Tag Archives: maturity

Robin van Persie is like Eric Cantona – Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson has found his new Eric as United boss compares RVP to legend Cantona

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UPDATED:

10:33 GMT, 18 December 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson has compared star summer signing Robin van Persie with Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.

Van Persie arrived from Arsenal in the summer for 24million but has already formed a prolific partnership with Wayne Rooney and has settled into life at Old Trafford with spectacular ease.

Ferguson said: 'He has got a similar profile to Eric in terms of age and maturity. He had a great spell at Arsenal so there is no issue with him needing to settle into the Premier League.

Dutch of class: Van Persie has been a revelation at Old Trafford since his 24m arrival

Dutch of class: Van Persie has been a revelation at Old Trafford since his 24m arrival

Dutch of class: Van Persie has been a revelation at Old Trafford since his 24m arrival

'He came from one big club to another big club and he is an established international. All these things in his profile suited us perfectly.'

When Cantona arrived in Manchester, he was credited with raising the game of the players around him and launching an era of United dominance in English football.

Ferguson believes Van Persie is capable of achieving something similar.

Ferguson said: 'I think it is happening, the attacking aspect of our game has definitely improved and of course he has weighed in with 14 goals so far. Chicharito has got nine goals, Rooney has seven I think and we have scored around 43 goals as team, which is quite a high amount for this time of year.'

French fancy: Cantona is one of United's all-time greats

French fancy: Cantona is one of United's all-time greats

In a wide-ranging interview with yahoo.com, Ferguson also speaks at length on how his socialist roots helped shape his approach to management, particularly his admiration for the Glasgow trade unionist Jimmy Reid.

Ferguson said: 'It has been fundamental I was brought up in socialist background and both of my parents were socialist. My father worked in the shipyards, I went into engineering and went into a trade union then.

'I think that coming from that area definitely encourages involvement in the respect because everyone is working class.

'Jimmy Reid lived about a mile away from me, as he was from Govern also. I used to remember Jimmy walking to the library every day with a pile of books under his arm.

'He wasn't into football the way many were as we would all be playing football or cuing up to play. Jimmy was absorbed in his education and it proved to be a great education because he proved to be a very intelligent guy.'

Amir Khan v Carlos Molina: Danny Garcia"s racist dad won"t stop me this time

Khan: There's no way Garcia's racist dad will stop me beating Molina

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UPDATED:

01:12 GMT, 12 December 2012

Amir Khan is such a changed young man that not even the provocative presence of Danny Garcia’s offensive father in the opposite corner here on Saturday night will ruffle his new-found maturity.

That is just one of the promises that Khan is making – to his new trainer, his fans and himself – as he strives to put his career back on track by ending Carlos Molina’s unbeaten record in ‘what has become the most important fight of my life.’

The Americans are trying to inflame Khan by drafting in Garcia Snr, whose racist insults caused our boy from Bolton to lose his head – almost literally – in the second of the successive defeats which have knocked him off his world championship throne and into resurrection mode.

No chance: Amir Khan is determined to defeat Carlos Molina

No chance: Amir Khan is determined to defeat Carlos Molina

It is a mischievous move by Team Molina but Khan says: ‘You will see a different, more mature me in this fight.

'I let Danny’s Dad get to me and I went to punish them with a knock-out too quickly, instead of continuing to break him down, and got caught with a punch from nowhere.

‘That’s why Molina has brought him in but it won’t happen this time. I’ve grown up and nothing will take my focus off my boxing.

'I will be smart and pick my moments to go for the finish. Just as I am insisting on random blood testing for drugs before all my fights, so that I don’t suffer again the way I did in the previous defeat by Lamont Peterson,who we found was on steroids.’

The calming presence of the new trainer – the prodigious Andre Ward’s mentor Virgil Hunter – has played a major part in these rationales. But so has the unexpected fate which befell Khan’s friend and former stable-mate Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Khan was speaking in the aftermath of the PacMan’s seismic knock-out by the suddenly muscular Juan Manuel Marquez.

