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Jurgen Klopp’s attack has been boosted by the return to fitness

Liverpool have welcomed back Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge to training ahead of their clash with Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Club-record signing Salah has missed his side’s last two matches due to a groin problem and Sturridge has been sidelined since the Champions League win over Spartak Moscow on December 6.

The forwards took part in the session under manager Jurgen Klopp on Wednesday, with Liverpool stepping up their preparations for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s side to Anfield on Sunday.

The news is a timely boost for Liverpool, who saw Philippe Coutinho depart for Barcelona at the weekend for a reported fee of €160 million.

Salah has scored 17 goals in 21 league games since his move from Roma last year, while Sturridge has managed two goals from only five starts.

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The Red Devils youth product has not always convinced the Old Trafford

At most clubs, the scorer of three key Wembley goals including a wonderful strike to win the FA Cup would go down as an immediate club legend. However, Jesse Lingard has had to fight longer and harder than you might expect just to be accepted as a preferred starter for the majority of Manchester United fans.

In many ways, Lingard is the archetypal success story by which United fans judge their club. They want to see local lads brought through the system and given the chance to thrive in the first team, and the attacker has done exactly that having risen from a seven-year-old wannabe to a senior England star over an 18-year spell with the Red Devils.

But having taken a considerable time to string together a consistent run of stand-out performances following his first-team break-out in 2015-16, Lingard had become something of a figure of fun in some quarters until his recent upturn in form which has seen him net eight goals in 10 games as a number 10 in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Jesse Lingard Manchester United Derby

And his spell of prominence could not have come at a better time when you consider that Mourinho was left scrambling for an alternative to the failing Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the main creative attacking slot in a United squad costing £648 million. With the Armenian having struggled after a bright opening month and Paul Pogba needing to partner Nemanja Matic in the midfield hub due to Ander Herrera’s poor form in 2017-18, Lingard suddenly became the manager’s go-to guy as United began to fall adrift of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

“I think he is comfortable in the positions he plays,” said Mourinho after Lingard got the all-important 84th-minute opener in Friday’s FA Cup win over Derby County.

“I think he is improving with the progressive style of the team. The team is playing progressively in a different way which makes him feel like a fish in the water and he is in this moment where everything goes right for him.”

Mourinho’s reward for his faith in Lingard has been remarkable, with Lingard not only adding goals but also demonstrating some of the incisive running that United have lacked from the number 10 position for long stretches of the past few seasons. While Pogba has made the most obvious difference to United when on form, Lingard has been their key man more often than not of late. Having previously been seen by many as little more than the Frenchman’s dancing side-kick on social media, Lingard has outshone his more esteemed former academy team-mate over the winter months.

From match-winning braces against Swansea City and Arsenal to his game-saving double as a substitute against Burnley, the Warrington product has bailed out United time and again. It is not by accident that he has scored in each of his side’s last five wins away from home, with goals of great quality and precious timing helping to ensure that United’s inconsistent season hasn’t taken a turn for the disastrous.

It is right that there remain question marks over his long-term credentials for a starting shirt given some of the remaining flaws in his skill set, but that should not lend itself as a stick to beat him with in the present day since he is United’s star player right now. Mourinho will doubtless have additions in mind for the forthcoming transfer windows in Lingard’s position, but the very fact that he hasn’t airlifted in an emergency signing so far this January reflects positively on the 25-year-old’s impact over the past couple of months.

Lingard’s promotion to first-choice number 10 is unlikely to be a permanent solution given United’s spending power, but the very least his recent run has done is to ensure he has a say in the allocation of squad positions for a season or two to come.

At United, more than any other club, there is always a place for a hard-working local lad and Lingard has worked harder than anyone to prove his ability to compete for one of the most prized starting spots in world football.

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EVERTON CONFIRM £27M CENK TOSUN SIGNING

The 26-year-old has joined the Toffees following the departure of Ross Barkley, and has agreed a four-year deal at Goodison Park

Everton have confirmed the signing of Turkey international forward Cenk Tosun for £27 million from Besiktas.

The 26-year-old striker has agreed a four-year deal with the Toffees to keep him at Goodison Park until 2022.

Tosun joins Everton having scored 41 goals in Super Lig play since the start of the 2014-15 season, more than any other player in the Turkish top flight during that period.

The deal was announced during half-time of the Toffees’ FA Cup third-round clash with neighbours Liverpool on Friday at Anfield.

