Tag Archives: paces

Manchester City full of festive cheer as they train on Christmas Eve

Merry Mario leads Manchester City training as defending champions gear up for festive period

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UPDATED:

15:40 GMT, 24 December 2012

Making up two points on leaders and fierce rivals Manchester United would have bought more than a hint of festive cheer to City's training ground on Christmas Eve.

And the presence of the club's very own crackers character Mario Balotelli gave the squad a lift, as did the sight of captain Vincent Kompany coming through the session.

In fact, so good was the spirit in camp that youngster Matija Nastasic, who has previously enjoyed a winter break in Italy, said he was relishing his first taste of England's traditionally busy Christmas schedule.

Christmas crackers: Manchester City got an early present when they made up two points on United

Christmas crackers: Manchester City got an early present when they made up two points on United

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

The 19-year-old centre-back, who has
made a big impression since his arrival from Fiorentina in August, is
unfazed by the prospect of playing five games in the space of 15 days.

He
is also far from concerned by the fact the next two of those matches,
at Sunderland on Boxing Day and Norwich next Saturday, will involve
lengthy journeys.

'To me
it is not a problem,' said the Serbia international. 'I am always happy
when I am playing, so this time of the season makes me happiest of all!

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

'My father and mother are here, so I won't miss my family. I don't look at the two long away trips as a problem at all.

'Now we concentrate on the Sunderland game, and then we focus on Norwich – it's not a headache.

'The league in Italy stops, and we have a break, but playing here is no problem for me. I am looking forward to the next couple of games.'

City needed a last-gasp winner from Gareth Barry to beat Barclays Premier League bottom side Reading in the first of their festive matches at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Having gone into the game trailing leaders Manchester United by six points, the champions were in danger of handing their title rivals another boost until Barry headed home a contentious goal in injury time.

Reading felt Barry had fouled Nicky Shorey but City celebrated a valuable three points amid much relief and their joy increased later in the weekend when Swansea held United to a draw.

Although Reading showed commendable
resilience throughout, Nastasic felt victory was deserved for City's
obvious superiority and greater number of chances over the whole game.

Nastasic
said: 'We knew the game would be difficult because it was obvious they
would just come and defend, but we deserved the goal in the last minute.

'Reading
played 11 men behind the ball, in a small area which always makes it
very difficult to attack – but that was their game plan.

Space at the table: Roberto Mancini will no doubt be distracted on the big day as he prepares for Boxing Day

Space at the table: Roberto Mancini will no doubt be distracted on the big day as he prepares for Boxing Day

Hart stopper: Joe Hart will hope 2013 doesn't see a repeat of the odd mistake he made this year

Hart stopper: Joe Hart will hope 2013 doesn't see a repeat of the odd mistake he made this year

'We are a very strong team, self-motivated and full of confidence at the moment. What is important is that we keep the same attitude, if we want to win the Premier League. We won the game, and that is the important thing.'

Nastasic's consistent and unfussy performances are currently keeping England centre-back Joleon Lescott out of the City side.

There was even the unusual sight on Saturday of Lescott and captain Vincent Kompany – the heart of City's title-winning defence last season – on the bench as Nastasic partnered Kolo Toure.

Manager Roberto Mancini's regard for the player is evident and he is quickly becoming a fans' favourite.

Nastasic
said: 'It makes me happy if the fans think highly of me, and I just
want to keep playing the way I am – that is the objective for the whole
team, not just me.'

Kompany
was not risked against Reading as he continues to recover from the
groin injury he suffered in the Manchester derby defeat a fortnight ago.

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Another teenager, Karim Rekik, was also deployed at left-back as both Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were sidelined by niggles.

Their fitness will be assessed ahead of the trip to the Stadium of Light while controversial striker Mario Balotelli could come back into contention after illness last week but forward Samir Nasri is out with a hamstring injury.

The match marks the halfway point of the season and Mancini wants his side to start picking up the tempo.

The Italian said: 'We can work better but at the same time I think that we need to do more than last year. From the first six months we need to work better – that's individuals and the group.'

Jonathan Trott helps England build lead over India as they close in on series win

Determined Trott stays calm under pressure as England move closer to memorable series win

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UPDATED:

14:03 GMT, 16 December 2012

Jonathan Trott stood defiantly up against the Indian attack, a pitch unfit for purpose and a barrage of verbal abuse to take England to within one good session of one of their best and most historic triumphs in modern memory.

What had been a cagey, turgid and mostly downright dull final Test burst into life with the series on a knife-edge in the final session of the fourth day when Trott put behind him a year full of frustrations to deliver just when it mattered most.

When Kevin Pietersen inexplicably shouldered arms to a straight ball from Ravindra Jadeja – just as Trott had done in the first innings – England, who had battled heroically for the best part of four days, looked to be letting their first series win in India for almost 28 years slip out of their grasp.