Focused: Khan is looking to bounce back with victory over the unbeaten fighter

Focused: Khan is looking to bounce back with victory over the unbeaten fighter

Knockout: Khan is trying to get his career back on track after the devastating knockout

Knockout: Khan is trying to get his career back on track after the devastating knockout

He said: ‘I believe every boxer should submit to Olympic style testing, not only before fights but all year round. Molina agreed for this fight and we both gave blood about five times during our training camps.

‘But it’s not only the drugs testing. Manny and I were both on the wrong end of big knock-outs because we went lunging in for the quick KO ourselves instead of going through the process. We are both great attacking fighters but not so hot defensively.

‘My natural instinct is to fight but I’ve learned from this experience that I must control that impulse.’

Khan, who was widely criticised after falling to Garcia for his presumption in talking up a future mega-fight against Floyd Mayweather, added: ‘I’ve also learned not to look past the fight in front of me. I know that I simply cannot afford another defeat. I have to concentrate on the job in hand.’

That focus excludes any forward notion of going up a division – to full welterweight – to answer the public challenge from fellow Englishman Kell Brook. Khan is not interested in adding poundage ‘until I’ve come back to clean up at 14O lbs ….even if Brook does win a world title when he fights Devon Alexander her in LA next month. It will be well into next year before I even think of moving up again.’

In conversation: Khan chats to Sportsmail's Jeff Powell earlier this year

In conversation: Khan chats to Sportsmail's Jeff Powell earlier this year

That purging process at light-welter will required him to avenge the Garcia KO and that re-match is likely to be the one he seeks next assuming he overcomes Molina ‘even though I don’t think Danny will take it because I was beating him up until he landed that one big shot.’

He adds: ‘Of course I want to mix it again with the best in the world in due course….but not until I’ve re-established myself.’

In truth, Khan has never been as arrogant as he has been perceived in some quarters and it has been more important to acquire this maturity he now sees in himself. Not humility.

Carlos Molina is not alone in wondering and waiting to see the new Amir Khan enter the Los Angeles Arena.

Gary Speed"s son Ed represents Wales schoolboys near first anniversary of his death

Speed's legacy: A year since his father's tragic death, son Ed follows in his footsteps by playing for Wales… alongside Craig Bellamy's kid

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UPDATED:

11:25 GMT, 27 November 2012

It is a year to the day since the world of football was stunned by the death of Gary Speed – a versatile and tireless midfielder, gentleman of the game and consummate professional.

And the Welshman's legacy is continuing through his 14-year-old son Ed, who started out following in his father's footsteps by being called up to the Wales under 16 squad for the first time last week.

Midfielder Ed was on the teamsheet for the Victory Shield match with Northern Ireland in Ballymena on Friday evening but didn't come off the bench in a 1-1 draw.

Father's footsteps: Ed Speed, the 14-year-old son of the late Gary Speed, received his first Wales under 16 call-up last week in the Victory Shield match with Northern Ireland

Father's footsteps: Ed Speed, the 14-year-old son of the late Gary Speed, received his first Wales under 16 call-up last week in the Victory Shield match with Northern Ireland

Future star: Ed has already drawn praise from coaches for his maturity and professionalism, as well as his ability in midfield

Future star: Ed has already drawn praise from coaches for his maturity and professionalism, as well as his ability in midfield

Tragic: Gary Speed in action for Wales in a Euro 2004 qualifying win over Italy at the Millennium Stadium. He died on November 27, 2011 at the age of 42

Tragic: Gary Speed in action for Wales in a Euro 2004 qualifying win over Italy at the Millennium Stadium. He died on November 27, 2011 at the age of 42

But Speed Jr is already being tipped to emulate his father's achievements, with clear likenesses both in appearance and their style of play.

It came days before football united to pay tribute to Speed on the first anniversary of his death.

Wales under 16 boss Osian Roberts, who was Speed's assistant when he was in charge of the senior squad, said about him: 'As everyone now knows Ed is a phenomenal kid and he reminds me so much of Gary as a player.

'He's a centre-midfielder who reads the game very well and does the easy things – he makes the game look simple at times.

'His decision-making and preparation is spot on. You can imagine the influence his father had on him. He's probably more professional than full-time players now.

'There is no rule, but you'd like to think there is something in the genes. I've got great hopes for Ed.'