“It feels great to be an Everton player,” Tosun said. “I’m really happy to be here and happy that everything is done. I’m really excited to play for Everton as soon as possible. Everton is a great club with a big history and a big culture and I’m looking forward to showing the fans the kind of player I am.

“I bring my skills here and everybody is going to see what kind of player I am. I believe I can be a good player in the Premier League for Everton.

“The Premier League is a strong league, I know that, so my own physical strength will help me. Also I can use both feet the same and I believe I am a good striker in the box.

“I’m really looking forward to training with my teammates and getting to know them and, of course, I want to play as soon as possible. The Tottenham game [on January 13] will be the first game I am available for and I’m very excited about it already.”

Everton sold Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United in a deal said to be worth £75 million this past summer and have struggled to fill the Belgian’s void, scoring just 25 goals in 22 Premier League matches.

Tosun netted 20 goals in 33 league appearances last season to steer Besiktas to the title and has added another eight in 16 appearances this term. He also has eight goals in 25 caps for Turkey, having represented his country at Euro 2016.

Born in Germany, the striker started his career at Eintracht Frankfurt before moving to Gaziantepspor in January 2011. He then made the switch to Besiktas ahead of the 2014-15 campaign.

Everton made a poor start to the season, leading to the firing of Ronald Koeman in October. But they have enjoyed a resurgence under new manager Sam Allardyce to climb to ninth in the table, despite going four games without a win.

“This lad looks like he is strong mentally and has a good pedigree,” Allardyce said.

“He is Turkey’s No.1 striker and has scored goals in the Champions League and the Turkish League but he is desperate to play here in the Premier League.

“He is an all-rounder, with good movement. He is two-footed, perhaps not the biggest but he’s very efficient in the air and in the box he gets good space to get his head on the ball.

“We looked at the qualities of the player, his talent and goalscoring, and his resilience, too. I do not think you can look any more than we have done and, for the price, he is the best in Europe at the moment.”

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January 6, 2018

The Blaugrana are stepping up their interest in the Liverpool midfielder and a January move now looks on – but how will he fit in at the Catalan club?

Philippe Coutinho’s Barcelona dream is close to being fulfilled. After failing to sign the Brazilian from Liverpool in the summer, the Catalan club are back in for the 25-year-old in the winter window and a transfer should be completed some time this month.

Ever since Neymar left Barca in the summer, Coutinho was the top target for the Blaugrana along with Ousmane Dembele. The latter did arrive in a deal that could rise to €150 million, but the former was made to wait as Liverpool played hardball.

Negotiations went to the wire on deadline day, but the Reds refused to budge. Six months on, however, talks are set to take place once again and the player is keen on a transfer, even though he would not be able to feature in the Champions League until next season after already playing in the competition for Liverpool this term.

So how would he fit in at Barcelona? Will he be used as an attacker in Neymar’s vacant role on the left? Will his signing signal a return to 4-3-3? Will he play in Andres Iniesta’s position? Or could he feature in a four-man midfield for the Catalan club?

Coutinho Neymar role

The answer, quite probably, is “yes” to all of those questions. Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has utilised several systems already this season, including 4-3-3. 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 and above all 4-4-2, and he will see Coutinho as a player who can slot into any of those formations.

If selected in Neymar’s vacant role as a left-sided forward, Coutinho would start alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. The MSN may be long gone, but this strikeforce has the potential to be devastating too and it could also operate with the Argentine in a deeper role and Dembele on the right, or without Suarez at all if necessary.

Coutinho often plays on the right for Brazil to allow Neymar to operate in his favoured position, but the Liverpool attacker prefers to play on the left and could yet be a like-for-like replacement for the Paris Saint-Germain forward at Camp Nou.

Neymar revealed back in September that Coutinho was in a “moment of great sadness” after his move to Barcelona failed to materialise and another former Brazil and Blaugrana icon, Rivaldo, has tipped the Liverpool man to shine at Camp Nou.

“Coutinho is a very good player and if he ends up signing for Barcelona, he will succeed easily,” he said recently. “I think he has the characteristics that a footballer needs to succeed in Barcelona. The style of play will suit him and fans will give him time to adapt. I think he will succeed.”

Coutinho Iniesta role

Time will tell, of course, but following the signing of Dembele, it seems Barcelona see Coutinho as more of a long-term replacement for Iniesta in a midfield role like the one he has excelled in this season at Anfield, and in the meantime a player who can alternate with the Spain star in his twilight years.

Iniesta has already featured heavily for the Catalan club in the current campaign and that has surprised many given that he can no longer play every week over a long season. However, with Coutinho on board, he could be kept fresh for the biggest tests later in the season (notably the Champions League, for which the Brazilian would be cup-tied anyway).