Building his runs: Jonathan Trott scored a half century as England look to build a lead

Building his runs: Jonathan Trott scored a half century as England look to build a lead

They were just 98 ahead with three wickets down and the man who could have attacked them to safety gone yet again to left-arm spin. But Ian Bell joined Trott and what followed was the most fluent, potentially decisive, batting of a Test England need only draw today to take the series.

Not to mention the most controversial. For when Trott walked a few paces outside his crease and smacked a ball that had dribbled out of Jadeja’s hand and bounced several times before trickling to a halt on the leg-side of the pitch for four he ignited another argument between these teams over the spirit of cricket.

Trott was perfectly within his rights to do what he did but, even though both Jadeja and MS Dhoni reacted with wry smiles, Ravichandran Ashwin later said that this was the spark for the tense and unpleasant scenes that were to follow.

Remember, it was Dhoni who called Bell back at Trent Bridge last year when he had been run out walking out of his crease at tea. And remember it was Trott who, in Ahmedabad, pleaded ignorance when he had clearly grassed a catch. India feel that their gesture in Trent Bridge has hardly been reciprocated since.

Trott will not care. His totally legal shot – which went down as four off a no-ball – showed the competitive desire of the man and he carried on displaying it when India were convinced, wrongly, they had him caught behind on 43.

This has again been a chastening match for the umpires and those of us who against all hope tried to cling on to a game not dominated by technology. Sorry, this series has proved the Decision Review System doubters like myself totally wrong. It has been punctuated by one awful umpiring error after another.

The latest howlers came from the man this year voted the best official on the ICC elite panel, Kumar Dharmasena. Firstly he gave out Alastair Cook, wrongly, for the second time in the Test and then said no when Trott should have been given lbw on just seven to Jadeja. How important that reprieve now looks.

Frustration: Ishant Sharma thought he had taken Jonathan Trott's wicket

Frustration: Ishant Sharma thought he had taken Jonathan Trott's wicket

Add Sunday’s other wrong decision of Rod Tucker who gave Nick Compton lbw to one he inside edged onto pad – the ball then ballooned to gully so Compton should have been given out anyway, only in a different way – and this series has seen a catalogue of errors from these umpires and the ones who officiated in the first two Tests, Aleem Dar and Tony Hill.

But Dharmasena’s decision to reprieve Trott when he attempted to cut Ishant Sharma was not among them. This was the right call but that did not stop the Indian players losing their cool completely, with their agitator in chief Virat Kohli involving himself in an incident that had nothing to do with him.

There at the end: Ian Bell supported Trott at the end

There at the end: Ian Bell supported Trott at the end

They were picking on the wrong man in Trott. He is one who thrives on such things rather than being cowed by them. He appeared to blow a little kiss at Sharma – that didn’t exactly calm India down – and went on his merry way to an unbeaten 66 by the close with England on 161 for three, a priceless lead of 165.

There was one other flashpoint when Ashwin threatened to run Trott out backing up – he later said in essence that he would not have stooped to Trott’s level – but the combative Trott and his team lived to fight one last day in this absorbing and unpredictable series.

As long as England do not blow it with a cluster of quick wickets today they will surely achieve the draw they need. It would be a series triumph richly deserved. Even yesterday India, until they were stirred into a late reaction, were strangely passive, poor in the field and lacking any sort of dynamism.

Their fortunes were summed up by a quite bizarre first hour yesterday when they batted on but showed no ambition to try to win the match, scoring just 29 runs in 13 soporific overs before declaring with one wicket left four runs behind England’s 330. All they achieved was take time out of the match and made Cook’s task a little easier. It was not very Duncan Fletcher-like cricket at all.

A Test that has never progressed beyond first gear, at least until Trott and Bell took the run-rate up close to a giddy three an over, has done little to further the cause of the ultimate game in its most passionate country. Shame on the groundsman who produced this lifeless excuse of a pitch, whether by accident or design.

But the sheer importance of this Test and what is at stake has made it compelling viewing for the purists. And England just need one last, final push now for the most extraordinary of series wins.

We are unable to carry live pictures from the fourth Test in Nagpur due to a dispute between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and international news organisations.

The BCCI has refused access to Test venues to established picture agencies Getty Images and Action Images and other Indian photographic agencies.

MailOnline consider this action to be a strike against press freedom and supports the action to boycott BCCI imagery.

Liverpool training: Jamie Carragher dons shorts and Brendan Rodgers without gloves at Melwood

Frosty reception for Liverpool at training… with Carragher as only player to dare the big freeze in his shorts

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UPDATED:

15:02 GMT, 13 December 2012

Liverpool were handed a frosty reception when they arrived at Melwood Training Ground on Thursday.

