch tie with Italy, but the forward is not getting worked up by his bench role. “You’ve got to put the frustration to one side, really,” Ings said. “You have got to respect who the manager picks and his team and be ready when called upon. I thought I did that (against Sweden). “I just made sure that I was ready for when he was ready to put me on and hopefully I made a difference.”
Chris Smalling is sure Wayne Rooney’s confidence remains high despite his recent goal drought for Manchester United. Rooney stretched his goalless scoring streak to 10 United matches on Saturday as Louis van Gaal’s men drew 0-0 at home to Newcastle. The United captain has not scored since April 4 although he was perhaps unlucky to have one chalked off for a very tight offside call against the Magpies. Rooney was not the only one to miss chances against Newcastle. Juan Mata ballooned a volley into the Stretford End in the second half and Smalling’s header struck a post in the dying minutes. Depay also rounded Krul when put through but failed to score. The Dutchman, who scored his first two goals for the club against Club Brugge on Tuesday, admits he and his team-mates have to be more ruthless. “It was a frustrating afternoon,” he said. “We started great and sharp and we created some chances but didn’t finish them. The second half also we created some more chances but again we didn’t finish it so that was the frustration. “When you look back you have to say it was one of those days but we have to start finishing. I could have finished a couple of chances but I didn’t and I have to work on that.” While United left Old Trafford disappointed, Newcastle headed back up to the north-east happy having answered some of the critics who condemned their supposed defensive frailty following the 2-0 defeat to Swansea last week. Jack Colback feels the critics were too quick to jump on Newcastle following the loss at the Liberty Stadium and their 2-2 draw against Southampton on the opening weekend of the season. “It’s quite scary really how quickly this season that everyone is being criticised, it’s daft, but that’s the nature of the game we are in,” the Newcastle midfielder said. “Everyone is quick to jump on the negativity but as players you have to focus. We were disappointed last week, but we focused quickly on the next game and we have got a point.” Steven Taylor, who along with Fabricio Coloccini performed superbly to repel United’s relentless attacking player, praised the impact of new manager Steve McClaren. “Everything has changed,” said the defender, who has played under 12 different managers during his 12 years at the club. “There are new methods here. The style has changed, and so has the training regime. “It’s a whole new look to Newcastle and it has been needing that – a bit of a fresh look to it. “The main thing is that he’s given the lads confidence. Everyone has had a clean slate.” Smalling believes Rooney and his team-mates did not have the rub of the green against Newcastle and is sure the captain is not suffering from a crisis of confidence. “No, I think if you see in his play, he is running in behind and he is giving himself opportunities,” Smalling said when asked if Rooney’s confidence had dipped. “I think we probably had double figures in terms of chances, not just to Wayne but for the whole team. “It’s just a case of one of those falling in, but the majority of the team is getting those opportunities so if we keep creating those chances, they will come eventually.” Rooney tested Tim Krul from 25 yards shortly after his disallowed goal, but did little else to suggest he was going to break his duck for the season. Despite his troubles in the box, Rooney is having a big influence in other areas – most notably in helping Memphis Depay find his feet at Old Trafford following his £25million move from PSV Eindhoven. “Wayne Rooney helps me a lot,” the Dutch forward said. “He has a lot of experience. He already knows everything about the football world so if I have any questions I can ask him.” Press Association
Robbie Brady has admitted he needed to be playing Barclays Premier League football to fulfil his international ambitions. The 23-year-old Republic of Ireland international swapped relegated Hull for promoted Norwich in July, and has started all four of the Canaries’ league games to date. Former Manchester United trainee Brady revealed it was a difficult decision to leave the KC Stadium, but his desire to be playing top-flight football to equip him for the international stage was one of the factors involved. He said: “It was massive for me personally. I wanted to play at the highest level and try to stay there. When the opportunity came around, I was over the moon and luckily enough, it went through. “But it is good. I want to be playing at the highest level, and it can only help coming in to play these games if I am playing at the highest level.” Asked how tough it was to walk away from Hull, where he had a two-and-a-half year permanent stint after two successful loans spells, he replied: “It is difficult. “I spent quite a big spell at Hull and I really enjoyed it and I had some great friends there. I’d just got settled in a house, and then it was time to up and move. “But it happens and you have got to get on with it. I’ve got on with everyone since I have been down there, so I am happy again.” Brady, a winger by trade, has established himself as left-back for both club and country in recent months, and he will hope to retain his place in Martin O’Neill’s team for Friday night’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar and the showdown with Georgia which follows three days later. The Republic can afford no slip-ups if they are to retain any hope of qualification, and that is not lost on the players. Brady said: “I still think there are a lot of twists and turns now coming in because there are still a lot of games to be played, and you know how mad football is with different results. “But we need to go and win these two games,and I’m sure we will get things right this week and go and do a job.” O’Neill had only Stoke striker Jon Walters missing on Tuesday morning as he thrashed out his future on transfer deadline day, and while he too is well aware that the Group D campaign is reaching crunch-point, he is focusing only on his team. The manager said: “We can only try to control what’s in front of us and everything else will fall into place if that’s the case. We know that we have to win matches regardless of what happens elsewhere.” O’Neill, as ever, refused to be drawn on what team he might field in Faro on Friday evening, although he did hint that winger Aiden McGeady might have a cameo role to play after injury, and skipper Robbie Keane’s rich vein of MLS form has not gone unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic. The 63-year-old said: “Robbie Keane is obviously a terrific goalscorer. My own view, rather selfishly, I wish he was 27 rather than closer to 37, but he’s been a great player. “His attitude, his enthusiasm for the game, it’s as if he was 18 years of age. “I think he himself feels better physically than he did when he came in in June time – he says that himself – and that’s good news. Obviously the number of goals he’s scoring for the (Los Angeles) Galaxy has helped his confidence and helped just his frame of mind.” Press Association
