Tag Archives: strength

Wilfried Zaha can prove himself before he joins Manchester United, says Stuart Pearce

Zaha will show he can handle the big time ahead of United move, says Pearce

and has yet to score but Pearce is set to play him as a central striker in tonight’s friendly against Romania at Wycombe.

The past few months have been high pressure for Zaha. He made his senior England debut in Sweden, joined Manchester United for 15million, was loaned straight back to Palace and earlier this week he was banned for one game by the FA after making an offensive gesture to Leeds supporters.

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Supported: Stuart Pearce is confident Wilfried Zaha can impress

Supported: Stuart Pearce is confident Wilfried Zaha can impress

Pearce, though, has no concerns about Zaha’s mental strength and is expecting him to play a significant role at Euro 2013.

‘We asked Wilf to play centre forward
(against Sweden) last month rather than his natural wide position and we
might do on that again,’ said Pearce. ‘I have to bear in mind that a
lot has happened to Wilf in a short space of time.

‘He’s still one of the younger boys
and will be involved in the next qualification campaign. I’m delighted
with how he’s come in, he seems happy.

Under pressure Zaha's profile has grown considerably this season

Under pressure Zaha's profile has grown considerably this season

ENGLAND UNDER 21 v ROMANIA

ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Butland; Smith, Dawson, Wisdom, Bennett: Henderson, Shelvey: Sterling, Lansbury, Townsend: Zaha.

Kick-off: 7pm, Adams Park

Referee: Jonathan Lardot (Belgium)

TV: LIVE on ESPN from 6.30pm

'I’m seeing the same kid as I did a
couple of months ago. I think Wilf is one of those nice easy going lads
and not much worries him.

‘That’s the impression I get. We see
exactly the same in him as his football.

'Whether he’s gone to United or
stayed at Palace I’ll view him as the same player that’s learning,
maturing and will get better and better.’

It is likely Pearce will play a strong
team tonight and that will include Danny Rose, who will win his first
cap since being sent-off during the Euro 2013 qualifier against Serbia
in October; the Sunderland defender was also subjected to horrific
racial abuse that evening.

Centre forward Pearce says Zaha may have to play through the middle

Centre forward Pearce says Zaha may have to play through the middle

‘What went on in Serbia had nothing to
do with me not picking Danny,’ said Pearce. ‘I just needed to look at a
couple of others. He is suspended for the first game of the
Championship so we’ll have to start with another left back.

‘But he’s too important to me to leave
him out (this summer) for one game. We have Tom Ince missing the first
game, too, but the only way I’d leave someone out is if they were
suspended for all three group games.

'We are playing to win, so I’m
planning to play five games.’

VIDEO: RAHEEM STERLING SCORES TWO WONDER GOALS IN ENGLAND U21S TRAINING

Australian Open 2013: Andy Murray beats Robin Haase

Murray ignites grand slam challenge with straight-sets victory over hapless Haase

By
Mike Dickson

PUBLISHED:

01:50 GMT, 15 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

02:41 GMT, 15 January 2013

Andy Murray had the privilege of walking out onto the Rod Laver Arena to begin the second day of the Australian Open as a Grand Slam champion, and turned in a performance worthy of one.

Freshly minted as US Open winner, the 25 year-old Scot was utterly commanding as he dismissed Dutchman Robin Haase 6-3 6-1 6-3 in just an hour and 37 minutes, being over and done with before the stadium had a chance to fill up before lunchtime.

Murray’s next opponent is Joao Sousa, the world No 100, who beat Australian wildcard John-Patrick Smith 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

Game, set, match: Andy Murray cruised through to the second round with victory over Robin Hasse

Game, set, match: Andy Murray cruised through to the second round with victory over Robin Hasse

The contrast to their US open second round of 2011 could hardly have been greater, and is a measure of how far Murray has progressed since then. On that day in New York he fell two sets behind, was totally at odds with himself and also allowed Haase a last-ditch comeback when he had gone ahead in the fifth set after seeming to recover.

This was one-way traffic by comparison, the only time the Dutchman looking comfortable being the first two games when he held easily and then tested the Murray serve.

A glorious morning with tepratures of 26C and a half-empty arena greeted the players for this relatively early start. Murray has been acquainted with Haase since junior days and knows him to be a fluent shotmaker whose skills have not always been matched by his mental strength.

