Celtic finances looking good
Mon, 11 Feb 2013 17:16:00
Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain believes his side have the individual talent to cause Manchester United a "a lot of damage" in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Madrid's desire to win a record 10th European Cup title has turned into an obsession in recent years but their bid to lift the trophy this year suffered a blow when they were drawn against runaway Premier League leaders United in the last 16.
Higuain knows Sir Alex Ferguson's side pose a serious threat to their hopes of making the quarter-finals, but also believes the Spanish giants have the class and ability in their squad to really hurt their English counterparts.
He told the Bwin website: "They (United) are quite a compact team. They always make it to the knockout rounds in European competition and we're going to have to be on our toes.
"But we can do a lot of damage with individual quality and with counter-attacks, although we can't forget we need to have a solid defence, a winning mentality and team-spirit."
The 25-year-old Argentina international, who joined Madrid from River Plate six years ago, also stressed the importance of trying to keep a clean sheet in this week's first leg.
He also urged the Bernabeu faithful to get behind Jose Mourinho's men, who are looking at the Champions League and Copa del Rey for glory this season after seeing their Primera Division title defence all but ended following a disappointing first half to the season.
"Our goal must be to win and if we don't concede then so much the better. We know that an away goal can really influence things," he said.
"We also want our fans to get behind us. The team always tries to do its best, sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't.
"There's no doubt we are going to go out and give it everything."
The 32-year-old France international, who joined Chelsea in the summer of 2007 and is in the final year of his contract, was excluded from the Blues' 25-man first-team squad and has spent the season training with the Under-21 team.
"The details I'll explain when I'm free, but the strategy they use is to make me look like a player seeking substantial compensation," Malouda told France-Guyane.
"It's petty but more than anything else it makes me smile because it shows how these people regard me.
"If you are excluded for one year, it is very, very long. You must be armed mentally.
"All this is done to break me mentally, but in reality it motivates me enormously."
Malouda, who has been linked with a move to Anzhi Makhachkala, with the Russian transfer window open until the end of this month, declined to reveal more due to "confidentiality", but may do so on his anticipated release this summer.
Hartlepool manager John Hughes could be tempted to field an unchanged starting line-up.
Hughes has no new injury or suspension worries after his side extended their unbeaten league run to four matches with a 1-1 draw at Swindon on Saturday.
Striker Steve Howard is not expected to be involved despite returning to full training this week following a hamstring injury and midfielder Antony Sweeney remains sidelined with a knee problem.
But defender Jordan Richards is pushing for a recall. The teenager returned to the bench as an unused substitute at the weekend following a three-game absence due to a knee injury.
Winger Andy Monkhouse staked his claim for a return with the equaliser after stepping off the bench at former club Swindon on Saturday.
Victory for Pools would see them leapfrog Portsmouth off the bottom of the table.
Portsmouth are still without David Connolly as they travel to bottom-club Hartlepool.
Pompey are just a point ahead of John Hughes' side and are on a club record winless run of 19 games.
If they are to avoid dropping to the foot of the table it will be without striker Connolly, who remains sidelined with a hamstring problem.
John Akinde and Patrick Agyemang, who both made their debuts against Bournemouth at the weekend, will continue in attack.
Bos Guy Whittingham also allowed youngster Frankie Sutherland to return to parent-club QPR after he failed to break into the first team at Fratton Park.
He made just one substitute appearance during his time at the club - against Hartlepool - and he will not be involved against the same opponents after his stay was ended early.
Stevenson was shown a straight red card by referee Willie Collum for a first-half foul on Gary Mackay-Steven, catching the winger with a sliding studs-first tackle as he stretched to reach a loose ball.
After the match, Hearts manager John McGlynn said: "According to Ryan, the lad says that he never touched him but that is the rulebook and he has to go with the rulebook.
"The players feel if you go into a tackle when you are on the ground you can hardly go with your studs on the ground."
However, in a brief statement this afternoon, the club said: "Hearts can today reveal the club will not be appealing Ryan Stevenson's red card against Dundee United."
Stevenson will now serve a three-match ban, missing SPL games against Kilmarnock, Inverness and St Mirren.