“I see him as a great link-up player, with so much talent,” Iniesta said in December. “He uses both feet, he scores goals, he combines up really well, he can link between the midfield and the attack.

“He is a player with a profile that fits well with ours and he would be a great signing if he arrives. I don’t see him as competition for me, but as a boost for the club.”

Coutinho wide

That is the thinking for Valverde as well and one of the conclusions from last season, when Barca missed out on La Liga to Real Madrid and exited the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, was the need for a larger and stronger squad.

When Neymar left, Barca decided to go for two top players (Dembele and Coutinho) instead of one, while Paulinho and Nelson Semedo have also added to the quality of the group since arriving in the summer.

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Another alternative for Valverde is to stick with 4-4-2 and utilise both Coutinho and Dembele as wingers, something he has tried with other wide players already this season, with Suarez further forward and Messi dropping deep to link between midfield and attack.

“We will see if he comes or not,” Valverde said on Wednesday when asked about Coutinho ahead of his side’s Copa del Rey clash against Celta Vigo. “He is a great player. We respect Liverpool and we respect the player.”

That was a suitably diplomatic response from the Barca boss, but it is likely that the 53-year-old already knows he will arrive and also how he will fit in at the Catalan club. And wherever he is used, Coutinho will make this team stronger for the remainder of this season and also in the years to come.

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The Spain International Striker Enjoyed A Dream Second Debut

Diego Costa claims to “feel like a footballer again” after putting his Chelsea pain behind him to enjoy a dream fresh start at Atletico Madrid.

Despite having helped the Blues to two Premier League titles during his time in England, the Spain international striker found himself frozen out by Antonio Conte at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.

A frustrating summer for the 29-year-old followed, with a return to Atletico agreed while the La Liga giants were working under the restrictions of a transfer ban.

Costa has, however, finally been freed to open a second spell in the Spanish capital and netted just five minutes after stepping off the bench in a Copa del Rey clash with Lleida Esportiu on Wednesday.

He is hoping there will be many more efforts to come, with the burly frontman determined to make up for lost time.

Costa told reporters after a goal-scoring bow: “Now I am very happy because I feel like a footballer again.

“It is great for me to play for Atletico Madrid again, the club are very important to me and I am very happy with this.

“I could not have asked for anything more on my second debut, to be back playing again and to have scored a goal is fantas

A midweek outing for Atletico was Costa’s first since suffering defeat in the 2017 FA Cup final with Chelsea in May.

He did pick up a knock in the process of opening his goal account for his new club, with Atletico having announced that they will be carrying out medical examinations.

Costa took a blow to his right knee in finding the target against Lleida Esportiu, but was determined not to let a few bumps and bruises spoil his big night.

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The Manager Made The Remark After Sharing The Points With Antonio Conte

Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger controversially claimed that he would have killed himself had Davide Zappacosta’s late shot sealed three points for Chelsea on Wednesday.

A sparkling second half of football at the Emirates Stadium ended in a 2-2 draw between the London rivals.

The visitors hit back after Jack Wilshere’s first Premier League strike in over two years with goals via Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso, before Hector Bellerin restored parity late on.

There was one more twist in the tale, however, when Zappacosta crashed a long-range shot against the bar.

“I would have committed suicide,” Wenger told reporters after the final whistle when asked what he would have done if that effort went in.

“It was a great football game, we have shown great mental resources, I knew the last 20 minutes would be tough.”

The draw leaves Arsenal rooted in sixth place in the Premier League, outside the Champions League standings.

But while Wenger is annoyed to see his side down the table, he believes that the Gunners’ play merits better fortunes.

“It’s very frustrating. We have to look at ourselves as well,” he added.

“Our performances have been top quality but we have not had the results we could have had. We have not been gifted luck.”

The manager singled out goalscorer Wilshere for praise after opening the scoring with a fine finish.

“He’s at the level now that not many people expected him to be. He has not played for England since 2016, that means everyone gave up on him,” he said.

“But now it would not be a surprise if he gets a call up. He deserves great credit.”

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Cheetahs’ stalwart Lambri Moondari dies at SGH after complications from fall

Groundsman Lambri Moondari died on Monday at the Singapore General Hospital due to complications from a head injury after a fall in Batam while on a family holiday last week.

The 66-year-old’s sudden passing saddened many in the local football fraternity, especially those at S.League club Hougang United, which play their home matches at the Hougang pitch where Lambri tended to for almost two decades.

