Tag Archives: swagger

Manchester City v Manchester United preview: Can City roll back the year? – Ian Ladyman

Can City roll back the year Unbeaten but below par so far, champions must find the swagger that clinched them title

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UPDATED:

22:51 GMT, 7 December 2012

April 30 was the last time Manchester City beat a genuinely first-rate opponent in any competition. Sunday at the Etihad Stadium would be a good time to do it again.

Champions win big games, don’t they Not these champions. Not this year.

Since that seismic night in east Manchester towards the end of last season – when they beat Manchester United 1-0 to retake control in the Barclays Premier League title race – Roberto Mancini’s City team have come up a little short in the really important games.

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Unbeaten in the league they remain – and that’s some feat in itself these days – but games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have passed this season without City making the sort of statement that turns heads.

‘We didn’t play any games in June, July and didn’t play much in August,’ was Mancini’s quick-witted reply when this was put to him during a noticeably relaxed press conference on Friday morning.

Deep down, though, Mancini will know that the contrasts between this season and last are stark.

A year ago, City had already won 5-1 at Tottenham, 6-1 at United and were about to win 1-0 at Arsenal. If you are to win domestic titles then, at some stage, markers need to be laid down and so far this season they have been absent.

This time, a win at West Brom and a home victory over Tottenham – both secured by late goals – is as good as it has got for Mancini.

Off the pace: City were beaten by Dortmund in midweek

Off the pace: City were beaten by Dortmund in midweek

As they prepare to meet their rivals for the first time this season, City could perhaps do with the adrenaline shot another local triumph would bring.

‘I don’t think we have the same quality this season that we showed in the first 15 games of last season,’ admitted Mancini.

‘This season we have had big problems with injuries and the year after you win a title is always more difficult.

‘We had a problem with the defence at the start of the season when we were conceding too many goals. Now we have improved that situation but we need to improve the output from our strikers. If we can start to score I think we can improve again.

‘United have also scored 10 more goals than us. Our season depends on our strikers. If we start to score like last year we will have a big chance.’

Key man: Sergio Aguero hasn't yet hit the heights of last season

Key man: Sergio Aguero hasn't yet hit the heights of last season

Almost halfway through their season as defending champions and City’s efforts – domestically at least – are certainly worthy of a ‘B’ grade. United, playing catch-up after the heartbreak of last season, perhaps deserve about the same.

One can’t escape the feeling, though, that it is City who head into Sunday’s game with something to prove, as much to themselves as everybody else. Only occasionally this season have Mancini’s team played with the authoritative strut of champions.

It has, it must be said, all been rather patchy, and patchy doesn’t win you titles.

‘We’ve beaten Tottenham this season,’ said Mancini. ‘We did well in drawing at Chelsea, when all we were missing was a goal, and against Arsenal we deserved to win. They scored in the last 10 minutes.

‘When you consider all the problems we have had since the start of the season, I think it is a good thing that we are only three points behind United.’

Highlight: City beat Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium last month

Highlight: City beat Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium last month

Certainly, it is hard to disagree with Mancini’s last point. Despite the fuss surrounding the club this season – some warranted and some not – City remain very much in the thick of things and the improvement that must surely come may yet sweep them past their neighbours and off towards the horizon.

Across town – or literally over the fence when it comes to the clubs’ training grounds – United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was understated on Friday.

It is often the way when he looks at the league table and sees that things are moving his way.

Nevertheless, despite being three points clear at the top of the Premier League after 15 games, Ferguson’s team cannot defend at the moment, and this is something that could trouble them if City do manage to find some kind of rhythm on Sunday.

Defensive woes: United conceded three at the Madejski Stadium last weekend

Defensive woes: United conceded three at the Madejski Stadium last weekend

As Sir Bobby Charlton points out in these pages, City do present United with a problem when it comes to the physical strength of their side. It is clear that players such as Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure will be important at both ends of the field.

