Manchester United's Andreas Pereira keen to stay on at Valencia

Manchester United's Andreas Pereira has said he wants to remain at Valencia beyond his current loan deal.

The 21-year-old midfielder joined the Spanish side for the 2017-18 campaign on Sept. 1 in search of playing time and has made nine league appearances, including four as a starter, for a side that is second in the La Liga standings, just three points behind leaders Barcelona after 11 rounds.

Asked if he would like to play for Los Che beyond June 2018, Pereira told Valencia-based sports newspaper Superdeporte: "Of course, that would be a very good option for me, it would be positive. I'm happy at Valencia CF.

"Valencia is a big club and seeing our current form, everyone wants to remain here.

"Everything is going so well, everyone in the squad is happy. We want to maintain this."

Pereira signed a one-year contract extension with United shortly after arriving at Valencia and is tied to the Premier League side until June 2019.

United do have an option to recall Pereira during the winter transfer window but the Brazil under-21 player wants to remain at the Mestalla stadium at least until June 2018.

"In my mind I want to be here and help Valencia until June," Pereira said. "That was my intention when I came here. I know there is a clause inserted into the loan deal and I will have to wait and see. But my focus is on Valencia and I would like to stay here."

Pereira impressed while on loan at Granada last season where he scored five goals and set up three more in 34 La Liga starts.

However, the Andalusian club finished bottom of the standings and were relegated.

Pereira has been likened to former Manchester United great Paul Scholes, including by former United player Phil Neville.

"It gives me great pride and to hear those words is beautiful," he said. "I really liked Paul Scholes, he was my coach when I was young. For me, he was one of the best and I was lucky that he coached me. Paul is one of the football greats."

Jose Mourinho said he was disappointed Pereira chose to join Valencia on loan instead of fighting for a starting place at United this season.

However, Pereira says he is learning a lot from Valencia coach Marcelino and has heaped praise on the former Villarreal boss.

"He has given me a lot of confidence and I feel important in this team," the Belgium-born Pereira said. "Marcelino tells me what I have to do. He is the one that has created all of this, this great environment. All that we are achieving is because he has built this group. He is a great coach. He tells us with clarity what one in particular has to do as well as what the team has to do at a given moment.

"I think if we continue to listen to him, we can go very, very far. I want to continue doing what I'm doing, helping the team win and offering the best of my football for the collective aim that we have, which is to continue winning games."

Valencia head into Sunday's game at Espanyol unbeaten in La Liga and on an eight-game winning run in the league, which is their best ever start to the competition.

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.


I lost respect for Mourinho after cat jibe: Benzema

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has told Canal + he began to lose respect for Jose Mourinho after a 2011 news conference in which his then coach compared him to a cat.

Speaking on documentary "LeKBenzema," he revealed his irritation over the remark.

Mourinho told reporters: "If I can't hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat. With a dog you hunt more and you hunt better.

"But if you have not got a dog and you have got a cat, you hunt with a cat."

Benzema said it had been the cue for what had been "a good relationship" to begin showing strain.

He added: "After that, there were expressions and statements that were not necessarily well intended.

"I had the impression that it made him laugh. Even if he's someone I respect, after a while I started to lose it."

Benzema said he had an hour-long discussion with Mourinho in which he told him: "I'm a football player, you're my manager, I respect you, respect me as a player."

And he added: "From then on, there were no cats, no dogs or anything.

"I'm shy but if you make fun of me, I'll be straight. When you speak your mind, things are always better."


Diego Simeone 'untouchable' at Atletico Madrid - president

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo has strongly defended coach Diego Simeone following recent criticism.
Simeone has established Atletico among Europe's leading clubs since taking charge in 2011, winning the Europa League, Copa del Rey and La Liga as well as reaching the Champions League final in both 2014 and 2016.

Atletico have endured a difficult 2017-18 campaign so far, though, with Simeone's side currently fourth in La Liga, eight points behind leaders Barcelona, and in serious danger of failing to qualify for the knockout stages of Champions League.