Keep on running: Ed warms up during the 1-1 draw in Ballymena. He didn't manage to get off the bench to make his Wales schoolboy debut

Keep on running: Ed warms up during the 1-1 draw in Ballymena. He didn't manage to get off the bench to make his Wales schoolboy debut

Quickstep: Ed during a training drill before the match at Ballymena Showgrounds. His likeness to his father extends beyond his looks to his ability in midfield

Quickstep: Ed during a training drill before the match at Ballymena Showgrounds. His likeness to his father extends beyond his looks to his ability in midfield

Next generation: Ed Speed (number 16) and Ellis Bellamy (number 14) on the Wales teamsheet

Next generation: Ed Speed (number 16) and Ellis Bellamy (number 14) on the Wales teamsheet

Ed and his brother Tom led out the Wales side before the match with Costa Rica dedicated to the memory of Speed in February.

And Wales manager Chris Coleman revealed afterwards that Ed addressed the players after the 1-0 defeat in Cardiff.

He said at the time: 'Ed and Tom, what a credit to Gary they are. Ed has come into the dressing room after the game and he gave a speech which anybody would have been proud of.

'There was not a tear in his eyes, he was strong as an ox.

'He came in and he said, 'My dad always said to me that if you do your best it's enough, and I think you lot did your best tonight.'

Emotional: Gary Speed's sons Ed (nearest to camera) and Tommy walk out alongside Wales captain Craig Bellamy in the tribute match with Costa Rica in February

Emotional: Gary Speed's sons Ed (nearest to camera) and Tommy walk out alongside Wales captain Craig Bellamy in the tribute match with Costa Rica in February

Brave: Speed's sons and Bellamy proudly sing the national anthem before the game

Brave: Speed's sons and Bellamy proudly sing the national anthem before the game

'What do you say to that from a 14-year-old who has just lost his dad That's bravery, isn't it'

When Ed makes his debut for the under 16 side, it will be the first step towards emulating the 85 caps his father won for Wales over a 14-year international career.

But one player who is already on his way is Ellis Bellamy, son of Wales and Cardiff City forward Craig.

Ellis, who plays in midfield, came on as a late second half substitute at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Bellamy Jr, who plays for Cardiff's academy, has become a regular fixture in the Wales schoolboy squad in recent months.

Coming on: Ellis Bellamy, son of Wales striker Craig, prepares to take the field against Northern Ireland on Friday night

Coming on: Ellis Bellamy, son of Wales striker Craig, prepares to take the field against Northern Ireland on Friday night

One for the future: Ellis Bellamy, who came on as a late sub in the 1-1 draw

One for the future: Ellis Bellamy, who came on as a late sub in the 1-1 draw

Ravel Morrison has seven teeth removed in emergency surgery

Tooth scary! Dental emergency sees departing Hammer Morrison have SEVEN teeth removed

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UPDATED:

06:47 GMT, 7 August 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Ravel Morrison’s career has taken another twist after it emerged he was sent home from West Ham’s pre-season tour to have seven teeth removed.

Morrison, who joined Championship side Birmingham on loan yesterday, shocked Hammers staff when he complained of toothache in Germany last week.

Club officials were initially preparing to fine the former Manchester United midfielder for failing to turn up for training when they made the gruesome discovery.

He was flown back to England for
emergency treatment and told his teeth are in such poor condition that
up to seven will have to be extracted.

New boy: Ravel Morrison has joined Birmingham on a season-long loan

New boy: Ravel Morrison has joined Birmingham on a season-long loan

Morrison, who has failed to make an
impact at Upton Park since he moved from United last season, has been
advised to have dental implants, costing around 28,000.

He will initially wear temporary moulds while the implants are being made.

Morrison leads a chaotic lifestyle
and surprised Hammers staff on their pre- season tour with his
increasingly bizarre behaviour.

The midfielder refused to drink anything other than official ‘West Ham bottled water’ during their short stay in Germany.

Morrison, who made his senior United
debut in the Carling Cup against Wolves in 2010, has struggled to
convince West Ham boss Sam Allardyce he is ready for regular first-team
action.

Although there is no doubt he has the ability to be a top player, he lacks maturity.

Birmingham manager Lee Clark will
take the 19-year-old on loan this week, but it represents another huge
gamble for the cash-strapped Championship side.

