Wales boss Coleman: Bale won’t quit Real Madrid for Manchester United

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Chris Coleman has backed Gareth Bale to snub a return to the English Premier League in favour of remaining at Real Madrid this summer.

The Welsh superstar has been criticised for his form this season and linked with a move back to England after finishing the season empty-handed. Manchester United are believed to be the favourites for his signature and it was reported this month they could land him as part of a swap deal with apparent want-away keeper David De Gea.

Speculation surrounding Bale’s future has only intensified after the sacking of manager Carlo Ancelotti but the former Tottenham forward seemed to rubbish such suggestions when he tweeted he was looking forward to the new La Liga season earlier in the week.

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Wales v Belgium: Chris Coleman’s men can take the Euro 2016 heat

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Wales boss Chris Coleman admits they are feeling the pressure – but insists he wouldn’t have it any other way ahead of next month’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Belgium.

His men are currently second in Group B, trailing Marc Wilmots’s side only on goal difference at the halfway stage of the campaign, and are determined to maintain their undefeated run on 12 June at Cardiff City stadium.

But speaking as he named his squad for the top-of-the-table clash, Coleman revealed Wales are relishing the big games after keeping the likes of Chelsea star Eden Hazard, Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke and Kevin De Bruyne of Wolfsburg at bay in November’s 0-0 draw in Brussels.

Coleman said: “There’s a reason for us being in this position: we’ve played good teams before and held our own. If we want to reach what we want to achieve, then we’re going to have to live…

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‘The games are just getting bigger and bigger’ says Chris Coleman

Having reached the halfway stage in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman has said his side are enjoying the pressure that is on his Wales side as they go into another crunch clash, this time against Belgium, looking for all three points to keep their undefeated streak alive.

With five games played in the campaign so far, Wales and Belgium sit at the top of the group with Marc Wilmots’ side only ahead of Wales on goal difference. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw in November, a great defensive display from Wales keeping the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne at bay out in Brussells.

Injury concerns
James Collins and Ben Davies have been ruled out of this clash through injury, but Wales welcome back James Chester, Paul Dummett and Adam Matthews to the squad; Coleman was adamant that his side would cope without his defensive absentees:

‘It’s a real positive to have these guys back, on the back of the Israel camp, which was a great performance that got us the three points, it’s nice to be able to bring back players of that calibre.

‘Difficult for James (Chester) after the difficulty of relegation with Hull but equally he has a chance now to end his season on a high with us.

‘Paul Dummett has done really well when he’s been with us and Adam Matthews has experience with us anyway so to have all three back is a huge positive.’

One of Wales’ biggest strengths in the group so far has been their tactical adaptability, using a number of different systems in their games; some in the media have voiced concerns that perhaps missing key defenders takes away the ability to switch to using three centre backs so easily; Coleman acknowledged how key Collins and Davies have been to the set-up in recent games:

‘The formation in Israel important and Ben and James were key to that performance, enabling us to play with a back three, so it is a blow to lose them.

‘But we’ve been here before, we’ve seen so many times that it is rarely the same squad twice, so whilst we are obviously disappointed to lose both players we just have to deal with it and get on with it.

‘You don’t want to disrupt a winning team with injuries but in international football it is inevitable so there isn’t much we can do about that unfortunately.’

50 for Bale
Never has a Wales men’s international reached the 100 caps milestone for one reason or another but in recent years there has been great emphasis from the Wales hierarchy to encourage players to turn up to squads and enable them to reach that milestone. Ashley Williams got his 50th cap in the Israel game, but against Belgium it will be Bale’s turn.

Naturally, Coleman was full of praise for his Galactico:

‘It’s not just that he’s got 50 caps, it’s that on his way to earning most of them his performances have been absolutely outstanding, particularly in recent years.

‘I think he’s a credit to himself, you see his reaction in the games to when we’re doing well and it’s obvious how much it means to him-he’s got 50 now, he can easily get another 50.

‘A lot of our players have got the capacity to reach the 100 mark, they’re good enough, they’re young enough and we really want as many of them as possible to reach that milestone and credit to them, they’ve just got to keep on doing what they’ve been doing and they’ll get there.’

It seems a feature of Wales press conferences now that Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid future is a topic of conversation; this squad announcement was no exception, especially in the wake of Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking:

‘Carlo and Paul were brilliant, it’s a shame for Carlo, I think he’s a great manager. It was a tough season for Madrid, and Gareth is the most expensive player in the world so of course he is going to attract attention.’