Easy does it: Murray was always in control as he races to a straight-sets victory

Easy does it: Murray was always in control as he races to a straight-sets victory

After the initial hump had been overcome the world No 3 settled into his rhythm, razor sharp on his returns and enjoying a pleasing consistency on his first serve, with the percentage success rate always up around the 75 per cent mark.

His ease of movement showed that there were no nerves and soon he was reeling off successive service breaks to put himself in total command. The second set was the most straightforward of all, over in 26 minutes, with the third taking only half an hour.

Murray was broken in the third at 4-1 up when it looked like he was going to completely steamroller his way home, but the result was never in doubt, which has not always been the case when he has started at a major, sometimes nervous of the expectations placed upon him.

Support group: Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears (above) and his fan club (below) were in attendance

Support group: Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears (above) and his fan club (below) were in attendance

Supporters of Britain's Andy Murray

If there was a slight glitch it was the fact that Murray had his serve broken twice, despite him ending the match with a 73 per cent first serve success rate, but that would be nitpicking and it was to his credit that the whole match was something of a non-event.

Laura Robson and Jamie Baker are due to play later in the day’s singles, but this was a promising start that suggests that he is in good shape for the more strenuous tests to come.

It was the sort of imperious beginning you are more used to seeing from the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, which is about the highest praise that can be given.

Murray said: 'It’s a good start and it’s nice to win in straight sets.It’s the hottest day we have had here for a while. It makes the court quicker and it took a little while to get used to it.'

Cooling off: Murray barely broke sweat as he began his Australian Open challenge in style

Cooling off: Murray barely broke sweat as he began his Australian Open challenge in style

Andy Murray pictures show added muscle ahead of Australian Open 2013

Muscle-bound Murray shows off bulked-up frame ahead of latest shot at Aussie Open

has left him hungry for more.

Murray enjoyed a breakthrough season last year when he became the first British male to win a grand slam in 76 years with his success at the US Open, while he was also crowned Olympic champion during a fairytale summer for the Scot.

The world No 3 is not ready to settle for that, though, and has spoken of his determination to keep on improving and adding to his title collection.

Andy Murray

Murray looks on during practice ahead of the Australian Open

Watch out, Australia: Andy Murray practices serving as coach Ivan Lendl looks on at Melbourne Park

Murray serves as his coach Ivan Lendl watches on during practice at Melbourne Park

Focused: Murray has his sights set on the Australian Open, which begins next Monday

Murray serves as his coach Ivan Lendl watches on during practice at Melbourne Park

Murray once again spent December building his fitness at a gruelling training camp in Miami before flying home briefly for Christmas and then on to Australia via the Middle East. While in Florida, Murray worked hard on his physical strength, doubling his weekly weightlifting sessions from two to four, in a bid to boost his shot power.

The result is an added three pounds of muscle to his already impressive frame. And, judging by the impressive pictures taken of the Scot in practice in Melbourne today, he is in peak physical condition ahead of his latest tilt at the year's opening grand slam title.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming Australian Open, where the 25-year-old will aim to improve on runners-up finishes in 2010 and 2011, Murray told the Daily Telegraph: 'The US Open and the Olympics made me extremely motivated.

'It wasn’t a case of, “Oh, everything’s done now”. It’s taken a long time to get there and to win those sorts of events.

Murray has been hard at work building his fitness over the winter

Murray has been hard at work building his fitness over the winter

What a specimen: Murray has been hard at work building his fitness during the break over the winter

Murray has been hard at work building his fitness over the winter

'I know the feeling when you do win them now and it’s worth all of the work that you put in.'

Prior to his success at Flushing Meadows, Murray had won 22 singles titles but had never managed to go all the way in a grand slam tournament, tasting defeat in four finals and reaching numerous semi-finals.

He added: 'In the past, there were loads and loads of questions. I wasn’t physically strong enough. I wasn’t mentally strong enough. I didn’t listen to my coaches. I was spoilt. Whatever it was, none of that really bothers me any more.

'I’m just looking for ways to keep improving.'

Although Murray has been working hard on the physical side of his game, he is adamant that the real difference between victory and defeat comes from brains, not brawn.

The Scot's love of boxing is well known – he counts David Haye as a close friend – so he was thrilled to meet former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis while filming for the BBC's SPOTY programme, where the pair talked training – and winning.

'Heavyweight boxing is the pinnacle of sport really, especially when he (Lewis) was fighting,' said Murray. 'So to get to pick his brains about certain things was nice.