London 2012 Olympics cycling: Laura Trott wins second omnium event to sit top at halfway stage

Trott remains on track to add to Great Britain's cycling medal haul as she leads omnium at halfway stage

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UPDATED:

23:59 GMT, 6 August 2012

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LIVE RESULTS |
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MEDALS TABLE

Laura Trott is on course to become a double Olympic champion at the ridiculously tender age of 20.

Fresh-faced she may be – and a blonde, not the brunette we have seen before – yet the girl from Essex rode with such maturity in the opening three disciplines of the women’s omnium to suggest that Tuesday’s final three events – the 3,000m pursuit, the scratch race and a 500m time trial – could see her add a solo gold medal to that won in the women’s team pursuit.

It is all becoming bewilderingly straightforward that there appears to be no outcome possible other than British gold in practically every event.

Unstoppable: Laura Trott powered her way to the top of the omnium table at the half way stage

Unstoppable: Laura Trott powered her way to the top of the omnium table at the half way stage

Trott leads the omnium standings overnight, level on points with Sarah Hammer of the USA but ahead by virtue of having a faster aggregate time in the disciplines which are against the clock.

Her flying 250m lap was completed at a dizzying average speed of 40mph while her ability to spot every crisis point in the elimination race, in which the last rider across the line every second lap is called out, thrilled the 6,000 spectators.

Going for gold: Trott is looking add to Great Britain's tally of cycling medals

Going for gold: Trott is looking add to Great Britain's tally of cycling medals

They will expect to salute three more Olympic titles when the Velodrome opens for the final time on Tuesday, with Victoria Pendleton in the women’s individual sprint and Sir Chris Hoy’s tilt at Olympic immortality in the men’s keirin .

Victory for would surpass Sir Steve Redgrave’s five golds – a record for a Briton – although what further accolades are open to Hoy, who already possesses a knighthood and the hearts of a nation, is a mystery.

Euro 2012: Danny Welbeck is not scared to lead line for England

Natural born thriller: I've played for England at every level and I belong here, says proud Welbeck

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 13 June 2012

Never mind policemen. England footballers are getting younger.

Danny Welbeck made a room full of newspaper men feel distinctly old when he said his first memory of an England striker in action was Michael Owen scoring that goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.

It drew a gasp from his audience and was then followed by a brief history lesson for the 21-year-old.

Maturity beyond his years: Danny Welbeck is not scared of taking a key role for England

Maturity beyond his years: Danny Welbeck is not scared of taking a key role for England

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Welbeck was told of a press conference that took place in Paris two years later, when England met France in a friendly.

It was there in the autumn of 2000, at the Stade de France, that the same Michael Owen expressed his desire to lead England’s attack for as long as possible. Alan Shearer had retired from international football, he respectfully noted, and at 20 he declared himself ready to shoulder that burden of responsibility.

A further 12 years on and here in Krakow yesterday Welbeck delivered a similar speech. It was not premeditated in the way Owen’s clearly was. It came in response to a question, but the message was the same. Now he has the job, now he has been selected as England’s centre forward in a major tournament, he has no desire to see someone else in his place.

‘I’ve been put in a position now to lead the line for England and it’s not something I’m scared of,’ said a Manchester United player Sir Alex Ferguson long ago predicted would become an England player.

Test: England will face Sweden on Friday

Test: England will face Sweden on Friday

‘I’m relishing the opportunity. I don’t want to keep shifting in and out but it’s not down to me, it’s down to the manager. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.’

There is an easy confidence about Welbeck. He is comfortable in these surroundings; comfortable with the pressure that comes with playing teams such as France and Sweden here at the European Championship.

‘You try not to think too much about it,’ he said. ‘When you’re on the pitch you want your mind on the game, not the occasion.

‘But this is something I’ve worked towards since I was a little kid. You want to be playing games at the highest level and now that I’m here I’m really proud. I want to develop my game and go as far as I can.’

His response to being selected for Monday’s encounter with the French was not one of fear but of ‘excitement’.

‘Once you’re called up for the squad your mind is set,’ he said. ‘You know, if you’re called upon, that you’re ready. When the manager named the starting line-up I was more or less ready for it.