Asked if he could have imagined that Simeone would be facing criticism, Cerezo told Marca: "I want to say this in a loud voice. Simeone is untouchable at Atletico Madrid, for the players, for the directors and for the supporters."

He said having doubts about Simeone "is not allowed here."

Cerezo has said Atletico currently have their best-ever squad and, asked about that comment, he said: "I keep saying so. We are playing a game, and games are the way they are. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

Atletico have failed to win in the Champions League so far this season, having drawn with Roma, lost to Chelsea and then twice been held to draws by Qarabag.

"We could have scored four against Roma and then we had 14,000 chances against Qarabag," he said. "It's not just a problem specific to Atletico that players can be more or less clinical, but it's a problem for a lot of elite clubs.

"I keep saying we have a fantastic squad, a wonderful coach and a phenomenal fanbase. That's enough for me."

Antoine Griezmann -- who was a finalist for the 2016 FIFA Best Men's Player award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi -- has failed to replicate the form of previous seasons and was substituted during the recent victory over Deportivo La Coruna while Atletico were still searching for a breakthrough.

Asked if the 26-year-old remains untouchable, Cerezo said: "He hasn't had much luck at the start of this season. He had a fantastic end to the previous season and he is still considered one of the best three players in the world. The advantage is that he is younger and has more of a future than the other two.

"Everybody has their moments. It may be the case that he's not going through the best one right now, but I am convinced that it won't take long for him to be what we all want him to be once again, the Griezmann that he is. After all he has shown, there's no reason to doubt him or lose confidence in him because of playing five matches not so well."

Griezmann agreed a new contract in the summer despite having been strongly linked with Manchester United, but his €100 million buyout clause remained intact.

The forward suggested he had agreed to stay as a result of Atletico failing to get their transfer ban overturned, and with Diego Costa set to be registered in January after his return from Chelsea, the France international's future remains the subject of regular speculation.

"We have put in a lot of effort to keep him and to keep all the players," Cerezo said. "The problem Griezmann has had is that a series of news stories about other important European clubs wanting him has not benefited him.

"Griezmann is and will be an Atletico player. He is an important player and at an important club and he wants to win titles with Atletico. He may have had a start to the season which could have been better, but there is a lot left of the La Liga season for him to show how important he is for the club and how important football is for him."

Asked how he felt about Griezmann's regular media comments on his future during the summer, Cerezo replied: "What important player doesn't play this kind of game? They all do."


Javier Mascherano wants River Plate return, doesn't want to make promises

Barcelona's Javier Mascherano wants to return to River Plate before his playing days are over but is wary of making a promise he cannot keep.

Mascherano has already said he will retire from international football with Argentina after next year's World Cup and, after two summers of uncertainty, he may finally decide to leave Barcelona at the end of the current campaign, too, despite having a contract at the Camp Nou until 2019.

The 33-year-old began his career with River, before moving to Corinthians, West Ham, Liverpool and Barca, and says he still has unfinished business with the Buenos Aires club.

"I still feel there's a chapter in my career to be dedicated to River," the Argentina international told TNT Sports ahead of Saturday's friendly against Russia.

"The problem is, speaking about River, I don't want to be a prisoner of my own words. I don't want to be saying I'll be back in December or June and then if it doesn't happen, what do I do? Was I lying?

"But, in my head, I always have the idea that I will go back one day. I speak regularly with [River president Rodolfo] D'Onofrio but, honestly, it's been a year since we spoke about going back. But we'll keep in touch because we have a good relationship."

Mascherano told ESPN FC in the summer that he is also considering playing in Major League Soccer, while he should not be short of offers to continue in Europe, either, if he does leave Barcelona next year.

Javier Mascherano is currently sidelined through injury.

Javier Mascherano began his career with River Plate.

However, whatever move he decides to make, Mascherano is adamant that it will not be influenced by money.