The Reds, who host Aston Villa on Saturday, were put through their paces by Brendan Rodgers. The Liverpool manager was the only member of his staff and playing squad brave enough to brace the arctic conditions without gloves.

Braving the cold: Rodgers took training without gloves while Carragher (below) donned a pair of shorts

Braving the cold: Rodgers took training without gloves while Carragher (below) donned a pair of shorts

Braving the cold: Rodgers took training without gloves while Carragher (below) donned a pair of shorts

Although Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher gave his boss a run for his money with the veteran donning a pair of shorts during the cold snap.

The MailOnline columnist embraced the barmy conditions without trousers as the rest of his team-mates were dressed head-to-toe in winter clothing… although we're pleased to announced no snoods were on display.

All smiles: Lucas and Jordan Henderson mess around on the floor as Steven Gerrard acknowledges the photographers

All smiles: Lucas and Jordan Henderson mess around on the floor as Gerrard acknowledges the snappers

All smiles: Lucas and Jordan Henderson mess around on the floor as Steven Gerrard acknowledges the photographers

Among those who were absent from training at Melwood this morning was Jose Enrique, who is confident his side will collect a full quota of points when they face Villa and then host Fulham seven days later.

But the Spaniard admits he's unsure whether he'll feature for Rodgers's side this weekend.

Pepe Reina

Raheem Sterling

On the ball: Pepe Reina and Raheem Sterling are put through their paces on Thursday morning

Happy: Luis Suarez appeared to enjoy training in the cold

Happy: Luis Suarez appeared to enjoy training in the cold at Melwood

'I am okay, but I don't know if I'll be ready for the game,' said Enrique, who remains a doubt after limping out of Liverpool's 3-2 win at West Ham last Sunday.

'It's nothing bad, but I don't know if I'll be able to play.' Speaking to the club's website, Enrique added: 'I've had some treatment and then we will see. I hope I can be fit for the game.'

Roberto Mancini: Everton can qualify for Champions League

Everton can qualify for Champions League, says Mancini as City boss prepares for Toffees test

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UPDATED:

12:58 GMT, 30 November 2012

Roberto Mancini has backed in-form Everton to break up the established order at the top of the Barclays Premier League and force their way into next season's Champions League.

The Manchester City manager expects Chelsea to push his side and Manchester United for the title but believes Everton, rather than Arsenal, are in pole position for the fourth Champions' League place.

City have won only one of their last six meetings with Everton, and Mancini is predicting another tough test for the defending champions, when David Moyes' side visit The Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

In the mist: Manchester City squad Roberto Mancini puts his squad through their paces on Friday

In the mist: Manchester City squad Roberto Mancini puts his squad through their paces on Friday

'Last year, they were so-so, but I think Everton have started this season really well,' he said.

'They could end up with a Europa League place, but I actually believe they have the quality to finish fourth. They are a strong team with a strong future, so why not

'I think (facing) Everton is difficult for everyone, for us, for Manchester United, for Chelsea. Because every game they play against a top squad, they play very, very well. Every match we play against them, we have a problem.

Hats off: Mancini believes Everton can challenge the established top four

Hats off: Mancini believes Everton can challenge the established order

'I think that tomorrow will be the same. For the top team to beat Everton, it is difficult. They always play 100 per cent, and you beat them only if you play a fantastic game.'

Michel Platini's plans to expand the Champions' League brought a wry smile from Mancini, after he saw City crash out at the group stage last week.

'Maybe with 64 teams in the tournament, we could go through to the second stage, so I say “thank you, Platini”,' he grinned.

'But I think he talks about three years' time, so that is too late for us, unfortunately.'

For all the talk of this season's title campaign turning into a two-horse race between the two Manchester clubs, Mancini insisted Chelsea were also in the running.

'It is difficult to describe it that way, because the season is long, and in February, when the Champions' League starts again, everything can change,' he said.

'Who else can win it Chelsea, I think. 'In this moment, I think it is a three-horse race. But we have another 20-odd games to go. The finishing line is too far away to say. Last season, in six games, we recovered eight points. Teams like Tottenham and Arsenal can recover enough points in the next 20-plus games, but it is difficult to say this now.

'What matters is that we are entering a very big month. December is important, because we play so many games.'

Kolo Toure

Joe Hart

No ordinary Joe: Hart (right)

Mancini is still hoping to retain the services of Yaya and Kolo Toure in the New Year, rather than lose them to the African Cup of Nations.

'Will they go This is a good question,' he said. 'January could be important, if we have two or three players injured and don't have others who can come in, so I hope that maybe they don't go in this competition. 'We have talked about it, and we need to talk more with their manager, but it is difficult.'

James Milner has been ruled out and is a doubt for the derby meeting with United a week on Sunday after limping off with a hamstring injury at Wigan on Wednesday night.

