Steven Gerrard has insisted he will have no divided loyalties when he takes his new Aston Villa team to face former club Liverpool next month.
In his first in-depth interview since being appointed as Dean Smith’s successor, the Reds and England legend outlined his excitement at taking the job and revealed his side will be targeting three points from their trip to Merseyside.
The testing clash will be his fifth at the helm at Villa Park, and Gerrard has been quick to reveal to supporters and his players that his focus is firmly on achieving success at the expense of his old team.
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Questioned on the build-up to his return by VillaTV, Gerrard, 41, said: ‘I don’t think me or anyone else will be able to control the noise. For me, that’s not important.
‘What is important is the chance to go to Anfield and win, to take maximum points, which is the attitude and mentality we have going into every game. It is what it is.
‘I want to win every game. My priority and focus, and everything I will give on a daily basis, will be for Aston Villa. One thing I can guarantee the supporters, the players and the staff here is that when I commit to something, I’m all in.’
“The excitement levels are really, really high. I’m very hungry and very ambitious and the start can’t come quick enough.” 💪
Villa parted ways with Smith earlier this month after a horror run of five Premier League defeats in a row, which left them hovering just above the drop zone in 16th, according to Daily Mail.
Gerrard was immediately identified as the club’s first-choice target to take over, with owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens impressed by his success with Rangers.
Christian Purslow, Villa’s chief executive, also favoured hiring the all-time great.
Negotiations were quickly wrapped up, with Rangers paid £2.5million in compensation, and Gerrard has now admitted he is relishing getting started.
‘I think Aston Villa sells itself,’ he added. ‘It’s an iconic football club that I know pretty well from the outside. I’m excited to get involved inside, start building relationships, get on the training pitch and get started.
‘The excitement levels are really, really high. I’m very ambitious and the start can’t come quick enough.’
During his lengthy sit-down with the club’s in-house media channel, the iconic ex-midfielder also said he has taken inspiration from working with coaches in the past.
‘I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with a lot of elite managers,’ Gerrard said. ‘I think it’s very important for me to be myself, to put my own stamp on things.
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‘What I am guilty of is taking things and learning a lot from all the managers – not just the ones I’ve worked with from a close point of view, managers around the game.’
Gerrard topped the shortlist ahead of Brentford boss Thomas Frank and Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand – although the latter had no interest in taking the job.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was another candidate – but held reservations.
In the end, though, it was Gerrard who was appointed and in his unveiling, he described himself as feeling ‘immensely proud’.
EPL: Conte reacts to postponement and backs Spurs to ‘exploit’ situation
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte said the decision to postpone Sunday’s Premier League game against Burnley was a “big disappointment”, but hopes his side can exploit the situation by using extra time on the training pitch.
Spurs’ clash at Turf Moor on Sunday was postponed 45 minutes before kick-off after heavy snow overnight and throughout Sunday in Lancashire.
Despite the best efforts of Burnley’s ground staff to clear the pitch, the unrelenting snow continued to blanket the playing surface and the decision to call off the game was made after an inspection led by referee Peter Bankes and in conjunction with respective managers Conte and Sean Dyche.
“A big disappointment because we were ready to play and we prepared for the game, and all the travel,” Conte said afterwards.
“But at same time I think the Premier League made the right decision to save the situation for the players and the fans. For everybody. It’s disappointing but the decision was right.
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“Ten minutes before the snow is worse than it was before and in this condition, it’s not football. I want to play football, I want to play. In this type of situation it’s impossible. There’s serious risk of injury and this is not good.
“For sure, we have to exploit the situation, to have a training session tomorrow to prepare for two important games against Brentford and Norwich. We’ll have more time to prepare and need to exploit in the right way.”
Portuguese league discuss ‘disgrace’ after team starts with nine men
Portuguese league officials met on Sunday to discuss the farcical game between Belenenses and Benfica, which had to be called off in the second half after Belenenses started with only nine players, including two goalkeepers, due to an outbreak of Covid-19.
Belenenses played one of their goalkeepers, Joao Monteiro, as an outfield player and had no substitutes at the Estadio Nacional where Benfica strolled into a 7-0 lead before half-time on Saturday.
The Primeira Liga game was called off by referee Manuel Mota three minutes into the second half, after Belenenses were reduced to six players. They had emerged after half-time with only seven players before Monteiro went down injured.
According to reports in Portugal, Primeira Liga officials met on Sunday morning to discuss the controversial fixture and whether any disciplinary action sohuld be taken against Belenenses.
The Portuguese health ministry also issued a statement on Sunday, saying “it does not comment on the holding of games, whether in football or any other sport”.
Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares said on Saturday the game was a “disgrace” and criticised the league for effectively forcing the club to play, under threat of being deducted points.
“What happened today was a great shame, there is nothing to justify what happened,” he said. “Never in my life have I witnessed such dignified behaviour as from those nine players.”
After informing the league “that we didn’t wish to play the match, we were told we had eight players able to play” and “not turning up could be considered an unjustified absence”, said the Belenenses president.
Benfica president Rui Costa described it as a “black page for Portuguese football” but insisted “Benfica simply complied with the regulations” and were “not responsible” for the match being played.
Reports in Portugal claimed Belenenses were without 14 players due to Covid, as well as three members of staff.
Belenenses coach Filipe Candido had indicated on Saturday that he would have to promote some under-23 players due to injuries and suspensions.
Supporters in the stadium chanted: “The league is a disgrace.”
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The decision to go ahead with the fixture also drew criticism from players, with the Belenenses team posting a joint message on Twitter that read: “Football only has colour if it has competition. Football only has colour if it has sporting truth. Football only has colour when it is an example of public health. Today, football has lost its colour.”
Manchester City’s Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva wrote: “What is this? Am I the only one who doesn’t understand why the game hasn’t been postponed?”
Belenenses sat 16th in the Primeira Liga at the start of the game while Benfica were third.
Russians knock holders Spain out of Davis Cup
Russia knocked reigning champion Spain out of the Davis Cup on Sunday to set up a quarter-final against Sweden.
The Russians’ tie against the depleted Spanish team came down to a late-night doubles encounter in Madrid.
Aslan Karatsev and world number five Andrey Rublev won 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Marcel Granollers and Feliciano Lopez to win Group A and deprive the Spanish team of the chance to play in front of a home crowd in Madrid on Thursday.
The Russians, playing under the name of the Russian Tennis Federation because of sanctions against Russian sport for doping, made a bad start to the tie when Lopez beat Rublev 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening singles rubber.
US Open champion Daniil Medvedev stepped up to bring the tie level with a 6-2, 7-6 (7⁄3) win over Pablo Carreno Busta, before the doubles decided the match.
Britain booked their place in the last eight with a come-from-behind victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday and will play Germany in Innsbruck on Tuesday.
Kazakhstan and Croatia also reached the last eight.
Dan Evans’ surprise 6-2, 7-5 loss to world number 143 Tomas Machac left Britain needing to fight back to secure a second straight win and take top spot in Group C.
But Cameron Norrie overcame a second-set blip to see off Jiri Lehecka 6-1, 2-6, 6-1, before Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski teamed up to beat Machac and Jiri Vesely 6-4, 6-2 in Innsbruck.
“We’ve been underdogs and managed to get wins. The Czech team played well – very young team. Machac turned into a top 20 player overnight!” British captain Leon Smith told the BBC.
The ties in Austria are being played behind closed doors due to new coronavirus restrictions in the country.
British number one Cameron Norrie helped his country into the Davis Cup quarter-finals
France, after winning against the Czechs and losing to Britain, are out of the tournament.
Germany backed up their shock victory over Novak Djokovic’s Serbia by fighting back to edge out hosts Austria and go through as Group F winners.
Serbia had to settle for second place but progressed to a quarter-final against Kazakhstan in Madrid on Wednesday as one of the best runners-up.
Dominik Koepfer lost 6-1, 7-5 to Jurij Rodionov to put the Germans in trouble, but Jan-Lennard Struff levelled the tie by cruising past Dennis Novak 7-5, 6-4.
Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz completed the job in the doubles, as they did against Djokovic and Serbia on Saturday, winning 6-3, 6-4 against Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald.
– Angry crowd –
Croatia just needed to win one rubber against Hungary to wrap up first place in Group D and the 242nd-ranked Nino Serdarusic did just that in the opening match against Fabian Marozsan in Turin.
His 6-4, 6-4 success helped avoid a nervy finish to the tie for the two-time winners, as Marin Cilic lost the second singles 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 to impressive Hungarian youngster Zsombor Piros.
Italy will have the advantage of home support when they face the Croatians in Turin on Monday.
Kazakhstan moved into the knockout stage by downing 2019 runners-up Canada in Madrid.
Kazakhstan, which beat Sweden on Saturday, emerged victorious again thanks to singles wins for Mikhail Kukushkin and Alexander Bublik, over Brayden Schnur and Vasek Pospisil respectively.
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Bublik drew the ire of the Spanish crowd for delivering an underarm serve at 4-4 in the second set, but that only seemed to spur him on.
“As one legend says, when you go to sleep guys, know that I won because of you,” he said to the crowd, referring to US Open champion Medvedev.
The tournament was postponed last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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