Premier League

Garcia won't give up on title

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Wed, 06 Mar 2013 08:14:00

Celtic boss Neil Lennon has accused Juventus coach Antonio Conte of "talking rubbish" ahead of Wednesday's clash.

The two managers square off in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in Turin with the Italian side boasting a 3-0 lead from the first leg in Glasgow three weeks ago.

That game made headlines for the grappling that occurred in the box with Celtic feeling they should have been awarded a series of penalties.

But Conte insists the positioning of Gary Hooper near goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon meant that Celtic were just as guilty - a view that has raised Lennon's ire.

"Hooper is allowed to stand in front of Buffon so Conte is talking rubbish," said Lennon. "Any player can stand anywhere he likes in the box.

"He's not affecting the goalkeeper, he's not touching the goalkeeper and he's not preventing him from getting the ball.

"If he prevents him from getting the ball then, yes, it's a free-kick. But before the ball is kicked he's not doing anything and he is entitled to stand where he likes. So Conte is talking nonsense."

The Juve coach had earlier tried to turn the focus on Celtic's behaviour in the penalty area by threatening to send a dossier of his own to UEFA, as Lennon had done.

"Every time there is a corner to Celtic there is always a punishment in favour of the defending team because there is a player who systematically blocks our keeper in the six-yard box," said Conte.

"In this case of the first leg it was Hooper. Regulation says in the six-yard box a keeper must not be touched and if he is it is a foul.

"So I say every time there is a player that goes in there then all angles show there was a foul in favour of Juventus.

"Lennon talks about the rules so I'll bring a dossier about the Celtic player blocking our keeper."

Reina reckons Liverpool, currently seventh in the Premier League, have the potential to compete for a top-four berth in the near future, but will need the board to back the manager in the transfer market if they are to do so.

Quoted in several national newspapers, he said: "This year has been important for us in terms of getting to know what the manager wants and develop the ideas. Then we have to be ready for the very first game of next season to challenge.

"Obviously we will need some help from the board but I think the basis is well settled. We know the ideas and philosophies of the manager. It is getting better and better so hopefully we will be ready to compete."

The 30-year-old Spain international also stressed the importance of keeping Uruguay striker Luis Suarez - the Premier League's top scorer with 21 goals so far this season - at Anfield.

"Liverpool is very lucky to have Luis," Reina said. "Every day I am proud to say that I share a dressing room with such a big player. He is 100 per cent all the time. Obviously we will see what happens in the future. Everybody wants him to stay with the team.

"He can create the chances himself from nothing. He can be a killer in the box. But he can also provide assistance to the team and be involved all the time. He is not just a proper striker in the box. He looks to create but it is very important for any team to have that 25-plus goals-per-season striker."

The Merseyside club on Monday reported a ?21.8million increase in their debt - now ?87.2million overall - and a loss of ?40.5million in their annual accounts.

The Hoops travelled to Italy after a devastating 3-0 first-leg defeat in Glasgow and are odds-on to exit the competition.

Lennon is desperate for his side to win the game but knows that the margin required to take them through into the next round is probably asking too much from his players.

"It would be a tall order to win the tie 4-0 or 4-1 but we are capable of winning the game and that's what we would like to do," said Lennon.

"If we win it would equal the club record (of wins in Europe in a season).

"Juventus are top of the league again and the draw could have been kinder to us but we want to close the gap on the scoreline and we will have to play at our optimum level to do that.

"It is a fantastic game to play in. We may not be here again as a group, you are playing the champions of Italy who are a very good team so enjoy it.

"Enjoy the stadium, enjoy the atmosphere, don't be intimidated.

"Go and play, the pressure is really off so try to restore some respectability in the tie, play your football and win the game.

"So we have a lot to play for, there is a lot of incentives, however, to qualify would take a minor miracle."

Juventus coach Antonio Conte refused to admit that his side are as good as through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006.

"We've only played 90 (minutes) and we have another 90, plus maybe extra time and penalties, against a strong, proud team who will want to make amends for first leg," he said.

"There is a quarter-final to be reached so we definitely won't underestimate this game.

"It's going to be a test for everybody, starting with me, then the players and the club.

"Certainly the first leg has given us a seriously good chance of reaching the next round, but in football, there are always surprises if you don't play with the right determination and concentration.

"Celtic are a very physical side and can create lots of problems from set-pieces.

"We've got to be fully focused because we want to go through and so we've got to give it everything."

City enter the final 10 games of the campaign lying 12 points adrift of United after overcoming Aston Villa 1-0 on Monday night thanks to a first half goal from Carlos Tevez.

Garcia acknowledges the contest would be over in other countries where there is less strength in depth in the leagues and where one or two clubs dominate.

But the Spanish midfielder knows that is not the case in England where shock results are capable of being achieved, as demonstrated by City's own recent defeat at struggling Southampton.

Garcia, signed from Benfica for around ?16million last summer, said: "Being 12 points in front is a good position for Manchester United to be in.

"But there are still 10 games left, it is still 30 points to play for, it is still possible (to win the title).

"We are Manchester City, we need to fight until the final game. We will fight for this Premier League title.

"The players remember the gap that City made up last season.

"I think, if it was the same situation, in another league it would be impossible to make up the gap.

"But, in England, everything is possible because all the teams are stronger.

"United can lose a few games. It is possible."

City have still to take on United in the second Manchester derby of the season at Old Trafford but Garcia knows they must keep the pressure on by winning the games before that showdown.

He said: "We still have to go to Old Trafford and obviously a win there would cut the gap by three points.

"But firstly we have strong games to play against teams like Everton and Tottenham.

"It is important we win at United but if we don't win, for example against Everton, maybe the gap will be too big."

Garcia was delighted with City's performance at Villa Park.

He said: "The important thing was for the team to win this game. It was hard and Villa, although down the bottom, are a good, young team and they played very well.

"But City defended very well and on the counter-attack we were very strong."

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