Joe Hart scores overhead kick in Manchester City training

England keeper Joe Hart shows he can score an overhead kick just like Ibrahimovic

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UPDATED:

15:58 GMT, 15 November 2012

Joe Hart may have been beaten FOUR times by Zlatan Ibrahimovic last night – but he has proved that he has some of the Swede's magic himself.

The England goalkeeper suffered a nightmare evening at the hands of Ibrahimovic as the hitman inspired the comeback for a 4-2 win in Stockholm.

Although he's more at home in his
gloves, Hart considers himself a decent player with the ball and
regularly gets stuck in at Manchester City training with the star outfield players.

Scroll down to watch Hart's heroics in training…
Flying solo: Joe Hart celebrated this superb overhead kick in training at Carrington

Flying solo: Joe Hart celebrated this superb overhead kick in training at Carrington

Flying solo: Joe Hart celebrated this superb overhead kick in training at Carrington

And he's even been filmed scoring an
overhead kick of his own – although it's not quite in the same bracket
at Ibrahimovic's effort.

Put
through his paces by the coaches at Carrington, Hart reacts to the ball
pinging off the crossbar by priming himself for an effort.

Twisting his body into position, the 25-year-old executes a brilliant overhead kick to beat his fellow City goalkeepers.

Night to forget: Joe Hart suffered at the hands of Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Night to forget: Joe Hart suffered at the hands of Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Wonder goal: Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck a stunning overhead kick

Wonder goal: Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck a stunning overhead kick

After the ball hits the back of the net, Hart turns to the cameras to celebrate with a grin like a boy scoring his first primary school goal.

City boss Mancini may be happy with his Safe Hands inbetween the posts. But judging by this evidence, he could do far worse than sticking him up front…

See the video here…

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England v Fiji: Show no mercy, says Andy Farrell

Farrell demands England show 'no mercy' to Fiji as autumn internationals get underway

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UPDATED:

22:59 GMT, 9 November 2012

England will adopt a ‘no mercy’ mantra at Twickenham as they try to clinically dispatch Fiji and lay the foundations for a triumphant autumn series.

Stuart Lancaster’s men go into the first of four QBE Internationals as firm favourites to see off the under-cooked, weakened Pacific Island visitors, despite a lack of experience in the home ranks.

The game, in front of a capacity 82,000 crowd, will test the national team’s ability to deal with expectation and show they can take the step from being competitive to being utterly dominant at home.

Put through their paces: England were at Twickenham on Friday to prepare for their clash against Fiji

Put through their paces: England were at Twickenham on Friday to prepare for their clash against Fiji

Put through their paces: England were at Twickenham on Friday to prepare for their clash against Fiji

England know they must set the tone and win the match with room to spare. ‘We have to be ruthless and show no mercy,’ said coach Andy Farrell. ‘We’re after a performance.We’ve had two brilliant weeks of training. The boys are itching to get out there.

‘You will always look for that perfect performance but we haven’t played for five months so there will be a lot of learning to come out of this game for us. We can kick on for the rest of the autumn.

‘The boys are led well and they know exactly what they’re doing. They have brought fight and desire and intensity to their performances this year, but they understand that they have to improve now.

‘The intensity and passion have to be an absolute given, but to be the best, there is an extra 15 to 20 per cent there. The proof of our progress will be how we perform.’

No mercy: Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt are demanding the best from their team

No mercy: Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt are demanding the best from their team

Leading example: Chris Robshaw

Leading example: Chris Robshaw

Chris Robshaw, the England captain, agreed it was vital for him and his team-mates to be ruthless.

‘We have to take every opportunity we can,’ he said. ‘We can’t take 10 or 15 minutes to get into a game like we did in South Africa. We must make sure we deliver from minute one.

‘It is a different type of pressure. It is easy to go into a game when you are underdogs and have nothing to lose and you can throw the ball about. It is when people are expecting something that you have to perform.

‘That’s what we want to do as players. We need to stay positive throughout the game.’

England’s players were last night given their Test jerseys by former captain Will Carling. Among them was New Zealand-born No 8 Thomas Waldrom, who has marked his first Test start at Twickenham by flying his parents to London from Christchurch.

‘I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I’m playing for England at Twickenham,’ he said. ‘It’s a very special occasion. I was only told on Tuesday, so it’s been a rush.’

The 29-year-old, who played for New Zealand age-group teams, qualifies through an English-born grandmother.

Roberto Mancini slams Manchester City"s defensive record ahead of Arsenal test

'We have been average': Mancini berates City's defensive record ahead of Arsenal test

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UPDATED:

13:02 GMT, 22 September 2012

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini believes his side are still paying the price for a fractured pre-season.

City head into the Premier League encounter still searching for the form that saw them crowned Premier League champions last season.

