Hamann: Manchester City, Arsenal & Chelsea should all progress in Champions League

The former Bayern Munich midfielder believes utilising Yaya Toure in a more advanced role will give Manuel Pellegrini’s side a better chance of seeing off Barcelona in round two


If Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini gets it right all three English clubs will make it through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League, says Dietmar Hamann.

The former City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich star believes finding the right position for Yaya Toure will be key when the Premier League champions face Barcelona. “City won’t win with Yaya Toure in a midfield two, but if he’s playing off the front man I’m sure they’ll do it,” he said.

Hamann, a Goal ambassador for the Champions League, has criticised Pellegrini for failing to find Toure’s best position in previous games. Toure was suspended for the last two group matches, both of which City won, and will miss the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

“I don’t think it works with him in a two, whether it’s with Fernando or Fernandinho,” said Hamann. “He should be further forward, with two behind him from James Milner, Fernando and Fernandinho. Sergio Aguero should be fit again by February and with Toure playing off him City will be very strong.”

Barcelona have not quite hit top form so far under Luis Enrique, giving Hamann the impression that “something’s not quite right”. City lost to the Catalan club in the last 16 last year, but in the 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou they played well.

“They matched Barcelona and should take confidence from that,” said Hamann. “If they want to go to the next stage among Europe’s big clubs they have to win this tie, and they can do it.

“Luis Suarez hasn’t scored in the league for Barcelona and something is not right. City look a different team to the one that struggled in the early part of the season and every group winner will have wanted to avoid them. This is City’s big chance, and if they get it right with Yaya Toure they will go through.”

Chelsea can beat Paris Saint-Germain, said Hamann, who does not rate the French side as genuine contenders, while Arsenal will count themselves fortunate to be facing Monaco despite failing to win their group.

“Arsenal had the best draw of the three Premier League teams,” Hamann added. “If they could have picked their opponents they would have picked Monaco. It should be three out of three for England.”

Nissan’s ‘Engineers of Excitement’ headed to UEFA Champions League knockout stage

Yaya Toure, Max Meyer, Thiago Silva and Andres Iniesta will all continue to star in this year’s competition after their clubs successfully navigated their respective groups


How do you build an ‘I, Robot’ footballer? You make a composite player from the four Nissan ‘Engineers of Excitement’ ambassadors in the Champions League. That would result in something truly special.

Max Meyer and Yaya Toure offer youth and experience, and have both scored spectacular goals. Andres Iniesta is the go-to man for assists and tackles, and Thiago Silva is Mr Reliable when it comes to blocks and clearances. Between the four of them, they have just about everything covered.

All four have successfully made it through to the knockout stages.

Meyer did it in style, scoring a crucial goal with his only shot on target in the six group matches. Schalke – beaten 5-0 at home by Chelsea in their previous game – had to bounce back with a win in Slovenia against Maribor, and hope that Sporting lost at Chelsea.

Early goals for Cesc Fabregas and Andre Schurrle at Stamford Bridge made Sporting’s task near-impossible and they lost 3-1.

Schalke were level at 0-0 when, in the 56th minute, they sent on 19-year-old Meyer for Tranquillo Barnetta. Six minutes later he scored, driving in the winner after goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic pushed out a cross.

“Max was a bit disappointed because he didn’t start the match, but as you have seen he was the most important man in the end,” said Roberto Di Matteo, the former Chelsea star who manages Schalke. “His future at the club is really bright.”

Toure – who scored a spectacular free kick against CSKA Moscow earlier in the group – was suspended for Manchester City’s game at Roma. With Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany also missing, City needed a special performance and got it, winning 2-0.

Twelve years Meyer’s senior, Toure has been a driving force in midfield for City and will be delighted that they are in Monday’s draw. He described the Champions League as “the most beautiful competition” before the game and said: “All the big clubs go until the semi-final of the Champions League, and if we want to compete at that level we need to go this year.

“We have got the squad. I’m totally positive.”

Thiago Silva has been very steady for Paris Saint-Germain despite missing some time through injury and has five interceptions and two clean sheets in his three games. The Brazil international feels there is more to come from PSG, who finished runners-up to Barcelona in Group F.

Iniesta, only recently returned from a calf injury in October, described Barca’s 3-1 win against PSG as “a pretty complete performance”. As usual, he played a pivotal role and said he looks forward to “feeling better and better and getting the rhythm back into my game”.

He has created six chances in four appearances, three of which led to goals. With Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez all scoring freely, said Iniesta, Barca “will definitely go a long way”.

Nasri: Manchester City proved we're more than just Aguero & Toure

The Frenchman says the Premier League champions’ win in Rome shows they can cope without their two key men and praised Joe Hart for an “amazing save” with the game at 1-0


Sami Nasri says Manchester City have proved that they can cope without Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure after beating Roma 2-0 in the Stadio Olimpico to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Aguero, the Premier League’s top scorer with 14 goals so far this season, is currently sidelined with a knee problem while Toure was suspended for the crucial clash.

However, Manuel Pellegrini’s men clinched victory without their two key players. Nasri opened the scoring before Pablo Zabaleta sealed victory late on.

“The performance of the team was amazing. It was important for me to score because after my surgery I took a little bit of time to come back to my full level,” he told Sky Sports.

“Yaya [Toure] wasn’t there, Kun [Aguero] wasn’t there… it was important for us to show that we are a team and we did it tonight.”

Goalkeeper Joe Hart played a key role for City, tipping Kostas Manolas’ header onto the post with the game still delicately poised at 1-1, and Nasri praised the England international for his part in the victory.