Ferguson may yet be tempted to throw fit-again central defender Nemanja Vidic back into the fray after a knee injury as he looks to bring some beef to the heart of United’s back line.

He must also hope for improvement from his goalkeeper, though, whichever one he decides to pick.
Ahead of this game, United appear to have a slight edge and a better mindset. But that can change quickly.

A proper City performance may once again change the landscape.

Leighton Baines in form of life for Everton – Dominic King

Baines the creator! Everton star is first player in Europe to lay on FIFTY chances

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UPDATED:

13:08 GMT, 26 November 2012

Swagger and style. All the top players have it; the unshakeable belief that they are made to play at the top level, the confidence to dominate and influence games. At this moment, it is oozing from Leighton Baines.

Everton's left-back is in the form of his life. He is the first player in Europe's top five leagues to reach 50 chances created this season. Little wonder therefore that he has established himself as the most important player in David Moyes' team.

While Nikica Jelavic adds a goal threat and Marouane Fellaini is a towering menace, Baines is the man who makes it tick. It is not often a manager would put a left-back as the first name on his team sheet but that is where Moyes stands with Baines.

Flying high: Baines is in the form of his life for Everton

Flying high: Baines is the first name on the teamsheet for Everton boss Moyes

Aside from being an outstanding defender, he is also Everton's chief creator of chances and the best set piece taker at the club. Everton, simply, cannot be without him. The same might also be true for England.

When Baines started progressing for Everton, the dearth of talent behind Ashley Cole meant it was inevitable he would one day get selected for national service but now Baines looks like he belongs. Significantly, he knows it too.

The confidence and belief he has is
reflected in the way he is performing. His left-foot is like a magic
wand, bending and fizzing in a succession of balls to Everton's
forwards. Quick, wiry and energetic, his partnership with Steven Pienaar
is as good as anything in the Barclays Premier League.

Ashley Cole

Leighton Baines

National service: Many are debating whether Baines should be England's first choice left-back over Cole

All over the country, people are now debating whether Baines should be regarded as England's first choice left-back.

There is no disputing that Cole has been a magnificent servant for past decade but Baines is now applying pressure like the Chelsea has never experienced before.

'Leighton plays like an
international player now and is looking for players around him to
develop at that level,' observed Everton manager Moyes.

'Over the past two years his level of performance has been excellent. He is now showing the maturity of an international.'

Your country needs you: The Everton defender has impressed for England under Roy Hodgson

Your country needs you: The Everton defender has impressed for England under Roy Hodgson

But that wasn't always the case. When Baines first arrived at Goodison Park, becoming the most expensive defender in Everton's history in July 2007 following his 6million move from Wigan, it appeared for a spell as if his talent would be unfulfilled.

During the first 12 months, Moyes never used to pick him for the games that mattered, preferring instead to go with Joleon Lescott. It reached the point in the winter of 2008 when it appeared that a parting of the ways might occur. The turning point, however, came during a Merseyside derby at Anfield in January 2009.

It was a frantic affair, physical and rumbustious. Baines stuck his guns, however, and refused to be cowed. He came off sporting a black eye following a collision with Jamie Carragher but he proved a point.

'When he first came to Everton, I thought 'Come on! Grow up quickly!' but he is certainly there now,' recalled Moyes.

'He has produced some outstanding performances, and has a belief in himself at the highest level.'

Baines, who has been courted by clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich down the years, would agree.

'I feel I've changed as a person and you bring that in to training,' he once told Sportsmail. 'I think I've changed a lot over the last couple of years. I'm more confident, comfortable and self-assured. There is no cockiness but I'm just comfortable with who I am. That never used to be the case. I used to be much more introverted and go back inside myself. I was never sure of myself. I'm not saying now “here I am!” – I just accept the way I am, I know my strengths and weaknesses and that has helped me progress.'

It has also brought out the style and swagger – and helped Baines become one of the top left-backs in Europe.