The reason for their difficulties is not hard to spot. From having the top flight's best defensive record, City suddenly look vulnerable.

Training day: Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli prepare for Arsenal

Training day: Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli prepare for Arsenal

Including the Community Shield, the Blues have conceded 11 goals in six games so far this season, culminating in the three at the Bernabeu on Tuesday that cost them a famous Champions League away win over Real Madrid.

It took City 13 games to reach that number last season. And Mancini is certain he knows why there has been a change.

'For two years we were the best defence in the Premier League,' he said.

All smiles: Joe Hart was furious in midweek following capitulation in Madrid - but his mood took a turn for the better at Carrington

All smiles: Joe Hart was furious in midweek following capitulation in Madrid – but his mood took a turn for the better at Carrington

'This year we have been average. Probably the big problem was we didn't get to work properly in pre-season. Since then we lost some players and have had an international break. But if we are going to improve, we need to work.'

Joleon Lescott paid the price in midweek. Good enough to start both England's World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, the 30-year-old was left kicking his heels on the bench in Madrid as Mancini preferred teenage Serbian Matija Nastasic.

It seemed like a significant move. Yet Mancini insists it was not.

'No,' he said. 'We have played six games this season and all the players have played two or three.

'The problem was because we started pre-season in a different moment.

Put through their paces: City players put in the hard yards before the visit of Arsenal

Put through their paces: City players put in the hard yards before the visit of Arsenal

'Joleon came back very late. He is an important player for us but we have 23 good players. Sometimes I can change them.'

Mancini accepts the game will offer a decent guide to his team's present situation. After their own tricky start, Arsenal have hit form.

Whereas
City struggled at Anfield, and required a large slice of good fortune
to snatch a draw, the Gunners cruised to an easy away win at Liverpool.

Immediately
after the international break a Southampton side City were behind
against on the opening weekend of the season had six goals slammed past
them by Arsene Wenger's men.

Forward looking: Edin Dzeko takes some tips from Mancini

Forward looking: Edin Dzeko takes some tips from Mancini

Rather
than the departures of one-time City target Robin van Persie and Alex
Song signalling the death knell for Wenger and his team, it actually
seems to have released them.

Santi
Cazorla has already proved to be an outstanding purchase, while Germany
frontman Lukas Podolski has confounded gloomy pre-season predictions
about his contribution.

Mancini dispatched trusted reserve-team coach Attilio Lombardo to Anfield to run the rule over the Gunners three weeks ago.

And Lombardo's report suggested City need to be very wary.

'Arsenal are very strong on the counter-attack,' said Mancini.

'I watched the game against Liverpool on TV and they played really well. They
have two important players, Cazorla and Podolski, who are very good and
Johan Djourou maybe. He didn't score but he is a good player.

'We should pay attention because their counter-attack will be very strong.'

Samir Nasri will miss out with a hamstring injury for City, who could recall both Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero.

Arsenal in training with Thomas Vermaelen backing Olivier Giroud

Cheers skipper! Giroud has full backing of Arsenal squad, insists Vermaelen

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UPDATED:

13:01 GMT, 14 September 2012

Arsenal's season is on its head. The Gunners are yet to concede a goal in three tricky fixtures but up front they are far from their fluid best with new boy Olivier Giroud struggling to convince many of the fans he's worthy of replacing Robin van Persie.

And things turned ugly for the France striker when he was booed off for his country in their World Cup qualifier against Belarus on Tuesday.

All smiles: Olivier Giroud has been backed by the Arsenal captain to find the net for the club

All smiles: Olivier Giroud has been backed by the Arsenal captain to find the net for the club

Reasons to be cheerful: Arsenal have made a solid if unspectacular start to the season

Reasons to be cheerful: Arsenal have made a solid if unspectacular start to the season

Now, though, Giroud, who has missed two guilt-edged chances for Arsenal this season, is back at his new club with the ringing endorsement of his captain ringing in his ear.

Thomas Vermaelen has hailed the 12million man's impact and revealed there is little doubt among the players – with whom he trained on Friday – that Giroud will find some scoring form soon.

Speaking to the club website, the skipper said: 'I'm convinced Olivier will be off the mark soon. It’s not as if he has had an easy start – he didn’t get much time against Sunderland, and then played in two tough away games.

'He won a lot of duels in those matches, and it’s a vital quality when you’re away from home – if we don’t see a solution, we can sometimes play a longer ball to him in the knowledge that he works hard and is strong in the air.

'He's made some good runs and has been a bit unfortunate not to score so far, but he’s got into the positions so I’m not worried about him at all. The goals will come.'

Giroud certainly appears to be enjoying life away from the focus of 60,000 fans at Emirates Stadium, and was all smiles as he was put through his paces by Arsene Wenger ahead of Saturday's game against Southampton.

Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla – who both broke their club duck in the win over Liverpool – Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny were also in attendance, but Abou Diaby, who picked up an injury with France was being monitered.

Settling in: Arsene Wenger has been delighted with the impact of Santi Cazorla in midfield with Mikel Arteta

Settling in: Arsene Wenger has been delighted with the impact of Santi Cazorla in midfield with Mikel Arteta

Fighting fit: Both Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott can hope to start against Southampton

Fighting fit: Both Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott can hope to start against Southampton

Further back in the line-up Wenger has a selection headache after Wojciech Szczesny returned to fitness.

The Pole also trained after missing the last two games with a rib complaint, and he found himself striving to impress with Vito Mannone.

The Italian has impressed in keeping two clean sheets against Stoke and Liverpool and the manager admits the stopper has given him food for thought.

Wenger added: 'He has done really well. Vito was allowed to move at the start of the season, to play somewhere.

Hot stoppers: Wojciech Szczesny and Vito Mannone are vying for the No 1 spot at Arsenal

Hot stoppers: Wojciech Szczesny and Vito Mannone are vying for the No 1 spot at Arsenal

Hot stoppers: Wojciech Szczesny and Vito Mannone are vying for the No 1 spot at Arsenal

'Now he has been No 1 for two games and has at least moved into being a serious candidate to be fighting for the place. At the moment, Wojciech is but there is a fight there and it is interesting.

'We have three goalkeepers who have the talent to play in the Premier League and to fight for the No 1 place. That’s Wojciech, Fabianski and Mannone.

'Usually we keep two and let one go away to play, because they need to play. Now Vito has taken advantage of the fact that Fabianski and Wojciech were injured.'

Eden Hazard: How Chelsea star developed into 32m world class player

As a barefoot toddler he stunned his local club with sublime skills. That boy grew into the 32m man who has lit up the Premier League. This is the story of the Eden Project

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UPDATED:

21:45 GMT, 13 September 2012

He was little more than a dot in the distance, but Royal Stade Brainois football club had just reseeded their pitch and he was treading where he shouldn’t.

It needed pointing out, and general manager Pascal Delmoitiez intended doing it forcibly, as he stepped out of the clubhouse behind the goal and headed for the other end.

As he approached the far penalty area, the object of his wrath remained little more than a dot, but his mood began to mellow. No more than primary school age, the youngster was carefully placing a ball on the spot, taking a couple of paces back and clipping it into the top corner, before retrieving it and starting all over again.

Not only was he barely waist-high to the advancing club official, he had nothing on his feet. It was a sight that stopped Delmoitiez in his tracks, but, sensing he may be in for a ticking off, the boy darted towards the garden fence of his home, behind the left-wing corner flag, clambered over it and disappeared inside.

The first to spot him: Pascal Delmoitiez of Royal Stade Brainois

The first to spot him: Pascal Delmoitiez of Royal Stade Brainois

The neat detached bungalow belonged to Thierry and Carine Hazard. The bare-footed penalty-taker was their son Eden. ‘That’s my first memory of Eden, and it remains a vivid one to this day,’ said Delmoitiez. ‘We don’t allow anyone on the pitch between games, as a general rule. To make matters worse, it had just been reseeded, so he was going to be told.

‘But as I got nearer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was tiny, no more than five years old, yet every penalty was flying into the top corner. Then I noticed he had nothing on his feet. No boots, no trainers, not even socks. And it was a real ball, not a light plastic one.

‘I couldn’t understand how he was able to do that. I walked the length of the pitch, meaning to send him away with a flea in his ear, but I ended up knocking on his parents’ door and inviting him to practise with the juniors at our training ground nearby.

‘He was an astonishing talent even then. He would listen to what you told him, but you couldn’t really teach him anything. You just threw him a ball, or passed it to him, and let him get on with it. It all came so naturally.’

For club and country: Hazard has been instrumental in Chelsea's 100 per cent start to the season and impressed as Belgium drew with Croatia (below)

For club and country: Hazard has been instrumental in Chelsea's 100 per cent start to the season and impressed as Belgium drew with Croatia (below)

For club and country: Hazard has been instrumental in Chelsea's 100 per cent start to the season and impressed as Belgium drew with Croatia (below)

The ground, Avenue du Stade in the small town of Braine-le-Comte, around 30 kilometres south-west of Brussels, has an appealingly rural feel to it but is on the modest side. A tiny terrace, covered by a corrugated roof, offers sheltered viewing on one side, but there are grass banks on the other and behind the goal that adjoins what is still the Hazard home.

It houses Belgian League Division Five football, but perhaps a greater claim to fame is that it launched the career of a player who had every top club in Europe after him when he decided to move on from Lille in the summer.