‘Its not just him that is having a tough time, Ronaldo, Isco, Benzema, they’re all struggling but everyone wants to focus on Gareth, but he’s a man, he’ll come through it he’s never let us down in any case.’

With rumours circulating of a move away from Madrid for Bale, Coleman refused to be drawn too deep into discussion about it but did comment briefly:

‘Why would you want to leave Real Madrid? He’s worked hard enough to get there. I don’t think he’ll leave, I don’t think he wants to but if he does then there’ll be a couple of clubs who want him and can afford him.

‘I know what the Spanish league is like and people asked me if I’d be worried about him going there or if it makes things more difficult for me but it doesn’t because the tempo is different over there and as a result I think Bale is in better shape than the premier league players, so from that perspective I’d like him to stay where he is.’

Fatigue concerns?
With some players in the squad playing in the championship, they won’t have played competitive football for a few weeks come June 12th but Coleman brushed away any potential fitness concerns by saying he will be making no excuses for his players:

‘’We’ve known this game has been coming for some time, hence why we played Holland in a friendly this time last year to prepare ourselves physically for playing in the summer.

‘Our objective is to be playing tournament football which will mean playing in the summer so that experience against holland was very beneficial, despite the fact that we lost.

‘The players have all had fitness programmes so that when they come here to prepare for two weeks we don’t spend the first week getting everyone into shape. When they get here it will mostly be tactical work. We can’t play against Belgium not being 100% fit! Just because the game is in June there can be no excuses. You get enough holidays when you retire.’

Young blood
Ever since Harry Wilson’s call-up and first cap against Belgium back in 2013, there has been an expectation from fans to see more youngsters getting call ups. West Brom and Wales youth prospect Tyler Roberts was expected to be in the squad this time but missed out.

He, and others, will be involved in preparations for the game though:

‘We’ve got three or four youngsters joining us in the first week so they can see what it’s all about. It helps us in terms of our training, because there’s obviously more players there which is better for everyone.

‘I quite like doing that to give some of the lads a taste of what could be around the corner for them if they work hard and younger players always add a tempo to the training because of he heir enthusiasm.’

‘Ideally they won’t be involved in the second week of preparations unless anything goes wrong but we need to look after these players and make sure they’re ready to step up – the next three or four years are huge for them; they haven’t made it yet but we need to help them as much as possible.’

Wales’ match with Belgium takes place on the 12th of June at the Cardiff City stadium – both sides are undefeated and there will be a sell-out crowd there to watch the action unfold. You can watch it on Sky Sports 5 on the night but we will have more of the news surrounding the Wales set-up as soon as we get it and a preview piece the day before the game. Let us know what you think of Wales’ chances in this one!

Wales squad
Goalkeepers: Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Fon Williams (Tranmere),Ward (Liverpool)

Defenders: Williams (Swansea City – captain), Chester (Hull City), Gunter (Reading), Taylor (Swansea City), Dummett (Newcastle), Matthews (Celtic), Richards (Swansea City), Henley (Blackburn Rovers)

Midfielders: Allen (Liverpool), Ledley (Crystal Palace), Ramsey (Arsenal), King (Leicester City), Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), MacDonald (Bournemouth), Cotterill (Birmingham City)

Forwards: Robson-Kanu (Reading), Lawrence (Leicester City), Bale (Real Madrid), Church (Charlton Athletic), Vokes (Burnley).

Five Things We Learned: Steven Gerrard bids Liverpool goodbye while relegation battle goes down to wire

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas takes a look at the talking points in this weekend’s Premier League . . .

1. Gerrard recognition unprecedented

The one thing that sticks when looking at Steven Gerrard’s impending departure from Liverpool is the level of adulation he’s received as a result. You could mistake Gerrard’s departure for a retirement when in fact he has a couple of years left over in the United States.

We aren’t saying for a second that he isn’t a Premier League great – he absolutely is – but you have to wonder if this attention has done Liverpool any favours.

Gerrard’s departure was announced at the turn of the year, and it’s possible the importance of the timing has been understated.

When Liverpool went on their remarkable run of form, the announcement appeared to have helped the side’s confidence.

However, when results started turning the other way, it could have had…

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Manchester United end 11-year wait for their own Arjen Robben in Memphis Depay

The Offside Rule

The PSV Eindhoven winger has drawn comparisons with former United hero Cristiano Ronaldo but Jamie Thomas argues he’s more like the one who got away, Bayern Munich ace Robben.

Football fans always loathe to see their transfer targets joining rival teams, especially those targets that have the potential to go on to be among the world’s best players. In January 2004, Arjen Robben was one of those players and Manchester United were in the driver’s seat to sign him.

The then-PSV Eindhoven winger was 19 years old at the time but he already looked like a future star. United had previously had great success in signing players from PSV, such as Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy (and since then Park Ji-Sung), therefore, rumours of the Red Devils nearing a deal for this latest Dutch wonder kid got a lot of supporters excited. But the move regrettably fell apart and…

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Five Things We Learned: John Carver toughs it out at Newcastle, Burnley and QPR go down

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas takes a look at the talking points in this weekend’s Premier League . . .

1. Is Sunderland’s form a fluke?

Having taken 10 points in their last six games, things have undoubtedly taken a turn for the better for Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland side but to say they’re looking like certs to stay up is premature. Whilst a 2-0 win away at Everton is impressive, the manner with which they secured it needs to be made clear.

Firstly, Costel Pantilimon had probably his best game in a Sunderland shirt and on top of that the two goals were incredibly fortunate with Danny Graham’s ‘goal’ being credited to him for the massive deflection it took from someone else’s shot and Jermain Defoe’s goal deflected off an Everton defender, and himself to be honest, before finding the back of the net – and there was a foul on Ross Barkley…

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Ilkay Gündogan: What you need to know about the Manchester United target

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

The Borussia Dortmund exodus appears to be getting underway just 10 days after Jürgen Klopp announced he would depart the club at the end of the season, as one of his best players, £25million-rated Ilkay Gündogan, is believed to be very close to signing for United.

Ilkay Gündogan, when match fit, has consistently been one of the most important players to the Dortmund cause over the last few years. He has one of the most interesting skill sets of any central midfielder in the world right now.

A natural playmaker converted to more of a holding midfielder, Dortmund’s number 8 has athletic ability and physical presence but also the vision and skill to turn a game on its head in an instant. Nuri Sahin is credited with enabling Dortmund’s counter-attacking style of play but highly-rated Gündogan is arguably more important in this…

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Five Things We Learned – United at a loss without Carrick, Leicester eye safety and Chelsea have reason to celebrate

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas takes a look at the talking points in this weekend’s Premier League . . .

1. Carver’s fight talk

John Carver had a barney with Newcastle fans after allegedly swearing and in an exchange you normally only hear at chucking-out time, telling one “outside, outside!” After losing their seventh game on the bounce against Swansea, no wonder tempers are frayed. Despite scoring two goals, the Toon were absolutely woeful and eventually lost 3-2.

But sacking Carver at this point in the season wouldn’t do anyone any good – not when they are dangerously close to getting involved in a relegation battle with four games to go. It might not be the best way to handle fans’ frustrations but he’s not really the one to blame, is he Mike Ashley?

2. Safety first for Villa

Teams often play safer after reaching cup finals for fear of injury leading up…

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Five Things We Learned – Chelsea close in on the title, Liverpool and Saints lose their way, while Leicester push for survival

The Offside Rule

Jamie Thomas discusses the big talking points from this week’s Premier League and FA Cup action…

1. Chelsea are as good as champions

We’ve seen Chelsea do this so many times before; very little possession, but very clinical when they have it. Manchester United fans might feel hard done by, but at the end of the day, they can’t have expected much more than what they got.

Ten points ahead of Arsenal, Chelsea need eight points from their remaining six games. Three of those games are at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool, and Sunderland, and with Mourinho’s impeccable home form throughout his career, you have to expect that even if they lose their away games, Chelsea will get the job done at home.

Against Manchester United, they did what they needed to do – they’ve done it all season, and they’ll win the league because of it.

2. The story…

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INTERVIEW: Wales forward Natasha Harding – ‘Jayne Ludlow can lead us to Euro 2017 glory’

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Fresh from beating Birmingham City to reach the FA Women’s Cup semi-finals, Manchester City’s Natasha Harding talks her ambitions to help Wales reach a first ever Euro finals, how coach Ludlow has transformed the national women’s team and the progress of the game.

ORP: You’ve just come back from a friendly double-header with Slovakia, having won the first game but lost the second 2-1 were you happy with the way those games went?

NH: Well, we wanted to win both games when we set our targets for the start of the camp – and we should have won both of them, if I’m honest. The second game wasn’t at all what we have been about in recent months and I think that match showed us that we have to change our mentality as a squad if we are going to be able…

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