'I asked a lot of questions about current boxers and how you train. He was saying boxing is 70 per cent mental, 30 per cent physical in the actual talent you need, and I think that applies to a lot of sports.

'The difference in how guys hit a ball is not that huge, but it’s about how you deal with the pressure moments and who can hold their nerve.

'When you get towards the end of sets, some guys make more mistakes than others.'

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES…

Murray at Melbourne Park last year

Murray flexes his muscles back in 2009

Murray's torso is noticeably less ripped during practice at Melbourne Park last year (left) while, despite his best Incredible Hulk impression, his still-impressive physique from 2009 (right) is not as muscular as today

Gary Parkinson, who suffers from locked-in syndrome, home for Christmas

After 27 months in care, Gary Parkinson, the former Blackpool coach who suffers from locked-in syndrome, is home for Christmas

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UPDATED:

23:07 GMT, 23 December 2012

Nine-year-old Sophie Parkinson took a deep breath and recited her line: 'I won't be cooking my turkey until Christmas Day because I'll be too busy.'

No doubt more significant words were spoken during Sacred Heart Primary's carol service but few resonated so powerfully with the congregation. In their midst was Sophie's father Gary Parkinson, the reason why this Christmas is so special to her.

The former Blackpool coach has locked-in syndrome. A stroke in 2010 left him paralysed and needing 24-hour residential care. That is until last week, when he returned home permanently.

Debbie Parkinson

Gary Parkinson

Family support: Deborah has been a tower of strength for Gary (right) who suffers from locked-in syndrome

That night in Sacred Heart Church, surrounded by his family, Gary's head lifted to listen intently to his daughter's soft voice. His eyes were bright, welling with tears of pride.

There could be no words, they weren't needed, it was just enough for wife Deborah to recognise the scale of the step forward they had taken.

It has been 27 arduous months since Gary, once a dynamic full-back with Middlesbrough, Preston and Burnley, had a bleed on the brain that crushed his brainstem. His body shut down but his mind and soul were very much alive. He was 42.

The road to recovery as a patient at Priory Highbank Centre for neuro-rehabilitation, near Bury, has been tinted dark and light. The concert marked a new beginning: one the family feared they would never see.

On target: Parkinson enjoyed successful stints at Middlesbrough, Burnley and Preston (pictured)

On target: Parkinson enjoyed successful stints at Middlesbrough, Burnley and Preston (pictured)

'Carol services can be emotional at the best of times,' says Deborah, 'but that was a real tear-jerker. The hymns and carols all seemed to carry greater meaning.

'We've had outings before while Gary was at the centre but this was a big step for us as a family and Gary coped really well. He was so proud of Sophie and everyone there could see that.'

Deborah, a former childminder, shatters the stereotype of a footballer's wife. She is irrepressible. She excuses her croaky voice. It's not down to emotion, but a cold.

Black and white: Gary in a family portrait with Deborah, son Luke and daughters Chloe and Sophie

Black and white: Gary in a family portrait with Deborah, son Luke and daughters Chloe and Sophie

She has beaten red tape and financial obstacles to get her husband of 22 years back to the family home near Bolton. Now a revamp and two-storey extension mean her dream, or at least part of it, has come true. That first night for the reunited family was one to savour.

'After all we have been through, it was just such a lovely, lovely night,' says Deborah. 'It was like a new baby coming home. We were all so excited to have him back where he belongs.'

Gary uses a Tobii, an innovative communication box, to get his message across. A pad, about 12 inches across, reads his eye movement to pick out letters and browse the internet.

Son Luke, 19, a sports journalism student at Leeds University, has already set up dad's favourite sports sites. Eldest daughter Chloe, 16, a tower of strength for her mother, hung on dad's every word.

'We have an armchair next to his bed and we chatted and chatted like a normal family again,' says Deborah.

'The girls made him laugh. It was getting late and every time they said they were going to bed because they had school the next day, he'd mark out the words: “Stay up!” Chloe wanted to act as second carer so ended up staying up to make sure he went to sleep soundly. She went to bed in the early hours.

'We were all nervous about what would happen but once he settled he was fine. He said something lovely, “I feel relaxed”. I just stared at him, he looked so healthy.

'It was a wonderful feeling. A night I'd only dreamed about for two years and thought would never come.'

A trip to the cinema to see Nativity 2 is the family's next planned outing but for now they are just glad to have Gary home.

