Schalke are close to agreeing a deal with Manchester City to sign defender Matija Nastasic, according to the German club’s general manager Horst Heldt. The Serbia international, 21, is out of favour at City under Manuel Pellegrini, having not made a Barclays Premier League appearance this season. Heldt told Germany’s Sport Bild magazine that a deal could be done within days. Press Association He said: “We are negotiating back and forth, that’s how it goes. You get closer and closer and in this case we are no longer far apart from each other. I am optimistic that we will get this done in the coming days.” Heldt added the deal would be “a loan with an option to buy”. Nastasic joined City from Fiorentina in 2012, signed by former boss Roberto Mancini. He made 13 league appearances last season as City won the title, but his only outing this term has been in the Community Shield in August. Schalke are coached by former Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo.
He said: “Life is strange. I would never have imagined to come back. “I wanted to thank Newcastle and all the fans for these three and a half years together. We have spent so many good times. This city and this team will always remain in my heart. “You start a new chapter. I am happy to go back to the Inter. It is where I started my career and there I lived many important moments. “I will give my best to repay the confidence that was given to me.” The clubs have since agreed terms, although Santon’s partner Chloe Sanderson indicated the move might not have been the Italian’s preferred choice. She used her Twitter account to say: “Just to put it out there, Davide declined Inter Milan’s first offer but was pushed out by Newcastle United to leave… “Disgusted with how Davide has been treated, fully fit for a while now with no chance to play- a club whose only intentions are to make £££.” Her tweets too were later deleted. Santon joined the Magpies in a £5million switch from Inter in August 2011, but has made just one senior appearance this season after suffering a serious knee injury in April last year. Press Association Newcastle defender Davide Santon was closing in on a loan move back to former club Inter Milan on Monday afternoon. Press Association Sport understands the 24-year-old full-back, who was given his chance at Inter as a teenager by Jose Mourinho, was undergoing a medical after the two clubs agreed a deal. Santon confirmed his impending move in a Facebook posting earlier in the day, but later deleted it as sources on Tyneside insisted no agreement had been reached.
The France international struggled to settle in during his first 18 months after arriving from Paris St Germain for £18million in the summer of 2013. He made 24 appearances in his first season but never really looked comfortable and this campaign started even worse as he walked out of Anfield after not being selected for September’s Merseyside derby and then sustained a thigh injury which sidelined him for three months. However, since returning in mid-December he has been a virtual ever-present, missing just five matches with another injury, and has made a noticeable improvement. The 25-year-old puts much of that down to him learning English. “Do I finally feel happy at Liverpool? Yes, I feel good. The most difficult thing has been the language,” he told L’Equipe. “I am a man of strong character so when I can’t express myself I am always frustrated, and if I cannot make myself understood it is even worse. “Some people said that I should be speaking French and that would allow me to release the tension a bit, except that when I spoke in French on the pitch nobody understood what I was saying. “I said to myself: ‘This is useless – I really must learn’. It took time but now it is very good.” Sakho has put his fit of pique ahead of the first derby this season behind him and is grateful fans appear to have forgiven him also. “I said sorry – it is all over,” he added. Press Association Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho admits getting to grips with the English language changed his fortunes on the pitch. “In England the supporters don’t hold a grudge. In France, especially, it was talked about a lot negatively.” While Sakho is back in his homeland preparing for international friendlies against Brazil and Denmark club-mates, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana are back at the Reds’ Melwood training ground after injury forced them to withdraw from the England squad for a Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania and friendly in Italy. Lallana never reported for duty after coming off with a groin injury at half-time during Sunday’s defeat at home to Manchester United. Sturridge attended the national training base at St George’s Park where he underwent a scan which revealed a hip problem and as a result he was sent back to his club. The pair will be monitored over the next week but Press Association Sport understands Liverpool are hopeful both injuries are not serious and both will have a chance of being fit for the trip to Arsenal on April 4, a match which now has even greater significance in the wake of the United defeat which damaged their top-four ambitions.