The former Ayr midfielder was last month handed a retrospective two-match ban by a Scottish Football Association judicial panel for a challenge on Hibernian captain James McPake, which Collum did not punish during the game.
To the surprise of many pundits and fans, the Hoops emerged ahead of Benfica and Spartak Moscow to finish second in Group G behind star-studded Barcelona - whom they famously beat 2-1 at Celtic Park last November - and earn their place in the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time in five seasons.
The Serie A champions, though, are strong favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals but manager Lennon, while recognising the quality of the visitors, said: "I think we have been (underestimated) throughout the whole campaign and going into this game we are being made out to be massive underdogs but I don't quite see it that way myself.
"There is a real belief, anything can happen over two games.
"We go into the tie as underdogs but nothing is going to be decided at the end of 90 minutes tomorrow night, it is over two games and we are prepared to play hard football over 180 minutes.
"They have excellent strikers - Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco, and they have also brought in Nicolas Anelka.
"But the one who has caught my eye is Alessandro Matri, he looks an excellent young player.
"They are very strong in midfield. Arturo Vidal is playing very well currently, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, these are class players including Andrea Pirlo who is still one of the finest midfield players in the world.
"So the team is blessed with fantastic footballers but we knew that before the tie or before any preparation were made.
"But it would be dangerous to underestimate Celtic.
"We have proved already this season that we can be a match for anyone."
The former Hoops player, who described Juventus training at Rangers' Murray Park training complex this morning as "irrelevant", recognises the difference between the Italian giants and Barca.
"They are two different cultures," he said.
"Juventus are very strong defensively, very well-organised, very consistent in domestic football and they have been very impressive in their Champions League campaign.
"We have done a lot of work on Juventus and I have seen them myself so we will have to change the way we played against Barcelona but that is only natural because Barcelona dominate possession like no other team."
However, the Northern Irishman expects another momentous European night in the east end of Glasgow.
When he was confirmed as Celtic boss in June 2010, after a spell as caretaker, Lennon said he wanted to "bring the thunder back to this stadium - I want to make it rock again."
In a tweet earlier today, he said:"..think i can hear thunder in the distance" and he expanded upon that at the pre-match press conference.
"This will be one of my best achievements, to bring these nights back to Celtic Park," he said.
"It is the only show around, a European night at Celtic Park.
"It will be a fantastic football arena, for me one of the best atmospheres in world football, never mind European football and it is for our supporters.
"Obviously the players will play their part but to bring these nights back to the club is something that means a lot to me and anyone who has experienced a Champions League night here before will know what I am referring to.
"Obviously we are up against a great team and great coach and it is very exciting for me to challenge myself against Antonio Conte.
"I don't want to fill the players heads too much from a tactical point of view.
"In terms of motivation, I don't think the players need any more from me.
"For some of them, it is probably the biggest game of their young careers and we are hoping we can take the club further in the competition.
"We've always known this has been looming on the horizon so it is almost here and I think we are ready."
Lennon is sweating over the availability of two key players.
Forward Georgios Samaras is battling to recover from a hamstring injury while stopper Efe Ambrose played for Nigeria in their 1-0 African Cup of Nations final win over Burkina Faso last night and will not be back in Glasgow until tomorrow morning.
Left-back Emilio Izaguirre has recovered from a knee injury while winger James Forrest is fit again following a hamstring problem.
The Hoops boss said: "It is as you were with Samaras, we will make a decision on him tomorrow.
"Izaguirre trained today and has joined the squad and Forrest is fit and Ambrose, we expect to arrive tomorrow morning.
"We will see what condition he is in and if he is okay, we will have him in the squad.
"We will give Georgios as much time as he is needed. He has been doing pretty aggressive rehabilitation work and we are hopeful he will be okay.
"If not, then I have a very strong squad and we will have him fit for the second leg."
Celtic's net bank debt stood at just ?130,000 on December 31 - down from more than ?7million 12 months previously, according to the club's interim report.
Celtic's turnover increased by 71% to just over ?50million in the final six months of the year, with operating expenses up by 30% to almost ?37million.