Back home: The football fraternity have looked out for Parkinson

Back home: The football fraternity have looked out for Parkinson

Although Gary can't eat, he likes to sit at the dining table while everyone else has dinner, a tradition the family has always upheld.

The Tobii box allows him to join in with the banter he honed in dressing rooms as he cracks jokes and chips in with answers to the odd quiz question. He is also something of a backseat driver, where his sense of humour shines through.

'He always said I drove too fast,' Deborah says. 'His eyes go up when I ask him, “Am I driving OK” So I tend to do about 50 or 60 on the motorway when he's with me.'

Gary's care at Priory Highbank was around the clock and cost 4,000 a week. At home, seven nurses care for Gary, two per day, on a rota. Deborah is also a carer.

As she says, 'I've always been one to ask: “How does this work”' From an early stage, she sought inspiration in the words and actions of other sufferers.

One, Kate Allatt, recovered fully and visited Gary to prove 'the impossible was do-able'. Inevitably, downsides have come. Another sufferer, Tony Nicklinson wanted the right to die. His death in August from pneumonia and starvation was sorely felt in the Parkinson household.

'But that was Tony's choice,' says Deborah. At times, the odds seem stacked against them. Yet, like a true football underdog, Deborah won't allow her husband to be beaten.

Positivity remains her motto for the man who once cleaned Andy Gray's boots as an Everton apprentice and thankfully the football fraternity has been there for them.

The PFA have helped financially and chief executive Gordon Taylor visited often during Gary's physiotherapy.

Everton manager David Moyes popped round last week with an invitation to watch training and Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray has asked Gary to scout for him, studying a DVD of players and providing reports on each.

Old team-mates have been frequent visitors. Best man at their wedding, ex-Middlesbrough striker Lee Turnbull, and former Preston and Burnley midfielder David Eyres have been constant sources of strength. The support has been overwhelming at times, especially from the local community.

Deborah adds: 'People want to stop you and offer support but I have good friends who know well enough when not to ask and just say “Come and have a cup of tea”.

'We don't want people to feel sorry for us. Everything has to be positive. Gary is a fighter. The one thing about neuro damage is that no-one can predict how it turns out and you have to hope. 'Who knows what can happen'

For information visit GaryParky.co.uk. Donations are welcome to the Gary Parkinson Trust Fund.

Jan Vertonghen tips Tottenham target Christian Eriksen to light up Premier League

Vertonghen tips Tottenham target Eriksen to light up Premier League

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UPDATED:

14:59 GMT, 17 December 2012

Jan Vertonghen believes Tottenham target Christian Eriksen would be a big hit in England if he decides to swap Ajax for the Premier League.

Vertonghen played with the young midfielder in Amsterdam before joining Spurs in the summer.

Eriksen is out of contract at the end of next season and he is already being tracked by Europe's biggest clubs.

Great Dane: Christian Eriksen is wanted by a host of clubs in Europe

Great Dane: Christian Eriksen is wanted by a host of clubs in Europe

The young Denmark international has indicated he will not sign a new deal with Ajax and Vertonghen, who scored the only goal of the game against Swansea on Sunday, would love to be reunited with his former team-mate.

'Technically, he's one of the best players I've played with,' Vertonghen told the Evening Standard.

'He can use his right foot and his left foot equally well and he is always fit.

'Since he was 17 or 18 he has played so many games for Ajax and hardly ever been injured. When he gains a bit more physical strength, then I think he can play in any team. 'I don't want to speak for him but he is a good player, and I think a good player can play here.'

Old pals: Jan Vertonghen (right) played with Eriksen at Ajax

Old pals: Jan Vertonghen (right) played with Eriksen at Ajax

Arsene Wenger tells Arsenal players to get back to business

Wenger challenges his wounded Arsenal players to bounce back after Bradford horror show

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UPDATED:

14:27 GMT, 16 December 2012

Manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his battle-weary Arsenal squad to look within themselves and provide a response at Reading tomorrow night.

The Gunners head to Madejski Stadium in need of a confidence boost following the shock penalty shoot-out defeat at npower League Two Bradford.

Despite their inconsistencies, Arsenal remain within striking distance of the top four of the Barclays Premier League, as yesterday's results left them three points off the top four, albeit without Tottenham and West Brom having played.