Michael O’Neill believes his Northern Ireland side are one win away from turning their Euro 2016 dream into a reality. O’Neill’s men have been one of the surprise packages of the qualifying campaign, with Sunday’s 2-1 defeat of Finland making it four wins from five matches. That leaves them second in Group F, four points clear of Hungary and just a point shy of table-topping Romania. Anghel Iordanescu’s side come to Windsor Park on June 13 and O’Neill believes success then would go a long way to ensuring a first major tournament in 30 years. “The message is simple. We have given ourselves a fantastic chance, and we have to make sure we take our chance again in June,” he said, after Kyle Lafferty’s brilliant brace in Belfast. “The Romania game becomes massive now. If you can win that game, then it would be hard to think we won’t get to the Euros. “It takes on extra significance. Do we feel 18 points will be enough? Possibly. “If we can get to 15 points with four games to go, that has to be our target at this moment in time. We will have the chance to go top of the group against Romania.” The game comes at an awkward time, with the English and Scottish seasons having broken up for the summer, but O’Neill hopes that does not have a major impact. He is relying on dedication from his players and two friendlies – one against Qatar on May 31 and another against Wales – to get his side in shape. The Wales game has yet to be confirmed by the two associations, but O’Neill is already treating it as a done deal. “We have two good warm-up games before that so preparation will be excellent,” he said. “Our preparation in June will be vital, and the warm-up games against Qatar and Wales will be crucial. “But players finish their seasons in May, and there is an onus on certain players to maintain their own fitness.” If fit Aaron Hughes is sure to become his country’s most capped outfield player in that run of fixtures, with his current tally of 95 leaving him level with David Healy. He had to make do with bench duty against Finland, with O’Neill making the tough choice to pair Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley in the middle while favouring Conor McLaughlin at right-back. “Leaving out Aaron was maybe the most difficult decision I have had to make in my three years, in terms of team selection,” the manager confessed. “Everyone knows what Aaron Hughes is about and what his qualities are as a player and individual. I sat with Aaron a few nights ago and talked about his situation at Brighton. “He hasn’t played much club football in recent tines, and he fully understood where I was coming from. “And Aaron being Aaron, he took it in his professional style. He is still a huge part of this squad, but now we have competition for places which is good. “Jonny (Evans) showed what a top class player he is, and he showed it at Hampden against Scotland the other night. So it is good. “But it is only a matter of time before Aaron gets his 96th cap and goes on to win 100.” Press Association
Norman Whiteside, Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy were some of the last Northern Irishmen to feature in a finals competition at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, but O’Neill’s current crop could end that long hiatus as early as Monday. Victories over the Faroe Islands and Hungary, coupled with the latter dropping points against Group F leaders Romania on Friday, would assure Northern Ireland of a place in France next summer. Northern Ireland are on the cusp of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in 30 years, and boss Michael O’Neill believes the country “needs” to be in France for Euro 2016 next summer. And O’Neill has issued a rallying cry to his squad ahead of the crunch double header in their qualifying campaign, urging them to deliver an historic moment for their nation. “If we were to manage to maintain our form and secure qualification, I think it would be the first time in history that a pot-five team has qualified,” O’Neill said. “That gives you an indication of where this team has come to. “The motivation is there because Northern Ireland needs it. Simple as that. Nothing else. “We need it as a country and as a group of players, as a group of supporters. We’re not hiding behind that, and we want to deliver it. We need this and I think the players recognise they have the capability to deliver it.” O’Neill can speak from personal experience, too, having played during the 30-year wilderness before taking the helm in 2011. He and a raft of other Northern Irishmen never came close to experiencing a summer tournament against Europe or the world’s elite, and O’Neill thinks his current squad recognise they can make an indelible mark on their own careers. “Obviously the prize is huge and you do think both about the significance of qualification and, if it didn’t go our way, the significance of that also,” he said. “But within this group of players there’s a hard core of players who recognise that there’s a real opportunity for them to have their international careers significantly remembered. “There are lot of players who have played down the years for Northern Ireland and not had the chance to go to a major finals, a lot of really good players. “This is a group of players who have given themselves this opportunity with what they’ve done to date, so I don’t worry that mentally they’ll not be able to handle the situation or the games that lie ahead. They recognise the prize that lies ahead for them and I’ve every confidence. “The likes of Steven (Davis), Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird, just to name three players alone, have served Northern Ireland now for the best part of 10, 15 years. It would be their reward to get to the finals. It’s that type of player and other senior players around them that have put themselves in this position.” Press Association
“When I have reviewed Stoke’s games I have been very impressed,” said Howe. “They don’t look like a team that haven’t won yet. They are the kind of side that you will see in a few weeks and they will be in a very different position. “But we don’t need to worry about that. We know that if we are at our best levels we can beat anyone in this league, so it’s down to us. “The performance against Sunderland was good, but we will prepare for Stoke on an individual basis. “We are not at the stage where we can start to group games together. We want points from every game.” The manager’s confidence is such, despite his team having to travel to Stoke without captain Tommy Elphick and midfielder Harry Arter due to injury. “Both Tommy and Harry are still out,” Howe said. “Tommy has flown to Sweden to get an update on his injury and Harry is still continuing his rehab. “Harry has had a little niggle this week, not on his original injury, so it’s just a case of letting that settle down. But that’s only natural when you’ve been out for the length of time that he has. “Tommy has gone to see a specialist he used when he was at Brighton. Hopefully after that it will be a case of building him back up quite quickly.” Eddie Howe has warned his Bournemouth team not to be misled by Stoke’s disappointing start to the season. Press Association The summer arrivals of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Marco van Ginkel led to significantly raised expectations surrounding Mark Hughes’ team but they have yet to win in their six Premier League fixtures so far. They next host Bournemouth, who in a reasonable start to their league campaign most recently defeated Sunderland, but manager Howe is conscious that Stoke’s performances have deserved greater results.