‘I’ve been playing for England since I
was 14 and it felt like a natural progression to step up to the senior
side. I played Under 16s, Under 17s, Under 18s, 19s and then 21s. That
step up to the seniors was a privilege but it also felt like a natural
progression.’

Options: Sweden think Roy Hodgson will pick Andy Carroll

Options: Sweden think Roy Hodgson will pick Andy Carroll

The rise to senior status has nevertheless come suddenly. Here, after all, is a player who made only one appearance during the qualifiers; who scored his first international goal in the friendly against Belgium nine days before that opening group game with France.

And yet he sounded like a senior pro; a player schooled at Old Trafford and blessed with great belief not only in his ability but the ability of his team-mates.

Will England attack with more fluency against the Swedes in Kiev tomorrow ‘Most definitely,’ he said.

‘Obviously we’d have liked to have started with a win in the first group game but we know as a team that we want to get forward and get more goals.

‘You’ll see a much more determined England side. We want to get more bodies into our attacking third and create more opportunities and when they arrive the strikers will be ready to put them in.’

On Wednesday they did not seem that ready for anything.

Roy
Hodgson had said it would be a ‘sensible session’ but the physical
demands of that contest in Donetsk on Monday have clearly taken their
toll because the first-team players did a light warm-up at the Hutnik
Stadium before returning to the gym for more recovery work.

Impressive: Welbeck spoke wisely

Impressive: Welbeck spoke wisely

It is not a cause for any real concern. Not when the Swedes are busy bickering among themselves or playing a training game that involves baring one’s backside and inviting your team-mates to strike a ball against it from 20-odd yards.

The Swedes have convinced themselves that Andy Carroll will start ahead of Welbeck on Friday, in particular because of their apparent vulnerability to headers. Six of the last seven goals they have conceded have been scored with the head.

But Welbeck poses an aerial threat as well as the talent to score the kind of goal he did against Belgium. ‘Getting that first England goal gives you that confidence boost,’ he said.

‘The France game was an opportunity to show what I can do. I held the ball up pretty well and brought others into play. But I think, going forward, I really want to get some shots off at goal because I’m a striker and I really want to be scoring goals as well.

‘But I don’t see any need to worry about anything. It’s football and I love football. You’ve just got to take what comes in your stride.’

Wise words from an impressive young man.

Roberto Martinez backs Franco Di Santo to relegate Blackburn

Show no mercy! Martinez backs Di Santo to send former club Blackburn down

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UPDATED:

08:58 GMT, 7 May 2012

Top form: Di Santo has scored twice in recent weeks

Top form: Di Santo has scored twice in recent weeks

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has told Franco di Santo to help condemn his former club Blackburn to relegation at Ewood Park on Monday night.

Di Santo, who spent a year on loan at Blackburn in 2009-10, is likely to start as Wigan bid to secure their own safety with a win against their Lancashire rivals.

And Martinez insists that the striker, 23, is fully focused on the task at hand.

'It’s not about sending anyone down. It’s about how he would feel about achieving Premier League status for Wigan because we’re fighting for our lives,' he said.

Di Santo netted in Wigan's shock wins against Arsenal and Newcastle last month, results which helped Martinez win April's Manager of the Month award.

Having struggled to make an impact in the Premier League since signing for Chelsea from Chilean side Audax Italiano back in 2008, Di Santo looks to have finally found his feet in the top flight.

And Martinez has hailed his maturity. 'I think it’s just the age that has made him click,' he said.

'Remember, he’s a very young man. He had a great experience in Chile at 16 and then he came to a massive club in the shape of Chelsea.

Crossing the divide: Di Santo celebrates scoring his only goal for Blackburn

Crossing the divide: Di Santo celebrates scoring his only goal for Blackburn

'Straight away he played Champions League football and in a team fighting to win the title.

'As a player he probably needed different experiences to try and develop as an individual because he was in a group winning things.

'So the real difference this season is that he has found himself and found what he has to do to help the team and for him to be effective.

'It’s down to his attitude and his willingness to learn because he’s still a very young man.

'At his age you are still at the start of your career. But if you’ve seen the way he’s been performing since February, we’re seeing a player who is starting to fulfil his potential.