On your feet: Arsene Wenger wants his players to get back on track against Reading

On your feet: Arsene Wenger wants his players to get back on track against Reading

Wenger accepts the atmosphere has been somewhat subdued at Arsenal's Hertfordshire training base this week, but maintains it is now up to the players to show their strength of character.

'There has been disappointment and frustration [this week], but that is normal when you go out in a competition like that,' Wenger said.

'However, having said that, we can only look at ourselves, get on with it and look for the future.'

Although there have been plenty of calls for a fresh voice at the helm, Wenger, 63, maintains he is the right man to turn Arsenal's fortunes around.

England defender Kieran Gibbs, 23, believes Wenger's work in developing raw talents such as himself can never be underestimated.

Eye for it: Kieran Gibbs likes Wenger's record of bringing players through

Eye for it: Kieran Gibbs likes Wenger's record of bringing players through

'He has built a reputation for signing players for a modest fee and turning them into great players,' Gibbs told www.fourfourtwo.com.

'I don't think many people in England had really heard of Thomas Vermaelen before he arrived and yet he became an instant fan favourite at the club.

'The manager has an eye for noticing the potential in promising players.'

Much has been made of the role of assistant manager Steve Bould this season after he replaced Wenger's long-term right-hand man Pat Rice.

Full-back Gibbs feels the former Arsenal centre-half has helped make an impact on the side.

'Steve has his own view of the game and goes through a lot of detail after matches,' said Gibbs.

'He makes sure everyone understands their unique roles and we have worked on a number of things, including how to face attackers and moving up the pitch as a unit.'

Aim: Santi Cazorla said Arsenal need to work on being consistent

Aim: Santi Cazorla said Arsenal need to work on being consistent

Arsenal will be out to build some momentum in their Premier League campaign with victory over the struggling Royals, having beaten West Brom last weekend.

Midfielder Santi Cazorla accepts the Gunners cannot keep throwing away points and need to show more maturity when in winning positions.

'We haven't been consistent,' the Spain international told Marca.

'There have been games where we haven't been mature enough as a team and haven't held onto the positive results. We are hoping to make up some ground.'

Cazorla impressed after his summer arrival from Malaga, and is enjoying his role at the head of an attack-minded midfield trio alongside compatriot Mikel Arteta and England's Jack Wilshere.

'I am very comfortable with where the manager positions me, support striker, with the freedom I like to have,' he said.

'The team also plays a type of football which suits me very well and I take on more responsibility every day.'

David Luiz: I have bright future at Chelsea

I'll silence critics! Chelsea's Luiz confident he can convince doubters of bright future at Stamford Bridge

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UPDATED:

23:10 GMT, 11 December 2012

David Luiz has emerged from the storm with his spirit unbroken and his hair unruffled, at least no more unruly than before, and he feels ready to embark on the next stage of his Chelsea career.

Luiz put his hand up when doubts were raised as to whether anyone in this squad had the strength of character required to lead the team beyond the era of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech.

He went some way to proving this when he stepped forward to take a Champions League penalty against Nordsjaelland last week and again with his determination to confront his critics.

Scroll down for Graham Chadwick's video diary

Stepping up: Luiz in in Japan as Chelsea chase the Club World Cup

Stepping up: Luiz in in Japan as Chelsea chase the Club World Cup

Mobbed: Luiz spends time signing autographs for the fans

Mobbed: Luiz spends time signing autographs for the fans

'No one likes criticism,' said the
25-year-old Brazilian. 'It gets to you and you don’t like it and you
ask, “Why are they saying this I tried my best, why can’t they see I’m
trying” It’s natural to think like that.

'You can have moments where you’re
down but you can’t let them last. They have to pass. I can be sad for
one or two hours but the rest of the day I need to be happy because the
team needs me to be positive. My brain needs it. I need it.

'It does get to me. I am not always
happy when I see the criticism, and I do care because this is my job.
But I’m a positive person. In the end, I know all the difficulties in
your life you can change. You can do something about them. When you
experience difficult moments, I know I’m strong enough to change things
and move on.'

No stopping me: Fernando Torres controls the ball during training

No stopping me: Fernando Torres controls the ball during training

Leg up: Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole warm-up ahead of training

Leg up: Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole warm-up ahead of training

Luiz, once dismissed by Gary Neville
on Sky TV as a PlayStation defender controlled by a 10-year-old, found
his style targeted again when Chelsea started to struggle under Roberto
Di Matteo earlier this season.