Hougang United general manager Matthew Tay said: ”Practically every morning, he would be out on the pitch under the hot sun scattering fertiliser, cutting grass, flattening the pitch and marking the boundary lines just to make sure the pitch is ready for training and matchdays.

”All of us at Hougang United Football Club are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr Lambri and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”

Cheetahs skipper Nurhilmi Jasni, who has been at the club since 2012, said: ”His dedication is evident through our field’s tiptop condition. When we report for training in the mornings, he is already at the stadium. He is a cheerful soul and we are sad to see him go.”

The father of three, who grew up idolising former Singapore internationals Arshad Khamis, Samad Allapitchay, Quah Kim Song and the late Dollah Kassim, started out as a grass cutter at the Farrer Park field in 1971.

Lambri joined the National Sports Promotion Board the same year before the Singapore Sports Council (now Sport Singapore) was established in 1973.

He rose through the ranks from an unskilled workman to become a groundsman at Queenstown Stadium in 1977 before he moved to Hougang Stadium in 2000

Rain or shine, Lambri faithfully and painstakingly patched up the pitch six days a week, and even trimmed the grass before it was outsourced to a contractor.

”The pitch changes day by day — it is never the same,” he told The Straits Times philosophically in a 2013 article that later won the S-League’s Story of the Year.

During that same awards ceremony, Lambri took home the S.League Special Award — the first time a groundsman was honoured.

Former Hougang defender Delwinder Singh noted that Lambri was equally attentive to people as he was to the pitch.

He said: ”Cik Lambri was always cheerful, always smiling.

”Whenever he saw us, he would wave and greet us. Even if you were having a bad day, seeing him would brighten your day. He was an honest man too, telling us if we played well or not after matches, but there was always encouragement from him.”

There was kindness outside of football as well.

On Hougang’s Facebook page, Nalza Ijah Nalzam wrote: ”An event my organisation had planned was rained out in November 2017. As I stood in the rain to inform participants of the cancellation, the late Mr Lambri came up to me to chat.

”Halfway through, he went to his room and came out with a cup of hot coffee. He offered me the cup and insisted I drink it to warm myself up.

”I asked him why he wasn’t drinking and he said it was his last packet of instant coffee and, when I offered it back to him, he declined and said he would make a cup of tea for himself.

‘All through the two hours, he stood beside me to keep me company and I never thought much of it. He told me how he cycled from his home every morning even in the rain. ”I was blessed to have had the pleasure to meet such a kind and selfless soul.”

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Playmaker is one of four Singaporeans to feature in MSL next term

Now 29, he has not always lived up to that expectation, as he struggled with a spate of leg fractures.

This past season is his first injury-free one since he broke his right leg and dislocated his right ankle at the 2014 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

He recovered in 2015, only to fracture the same fibula last year and was out for five months.

Shahdan said yesterday: “It wasn’t easy. But I still have great passion to play football, and I have great support from my family. Otherwise I would have given up.”

Following a steady campaign with Tampines – he scored six goals in 27 appearances this year – as well as re-establishing himself as a first-team regular with the national team, Shahdan appears to have finally caught a break.

 

“I’m happy to secure an overseas move and challenge myself in the MSL,” said Shahdan, who recently agreed a three-year extension with the Stags but will now take his wife and two sons with him to Malaysia.

“I’m thankful to Tampines chairman Desmond Ong and coach Juergen Raab for allowing me to go on loan for a year.

“Playing for a foreign team for the first time is a big opportunity for me. I know I haven’t been consistent enough so far in my career, but I am still hungry for success and I will work hard to re-establish myself at both club and international levels.”

Raab agreed to release Shahdan as he felt the talented player can learn from the experience.

The 59-year-old German said: “It was a big request from him and we decided to give him the chance because we felt the MSL is of good quality with better imports and we hope Shahdan can go and show that there are good Singaporean players.

“He is a good strategist who is able to see many situations and immediately play the right ball. We wish him the best in Melaka next year.”

Melaka, who finished eighth in the 12-team MSL last season, are coached by Portuguese Eduardo Almeida.

Besides Shahdan, Melaka have strengthened their midfield further by signing former Portugal Under-21 midfielder Tiago Gomes, who has featured in La Liga with Hercules, and Malaysia international wingers Chanturu Suppiah and R. Gopinathan from Johor Darul Takzim.

Shahdan’s compatriots Faris Ramli and Hafiz Sujad were also on trial at Melaka for the sole Asean slot before the club opted for Shahdan.

