Benitez: Napoli need Champions League football

Automatic qualification for next year’s competition is still the club’s ambition, according to the ex-Inter boss, who also hinted at more January signings

Rafa Benitez has claimed that qualifying for the Champions League again this season is a necessity for Napoli.

The Partenopei currently sit third in Serie A, which would be enough to see them enter the play-off round of next year’s competition, with the top two – currently Juventus and Roma – gaining automatic spots to the group stage.

Last weekend’s draw with Bologna leaves the Napoli just three points clear of fourth-placed Fiorentina, but Benitez has his sights set on Roma to claim the group stage spot in Europe’s elite competition.

“We are looking forwards,” the 53-year-old coach said during a press conference on Friday. “We believe that the Champions League is a necessary goal for the club.

“I have said before that we are looking towards the Giallorossi. I do not like to look back. Fiorentina are doing well, but our goal is to surpass Roma and qualify for the Champions League automatically.”

Hellas Verona star Jorginho has been the only notable signing for Napoli so far in January but, following the confirmed departure of Eduardo Vargas to Valencia, the ex-Chelsea coach hinted their month’s business is not done yet.

“I am not worried [about the lack of signings],” Benitez added. “We know what we want, we are ready to work until January 31 to get it.”

Napoli are back in action on Saturday at home to Serie A strugglers Chievo.

'Lewandowski will replace Mandzukic' – Beckenbauer

The Germany legend expressed his excitement at the prospect of seeing the Pole at the Allianz Arena next season, even if it’s at the expense of the current No.9

Robert Lewandowski will replace to be an instant success at Bayern Munich next season at the expense of Mario Mandzukic, club legend Franz Beckenbauer has suggested.

The Borussia Dortmund star has signed a deal with the Bundesliga champions, following Mario Gotze’s move from Signal Iduna Park to the Allianz Arena last summer.

Beckenbauer, an honorary president for the Bavarians, believes Lewandowski will play a starring role at the Allianz Arena next season and hinted that he is better fitted under Pep Guardiola than Mandzukic.

When asked by 11 Freunde magazine if Lewandowski will make the Croat “pack his bags”, the Germany icon said: “Yes. I assume that Lewandowski will be an immediate hit.

“His style fits Guardiola’s tactics better that a pure box striker like Mandzukic. Plus, Pep could also put Thomas Muller or Mario Gotze up front.”

The 68-year-old also reflected on the superiority that Bayern have shown in the last 18 months and believes it will continue for many seasons to come if they can keep adding world-class players to their squad.

“They are very hard to beat, no doubt about it,” Beckenbauer mused. “Especially if they keep reinforcing like they do. And they will!

“Pep Guardiola is the perfect coach and Matthias Sammer wakes them up if they’re too relaxed. There is enough competition within the squad so they can be successful in all competitions. I do not see why that should change in the next years.”

Bayern return to Bundesliga action on Friday away to third-placed Borussia Monchengladbach.

'A gentle giant but a talisman' – Meet new Everton signing Lacina Traore

The striker is more than a typical target man, possessing an all-round ability which will add extra firepower to the front line currently led by Romelu Lukaku at Goodison Park

PROFILE
By Kingsley Kobo

Lacina Traore – nicknamed the ‘Gentle Giant’ – is a striker whose full potential remains untapped, but his loan spell with Everton could provide him with the perfect platform.

At 6ft 8in, Traore will provide a target from the flank for Everton’s wide men as well as offering another option in attack for Roberto Martinez, who feels the striker will fit in perfectly at Goodison Park.

THE GENTLE GIANT

LACINA TRAORE’S CAREER STATS
CLUB APPS GLS
CLUJ
KUBAN
ANZHI
63
39
46
20
18
19

And while the Ivory Coast international is a significant threat in the air, his technical ability with the ball at his feet is not to be ignored. As pointed out by Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri prior to the forward’s move to the Ligue 1 club on January 4, Traore is “a good all-round player.”

His stint in Russia, which lasted just under three years, started at Kuban Krasnodar, where 18 goals in his debut campaign paved the way for a switch to Anzhi Makhachkala. During that time Traore proved Ranieri’s brief analysis to be accurate. He is strong enough to hold off defenders while moving with the ball and has the ability to score various types of goals, from dribbling past players to close-range finishes.