He may be quick and technically superb
but can appear erratic, takes risks and sometimes makes mistakes, but
this is his game. It does not mean he doesn’t care.

‘When the criticism came two or three
months ago, it wasn’t a problem,’ said Luiz. ‘In my head, I knew I was
working hard and I could lay my head down on my pillow at night knowing
I’m an honest guy, trying my best.

‘This is a big club. Every little
mistake is highlighted. At a big club you need to be strong. If you
can’t take that, stay at home and work at another job.

‘I was captain at Benfica at 21. I
know my personality is to be a natural leader. So I know now that, at
this moment, with the team’s leaders of many, many years out of the
team, I need to take responsibility of the team and try and help the
young players.

David Luiz

Fernando Torres

What the world is waiting for: David Luiz and Fernando Torres train ahead of their game with CF Monterre

Keep up: Rafael Benitez shows off his ball skills during Chelsea training

Keep up: Rafael Benitez shows off his ball skills during Chelsea training

‘Eden Hazard is a great talent and an
amazing player but someone who needs support. He has only just arrived
in the Premier League, like Oscar and other players.

‘Some are more shy, like Ramires. So I
need to take that responsibility. I don’t have a problem with that in
bad moments. I always say my shoulders are broad and I can take that
extra responsibility. I love it. I want it.

‘I prefer to take it on myself to help
the other guys, who can go and play with their heads clear and calm. I
can play with this added responsibility. I enjoy it.’

Luiz was released by Sao Paulo at the
age of 14 and left his family home, moving to the Brazilian city of
Salvador where he picked up his career at Vitoria, breaking into the
lower league team and moving to Europe to sign for Benfica at 19.

His big hair and casual style on the
ball make it easy to overlook the grit he has displayed to clinch his
23million move to the Barclays Premier League in January 2011.

Talking a good game: Chelsea interim manager Benitez talks to his players in training

Talking a good game: Chelsea interim manager Benitez talks to his players in training

Focus on the job ahead: The Chelsea players train ahead of their game with CF Monterrey

Focus on the job ahead: The Chelsea players train ahead of their game with CF Monterrey

In Rafa Benitez, Luiz now has a coach
who is keen to devote time and attention to the way Chelsea defend. It
could be the making of Luiz.

‘If the results don’t come now, they
will come in the future,’ said Luiz. ‘In the last four games I’ve played
really well, at the top level and with confidence. I need to continue
this work and mentality.

‘Every day work, work, work, this is
the key to football because if you don’t, other guys work more than you
do and they kill you.’

Luiz grew up supporting Corinthians,
the team he could face in the FIFA Club World Cup. It is a tournament
which has always been important in Brazilian football.

‘When I was young I always talked
about this competition, dreaming that one day I would get the chance to
play in it, in the final. Now I have that opportunity.

‘We want to win it as well. It’s a title Chelsea have never won and it would be good for us for the rest of the season.’

Watch Graham Chadwick video diary with the Chelsea squad at the Club World Cup

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David de Gea should be proud of Manchester United status, says Peter Schmeichel

From zero to hero! Schmeichel hails De Gea's spirit after turning United career around

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UPDATED:

17:01 GMT, 26 November 2012

Peter Schmeichel believes David de Gea should be proud of the way he silenced his credits after recovering from his nightmare start at Manchester United.

After a three-match absence triggered by the removal of his wisdom teeth, the Spanish goalkeeper is hoping for a recall when United look to consolidate their place at the top of the Barclays Premier League by beating West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

And, with the exception of Anders Lindegaard, there would be few complaints.

Head for heights: David de Gea has been much improved this season

Head for heights: David de Gea has been much improved this season

For although reservations still exist over De Gea’s ability to command his penalty area, the 22-year-old’s agility is beyond question.

And Schmeichel believes, just to reach this point, De Gea has shown an impressive mental strength.

'I admire David,' the legendary Dane said. 'I cannot remember anyone coming into Manchester United and being criticised the way he was.

'He was ridiculed every day. He was the subject of every debate in the media. Yet he still went out there with a smile on his face and managed to dig himself out of it.

'Very slowly he is working his way away from what people thought of him 18 months ago.

'You haven’t seen him defend himself in the media or shifting the blame elsewhere. He just gets on with it.

'He is young. At 22 he has things to learn but, mentally, there is definitely material there.'

Schmeichel knows he is the man all United goalkeepers are judged by.

