Sunday 17 November 2019

Serbian stars determined to keep Premier League title talk off limits

Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic training ahead of tonight's friendly against Ireland
Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic training ahead of tonight's friendly against Ireland
Serbia's Zoran Tošić training at the Aviva Stadium
Serbia's Duan Tadic going through the motions before tonight's game against Ireland
Serbia 'keeper Eljko Brkic makes a save during training

Liam Kelly

CHELSEA star Branislav Ivanovic and Alexander Kolarov of Manchester City are keeping the Premier League title chase off the agenda this week as Serbia prepare for tonight's match.

The Serbian team-mates – captain and vice-captain respectively – insist they are putting their focus on the national side which is under the temporary management of Ljubinko Drulovic.

Drulovic was the team boss of the Serbia U-19 side that won the European Championship last year. He is in the frame to take the senior job which will be filled later his year following Serbia's failure to qualify for the World Cup.

With all due respect to the manager, the media at yesterday's press conference were more interested in Ivanovic and Kolarov's thoughts on the title race, but the players are doing their best to set club rivalry aside.

"I know him (Ivanovic) since we were kids. Of course he wants to win the title and I want to win the title, but we're not talking about what's going on in our clubs or who's going to win the league," said Kolarov.

FOCUSED

Ivanovic concurred, saying: "I agree. We are here to help our national team and we must switch on and be focused on the national team."

Already Kolarov's side have annexed the League Cup, defeating John O'Shea's Sunderland in Sunday's final.

Like O'Shea, Kolarov has very little time to recover before tonight, but he said: "I'm a professional. This is my job. It is always a pleasure to play for my national team. The next game is always the most important, so my focus is on the game against the Irish."

Later, when pressed again on the subject of Chelsea/City, the pair kept a fairly straight bat. Ivanovic said: "I think it will be very tough from now to the end of the season. Chelsea and Manchester City are fighting for the title, but there are other teams in contention. We will try to stay on the top of our game and do our best for our clubs."

Kolarov added: "For us, it's important to make sure we keep the title race in our own hands. It will be difficult. There are 11 games to play. Every game is a massive game for us, and we will do all we can to try and win the trophy."

Drulovic, Ivanovic and Kolarov all dutifully expressed their respect for Martin O'Neill's players, but Serbia have a strong blend of youth and experience which should be a good test for the Republic tonight.

Serbia (probable, 4-2-3-1) – Stojkovic; Rukavina, Ivanovic, Bisevac, Kolarov; Fejsa, Matic; Tosic, Ljajic, Markovic; Dordevic.

Irish Independent

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