The Toffees host their Merseyside rivals on Sunday after their impressive fightback saw them win 3-2 at West Brom on Monday after falling two goals behind. Romelu Lukaku’s brace and Arouna Kone’s strike at The Hawthorns sealed their comeback to lift Everton to fifth in the Barclays Premier League and above Liverpool. Press Association Boss Roberto Martinez has warned Everton their form means nothing ahead of the derby with Liverpool. They have beaten champions Chelsea at Goodison Park this season and are unbeaten in six games in all competitions, having only lost to Manchester City so far, but after their Hawthorns heroics Martinez insisted it will count for nothing on Sunday. “Our performance against Chelsea set the standards of what we want to achieve at home but as you can imagine the derby is completely different, it doesn’t matter if you go into it with momentum or not,” he said. “The derby in itself brings that extra emotion and extra meaning to the game. We’re happy we won but not because it’s going to give us momentum into the derby, we’re happy because when you are the last game in the week it’s a real opportunity to show that in the table. Those three points were extra significant to us.” Martinez also refused to condemn James McCarthy after the midfielder was booked for diving in the area in the second half. McCarthy had burst into the box and went down with Craig Gardner closing in but replays showed there was no contact. ” In that situation James is trying his best to get into a goal-scoring position and maybe he was expecting contact,” said Martinez. “I don’t encourage my players to do that but sometimes mistakes happen as a player. “The referee saw it and he handled it very well. Sometimes you are expecting something and you gamble and it happens. I don’t give it any more importance than that.” Saido Berahino and Craig Dawson had given the Baggies a 2-0 lead after 54 minutes but Lukaku struck back instantly after Dawson’s header before Everton scored twice in the final 15 minutes. It was Berahino’s second goal since his strike threat this month, after West Brom rejected bids from Tottenham, but boss Tony Pulis is now concerned with injuries to defenders Gareth McAuley (calf) and his replacement Jonas Olsson (groin). Pulis said: “I don’t think it helped we lost Gareth on Sunday and Jonas has come in and got injured 15 minutes into the game. We lost our two ‘No.5s’ in the game. Olsson looks like he’s done his groin, which is a worry, and with him and McAuley out we are struggling really.”