De Gea has neither the personality nor, more importantly, the physical presence, to emulate the former Old Trafford hero.

Yet the man who captained United to their 1999 Champions League final triumph over Bayern Munich in his last game for the club insists it no longer matters.

Legend: Peter Schmeichel is the goalkeeper all others are measured against

Legend: Peter Schmeichel is the goalkeeper all others are measured against

'I was a different goalkeeper to David,' he said. 'I wouldn’t mind fighting for the ball in the air. But that is not what goalkeepers do these days. There is no need for it.

'The accent on football has changed. Striking the ball has changed. David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo started that. They have shown a way to strike a ball differently, so that means the quality of what comes into the box is different, which makes goalkeeping more difficult.

'If you look at the world’s top young keepers, I would say (Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper) Manuel Neuer is the only one who actually comes for the ball. Generally, that is not the way it is.'

Instead, they have become auxiliary sweepers, which is another area where De Gea excels.

'You only have to go 25 years back and a goalkeeper would boot the ball into the corner, the striker would chase it and get a cross in as quickly as possible,' Schmeichel said.

'That is not the way we play any more. Spain are double European champions and World Cup winners. Their way is the most effective way.

'These days passes are being made just two or three yards out of goal and they are being made to people who are being marked. That was an absolute no-no when I played.

'The guys now are so good with their feet. It is about keeping the ball and that is why goalkeepers are so important.'

Graeme Swann praises batting of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen

Swann full of praise for 'class' Pietersen as tourists look to push on

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UPDATED:

14:00 GMT, 24 November 2012

Kevin Pietersen proved just why all the effort to reintegrate him as an England player was worthwhile.

The point was certainly not lost on Graeme Swann, for one, after Pietersen and captain Alastair Cook had batted their country into a position of relative strength on day two of the second Test against India at the Wankhede Stadium.

Swann (four for 70) had good cause for personal celebration, after becoming the first England off-spinner to take 200 Test wickets as the tourists bowled India out for 327.

Digging in: Graeme Swann praised the batting Kevin Pietersen which put England in a good position

Digging in: Graeme Swann praised the batting Kevin Pietersen which put England in a good position

He even dismissed Cheteshwar Pujara (135) for the first time in the series, after almost 18 hours of vain previous effort from England.

But it was the unbroken stand of 110 between Cook (87 not out) and Pietersen (62no), in a stumps total of 178 for two, which most cheered England.

While captain Cook once again demonstrated all the virtues so evident in his rearguard 176 in Ahmedabad last week, Pietersen was back to his swaggering best too following a worryingly fretful and unsuccessful first Test back.

'Kevin today showed what a class player he is. We all know how good a player he is,' Swann told BBC Test Match Special.

'It is great to see him being so positive and playing some old-fashioned KP shots.'
Swann was depicted in many quarters as one of the senior players with whom Pietersen needed to rebuild strained relations after his summer of discontent.

But that does not mean he is not thankful to have the South Africa-born batsman back on his side.

'I'm sure he'll be keen to dig in tomorrow, as will Cookie, and make this partnership massive,' he added.

'It's very important … you don't get to 30 for three, 30 for four, sending shockwaves through the changing room.

'If you get off to a good start, and have guys at the crease who are comfortable, it does have a calming influence.

'Apart from me having my pads on as nightwatchman, it was a very calm changing room.'

Cook is showing once again that captaincy suits him, in the infancy of his tenure in permanent charge of the Test team.

'I said before the series that if Cookie's batting could blossom as a captain, as it did in the one-day arena, we'd be a very lucky team,' added Swann.

'He's batted magnificently in the three innings he's played so far.'

As for his own achievement – fellow off-spinner Harbhajan Singh today became his milestone Test victim – Swann still feels as if he is living the dream.

While Duncan Fletcher was England coach, there seemed little prospect of Swann winning favour, but that all changed in time for him to make his debut at the age of 29 in 2008.

In a good place: Graeme Swann chipped in with four wickets

In a good place: Graeme Swann chipped in with four wickets

'Five years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of taking 200 Test wickets,' he said.
'I'm absolutely over the moon the way my career has panned out for me.

'The change at the top (came) just at the right time for me, and it's been a great four years. I've enjoyed every minute.'

He is also delighted to be bowling again with his former Northamptonshire team-mate Monty Panesar, who finished with five wickets today.

'Monty bowled magnificently,” added Swann.

