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Neil driven by fear of failure

Alex Neil

Norwich manager Alex Neil says the fear of failure will be a motivating factor when his team face Middlesbrough in the Championship play-off final.

The two sides were separated by just a point in the final league table and will meet at Wembley on Monday with a place in the Premier League at stake.

Norwich lost both meetings against Boro this season but Neil is determined to come out on the winning side when it matters most.

“The fear of failure, in terms of letting the players down, the fans, and the club, has certainly driven me and will continue to drive me,” he told.

“We are set up to return to the Premier League, no question. The training ground, the squad, how everything is run very professionally - we are set up to move on the next level.”

Neil started the season in the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton Academical but has made a seamless transition to the Championship after taking over from Neil Adams in January.

“People say to me quite a lot ‘you must pinch yourself’, but I don’t, I just feel at home in the job,” he said.

“I don’t get overawed by things, it doesn’t matter who I’m speaking to or what it is, I approach it for what it is. I have really enjoyed my time here and I want that to continue and for it to be as good as it can be.

“If I can get to the Premier League with a team this early that would be a fantastic achievement for everyone.”

Norwich were seventh in the table when Neil took over but only lost three matches under his tenure as they narrowly missed out on automatic promotion.

“I knew I had a point to prove to the players, media, staff, everyone,” he said. “But it was something I was going to embrace and I like a challenge. I believed in myself and that I could do the job, I am pleased everything has gone to plan.

“I had confidence I could do the job, you just hope it all goes to plan, but that is easier said than done. A lot of the staff in the background, and the players, they have they taken to my ideas and determination and the will to win.

“I’m laid back, I do have my moments where I am not that intense, but when it comes to my work it is my livelihood, I take it extremely seriously, I am not there to be happy and pick up a wage, I am here to do as well as I can.”

Asked about the encounter with Middlesbrough, Neil said: "I’m expecting a tight game, if you look at Boro they have the best home record in the league, defensively very strong, I don’t think it’s going to be an open free-flowing game.

"It will be relatively cagey, neither team will want to give anything away but both teams will want to put their stamp on the game and play it at their pace.

"It will be a tactical battle, either way I expect a really difficult game that boils down to who plays the best over 90 minutes."

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Viola continue pressing for European place

Viola continue pressing for European place

Fiorentina host relegated Parma on Monday evening at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, hoping to secure a win that keeps them in the hunt for a Europa League place next season.

Following two straight wins in the league against Empoli and Cesena, Fiorentina have bounced back in recent weeks (disregarding their 3-0 humbling at Sevilla in the Europa League) to find themselves in pole position for a Europa League spot.

Parma meanwhile, haven’t won in three outings, but impressively held Napoli to a 2-2 draw last weekend that proves the team will continue to play for pride despite being mathematically relegated.

The previous meeting this season in February between the two sides actually ended in a shock 1-0 victory for the Ducali over their nine-man opponents. Defender Andrea Costa was the match-winner on that day, whilst Gonzalo Rodriguez and Stefan Savic saw red for the hosts.

Fiorentina will have to do without forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Khouma Babacar who are still out injured, so will look to in-form Slovenian international Josip Ilicic – who has five goals in his last three league games – for goals. Micah Richards has also been ruled out for ten days so Nenad Tomovic is expected to slot back in at right-back.

With the Viola having played the second leg of their Europa League tie on Thursday evening, boss Vincenzo Montella is expected to rotate his squad and give the likes of Alberto Aquilani, David Pizarro and Alberto Gilardino the nod to start.

Parma is expected to remain unchanged against Fiorentina. The only change should be enforced, and that is Andi Lila out due to suspension meaning Massimo Coda is likely to come into the side. Impressive youngster Jose Mauri will continue alongside Antonio Nocerino in the midfield, whilst Raffaele Palladino will attempt to continue his goal-scoring run.

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Mourinho wants Baggies points

Jose Mourinho

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho says his thirst for victory remains undiminished despite clinching the Premier League title.

The Blues play at West Brom this evening and despite already having the Premier League title in the bag, Mourinho is eager to pick up a 26th win of the season.

"We all need to respect the game and play for the best result. We are going to try (for) the maximum possible points," said Mourinho, whose side play Sunderland on May 24.

"I'm happy that West Bromwich Albion is also champion of their league and they don't need points. So no pressure for us, no pressure for them.

"But for sure they want to win the last game at home and for sure we want to try the maximum points.

" Chelsea entered the weekend's fixtures with an 11-point advantage and Mourinho is keen to reach the 90-point mark with maximum points from the final two games.

"To be champion is to be champion, one point more, one point less," he said. "But the reality the maximum points possible, the better.

"The more distance you have to the second, the better. And we are going to try."

 

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Atletico boost Champions League hopes

Atletico boost Champions League hopes

Atletico Madrid needed a late Fernando Torres header to earn a 2-2 draw with Levante and strengthen their grip on third place in La Liga.

Torres came off the bench to meet Koke's 80th-minute corner and his powerful effort crept past Diego Marino at the near post, to save third-placed Atletico from a disappointing defeat at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday.

Despite controlling possession early, Atletico fell behind just after the half-hour as David Barral netted his 11th of the La Liga season from close range.

That lead was wiped out almost immediately, though, as Guilherme Siqueira registered his first Atletico goal with a neat volley from six yards.