"It has nothing to do [with money] like I've read," he added. "I made my own decisions when I was in my 20s but now they're made on a family level. I have kids and they also have to be considered. It's not an excuse, but I have my reasons. Right now, I have no idea what I am going to do. I have no idea what I'm going to do in January."

That said, it is unlikely Mascherano will leave Barca halfway through the season having re-emerged as a key player under Ernesto Valverde, starting four of the last six La Liga matches as the Catalan side have chalked up a 16-game unbeaten run.

Despite that unbeaten streak, Valverde's side have still been criticised for their performances, and midfielder Sergio Busquets says they have not been at their attacking best this season.

"We're on a really good run," Busquets told Radio Marca. "We're not playing brilliantly, but we're solid and compact. It's difficult to score against us and we're really happy.

"We do realise we have not played brilliantly, though. An important player left [Neymar], we've changed the system... That gives you some things and takes away other things. But the important thing is to be compact, that's how you build a winning team."


Gareth Bale is the solution to, not the cause of, Real Madrid's struggles

The ESPN FC panel talk the ongoing struggles of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zinedine Zidane backs Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema as their goal droughts continue for Real Madrid.

I sincerely hope that Gareth Bale has been laughing himself silly at his critics over the past few weeks since Real Madrid lost their all-time record signing to injury. The way in which the Wales international has been under-appreciated, scapegoated and harangued by know-nothing fans or myopic pundits who think they're doing Florentino Perez a favour in trying to force Bale out -- to, say, Manchester United -- is a scandal.

The past few weeks without him have added undeniable proof that whether or not Bale's playing style is your cup of tea, whether or not you think it's not good enough that his level of Spanish is still somewhere between beginner and tourist, Madrid have missed him enormously. After all, his absence has helped cause some of their gaping weaknesses.

This international break not only allows the chance for some who love to trample on Bale's good name and his quality of football to admit their errors and retract some of the more infantile things that are said about him, but also for Bale to get himself in top shape for what will be a series of major opportunities via which to take Madrid's season by the scruff of the neck.

If you happen to be a partial (or vicarious) follower of Spanish football, let me set the scene for you.

If you've been listening to Bale's critics, only consuming headlines and generic "it's being reported..." stories, then you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Wales captain had been suffering a pale imitation of a season and was the fountain from which all Madrid's woes were springing. As Pepe noted this week, the Madrid fanbase has a hardcore, perhaps even a majority, who see it as their role to lord it over everyone else in the good times but to mercilessly hammer their own players every other minute of the year.

The concept of raising player morale by inspiring the team to defiance? The idea of saying "thank you" to trophy winning teams by demonstrating noisy loyalty through tough times?

Forget it, buster.

Given Bale's injury problems and purchase price, he's become the whipping boy virtually since last spring when his last major role in the season was limping off after 40 minutes in what became a 3-2 home defeat to Barcelona. From then until now there's been mean, lowest-common-denominator whispering in the media -- "Will he ever show his worth?" "Why is he injured so much?" "Look how few games Madrid get out of him" -- that is contagious and affects many of the more gullible fans and observers.

Bale's injury absences have hurt Real but he's definitely not solely to blame for their struggles.

What was really happening is that from the beginning of this season on, Bale was a shining beacon of light in Madrid's performances, adding goals, assists, power, athleticism, pace, goal chances and increasing form... until he got injured again. The question, on that subject, is simple: Why are so many of Bale's teammates now struggling with the same type of niggling, repetitive injuries which have plagued him?

Marcelo, Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane, Keylor Navas, Mateo Kovacic, Jesus Vallejo: the list is worrying and suggests a common problem. It might be time for Zidane to examine his fitness staff, his training methods and his medical practitioners, just to eliminate any causal connection. Suffice it to say: troubling and debilitating muscular injuries are no longer "solely" Bale's problem.

What infuriates me, and should do to anyone who's not either short-sighted, stupid or biased, is how little appreciation there has been for the level at which Bale was performing until hit by the two apparently different injuries sustained while playing for his club against Espanyol and then training with Wales.