India grateful for England"s old ineptitude – The Top Spin

Why India are clinging to faith in England's ineptitude against spin

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UPDATED:

11:12 GMT, 6 November 2012

Top Spin

When England arrived in Australia two years ago, travelling journalists who had grown used to being mocked even as they passed through customs noticed a change of mood.

‘You guys are going to win,’ grumbled my taxi driver in Brisbane. I didn’t believe him, but the comment was symbolic. Australia without its swagger was like bubble without the squeak.

To be in India this last week has not quite been to sense the same defeatism. Yet there is an anxiety here that has matched England’s own concerns about selection.

Our hero: Sachin Tendulkar's century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy settled a few Indian nerves

Our hero: Sachin Tendulkar's century for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy settled a few Indian nerves

India remain favourites to win the four-Test series starting in nine days’ time in Ahmedabad, but mainly because of enduring faith in English ineptitude against spin, rather than the kind of confidence that was once inspired by the greatest batting line-up on the planet and has produced only four series defeats at home out of 40.

Just to repeat, in case you choose to read this piece selectively: I expect India to win (2-1, to make a fool of myself in advance). But it has required centuries for Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the opening round of Ranji Trophy matches to settle nerves – theirs and everyone else’s – while question marks remain about the form of Gautam Gambhir and the fitness of Zaheer Khan.

Then there’s the alleged civil war between Sehwag and MS Dhoni, the captain, which the local TV channels can be relied upon to rev up on the flimsiest pretexts in the weeks ahead.

We are hardly in the realms of a crisis here. But such has been the expectation that England are due another subcontinental misadventure that the desire to avenge the 4-0 whitewash of 2011 has acquired an introspective air.

Rift Indian heavyweights MS Dhoni (left) and Virender Sehwag (right) are said to be at loggerheads

Rift Indian heavyweights MS Dhoni (left) and Virender Sehwag (right) are said to be at loggerheads

Rift Indian heavyweights MS Dhoni (left) and Virender Sehwag (right) are said to be at loggerheads

When will Sachin quit Is Viru past it What about Gauti Is Zak too old Why have we gone back to Harbhajan

THE TOP SPIN ON TWITTER

For cricket-related snippets from England’s tour of India, feel free to go to twitter.com/the_topspin

The answer to that last question also explains why England faced no frontline spin (sorry, Yuvraj) in their first two warm-up matches, and will be tested only by leggie Amit Mishra in the four-day game against Haryana starting on Thursday here in Ahmedabad.

It’s not so much that BCCI conceived a cunning plan to deprive England of the chance to apply a sticking plaster to their old achilles heel – more that India’s stock of quality spinners is not what it once was. This is not to denigrate Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, who could yet win them the series. But the cupboard is disconcertingly bare.

Although there is never a good time to play India in India, the truth is that this is one of the better times. England, though, need absolutely everything to slot into place – and the early signs have been mixed.

England have problems too: Steven Finn (second left) is vital to the attack but is struggling with a thigh strain

England have problems too: Steven Finn (second left) is vital to the attack but is struggling with a thigh strain

Crucial to their hopes of unsettling India’s batsmen on docile tracks is the fitness of Steven Finn, who may play his first Test out here with only four overs under his belt thanks to a thigh strain. Next in the queue is Stuart Broad, who will have been limited to 10 by a bruised heel.

Through no obvious fault of their own, England’s eminently sensible plan of playing three warm-up games before the Tests is in danger of losing its value.

But they have learned things too. For one thing, it seems Nick Compton has guts. It’s true that the Mumbai A bowling on Monday afternoon wasn’t up to much, but his entire tour was in the balance after scores of 0 and 1, and he responded with a show of bloody-mindedness that will have resonated with Andy Flower.