Chances were few and far between early in the second half until Kalu Uche was presented with an opportunity, the Nigerian gratefully accepting at the second attempt.

Atletico's attempts to get back into the game looked to be coming up short, until Torres rose to score his third league goal since re-joining his boyhood club.

It moved Atletico four points clear of Valencia in the race for a top-three place and automatic qualification for the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Sevilla also failed to win on Sunday, drawing 1-1 with Celta Vigo.

With an eye on the second leg of their UEFA Europa League semi-final, Unai Emery named regulars Carlos Bacca, Aleix Vidal, Vitolo, Ever Banega and Daniel Carrico on the bench.

But that did not hamper Sevilla, with Kevin Gameiro firing the visitors into an eighth-minute lead from close range.

Sevilla were wasteful in front of goal and they were punished 13 minutes into the second half, when Santi Mina converted a penalty for Celta.

Sevilla remain fifth in the standings, 13 points clear of Villarreal, who edged Elche 1-0.

Meanwhile, Malaga - seventh in the table - overcame Almeria 2-1.

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Giants ready for semi-final jousts

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich

Pep Guardiola will return to the Camp Nou for the first time as an opposition coach on Wednesday when his Bayern Munich side faces the ominous task of halting a Barcelona team in devastating form.

It was three years ago that an emotionally drained Guardiola walked away from a club whose ethos he embodied as a player and perfected as a coach to guide them to their greatest ever era of success. But now it is the Catalan who stands in the way of Barcelona’s efforts to win a first Champions League crown since Guardiola’s brilliant side won two European Cups in three years between 2008 and 2011.

The bad news for Guardiola is that Barcelona are playing at a higher level than at any point since his departure into a year-long sabbatical in New York. Barcelona had gone through a tumultuous two years, with Tito Vilanova’s reign ending in tragic circumstances and Tata Martino never able to show he was anything other than a stop-gap.

Current coach Luis Enrique has had his problems, too, not least when unwisely coming into conflict with the club’s greatest ever player, Lionel Messi. But, blessed with the greatest front line in the world today, Barcelona are now steamrolling all before them. They have won their last two matches by a combined score of 14-0, with Saturday’s 8-0 win over Cordoba almost routine in its delivery. A 6-0 victory against Getafe four days earlier had taken the breath away, particularly in a first half in which Barcelona scored five times and Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez showed all their individual and collective brilliance. The trio’s goals in that encounter took their combined tally past the 100 mark. That total now stands at 108, despite Suárez missing the first two months of the season and taking time to find his place in what has long been Messi’s team.

Those struggles seem a long time ago now. It is hard to think of a front three through history that have possessed so much ability while also being so complimentary. Crucially all three, who would be the absolute focal point of almost any other team in the world, have modified their individual roles to maximize the effectiveness of the team.

It means there is much to savor at the Camp Nou, despite the fact that, with a transfer ban still in place and with presidential elections upcoming this summer, the future direction of the club remains uncertain. But the two years of failings off the pitch following Guardiola’s exit could yet come back to haunt them. If Bayern Munich are to prevail in a most eagerly anticipated semifinal, then it is likely that Thiago Alcântara, the Barcelona pupil who got away, will play an influential part.

Son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, Thiago joined Barcelona at the age of 14 and was widely regarded as the heir apparent to Xavi. But Guardiola, Xavi’s predecessor as the fulcrum of Barcelona’s possession-centric philosophy, was able to capitalize on the Catalans’ bumbling. Upon arriving at Bayern, Guardiola made it clear to his bosses that his wishes in the transfer market that first summer were simple: “Thiago or nothing.”

Thanks to Barcelona failing to get rid of a release clause or convince him that he would get the first-team role needed to continue his development, Thiago flew the coop. After a promising start, the Spain international’s first season was curtailed by a serious knee injury that resurfaced just days into his attempted comeback last October. But since finally returning to the side he has been superb. In his second start back, he scored a vital away goal in the first leg of Bayern’s quarterfinal with Porto, and in the return leg he found the net again and was superb as the Bavarians stormed to a 6-1 victory.

Having missed the demolition by Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League semifinals, Bayern will be hoping that Thiago’s presence can make the difference this time -- especially with their other attacking options so depleted. At the Camp Nou Bayern will be without the two players upon which their attack has been centered around for so long, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, while striker Robert Lewandowski is a major doubt after breaking his jaw and his nose against Borussia Dortmund last week.

Bayern were defeated in that DFB-Pokal semifinal, as they were against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. It was telling, though, that Thiago was among several players left out of the lineup at the BayArena who are likely to return on Wednesday. With the Bundesliga title wrapped up, Guardiola’s focus is on his return to Camp Nou.

There will be no surprise in how a Barcelona team based around its three star forwards will approach the game. The intrigue lies in how Guardiola will try to counter them. Whether with three at the back or four, he could well opt to pack his midfield and try to ensure that a team lacking key attacking talent remains in the tie going back to the Allianz Arena. Going forward they will rely on the creativity and dynamism of Thiago as well as getting the likes of Juan Bernat and Philipp Lahm into attacking positions down the flanks. But their big task will be to stop the influence of Messi, particularly his recent penchant for cutting inside and playing devastating passes over the top to Neymar and Suárez. Bayern are often vulnerable to runs in behind and that could be enough to give Barcelona the advantage after what should be an engrossing first leg.

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