'It's great to see, because I'm a big advocate of playing two spinners – I love playing with Monty.

'I just love it when he takes a wicket.

'That face like a man possessed, when he got Sachin Tendulkar out yesterday, I've never seen a man so wound up in my life as Mont there – it was brilliant.'

India, meanwhile, must reassess after their first really tough day of the series.

'The target was to get 350,” said Pujara.

'We tried our best, but I still think we had a decent total on the board.

'We needed more wickets, but a couple of decisions went against us.'

The tireless number three finally made a mistake, and was stumped off an arm ball – giving Swann another reason to smile.

'It's very nice to finally dismiss him,' he said.

'It doesn't normally take three innings of a Test series to get a man out.

'But we've done it now, so we hope that's taken the finger out of the dam.'

England have reason to hope the tide has turned too for them, and Pietersen especially.

Arsenal want top spot – Arsene Wenger

Wenger to go all out for top spot after Arsenal clinch qualification for last 16

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UPDATED:

00:48 GMT, 22 November 2012

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is relieved to have secured progression to the Champions League knockout stages with a game to spare but pledged to field a full-strength team at Olympiacos in a bid to top the group.

The Gunners dispatched French champions Montpellier with relative ease at the Emirates Stadium, with Lukas Podolski firing in a superb volley after Jack Wilshere's first goal in two years.

The 2-0 victory combined with Schalke's late win over Olympiacos ensured Arsenal's progression to the last 16 with a trip to the Greek side yet to come.

Bring it on: Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring Arsenal's second goal in their win over Montpellier

Bring it on: Lukas Podolski celebrates scoring Arsenal's second goal in their win over Montpellier

The north Londoners sit second in Group B heading into the last round of fixtures and Wenger wants to wrest top spot off Huub Stevens' Schalke.

'We needed two good results – our result and the Schalke result – and we got both so obviously we're happy,' the Frenchman said.

'I found Montpellier well organised, strong in their challenges and quite aggressive so for us it was a question of being patient, not making mistakes, using our experience and wait for a chances.

'The first half we had problems in the transitions to go from defence to attack and in the second half it was better.

'We moved the ball quicker, made more incisive runs and scored two goals.

'There was one for Wilshere, which I am pleased about because after such a long time out it is great to see him getting stronger and stronger. The second was fantastic by Podolski.'

Arsenal are now through to the group stages for the 13th season in succession – a feat of which Wenger is 'very proud' and one he wants to cap with a victory at Olympiacos.

'We will play to win, to finish top of the group,' he said.

Jack's back: Jack Wilshere scored his first goal for two years

Jack's back: Jack Wilshere scored his first goal for two years

'If you look at some groups, like the one with Dortmund and Real Madrid, you don't really know whether it is better to finish first or second.

'But overall statistically it is still better to finish top because you feel you've done your better if you finish top of the group.

'We will try to win at Olympiacos and Montpellier can beat Schalke at home. We will take a full-strength team.'

One man that will not be involved in the final round of Champions League matches is Roberto Di Matteo after his sacking by Chelsea earlier today.

The Italian led the Blues to victory in last year's competition and Wenger was surprised by both his departure and Rafael Benitez's appointment until the end of the season.

'I find it surprising and very sad, personally,' Wenger said.

'I believe it is important on our side to show loyalty and Di Matteo has come in a difficult situation, won the Champions League, won the FA Cup.

'He has done well and he was not given any time at all this season so it is a complete surprise to me.

Deep in conversation: Arsene Wenger is surprised about Rafa Benitez's return

Deep in conversation: Arsene Wenger is surprised about Rafa Benitez's return

'[The appointment and deal] is a surprise as well because Rafael Benitez is a guy who has a record.

'He is a manager of stature and it is a surprise he is appointed for such a short time. I am surprised as well he accepted that.'

Montpellier counterpart Rene Girard's attention also returns to domestic action after a night in which his side were consigned to finish bottom of Group B on their debut season amongst Europe's elite.

'I think over the 90 minutes we played well but lacked a bit of consistency,' manager Girard said.

'We were good in the first half in terms of aggression and forward runs, but we were just lacking something going forward.

'We particularly saw that in the second half and we began to physically struggle towards the end of the game.

'Perhaps it was one game too far for us this evening given the number of injuries and players we had missing.

'In terms of tonight, we gave everything we could and I was very happy with our attitude. But if we can't score goals, then it does of course become more difficult.'