Take the two Supercups this season. Bale played his role in the 3-1 win at the Camp Nou but was stellar against Manchester United. His sublime 1-2 wall-pass with Isco set the Spain international up for the winning goal; for good measure, Bale's thumping right-footed shot hit the bar after a stupendous David De Gea save.

Then take not only the Champions League but Cristiano Ronaldo's scoring form. Against APOEL at the Bernabeu, the scoreline and the three points, belong to Bale. He laid the first goal on a plate for Ronaldo, won the penalty for CR7 to get his second and then provided the set-up header from which Sergio Ramos scores the third. If it was anyone else producing that kind of performance, the Madrid media go wild with their lavishing of praise. Not for Bale.

Away to Dortmund he's extra special. With due respect to the goal Marco Asensio scored at the weekend against Las Palmas, Bale may have scored Madrid's goal of the season at the WestfalenStadion. I swear that his left-footed, volleyed goal from Dani Carvajal's cross was at least as difficult as Asensio's effort last weekend but away from home, against better opposition and in a competition where the punishment for failure is more immediate.

Take your pick: argue with me if you like. But Bale's goal in Dortmund is better than Asensio's against Las Palmas and need only compete with Asensio's remarkable top-corner effort at the Camp Nou for goal of their campaign so far.

More importantly still, when was the last time Ronaldo scored twice in a game this season?

Recently (and for some time), the Portugal international (and FIFA's "Best") hasn't been able to hit a barn door with a banjo, although I do think his form returned this last week. Ronaldo has played just one league match with Bale this season. But in each of the two Champions League games alongside the man who dwarfed his transfer fee, Cristiano hit a brace of goals.

As for La Liga, perhaps the apparent lack of respect for Bale's form comes from the fact that in a couple of disappointing results (drawing with Levante and losing to Betis) at the Bernabeu, he couldn't "single-handedly" win the points.

Away from home he was dynamite. I'll bet the Deportivo La Coruna defenders are still having night sweats and scary dreams about his power, his finishing and his marauding runs even though they played him nearly three months ago. Goal and assist.

As for Real Sociedad? His run, control and wonderful "Phil-Mickelson-in-a-bunker" finish over Geronimo Rulli to convert Isco's quarterback pass at the Anoeta? It was football poetry in motion.

However in this fierce and honest defence of Bale's vital importance to Madrid, there's a factor beyond merely the things he did for the team when he was fit but that everyone seems to have forgotten.

Bale Ronaldo celeb vs Dortmund 170926
Ronaldo, right, benefits as much as anyone from Bale's presence and ability to pull defences open.

Bale's absence is not not by any means either the main reason Madrid have been playing badly, nor will his return be the single solution to everything that ails Zinedine Zidane's side. However the problems that have plagued Benzema and Ronaldo certainly owe a lot to the fact that teams can mark them differently when Bale's not there.

Because Bale's outrageous pace is no longer a threat, teams can push their defensive line higher, squeeze Madrid's midfield and can leave less space between the back line and the midfield in which the two strikers would normally create so much threat. For all their skill, energy and threat, Isco and Asensio also find their creative space reduced by teams who don't have to worry about Bale running behind them on to a long pass or running at them in a counter-attack where they've been caught too high.

Madrid are winning fewer headers at attacking dead ball situations and frankly, Ronaldo's brilliant assist for Isco's goal against Las Palmas was an identical replica of what Bale was serving him earlier this season time and time and time again.

Now here's the rub. This looks distinctly like being Bale's last season at Madrid. Honestly, I think he's tired of being injured all the time and with everything else that's being offered to him at, say, Manchester United, I think that it'll be easy for him to be persuaded that there are clubs where he'll be fit more often and, therefore, happier. But in the meantime, he's got these next two weeks to hone his sharpness, get fit and get ready.

Madrid face a brilliant programme between the end of the international break and Christmas. The Derbi against Atleti, Sevilla, Athletic, and World Club Cup, where they stand the chance of winning a third trophy this season and an eighth under Zidane in less than two years.

Then comes the Clasico two days before Christmas.