“The manager told us to take our time. The game is 95 minutes. We won our last game against Bayern in the last minute as well,” he added.

“We knew we had to be patient and we did it. We scored and we won the game. My strike was important but at 1-0, the save Hart made was amazing and helped us as well.”

How unlikely Soldado loan move to Real Madrid fell through

The striker has failed to fire for Tottenham but nearly moved to the Bernabeu this summer, while Manchester City are hoping to delay Yaya Toure’s departure for Afcon 2015


HOW SOLDADO’S REAL MADRID LOAN MOVE FELL THROUGH

Roberto Soldado could have been playing for the European champions this weekend had events transpired differently over the summer.

The Tottenham striker came very close to a loan move to Real Madrid in the final days of the window as Carlo Ancelotti looked for a backup striker.

Soldado was desperate for the deal to go through but Madrid refused to meet Spurs chairman Daniel Levy’s demands for a €8 million loan fee.

The transfer fell through on deadline day as the Spanish giants signed Javier Hernandez on loan from Manchester United instead.

Spurs were in any case reluctant to sell the €30m forward with no replacement lined up and only two other strikers at the club in Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane.

Soldado, 29, has struggled badly in north London and scored his first Premier League goal since March in last week’s 2-1 win over Everton.

But he retains an excellent reputation in Spain where he scored 30 goals in 46 matches in his final season at Valencia.

Soldado is not understood to be seeking a move in the upcoming January transfer window and both the player and Tottenham will wait until the summer before making a decision on his future.

- By Greg Stobart

MAN CITY TO DELAY YAYA TOURE AFCON DEPARTURE

Manchester City will speak with the Cote d’Ivoire FA this week about keeping Yaya Toure for an extra week before the Africa Cup of Nations.

The tournament takes place between January 19 and February 15, and the Cote d’Ivoire squad are scheduled to meet up in Paris on January 2.

But the Premier League champions want to keep their midfielder for an additional week and have him available for the FA Cup 3rd round.

The Etihad side face Everton on January 10 and are hoping Cote d’Ivoire will be flexible in allowing the 31-year-old to stay with his club side.

- By Paul Clennam

EVANS IN LINE FOR MAN UTD RETURN

Jonny Evans is in contention for a return from injury in Manchester United’s clash with Southampton on Monday.

Evans played the full 90 minutes for the United Under-21s against a Southampton side on Monday and suffered no ill effects.

The Northern Ireland international has been out of action for two months with an ankle injury and rode a couple of stiff challenges in the run-out.

The centre-back has been given the all-clear after coming through two further hour-long games in training this week.

- By Paul Clennam

NO EARLY LIVERPOOL MOVE FOR ORIGI

Liverpool are unlikely to attempt to bring forward Divock Origi’s move to Anfield, Goal understands.

The Anfield side struck a deal to sign the Belgium international from Lille in the summer, with the striker returning to the Ligue 1 club for the 2014-15 season.

Liverpool have lost Daniel Sturridge to a long term injury, while Mario Balotelli has also been ruled out of action with a hamstring problem, leaving Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini as the club’s only recognised front men.

But a source close to the deal told Goal it is unlikely that Origi will make an early move to Merseyside.

“It probably won’t happen,” the source said. “It would not really be in the spirit of how the original deal was agreed.”

The 19-year-old, who has stated he would be willing to move early to England – has scored three goals in nine starts so far this term for Lille.

- By Graeme Bailey

'Africa's best' Yaya Toure facing Premier League pain – Okocha

EXCLUSIVE: The former Nigeria star has tipped the Ivorian for the prestigious African Player of the Year award but believes Chelsea are the team to beat in England

Jay-Jay Okocha believes Manchester City star Yaya Toure will miss out on the Premier League title to Chelsea, but backed him as the outstanding candidate to be named African Player of the Year.

Okocha, who spent five years in England with Bolton Wanderers and Hull City, is remembered as one of the greatest African players of his generation.

He still keeps a close eye on the Premier League and has tipped Toure to be awarded the prize for the best African player of the past 12 months as a result of his performances for City as they won the title last term.

“For me, Yaya Toure is the natural winner,” he told Goal. “I think the shortlist for the award shows that African football for the past two to three years has not really produced a lot of stars, because only two or three players have been consistent for the past five to six years: Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba.

“Now that Eto’o and Drogba have gone it looks like Yaya Toure is going to be the outstanding player. After him, I don’t think we’ve really produced the great stars in Africa.”

But while he expects Toure to be triumphant in the January ceremony, the former Nigeria international believes the Manchester City midfielder may miss out on adding a second straight Premier League winner’s medal come May.

“Chelsea look like the complete team,” added the 41-year-old. “They look like a good business model, they don’t care about anybody and they know how to grind out results.

“So at the moment I would say that Chelsea look like the team to beat.”

Okocha never managed to win the African Footballer of the Year award despite excelling with the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahce, Paris Saint-Germain and Bolton over a consistent period.

And he admits that he thought he would take the award home in 1998 after leading Nigeria to the last 16 of the World.

“I thought I had a very good chance in ‘98, because I had a fantastic World Cup and a very good season as well.

“But I just think it wasn’t meant to be because I won the BBC African Footballer of the Year twice and had many chances of winning the African Footballer of the Year, so maybe some things are not meant to be.”

Jay-Jay Okocha is calling on fans to share their childhood sports photos, from their school football team to local sports club, in support of Western Union’s #PassForSchool campaign. For more information on PASS and #PassForSchool, click here.