“I spoke to him before starting the pre-season and for the first time he had a normal holiday. “And after seven or eight days of the pre-season, he got an injury and lost three weeks in the pre-season. Then you know it is difficult. “Still, he isn’t the first choice on the position in front, but I know his qualities. “He is technically a very good player and if he is physically on level, yeah, why not? Why not? It’s competition. “It’s all about your performance during the whole week and if you get the opportunity to play show your qualities.” Koeman believes oft-injured Ramirez has to be 100 per cent physically to perform in a league which sometimes proves “too physical” for the South American. A lack of on-field discipline has also frustrated the Saints boss, although he spotted a few positive signs in Milton Keynes. “He is a player who likes to take freedom on the pitch,” Koeman said. “I say always to the players take freedom out of your position. What he did yesterday was different than sometimes when he played (as he played with discipline). “He played more from the right and then he can go in. That’s the freedom that every attacker, every forward, needs. “But, in my opinion, he took too much freedom and then it is difficult for your organisation in the team.” Upon promotion back to the Premier League three years ago, Saints spent a lot of time, effort and money bringing the Uruguay international over from Bologna. Much was expected of the then club-record acquisition, although Ramirez has only showed fleeting glimpses of his undoubted talent during that period. The attacking midfielder spent last season on loan at relegated Hull and looked set for a summer exit from St Mary’s, with Koeman admitting it looked “very difficult” for him to stay. Saints had even considered tearing up his deal, as they did with Dani Osvaldo, after failing to shift him before the window closed, although he could now get an unlikely chance to shine in the final season of his deal. The 24-year-old looked decent off the bench in Wednesday’s 6-0 Capital One Cup mauling of MK Dons – a first appearance for the club in 13 months that Koeman suggests could be followed by more. “What’s changed? What has changed is we passed the transfer window,” the Dutchman said. “We had some injuries with some players and I gave some players a rest. “Of course, normally, it is a possibility to take one of the strikers from the under-21s, but they played on Monday for 90 minutes. “He is part of the team, he is training well, his behaviour is positive. I’m the first to give that kind of player a chance when we need somebody. “(Injuries are) one of the big problems for Gaston. Southampton were prepared to write Gaston Ramirez off as a £12million flop, but now manager Ronald Koeman is ready to give him a chance to belatedly prove his worth. Press Association
Manuel Pellegrini’s side, who sent out a warning to their rivals with a thumping 4-0 victory against Crystal Palace in their last outing, head to the Boleyn Ground for Saturday’s tea-time kick-off. And City, one point adrift of league leaders Arsenal, will be looking to avenge their surprise 2-1 defeat against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium back in September. “Aguero is back on form and for me he is definitely of the top five strikers in the world,” Bilic said . “He wasn’t out of form, but he was injured and he also needed a few games to get back. But he is unbelievable. He is quick, he is lethal, he is very clever and very patient in the box and his movement is unbelievable. If you add to that the service from Yaya Toure, David Silva and De Bruyne, they have amazing quality. “They are definitely one of the favourites to win the league, but like other big teams they are also not that consistent which is not their failure as it is not only them, but all the big clubs which shows that the smaller clubs have closed the gap.” Slaven Bilic has hailed Manchester City as the best team in England but the West Ham manager is optimistic his team can beat the Barclays Premier League heavyweights for the second time this season. But while Bilic believes Pellegrini has at his disposal the greatest squad in the land, he is hopeful West Ham can continue their impressive record against the established big teams this season with another scalp on Saturday. Bilic, who has overseen victories against Arsenal, Chelsea, City and twice against Liverpool already this season, said: “We have the confidence but we know we have to be on top of our game. “We have done it before, so we don’t have to dream to do something that other clubs have done. We have done it this season – and with the greatest respect to them as I really believe they are the best side in England – we are playing at home. We have been playing really well at home. Our last game (at home in the Premier League) was against Liverpool and we beat them 2-0 and we played really well.” City, who invested heavily in the summer with Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne both arriving in big-money deals, have endured a stuttering campaign with Pellegrini coming under increasing pressure after Pep Guardiola announced he is to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season. But Bilic believes the former Real Madrid and Malaga manager is dealing admirably with speculation surrounding his future. “If you are the Manchester City manager than the pressure comes with the territory,” Bilic added. “But he is handling that pressure and that situation with ease. He is so strong mentally and so experienced that he is above the situation.” Pellegrini will be able to call on the services of star striker Sergio Aguero for his side’s trip to West Ham. The Argentinian has struggled for form and fitness this term, but four goals in his last five appearances, including two against Palace last Saturday, suggests he is returning to something near his best. Press Association