Got guts: Nick Compton overcame a poor start to his tour to hit a half-century against Mumbai A

Got guts: Nick Compton overcame a poor start to his tour to hit an unbeaten half-century against Mumbai A

For another, Samit Patel looks ready –
and so too do either Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan when Ian Bell flies
home around the time of the second Test in Mumbai. And Kevin Pietersen
Gloriously, he is yet to put his foot in it.

Still, an Indian elephant lurks. England have not faced either Ashwin or Ojha, and neither have they batted on a pitch that is more than three days old. If India are asking themselves questions, England are equally unsure of a few answers.

Both sides are stumbling towards the starting line – which is why India, in their home conditions, should remain ahead. Just don’t expect another 4-0.

WIN THE REMARKABLE STORY OF CRICKET ON EVEREST

The Top Spin has stumbled across three copies of Alan Curr’s cracking new book Cricket on Everest: The Inspirational Story of the World’s Highest Cricket Match. And we’re offering them as a prize. All you have to do is answer the following question, and email the answer to [email protected] by 12 noon GMT on Monday, November 12.

– Which member of England’s current touring party in India climbed to Everest base camp five years ago

For more information on Alan’s story, please visit www.facebook.com/CricketOnEverest and @everestcricket.

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS

Bresnan almost puts his foot in it – and over it

There was a small intake of breath as Tim Bresnan addressed the media on the first evening of England’s warm-up game against India A last week. Earlier in the day, Bresnan had been made to wait for six minutes for the third umpire to confirm that he hadn’t overstepped when removing Ajinkya Rahane, and quipped that he hadn’t bowled a no-ball ‘without meaning to’ for about eight years.

To confess to a deliberate no-ball is an interesting career move in the post-Lord’s-2010 era, but – as the room filled with titters – Bresnan quickly clarified his position. ‘Sometimes you need an extra ball to set the batsmen up,’ he pointed out. Returning to the dressing-room, Bresnan wondered whether he had just dropped a clanger. Still, next time he oversteps, we’ll have a decent chance of knowing why.

Careful, Tim: England bowler Bresnan (right) flirted with controversy in India last week

Careful, Tim: England bowler Bresnan (right) flirted with controversy in India last week

More from Lawrence Booth…

The Top Spin: England's batsmen show they are still struggling to get to grips with spin
24/09/12

The Top Spin: England voyage into the unknown on a wing and a prayer
18/09/12

The Top Spin: Bears, Twitter and textgate… a review of the summer that was
10/09/12

The Top Spin: KP's England future is more dependent on his attitude than he may realise
03/09/12

The Top Spin: Strauss's future uncertain after mid-table mediocrity takes hold at precisely the wrong moment
21/08/12

The Top Spin: Don't judge Pietersen – leave that up to Flower and Strauss
14/08/12

The Top Spin: Pietersen chasing omnium of desires… love, 10,000 Test runs and to be rich
07/08/12

The Top Spin at the Test: Headingley – the ground where Weird Things Happen (And Mainly To England)
02/08/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

India A's flighty openers

The India A openers faced a tricky decision on the final day of the match. Both Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay had already booked afternoon flights to Cuttack, 90 minutes in the air from Mumbai, for Ranji Trophy matches starting the next day. Batting again against England was, frankly, an inconvenience. What to do

The two men took different routes. While Vijay cancelled his flight in the hope of impressing the selectors with a big score, Mukund stuck resolutely to Plan A – a stratagem that was not inconvenienced when he was caught at mid-on in the third over from a leading edge off Jimmy Anderson.

What happened, asked India A coach Lalchand Rajput ‘I was too early on the shot,’ protested Mukund. ‘Early on the shot – or late for the flight’ came the withering reply. As for Vijay, his demise in the first over after tea meant he was back on the phone to his airline to retrieve his booking. Both men are understood to have caught their flights, but they need barely have bothered. Bad weather limited Tamil Nadu’s game against Orissa to 33.1 overs.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Forget Steven Finn’s anxiety over how much of a part he’ll play in this Test series. The big question he’s asking himself right now is: why did I shave my legs Finn lost some hair on his right thigh after undergoing treatment for the strain he collected on the first day of the tour, but instead of ignoring the bare patch on a part of the body rarely seen in public, England’s beanpole decided to even things up by depilating both legs – in their entirety. Just don’t be heard suggesting he looks the less manly for it.