“He’s a great manager, a great personality and he’s a big loss to the league. You want foreign players to be coming into this country and you want the best foreign managers to be coming into this country. It makes it the best league in the world. “When I have met him and spoken to him he has got a great sense of humour. He is a different person than the person you know when the cameras are rolling. “There’s a lot of people who talk a good game and get away with underachieving but he has always achieved and over achieved. He is one of the great managers. “The quality he has and the record he has, it won’t be too long before he is in work again. If he wants to be in work quickly.” West Ham boss Bilic admitted he expected Chelsea to give Mourinho more time to arrest the club’s poor form. Mourinho accused several of his players of betraying him after Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Leicester, but Bilic insisted he has never seen top-level players purposely underachieving. “Betrayal? I don’t know,” said Bilic. “It is a difficult word. Those players were the same players that were doing the job for him and for the club and for themselves, that was one of the biggest qualities of Chelsea. Not only the skill of the players but the way there were doing that. “I don’t believe that any player would deliberately have bad training let alone a bad game, they are all professional, top class players, so I don’t believe in that story. Especially not with him, when it is really well known that he is great with man-management.” Tottenham boss Pochettino claimed the Premier League will be all the poorer without Mourinho. “I was very surprised and sad – it is a big loss for the Premier League. I have a very good relationship with him and it is a difficult moment for him,” said Pochettino. “It is difficult for me to give my opinion about a different club, I can only say I am very sad and shocked because it was a big shock for me and I think for all.” “I was surprised and disappointed,” said Howe. “I always says when anyone loses their job it is a sad occasion, and especially for the Premier League because he has to be regarded as one of the greatest managers of his generation. “I think it is a loss to the league that he is no longer part of it at this present moment.” Mourinho guided Chelsea to the Premier League title last season, but nine defeats in 16 matches this term forced the 52-year-old out of the club. West Brom’s Tony Pulis, West Ham boss Slaven Bilic and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino all echoed Howe’s state of shock at Mourinho’s exit. Pulis claimed Mourinho will not be out of work for long, with many managers looking on nervously now the decorated Portuguese is available. “I was surprised and disappointed in some ways,” said Pulis. “He is and has been one of the top managers in the world without question. Press Association Bournemouth boss Howe encapsulated the collective shock among Mourinho’s peers, with rival managers all admitting sadness at the colourful Portuguese’s exit from English football. Bournemouth’s 1-0 win at Chelsea on December 5 proved the penultimate clash of Mourinho’s second Stamford Bridge spell, but Howe insisted managers cannot dwell on victories that do damage to rivals. Eddie Howe was “surprised and disappointed” at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea exit despite inflicting one of the defeats which triggered his Stamford Bridge demise.
And the defender gave Villa much to chew over, even if their first home league win of the campaign failed to lift them off the bottom of the table. It closed the gap to safety to eight points and was just their second league victory of the season, coming 156 days after the first, but it was deserved after a brave performance. The claret and blues require a monumental effort to survive but, on this evidence, at least they will go down fighting. Wilfried Zaha hit a post for Palace inside the first minute, but the Eagles deserved nothing from a limp performance. Libor Kozak made his first league start for Villa since Boxing Day 2013 – when he also faced Palace – while returning goalkeeper Mark Bunn’s last league start came against Villa for Norwich in May 2013. That Villa were now relying on striker Kozak – whom Garde had stated could leave this month – showed the depth of their problems. And they almost got worse after just 44 seconds as Villa survived a massive scare. They were carved apart on the right as Jason Puncheon and Zaha swapped passes to leave Zaha free in the area and he curled a shot against the outside of a post. Press Association But Palace never got as close again as the let-off woke Villa up and they tried to force the issue without breaking the visitors down. Without a recognised front man Palace were still dangerous on the break as Zaha, Puncheon and Bakary Sako – one of three Palace changes – threatened to find the gaps in Villa’s creaking defence. But it was Damien Delaney who came the closest after half-an-hour when he directed Yohan Cabaye’s free-kick inches wide. Jordan Ayew had already hit the side-netting with Villa’s best opening, but they were too tempted to shoot from distance, often wasting any openings. Palace brought on Connor Wickham to spearhead their attack at the break, but they almost fell behind six minutes later. Hennessey had little to do previously, but he was forced to turn Kozak’s deflected effort wide as Villa threatened to draw first blood. And the goalkeeper then handed them the winner on 58 minutes with a monumental error. Villa had been pressing and won a corner and, despite Lescott’s header flying straight at Hennessey, he spilled it through his legs and