Eden Hazard chose Chelsea and a handful of games in, their 32million outlay is already beginning to look one of Roman Abramovich’s sounder investments. He has forced a rethink among those who feared his slight frame might not withstand the physical challenge of the Barclays Premier League. There were plenty of them, but they did not include anyone from his formative years at Royal Stade or his second club, AFC Tubize.

Hazard moved five kilometres up the road to Tubize at 10 years old, and the Second Division club’s youth co-ordinator Fathi Ennabli provided Sportsmail with an insight into the impact he made, on and off the pitch.

‘I was with one of the youth coaches when we discovered Eden at a local tournament,’ he said. ‘He had just turned eight at the time and was tiny, but something happened every time he got the ball. His touch was exceptional and so was his acceleration over the first couple of yards. It was taking him past one player after another and I remember walking up and down the touchline, asking where his dad was.

Nurturing the talent: Fathi Ennabli of AFC Tubize helped Hazard to progress

Nurturing the talent: Fathi Ennabli of AFC Tubize helped Hazard to progress

‘Eventually I was pointed in the direction of Thierry. We had a good chat, and he said he was in favour of Eden joining a bigger club. I was relieved to hear that, but not what followed. He insisted Eden was still too young, mentally and physically, for that sort of step up and should stay where he was for another couple of years.

‘That was the longest two years of my life. He inevitably attracted interest from other clubs, and I soon got to hear that Anderlecht and Standard Liege were contacting Thierry on a weekly basis, begging him to let Eden join them.

‘But Eden is lucky to have parents like Thierry and Carine. They are both teachers, both incredibly down to earth, modest people, and, at that age, they felt he should remain as near to home as possible. Thierry was playing for us by the time Eden turned 10. He was decent himself, and it meant he knew the coaching philosophy at the club and could be sure his son would be given the right guidance.

‘So finally, Eden became our player, training with us regularly and playing for our youth teams. And he just got better and better.

‘There was something about him, apart from natural ability, that told me he was going to the very top. He always wanted to be out there, working on his game and trying to improve, for one thing.

Close family: (from left) Eden's grandmother Nicole, brother Kylian, mother Carine, Eden, brother Ethan, grandfather Francis and father Thierry

Close family: (from left) Eden's grandmother Nicole, brother Kylian, mother Carine, Eden, brother Ethan, grandfather Francis and father Thierry

‘He loved watching the French League. There was a highlights programme called TeleFoot, a bit like Match of the Day, and he never missed it. He would come in, full of enthusiasm for something Zinedine Zidane had done, and you just knew he couldn’t wait to try it himself. He was an avid watcher and would take it all in.

‘He had so much going for him. He was very quiet but unfailingly polite, and there was a steely determination about him. He was actually fearless. He was always up against bigger, often older, boys, but it never fazed him.

‘No amount of pressure could shake his self-belief. He knew how good he was and what he could do, and sometimes it even took his dad by surprise. I remember one game in particular. Eden was 12, and we got a free-kick a few metres outside the area. He took a couple of paces and bent it round the wall into the top corner. It was an incredible goal for a lad his age, but the referee said he hadn’t whistled and disallowed it.

‘Thierry was standing next to me, and while we were all shaking our heads, he shouted, “I’d like to see you do that again, son”.

Where it all began: Hazard's family home backs on to the pitch in Branois

Where it all began: Hazard's family home backs on to the pitch in Branois

‘Eden calmly put the ball down, waited for the whistle and clipped it in the same top corner. It was a carbon copy of the first one. Even by his standards, it amazed us all, and Thierry turned to me and said, “I think he did that to annoy me!”

‘He was playing on full-sized pitches by now, and word was spreading that we had a special talent on our hands. Clubs were contacting us all the time, and Lille were turning up to virtually every game he played. We knew we were about to lose him, and it was always likely to be Lille. It’s only half-an-hour away by train, and their academy even included a boarding school. The boys eat, sleep and learn there. It was ideal, and, at 15, we had to say goodbye to him.

‘He went with our blessing, but we didn’t exactly benefit financially from it. We received nothing to begin with, and we’ll only get a small slice of the fee Chelsea paid Lille for him, maybe around 150,000. But the money doesn’t matter. It’s enough for us that we played a part in his development.

‘Everyone here is incredibly proud of that. We’ve all followed his progress closely, and if there’s a chance to see him in action for Chelsea, everything else stops. There’s a huge lounge at the top of the main stand, looking out on to the pitch, and you can watch games from there.

‘It was pretty full the other Sunday, but there was a television on in the background, showing highlights from England. As soon as the presenter mentioned Chelsea, everyone turned away from our game and crowded round the TV to watch Eden.