The name's P… KP

Reintegration comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it isn’t merely a case of scoring runs or confirming that everything really is back to normal by getting out to a left-arm spinner. So hats off to Kevin Pietersen for pulling a few strings and organising a team outing to a Mumbai premiere of Skyfall, the new James Bond flick.

Movie star: Kevin Pietersen's 'reintegration' with the England team continues apace

Movie star: Kevin Pietersen's 'reintegration' with the England team continues apace thanks to a cinema trip

Here we go again…

If England thought the retirement of Rahul Dravid has created a potential weakness in India’s line-up at No 3, they may have to think again. Cheteshwar Pujara looked a model of concentration as he made 87 for Mumbai A at the DY Patil Stadium on Sunday. But perhaps this should come as no surprise. In the space of a month four years ago, Pujara compiled scores of 386, 309 and 302 not out. Is a new wall being erected

Luke Donald breaks from coach Dave Aldred

Donald seeks simple life after taking a break from mind coach Alred

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UPDATED:

21:43 GMT, 7 September 2012

First Lee Westwood kicked his long-game coach into touch. Then Sergio Garcia dispensed with the services of a professional caddy. Now, we can reveal Luke Donald has taken up the theme, with a break from his mental tactician Dave Alred.

'What's that old phrase about too many cooks' said Donald. 'I think you can definitely over-analyse things and forget what got you to the top in the first place.'

Donald will always be grateful for Alred's contribution. He was Jonny Wilkinson's old mentor, the performance guru who instilled a bit of swagger in Donald on his rise to become world No 1. Alred turned practice ground routines into competitive drills. He'd get Donald to write down how many shots from 100 yards he'd hit inside 3ft.

Changes: Luke Donald lines up a putt on the third hole during the second round at Crooked Stick

Changes: Luke Donald lines up a putt on the third hole during the second round at Crooked Stick

'Dave has certainly helped me a lot but in that profession it is hard to retain the lustre and excitement over a long period of time,' said the Englishman.

'Looking at my major performances this year, I just feel I overdid the analysis and that I'd be better off just going out and playing. So we're on a break right now and I'm not sure what we will do next year. Dave might come to events, he might stay on the sidelines, or we might not do anything at all.'

Mind over matter: Coach Dave Alred

Mind over matter: Coach Dave Alred

One glance down the practice ground at any tournament will tell you there are an awful lot of cooks. There's no question many add to the recipe of what makes a player one of the best in the world, but it's also easy for the basic ingredients to get overlooked. Some players become so reliant on what other people are telling them they forget the golfer within.

Garcia has played two events since kicking away the crutch provided by a pro caddy and won one and finished third in the other. Westwood's long game at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick has been so good Mark Futcher, caddy to Westy's playing partner Justin Rose, was left purring.

'What a player Lee is from tee to green – who wouldn't want to partner him at a Ryder Cup' he said.

Donald was flying until May with two victories, including a successful defence of his PGA title at Wentworth. Now, following a disappointing summer, he has gone back to basics.

At the halfway stage of the BMW event, he lies seven shots off the pace set by Vijay Singh following rounds of 66 and 72.

LONDON OLYMPICS 2012: Louis Smith doubts he"ll compete at Rio Games

I doubt I'll go on to compete at Rio Games, says Britain's gymnastics hero Smith

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UPDATED:

14:35 GMT, 18 August 2012

Gymnast Louis Smith admits he is savouring the post-Olympic whirlwind but revealed London is likely to be his last Games.

The 23-year-old won silver on the pommel horse and helped Great Britain's men to their first Olympic team medal in a century, but despite not adding a gold medal to the bronze he won four years ago in Beijing, Smith says he now wants to focus on another side of his life.