'He’s strong, powerful and can cover large distances, his first-touch is as good as you will see and he’s a clinical finisher.'

Nearly there: A point will see Wigan all-but safe

Nearly there: A point will see Wigan all-but safe

Di Santo scored just once in his solitary season at Ewood Park, but that did not put Martinez off signing him.

The Spaniard added: 'Sometimes you go to a club on loan thinking you’re just spending a bit of time there to go back to your parent club.

'As a player going out on loan, it’s very difficult to be fully focused on what you’re doing because there’s always that thought ‘where am I going to be next season’ and ‘what’s the next step’ and ‘am I going to go back to my club’.

'The experience at Blackburn was good for him at that age.

'But it’s been important to him to be a Wigan player and fight for his place and fight to improve.'

Guan Tian-lang to compete in China Open aged 13

Guan to become European Tour's youngest golfer at just 13

PUBLISHED:

21:56 GMT, 17 April 2012

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UPDATED:

12:58 GMT, 18 April 2012

Guan Tian-lang will become the youngest golfer to compete on the European Tour when the 13-year-old tees off in the China Open on Thursday.

Guan, who will be 13 years and 173
days, will beat the record of compatriot Lo Shik-kai, who was 107 days
older at the 2003 Hong Kong Open.

Guan booked a place in the 156-man
field after finishing fourth in a qualifying event. He thought he had
missed out after losing a play-off for third before finding out he was
in.

Teenage dreams: Guan Tian-lang is set to enter the record books

Teenage dreams: Guan Tian-lang is set to enter the record books

'I really couldn’t be happier – I’m so excited right now,' Guangzhou-born Guan told the European Tour website.

'I was really disappointed to lose out in the play-off and I thought I’d blown a great chance to make history, but then to find out I’m actually going to play is like a dream come true.

'My goal now is to be the youngest player ever to make the cut in a European Tour event, and I think if I can shoot level par or better I’ll have a good chance to do that.'

The teenager first swung a club at age four and romped to an 11-shot victory at the the World Juniors in San Diego last year, shooting a nine-under 63 on the opening day.

Getting in the swing: Guan Tian-lang enjoys a practice round

Getting in the swing: Guan Tian-lang enjoys a practice round

Guan also has his studies to keep him busy.

He added: 'I don’t take schoolwork with me when I travel – I just work very hard when I’m at school in Guangzhou. Actually I’m doing pretty well right now and my grades are high. My favourite subjects are English and PE.'

Alistair Polson, operations director of the Volvo China Open said: 'Anyone who has seen Guan play would not rule him out from making the cut – he really is a talented young player.

'He displays a maturity well beyond his 13 years and doesn’t seem fazed by spectators or the media attention he has received.

'Being a local player I expect he will receive a lot of attention next week so I hope he does well and gives the fans something to cheer about.'

Chelsea v Benfica: Martin Keown"s dossier

Big match dossier: Unselfish Torres is reaping his reward

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UPDATED:

21:32 GMT, 3 April 2012

That's more like it: Torres celebrates scoring against Villa

That's more like it: Torres celebrates scoring against Villa

Fernando Torres has been doing a lot of unselfish running into channels in recent weeks. You saw how Chelsea benefited from that when he crossed for their goal in the first leg.

That shows character, as it would be more tempting to just stay central, looking to score all the time.

Some people says he's been avoiding the penalty area because of a lack of confidence but I don't buy that. Look at his finish against Aston Villa at the weekend – it was never in doubt.

STICK WITH SALOMON

I liked seeing Salomon Kalou in front of Ashley Cole in the first leg as he offers better protection to the defence. Daniel Sturridge came on late in the game and didn't do that job as well. Ramires has the legs to do the same.

Kalou has already been very disciplined in a Chelsea shirt but has not been much appreciated. He was first class last week.

CAREFUL CARDOZO

Oscar Cardozo pulled off John Terry's shoulder worryingly easily a couple of times in the first leg. The Paraguay striker has very good movement and is a threat in the air.

He missed a few chances in Lisbon but
you don't imagine he will again on Wednesday night if given the
opportunity. Pablo Aimar is another threat. He knocks the ball around
very well and can find a cutting pass.