over the line. The hosts deserved the lead and Alan Pardew threw on Marouane Chamakh in response, but Palace lacked punch. The Eagles had the third best away record in the division coming into the game, but offered little evidence of their prowess on the road. Ayew fired over for Villa before Scott Dann headed well over with four minutes left. Surprisingly, though, there were few nerves in the final moments, even as Dann missed his kick in stoppage time as Villa hung on. TWEET OF THE MATCH “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssss!!!!!!! #VTID!!!!!!!!” – former Aston Villa midfielder Ian Taylor was as delighted as he was relieved by Tuesday’s result RATINGS Aston Villa Mark Bunn: 7 Leandro Bacuna: 7 Jores Okore: 6 Joleon Lescott: 7 Aly Cissokho: 6 Ashley Westwood: 6 Idrissa Gana: 6 Carles Gil: 6 Jordan Veretout: 6 Jordan Ayew: 7 Libor Kozak: 6 Subs: Ciaran Clark: 6 Crystal Palace Wayne Hennessey: 5 Joel Ward: 6 Damien Delaney: 6 Scott Dann: 6 Papa Souare: 6 James McArthur: 6 Joe Ledley: 6 Bakary Sako: 6 Yohan Cabaye: 7 Jason Puncheon: 6 Wilfried Zaha: 6 Subs: Connor Wickham: 6 Marouane Chamakh: 6 Mile Jedinak: 6 STAR MAN Jordan Ayew – The striker is rapidly becoming a fans’ favourite at Aston Villa for his work rate and quality. It took the 24-year-old time to adapt to the Barclays Premier League but he looks the pick of Villa’s summer buys. While he did not score, Ayew forever looked Villa’s most dangerous player and they need him to keep performing to give them a hope of survival. MOMENT OF THE MATCH Wayne Hennessey’s awful gaffe handed Villa the point and it is a moment the Wales international will want to forget. Joleon Lescott’s header was powerful but lacked direction and was straight at the goalkeeper. It should have been a routine save but Hennessey somehow managed to spill the ball through his arms, allowing it to bounce off his legs and over the line. MOAN OF THE MATCH Palace had one of the best away records in the division but rarely showed they were worthy of the title. Wilfried Zaha hit the post after just 44 seconds but the Eagles wilted and never put Villa under serious pressure, despite the claret and blues’ failing this season. Palace must pick themselves up for the visit of Manchester City on Saturday as they try to keep pace with the top five. VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT: Remi Garde rang the changes and recalled forgotten man Libor Kozak for his first league start since suffering a bad leg break in January 2014. It underlined Villa’s desperation but Garde should be commended for being brave with his selection – which ultimately paid off. Alan Pardew started with no recognised striker but threw on Connor Wickham and Marouane Chamakh as poor Palace struggled against rock-bottom Villa and the Palace boss admitted afterwards the hosts deserved their win. NEXT UP Aston Villa v Leicester (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, January 16) Manchester City v Crystal Palace (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, January 16) Wayne Hennessey’s howler gifted Aston Villa their first Premier League win since August as they edged out Crystal Palace 1-0. The goalkeeper fumbled Joleon Lescott’s second-half header into his own net as Remi Garde claimed his first victory at the 11th attempt. It was also redemption for Lescott, who was accused of playing a game with chewing gum – to the fury of fans – while a substitute during Saturday’s 1-1 FA Cup draw at Wycombe.
Milton Keynes is also an option for Tottenham, but Wenger dismissed any suggestion it could be Arsenal who offer a temporary home to their bitter rivals. ”Not really,” he said when asked if Tottenham could go to the Emirates Stadium. ”We suffered a lot to build this stadium and had to be very tight financially to pay it back. I don’t know, but I don’t feel it is in our plans to do it. ”We don’t need it and we have not been approached for it as well. It’s a board decision, not mine.” Arsene Wenger has warned Chelsea and Tottenham they could face a disadvantage when they make temporary moves away from their home grounds. Wenger managed Arsenal at the old Wembley as Arsenal opted to play their home Champions League fixtures at the national stadium rather than the much smaller Highbury. The Gunners won just twice in their two-year stay at Wembley – failing to get out of the group stages in either the 1998/99 or 1999/00 competitions. They then moved their fixtures back to Highbury and, although Wenger said at the time of Arsenal announcing their use of Wembley that the club were in a situation where they needed to “either improve or die”, he now admits it was the wrong move. “It was a nightmare,” he said. “In hindsight it was the wrong decision. At the time at Highbury we had to cut 5,000 seats. We decided to go to Wembley, but we didn’t feel at home. “The pitch was bigger, the ground was different and for the English players it was something completely unusual . “We were used at Highbury to a tight pitch and unfortunately we were playing against Dynamo Kiev, who were running everywhere on a very big pitch. It was a disadvantage for sure.” At his press conference ahead of the visit of Chelsea on Sunday, Wenger said he saw no prospect of ground-sharing with north London rivals Tottenham. The Arsenal boss believes their London rivals will not feel at home while they are forced to relocate due to building works, with both eyeing moves to Wembley. Chelsea are seeking a four-year tenancy while Stamford Bridge is redeveloped, while Spurs are likely to need a ground for the 2017/18 campaign as their new stadium next to their current White Hart Lane home is completed. Press Association