Cool control: Hazard slots a penalty home in the 2-0 win over Newcastle

Cool control: Hazard slots a penalty home in the 2-0 win over Newcastle

‘There’s nothing he can’t achieve. His mental strength is as remarkable as his talent, and that has already shown itself at Chelsea. We heard people expressing doubts about him after a couple of friendlies and then the Community Shield. He perhaps wasn’t at his best in those games and the media questioned whether he could cope with the physical side of English football. When you think how much Chelsea paid, and the intense scrutiny he was under, that’s a lot of pressure for a kid his age. But just look how he responded.

‘He has been their best player in the opening Premier League games and that shows incredible strength of character. I know how hungry he is to keep improving, and I’m certain that will happen.’

They haven’t seen the last of Eden in Tubize, or Braine-le-Comte. On a recent visit home, the 21-year-old had dinner at Ennabli’s house to update him on early impressions of Stamford Bridge, while Tubize general manager Guy Brison revealed how Eden intends to ensure the Hazard name lives on in nearby Braine-le-Comte.

‘There are two old houses, side by side, that belonged to Eden’s grandad,’ he said. ‘He has bought them both, with the intention of turning them into flats and building a small sports hall behind, on what was the back gardens.

‘I have known the Hazards, the parents and grandparents, for years, and they are a very close-knit family. This is a way of keeping alive his grandad’s memory and it is typical of Eden. We are all proud of what he has done and, especially, that he will never forget his roots, no matter how far he goes in the game.’

Robin van Persie returns to training as Manchester United eye new bid

Van Persie back in training with Arsenal as Ferguson considers stepping up 15m bid

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UPDATED:

13:47 GMT, 9 August 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Robin van Persie was back in training on Thursday as Manchester United step up their attempts to lure him away.

The Arsenal striker is keen to quit the Gunners with just one year left on his contract and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson revealed on Wednesday that they are struggling to move forward in their swoop for him.

Centre of attention: Robin van Persie tries to weave past Santi Cazorla in training on Thursday

Centre of attention: Robin van Persie tries to weave past Santi Cazorla in training on Thursday

Hands up if you want to leave... Van Persie in training

Race to the finish: Van Persie

Hands up if you want to leave: Van Persie (left) points the way during Thursday's session in Germany

Van Persie was put through his paces at Arsenal's training camp in Germany on Thursday with just over a week to go until the start of the new Barclays Premier League season.

There are based in Hennef, near Bonn, as they countdown to the new campaign with new signings Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

United are also heading to Germany for training ahead of their final pre-season match against Hannover on Saturday. Arsenal play Cologne on the same day.

Ferguson is keen to have Van Persie's signature wrapped up by then, although Arsenal are standing firm on their asking price.

Ferguson has revealed that Arsenal are refusing to budge on a 15million bid from United.

Boot camp: Arsenal are in Hennef as part of the preparations for the new season

Boot camp: Arsenal are in Hennef as part of the preparations for the new season

Game for a laugh: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Focus: Santi Cazorla

Game for a laugh: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (left) and Santi Cazorla work up a sweat

New man: Olivier Giroud (centre) could fill Van Persie's boost at the Emirates this season

New man: Olivier Giroud (centre) could fill Van Persie's boost at the Emirates this season

Asked if there was any progress with
the Dutch international, Ferguson said: ‘We have made a bid but Arsenal
are trying to negotiate with other clubs. We just have to persevere and
hope things come our way.

'We have made a bid and they've been trying to negotiate with other clubs. We are trying our best but there is
no progress at this moment in time. It’s difficult to say why they are
operating in this way or know what their thoughts are because they are
not giving anything away. We are not getting any breakthrough.

'I can't give you
any more information. We just have to persevere. We
are trying our best and hopefully it will come our way but there's no
progress at this moment in time.'

Grass ain't always greener: Arsene Wenger has plenty of food for thought

Grass ain't always greener: Arsene Wenger has plenty of food for thought

Van Persie’s other main suitors,
Juventus and Manchester City, feel that United are ahead of them in the
race to sign the 29-year-old.

However, it appears Arsenal are doing all they can not to sell their star player to a rival.

Meanwhile, Ferguson will be privately
disappointed to have lost out on 19-year-old Lucas Moura and called on UEFA
to clamp down on the mammoth summer spending of PSG.

No laughing matter: Fergie has revealed details of his attempts to sign Van Persie

No laughing matter: Fergie has revealed details of his attempts to sign Van Persie

Fuelled by money from Qatar owners,
the French club do not appear to be concerned by the Financial Fair Play
rules introduced by UEFA president Michel Platini.

Ferguson said: ‘I find it amazing
that a club can pay 45m euros for a 19-year-old boy. I think they have
spent over 150m Euros in the last couple of months or so.They are
trying to tell people they are here.

‘The only deterrent to that is UEFA. I
am sure Michel Platini will be concerned. It doesn’t matter which
country you are from, I’m sure he will be concerned by what’s happened
recently.’