Dangerman: Oscar Cardozo will cause Chelsea's defence problems

Dangerman: Oscar Cardozo will cause Chelsea's defence problems

KING DAVID

David Luiz has been hit-and-miss this season but last week he showed he was willing to clear the danger rather than try to pass out from the back all the time. He stayed on his feet more too, which is vital in England.

He is starting to look the part, his range of passing is excellent and he showed maturity in his performance against his former club. Let's hope his training-ground knock isn't serious.

TIME FOR EXPERIENCE

Should Roberto Di Matteo bring back the Chelsea pensioners

He got the tactics right in the first
leg with John Mikel Obi sitting deep and Raul Meireles, Kalou and
Ramires working hard. For Wednesday night, I would bring back Michael
Essien because he has had the rest he needed and his experience will
tell.

Coming back Di Matteo left out Lampard and Essien in Portugal

Coming back Di Matteo left out Lampard and Essien in Portugal

I'd also play Frank Lampard ahead of Meireles because his goalscoring record is outstanding and they will need another goal to finish the tie off. Also, Stamford Bridge is a very tight pitch and it means the older players won't have to cover as much ground as was required last week.

Up top, even if Didier Drogba is fit, I'd stick with Torres. The Spaniard has done more than enough to justify his inclusion.

…AND MY VERDICT

I think Chelsea will go through. It won't be comfortable because they've been inconsistent this season but they have a lead and enough to see it through.

Cheltenham Festival 2012: Willie Mullins issues Champions Hurdle warning

Mullins issues warning to Champions Hurdle hopefuls: my Fly is better than ever

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UPDATED:

20:29 GMT, 11 March 2012

Willie Mullins has sounded a sobering warning to Champion Hurdle aspirants that reigning champion Hurricane Fly is a more mature, complete racehorse than he was 12 months ago.

Ruby Walsh's mount faces nine rivals in Tuesday's 370,000 contest, including stablemate Zaidpour (Paul Townend) plus four runners trained by Paul Nicholls – Brampour (Harry Derham), Celestial Halo (Harry Skelton), Rock On Ruby (Noel Fehily) and Zarkandar (Daryl Jacob).

Hurricane Fly, a 10-time grade-one winner, is 4-5 favourite with sponsors Stan James to defend his crown on the back of his six-length demolition of Oscars Well in January's Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Champion Hurdle: Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly wins in 2011

Champion Hurdle: Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly wins in 2011

That has been his only run of the season and Mullins admitted that getting the son of Montjeu back to the Festival had once again been a nerve-wracking experience.

But the Irish trainer was as impressed by his demeanor as his performance on that January run.

He said: 'The fact that he has been to the Festival before is a positive. He used to get quite buzzed up. Hopefully, that is just maturity and he is settling into his racing.

'Last year, it was just relief when I put the saddle on him, sent him into the parade ring and handed him to Ruby.

'It will be more relief again, but everything has gone pretty well since Christmas.'

Mullins admits the prospect of the ground drying out during the week had influenced him in running last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle seventh Zaidpour on Tuesday, rather than in Thursday's World Hurdle where the stable's 2011 Champion Hurdle fourth Thousand Stars now takes his chance.

Festival march: Willie Mullins string during exercise prior to Cheltenham

Festival march: Willie Mullins string during exercise prior to Cheltenham

He said: 'Thousand Stars won the French Champion Hurdle over three miles, one and a half furlongs (in June 2011). With Hurricane Fly and Zaidpour, I thought I had enough in the Champion Hurdle.

'Looking at the weather, I said to Zaidpour's owner that if we took him to Cheltenham it looked like being the first day. He is a grade one winner over two miles.'

Mullins is evens favourite to retain the top Festival trainer title he won last year with four of Ireland's record 13 wins. Those odds will not look unreasonable if Hurricane Fly and Quevega, his other day one banker, oblige.

Quevega is odds-on favourite to win the OLBG Mares' Hurdle for a fourth consecutive time.

Mullins added: 'She is in good form and has had similar preparation to last year.'

He opens up tomorrow with Allure of Illusion, Midnight Game and Simenon in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

His other big chances include Allee Garde in Wednesday's National Hunt Chase and Boston Bob in Friday's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.