Personally, I hope Bale rams the cheap, ill-advised and inaccurate criticisms he's received from some in the media and too many in the stadium right back down their throats. If he does, Madrid's season could look a whole hell of a lot different by the time La Liga takes its brief festive break. And Madrid might still have a chance of the six-trophy haul that beckons them this season.


Manchester City want to beat United to Espanyol's Aaron Martin - sources

Manchester City are interested in signing Espanyol left-back Aaron Martin after sending scouts to watch him in Monday's 1-0 win over Real Betis, sources close to City have told ESPN FC.

Martin played the full 90 minutes and City boss Pep Guardiola is ready to make a move to sign him in January as he wants to bring in a left-back to replace the injured Benjamin Mendy.

Mendy is set to miss the rest of the season after suffering a serious cruciate knee ligament injury and Guardiola has been forced to play midfielder Fabian Delph in a left-back role in the Frenchman's absence.

The City boss has admitted he may be forced into the transfer market when the window reopens in January and sources have told ESPN FC that Martin has emerged as his top target after watching him in action on several occasions in the last few weeks.

Last month, sources told ESPN FC that Manchester United had an interest in Martin, but City are now ready to beat their rivals to the 22-year-old's signature.

Martin is regarded as one of the best young full-backs in Europe after catching the eye at Espanyol since breaking into the first team last October.

He was handed a new contract until 2020 soon after making his Espanyol debut, is a Spanish U-21 international and has also represented the Catalonia senior team.


Karim Benzema says he 'feels sorry' for pundits after Gary Lineker criticism

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has hit out at football pundits, telling Les Inrockuptibles he feels "sorry for them," following recent criticism from Gary Lineker.

After Benzema had missed three chances in Madrid's 1-1 Champions League draw against Tottenham last month, ex-Spurs and Barcelona star Lineker wrote on Twitter that the striker is "a tad overrated," calling him "decent not great."

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said Lineker's criticism was "embarrassing" coming from someone within the game, and Benzema seemed to agree with his coach.

"What I have more of a problem accepting is the criticism of former players-turned-journalists, who -- some of them -- spread their hate," he said. "They have gone through the same difficulties, but they have no solidarity. I feel sorry for them, really."

Benzema, meanwhile, remains hopeful he will feature for France at next summer's World Cup despite Didier Deschamps continuing to ignore the Madrid man's form.

Deschamps signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday, meaning he is likely to remain in charge of France until 2020 barring a disastrous tournament next summer.

Deschamps has not selected Benzema since October 2015 following the emergence of his alleged involvement in attempted extortion on his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Though the police inquiry remains ongoing, Deschamps has said he has not definitively ruled Benzema out of his plans. 

Karim Benzema has not played for France since October 2015.

"Of course I want to get back into the France team," Benzema said. "Which footballer doesn't dream of playing a World Cup? I still have hope of going to Russia. But the main thing is to give myself every chance of doing that. I try to play as well as possible for my club, and we'll see where things stand at the end."

He added: "For me, there is no longer just that that counts. There's no point in talking about it anymore and it could be interpreted badly. I don't talk any more, I say nothing any more. I try to perform well and win trophies."

Benzema's former Madrid teammate Mesut Ozil feels the striker, who moved to seventh on the La Liga club's all-time scorers' list last month, should be welcomed back into the France fold.

"There are things that happened that I'm not really informed about," the Arsenal midfielder told SFR Sport. "But as a player, Benzema is one of the best strikers in the world. I think it's a shame he doesn't play for France."

Benzema's chances of pulling on the France shirt again would likely be increased if his Madrid boss and former France captain Zidane was appointed as Deschamps' successor.

The announcement of Deschamps' contract extension prior to next summer's World Cup has been met with surprise by some, and former France international Eric Abidal, who won his last senior cap under the 49-year-old in 2013, suggested the decision had been by default.

"Because Zizou wasn't available..." the ex-Barcelona and Monaco defender tweeted.

Ian is ESPN's French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman