Michael Carrick feels Man United are back where they belong in Champions League

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Michael Carrick wants Manchester United to establish themselves as a Champions League force once more as Old Trafford prepares to host a first knockout game in four years.

After the Red Devils secured a nervy 0-0 draw in Spain last month, Sevilla arrive on Tuesday evening for the return leg of an evenly-poised last-16 clash.

United last hosted a Champions League knockout game in 2014 and skipper Carrick says it is high time they competed again for European football’s top trophy.

“For so long, it was kind of a given,” said Carrick, the last remaining member of the victorious 2008 side.

“We didn’t take it for granted, but it was just what we did for so, so many years.

“When you go without that a little bit, it kind of hurts and you miss it.

“You know, fortunately this year we’re back there, back in the knockout stages where it really counts.

“You get that extra spicy feeling, there’s that little bit extra to it and we want to be playing these games. The biggest games at this time of the season.

“Not looking past tomorrow night, but for seasons ahead now I think as a squad we need to develop, we need to be constantly in this position and expect it of ourselves and keep them standards high.”

Carrick knows better than anyone in the squad about the high standards demanded at Old Trafford.

The 36-year-old is the longest-serving player at the club, having joined from Tottenham in 2006 and gone on to win the Champions League and five Premier League titles, among many other trophies.

Carrick will be hoping to add to his medal-laden CV before the end of the season – a campaign the veteran confirmed will be his last as a player before taking up manager Jose Mourinho’s offer to join the coaching staff.

“There comes a time when as much as you like it or don’t like it, your body tells you it’s time to stop playing football,” Carrick said.

“So that’s pretty much where I’m at, which is fine. It’s something you’ve got to accept so that’s where I am at.

“It’s kind of been sorted out (for a coaching role). We’re still talking about it, to be honest, so there’s nothing to totally confirm as yet.
“But, yeah, it’s looking likely.”

Carrick is unlikely to be in the starting line-up on Tuesday, while there are also big questions over Paul Pogba’s availability.

The 24-year-old midfielder – who surprisingly started the goalless first leg on the bench in Spain – was injured on the eve of the Liverpool clash and was conspicuous by his absence from the section of training open to the media on Monday.

United boss Mourinho offered no insight into Pogba’s injury, just that the club-record signing could be involved against Sevilla.

“(Pogba) did (train) after you left,” Mourinho said.

“I don’t know (if he can play), we don’t know yet, but he trained a little bit after you left.”

Mourinho confirmed that Anthony Martial is back in contention after an injury of his own, and that Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones remain absent.

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Greek football league suspended after gun controversy

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Greece’s top-flight football championship was suspended indefinitely Monday, a minister said, hours after the owner of the PAOK team invaded the pitch with a gun strapped to his belt.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was “determined” to enforce order in the country’s oft-chaotic leading sport, which has repeatedly been marred by violence on and off the pitch.

“We must all decide to ignore the political cost…It’s a question of will. Personally, I am determined to go ahead,” Tsipras said ahead of a meeting with a rival party leader.

His deputy minister for sport, Yiorgos Vassiliadis, had earlier told reporters after an emergency meeting with Tsipras that the Superleague championship would “not start again without a new framework agreed by all.”

Vassiliadis said the government was in close contact with European football body UEFA, which he said had been “shocked” by the incident.

Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of PAOK owner, Greek-Russian businessman Ivan Savvidis, after he stormed the pitch on Sunday, accompanied by bodyguards, to confront the referee in protest at a 90th-minute disallowed goal in a top-of-the-table clash against AEK Athens.

PAOK sports director Lubos Michel, a Slovak former FIFA referee, is also believed to have threatened referee Yiorgos Kominis.
The match was interrupted as AEK’s squad walked off the pitch. The goal was later allowed.

Vassiliadis said the government had “fought to clean up” Greek football for three years “and would not allow all this effort to be threatened”.

“We await proposals from the federation and the league,” he said. “A tougher framework is needed.”

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Antonio Conte's caution fails to harness best of Chelsea star Eden Hazard

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Chelsea manager Antonio Conte faces a conundrum of balancing his tendency for caution with the English champions’ need to score to get past the might of Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

Conte’s plan to contain and counter-attack on the La Liga leaders nearly worked to perfection in the first leg three weeks ago as Willian put the hosts in front and also hit the woodwork twice.

But one Andreas Christensen error cost Conte’s men dear as Barca pounced for a vital away goal when Andres Iniesta set up Lionel Messi to finally net against Chelsea at the ninth attempt and give Barca the upper hand from a 1-1 draw.

However, whilst Willian shone in Conte’s strikerless set-up, Eden Hazard was unable to exert the influence he desires on the biggest stage in an unfamiliar centre-forward role.

“We need to repeat the game we played at Stamford Bridge and to try to exploit the chances to score,” Conte told Chelsea TV following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, hinting that he will opt for a similar approach at the Camp Nou.

“It’s important to understand that we must be prepared to suffer, if we play with Hazard as number nine, or if we play with (Olivier) Giroud or (Alvaro) Morata as number nine and Hazard as number 10.”

Hazard certainly suffered when deployed once more in a central role as Chelsea were passed off the park by Manchester City in a 1-0 defeat nine days ago.

“When you leave the pitch you have the impression that you’ve ran [a lot], but that you haven’t played a game of football,” said Hazard as City recorded a Premier League record 902 passes and Chelsea failed to muster a single shot on goal.

“We could have played on for three hours, and I wouldn’t touch a ball.

“For me personally it’s difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times.”

– Missing Morata -The root of Hazard’s discontent is Conte’s lack of faith in either club record singing Morata or Giroud, who was hastily recruited on the final day of the January transfer window as a more physical option.

Hazard’s best displays throughout his Chelsea career have come when playing off a focal point, most notably in two Premier League title winning seasons alongside Diego Costa.

A fallout with Conte meant Costa was hastily dispatched by the Italian at the end of last season despite playing a huge role in delivering the title.

Morata was bought to replace his Spanish international team-mate and initially struck up an excellent relationship with Hazard.

However, an alarming dip in form allied to injury problems has seen Morata make just one start in two months and fail to score since Boxing Day.

Likewise, Giroud has made just three starts and scored one goal since crossing London to join from Arsenal.

On the eve of the first leg, Hazard welcomed comparisons to five-time Ballon d’Or winners Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but admitted he had to produce far more on a consistent basis in the Champions League to justify such comparisons.

“If you want to be one of the best, you have to play well in the big games,” said the Belgian, whose contract expires in 2020.

But after Conte claimed playing in a more open style against City and Barcelona would be “stupid” given their superior quality, Hazard may be forgiven for wondering if he can realise his ambitions at Stamford Bridge should Chelsea fail to make the quarter-finals for a fourth straight season.

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