'Rio 2016 is a long time away and it feels a lot longer now I'm 23 and I'm going to be 27,' Smith said.

A Brit special: Louis Smith and decathlon legend Daley Thompson visit Huntingdon Gymnastics Club on Saturday

A Brit special: Louis Smith and decathlon legend Daley Thompson visit Huntingdon Gymnastics Club on Saturday

'I'm not a real spring chicken anymore, I'm getting on. I'm quite a family man and I can't wait to settle down. Am I going to be earning enough money to provide a good future for the time I need to settle down

'Now is a unique opportunity to set up a business and get my name out there while people know who I am and really set the rest of my life up. If I'm still doing gym for four years it's very hard to do both at the same time so I really have to think hard about what I want to do.

'The last four years has been fantastic and I've done a lot of media and it's hard to balance the both. I'm really ambitious and I want to do a lot more in the next four years than I did in the previous four years.'

Smith, who is being honoured with a homecoming in Peterborough today, suffered a dip in form after he broke up with a previous girlfriend and decided to avoid a similar thing happening in the run-up to London 2012 by staying single.

Now, the gymnast who is as famous for his swagger as his complicated pommel horse routines, is ready to see what else life has to offer.

Stunning: Smith performing on the pommel horse during the London Olympics

Stunning: Smith performing on the pommel horse during the London Olympics

Smith said: 'I can't wait to start mingling and chatting to girls and going on dates. I've only been on two dates in my life. That was before London. It was probably a couple of months after I split up with my ex-girlfriend I went on a couple of dates but I thought: 'You know what, I'm not going to bother with all this. I'm just going to chill out and see what happens after the Games.

'I think it's important to savour this moment and milk it. I've got a unique opportunity to do lots of work but it's important to focus on what I want to do in the future.

'I definitely want to go into some business work and media. I would love to do something in fashion. I think I'm quite stylish and I've got a lot of ideas in my head. I don't really know where to get started. I'd like to own my own business as well like a fun gym so I've got a lot to think about really.'

But for now, Smith at least wants a bit of time to reflect on his Olympic achievements.

He said: 'I go on holiday tomorrow to Spain so that should be a nice break because it's been non-stop since the Olympics.

'I'm so sad that all this Olympics thing has finished. It's been seven years – I've been training since 2005 for this moment and the fact that it's all done is almost a bit sad.

Wimbledon 2012: Why Serena Williams isn"t loved – Laura Williamson

No love game for winner Williams in SW19

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UPDATED:

21:53 GMT, 8 July 2012

As the seeded players and the few remaining ‘big names’ of ladies’ tennis quietly tiptoed away from Wimbledon last week, an over-arching sense of resignation took their place.

‘She’s going to win it, isn’t she’ Sigh.

‘She’, of course, is Serena Williams who, of course, won the ladies’ singles title on Saturday, later adding the doubles crown with her sister Venus.

The only surprise was that it took Serena longer than an hour to swat Agnieszka Radwanska, a player bidding to become No 1 in the world, out of her way.

Dominant: There was a certain inevitability about Williams' victory

Dominant: There was a certain inevitability about Williams' victory

That’s five Wimbledon ladies’ singles titles for the younger Williams sister; the last barely 12 months after she spent almost a year off the tour with a foot injury and a blood clot on her lungs. That is remarkable.

John McEnroe called Serena ‘the greatest female player that’s ever played this game’. I think her influence goes even further, beyond the tennis court: she deserves to be considered among the greatest female athletes we have ever seen.

But will she ever be feted and remembered warmly on the grass courts of SW19 No. Not a chance. We will never fall in love with Serena Williams.

Centre Court politely clapped her achievement on Saturday, but it was respectful, distanced applause. The crowd spent most of the match shouting for ‘Aggy’, willing this slight Polish girl to make a fist of it against the overpowering force firing 17 aces past her from the other end.

