Barcelona ace Neymar has thanked his team’s goalkeepers for helping him become the leading scorer in La Liga – and for putting him in position to relieve Lionel Messi of penalty-taking duties at the Nou Camp.
Spot-kicks have been a problem area for Barca over the last couple of years, due to Messi missing with unexpected regularity.
The Argentine star has already fluffed his lines from 12 yards on two occasions this season, against Athletic Bilbao and Levante, and has now failed on four of his last 10 penalties.
The knee injury suffered by Messi against Las Palmas three weeks ago saw responsibility handed over to Neymar, who promptly squandered a spot-kick in the very same game.
Neymar last night https://t.co/fJOdbSQHTT
— Vine Footy (@vinefooty) October 18, 2015
But Neymar retained his position as the team’s designated penalty taker despite that miss and has responded by converting on three consecutive occasions in the last two games – once against Sevilla before the international break, and twice in Saturday’s eventful 5-2 win over Rayo Vallecano.
That game saw Neymar adopt a new penalty-taking method with a very short two-pace run-up, and he admitted that he has been working hard on the technique in training.
“I can’t tell you the secret because if I did, opposition goalkeepers would catch on,” he smiled.
“But it is something I work on in training with Marc-Andre [ter Stegen], Claudio [Bravo] and Jordi [Masip].”
In addition to his spot-kicks, Neymar also added two more goals from open play to take his season’s tally to a league-high eight.
And he delivered a magnificent all-round display to suggest he is capable of rising to the challenge of leading the team during Messi’s ongoing injury absence, which will last for around another month.
The flamboyant Brazilian revelled in the wide open spaces afforded by Rayo’s all-action attacking approach, and he was delighted with his first four-goal haul for the club.
“I am happy with the win, with my goals and with our performance,” he said. “The congratulations go to all of my teammates. But I suppose it was one of my best games in a Barca shirt.”
In-form Karim Benzema admits he is struggling to return to fitness in time for Real Madrid’s enticing Champions League clash against Paris St Germain on Wednesday.
The French striker, who has scored nine goals in 11 games for club and country so far this season, has been out of action since suffering a hamstring injury while on international duty 10 days ago.
He is desperate to regain fitness in time for this week’s crunch trip to his native country for a game which will go a long way towards securing Group A’s top spot and a potentially crucial top-seed berth for the knockout stage.
But Benzema appears to be less than optimistic over his chances, saying: “I am doing everything possible to come back as quickly as possible. I am working hard to be there in Paris on Wednesday, but I don’t want to force things.”
Benzema has also talked up big-spending PSG’s potential in the Champions League, hailing them as possible winners despite their exit at the quarter-final stage in each of the last three seasons.
“They are growing as a team and they are getting closer to the very best,” he said. “It’s great to have a French team which can cause problems for the top sides in Europe, and they could win the competition.”
One player who will certainly be named in Real’s starting line-up for Wednesday’s trip to the Parc de Princes is Marcelo, who captained the team in Sergio Ramos’s absence for this weekend’s 3-0 home win over Levante.
Marcelo was rewarded with a warm ovation from the home supporters after opening the scoring on Saturday, and the popular Brazilian says he is honoured to be held in such high esteem by the demanding Los Blancos fans.
“I always try to play with joy and motivation in order to make the fans happy, and it is really joyful to hear them chant my name,” he beamed.
The experienced left-back was also delighted to see Jese Rodriguez make a goalscoring contribution from the bench, and advised the young forward to continue giving his all if he wants to earn more regular playing time.
Jese has received some criticism for a supposedly less than wholehearted approach to training and a fondness for the high life, and although Marcelo avoided commenting directly on those claims he did make it clear that hard work is the only route to a place in the team.
“Jese came on, helped the team, scored a goal and he ran himself into the ground,” noted Marcelo approvingly. “Everybody deserves minutes, and it’s the boss who decides – but everybody has to run, to help the team, and those who do that deserve to play.”
Etihad Airways has denied reports and speculation that the airline is to become a sponsor of Inter Milan football club.
Reports in Gazzetta dello Sport said Manchester City sponsors Etihad, who own 49 percent of the Alitalia airline, will replace Italian tyre giants Pirelli as the Nerazzurri's new sponsor in a deal worth 125million euros over five years.
The report added that former club president and owner Massimo Moratti was "closer to saying goodbye" to the club.
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Moratti held meetings with Inter president and majority shareholder, Indonesian Erick Thohir, earlier this week, fuelling speculation that he is ready to sell his remaining 30 percent share in the club.
However, Etihad told Sport360 that there is ‘no truth’ to the reports.
An Etihad Airways spokesperson said: “Etihad Airways denies the reports and speculation that the airline is to become a sponsor of Inter Milan football club in Italy. The airline is not in talks with the club and there is no truth to these rumours.”
Inter currently earn 12million euros a season with tyre giants Pirelli, who have been linked to the club for close to 20 years, but the current deal expires at the end of the season.
Juventus (Jeep) and AC Milan (Emirates) earn 17million euros a year from their respective shirt sponsorship deals.