His main weakness is an over-reliance on his left foot, though Everton will have few complaints if this loan move secures them Champions League football.

Traore proved once again last season at Anzhi that he can provide a regular source of goals. The 23-year-old scored 14 times in 34 appearances, while his only barren spell occurred during the middle of November 2012 where he went four games without finding the net.

And Traore cannot be considered a flat-track bully either; the forward has a habit of contributing at crucial times. Half of his goals last term were either an equaliser for Anzhi or the decisive winning goal.

Both Manchester United and Liverpool have been linked with a move for Traore, with the player’s agent claiming last August that the Premier League champions had come the closest to signing the forward. Zenit St Petersburg were also interested, although their coach Luciano Spalletti ruled out a bid on the grounds that he had enough attacking options.

This season has been more difficult. Anzhi, following a similar clear-out, are yet to win a game in the Russian Premier League, while a campaign which has been disturbed by a shoulder injury has seen Traore find the net only on the opening day of the season in July.

Anzhi’s policy of selling their high earners also hampered Traore’s recent months in Russia. The supply from the likes of Willian and the link-up play with Samuel Eto’o had gone and Traore had struggled in a disjointed side.

But Everton will still be hoping for goals from their new boy, particularly with top scorer Romelu Lukaku having struggled to find the back of the net in recent weeks while Kevin Mirallas has managed only five so far this season.

Traore is likely to play an integral part in Everton’s bid for Champions League football this season, but the striker is only a fringe player in the Ivory Coast national team.

Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho and Wilfried Bony are all preferred to Traore at present. A temporary spell in the Premier League and, if successful, the accolades of helping a team finish in the coveted top four will boost his profile ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

After this season a debut campaign in Ligue 1 beckons, where his new club could be in need of a new leading marksman if Radamel Falcao leaves.

Monaco striker Lacina Traore joins Everton on loan

The striker only joined the Ligue 1 side on January 4 and looked to be heading to West Ham until the end of the season before Roberto Martinez came in with a late bid

Everton have confirmed the loan signing of Monaco striker Lacina Traore until the end of the season.

The 6ft 8in striker only joined the Ligue 1 side on January 4 and looked to be close to joining West Ham on a short-term deal – with Sam Allardyce making an appearance at his work permit hearing.

However, the former Anzhi Makhachkala man seemingly had a change of heart following a late offer from Roberto Martinez and will now compete with fellow loan signing Romelu Lukaku at Goodison Park.

Traore becomes Martinez’s second signing of the January window, following Aiden McGeady through the door as the Toffees look to enhance their chances of finishing in the top four.

Rodgers rues missing out on Salah

The Red boss had retained hope they could still hijack the move but, after Jose Mourinho confirmed the Basel star is set to join Chelsea, he will now monitor other targets

Brendan Rodgers has bemoaned Chelsea’s imminent capture of Liverpool target Mohamed Salah.

The Basel winger is on the verge of a move to Stamford Bridge after the London club announced on Thursday that they had agreed a fee with the Swiss Super League outfit.

Mourinho confirmed on Friday that – in light of interest from Liverpool – Salah has agreed to join Chelsea, and Rodgers says there are other targets the club can now concentrate on.

“The young guy is a good player. We have tracked him for a number of months, the club has been watching him and I have been to watch him,” Rodgers told talkSPORT.

“It is one where the agent of the player and the clubs were talking but if the deal can’t be done, the deal can’t be done.

“He’s a boy that is a talent. He is 21 years of age and people saw his qualities in the games against Chelsea and Tottenham in Europe.

“But you need to have that list [of targets] because if it doesn’t work out then you are hoping there are one or two others.”

Rodgers acknowledged that the January transfer window is a tough time to do business, but said that he is only interested in signing players who could make an immediate impact.

“I know the club has been working very hard to get players in. I’ll leave that to them and see how they get on,” he added. “January is a very difficult market. It is hard to bring in players that can improve the team.

“This is a brilliant club and we try to get players in for the now, we need players who can come in now and help us. I’d rather wait and look at our young players than bring in one or two squad players.”