Melaka manager Yusoff Mahadi said: “What we needed was someone to play in the middle of the park, and now we have such a player thanks to Shahdan’s inclusion.”

Shahdan, who has 52 international caps, is the fourth Lion set to feature in the MSL in 2018. Hariss Harun (JDT), Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang) and Madhu Mohana (Negeri Sembilan) are the others.

He said: “It will be weird to play against them in a foreign league, but I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s a different challenge as we move out of our comfort zone and now have the responsibility to justify our positions as imports.”

Another three Lions – Zulfahmi Arifin (Chonburi), Hassan Sunny (Army United) and Izwan Mahbud (Nongbua Pitchaya) – will be plying their trade in Thailand.

Veteran defender Baihakki Khaizan could also join the exodus.

The 33-year-old is in Saudi Arabia to trial with second-tier Jeddah Club, who are 14th in the 16-club competition that ends next May.

His trial ends on Saturday and he is hoping to become the first Singaporean to play in the Saudi Arabian league.

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The Singapore netball team are facing an uphill task

Last night’s defeat at the OCBC Arena, which came after Sunday’s 53-54 loss to Ireland, left Natalie Milicich still searching for her first competitive win as Singapore coach.

Milicich, who took over in September, gave credit to the African side, who are ranked world No. 30 and dominated play against world No. 19 Singapore.

The 50-year-old New Zealander said: “We have to give credit to Swaziland because I think they played a very, very strong game.

“It was a combination of Swaziland playing a very disciplined game and then our own little errors in terms of ball placement, just making ourselves available to the ball a little bit earlier and making those connections earlier as well.”

Swaziland, who beat Hong Kong 48-36 on Sunday, bagged their second win with the highest average shooting accuracy of 86.5 per cent in the tournament so far.

With Singapore’s 1.96m-tall goalkeeper Chen Lili in the treatment room after Sunday’s match against Ireland, Milicich felt that her team’s defence could not cope with Swaziland’s strong attackers – the 1.79m-tall Jabulisile Khathwane and Sebenzile Nxumalo, who is 1.73m tall.

Milicich added that she places more emphasis on the consistency of the team’s performance than the scoreline.

She said: “I try not to think too much about the pressure. We’ve got to think about our performance and we’ve got a bigger picture.

“I’ve been with the team for only six weeks, so I’m still learning about the players and we’re doing some really great stuff out there, we’ve just got to go for longer.”

Going up against bigger and stronger opponents, Singapore’s goal defender Nur Aqilah Andin felt that the hosts were at a disadvantage in terms of size.

The 21-year-old said: “The game started pretty slow for us, and what we planned for the first quarter didn’t work as well so we switched it up after that. We knew that it was going to be tough, but we were ready.

“We had nothing to lose because we knew that they were a better team, and we fought as hard as they did, but they were definitely more fired up than during yesterday’s game.”

Despite the loss, Singapore’s co-vice captain Nurul Baizura Abdul Razak remains optimistic ahead of today’s game against world No. 24 Hong Kong.

The 27-year-old said: “Against Hong Kong, we should have the same mentality and stay positive.

“Ultimately, of course, winning is great but there’s much more to learn from a defeat.”

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National women’s bowler Cherie Tan finished third

The 28-year-old had bowled a score of 237, losing out to South Korea’s Yun Hee Yeo (255) and eventual champion, United States’ Anthony Simonsen (244) in the second round of the finals, which was played on a survivor format. The lowest scorer in each round was eliminated.

In the mixed-gender tournament, where women keglers get an eight-pin handicap, Tan was gutted to have come so close to winning.

She said: “I bowled pretty well for the step-ladder match, so it’s quite disappointing not to be able to win. But the other two outstruck me, so I guess they had a better day.

“It’s definitely bittersweet, because I came so close to winning this year but I didn’t. But overall it was a good tournament for me, so I’m pretty satisfied with my performance.”

Tan had also finished third in this tournament last year, but felt that she had put up a better performance this time around.

“As compared to last year, this year was a bit harder because the lane conditions were a bit harsher and less forgiving,” she said.

“But at the end of the day, I was just focusing on my own game, and not bothering about what the opponents were doing. So I’ll definitely say that I bowled way better this year.”

Ending 2017 on a good note, Tan added: “The year has been quite good. I made two TV finals in the US and won a SEA Games gold medal. At the World Championships, the team came in second, and I came in fifth for all events.

“So overall it’s been quite a consistent performance for me all year round. Our focus next year will be on the Asian Games in August.”

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