That’s partly the British inclination to cheer for the underdog, but it showed we still don’t know how to solve a problem like Serena.

To watch Williams is to be impressed by her power, swagger, physical stature and astonishing reserves of mental grit, but it is not always an enjoyable, entertaining experience.

Family affair: Williams celebrates with her father Richard and sister Venus

Family affair: Williams celebrates with her father Richard and sister Venus

Family affair: Williams celebrates with her father Richard and sister Venus

More from Laura Williamson…

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Laura Williamson: We're not in 1962, UEFA has to tackle gay jibes
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Laura Williamson: Jonas will box clever but some just can't handle it
10/06/12

Laura Williamson: Why we must not disable our sense of humour
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27/05/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

There are seldom any lingering coos of admiration when she hits a ferocious backhand down the line. Instead you recoil, awe-struck and slightly shocked, in the same way you might react to someone taking a punch. It is athleticism not aestheticism that underpins her performances.

It is not Serena’s fault her only consistent challenger happened to be her sister, or that she is so gifted she can go from almost ‘not making it’ to yet another Wimbledon title. These things should be celebrated, but instead we dwell on the negatives: the women’s tour is weak, the current players lack personality and, quite frankly, most people would rather see Maria Sharapova glammed up in a photo-shoot.

So would it be different if Williams were a man Yes, it probably would. We are still not comfortable with seeing a woman generate such incredible power; of it being a female in purple knickers thundering down aces at 120mph.

The Williams’ incredible success has come by challenging the limits of women’s tennis, providing something very different to what went before. This has worked to their credit on the court but left them isolated off it. The difficulty with Serena is that she challenges us – our ideas about what we want our female athletes to look like – too.

Quote of the week

American journalist to Angelique Kerber after her Wimbledon quarter-final win over Sabine Lisicki: ‘Can you just talk us through your past 12 months’

No wonder she puffed out her cheeks. Our friends across the pond have a slightly different way of working to us Brits. We want to know what car you drive and what your dog’s called; they want to know how you felt at 0-30 down in the fourth game of the second set.

Curveball: Sabine Lisicki was knocked out in the quarter-finals

Curveball: Sabine Lisicki was knocked out in the quarter-finals

… and this is what I've been doing this week

Shouting at the television (come on, you know you do it too) as Mark Cavendish seemed to come from nowhere to win the second stage of the Tour de France on Monday in stunning style… Speaking to a ‘super excited’ Oscar Pistorius after he found out he will become the first man to compete on the track at the Olympic and Paralympic Games… Shivering on Centre Court as Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title. Martina Navratilova got a blanket, but sadly not me.

Performance of the week

There have been many to choose from over the past seven days, but world champion and Sportsmail columnist Dai Greene’s personal best of 47.84sec in the 400m hurdles in Paris brought a smile. The Americans have said he isn’t quick enough to win Olympic gold, so his fastest-ever run came as a timely response.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: I always believed this day would come

I always believed this day would come! Mancini never gave up… even eight down

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UPDATED:

23:19 GMT, 12 May 2012

Roberto Mancini claims he was not worried, but he was the only one at Manchester City who wasn't.

Mikel Arteta had just scored the 87th-minute goal for Arsenal that apparently had ended City's title hopes. With Mario Balotelli sent off and dubbed 'The man who cost City the title', the team looked in disarray as Manchester United, who had won 2-0 against QPR, went eight points clear and seemed in control.

It did not turn out that way, of course. However the meeting with QPR finishes, for City to be in a position to win their first League title for 44 years, given where they were five weeks ago, seems unfathomable to long-time observers of the club.

Trying to relax: Roberto Mancini (left) spent some time in a Manchester cafe ahead of City's big game

Trying to relax: Roberto Mancini (left) spent some time in a Manchester cafe ahead of City's big game

After all, it was only four years ago that they were losing 8-1 to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season, a stark reminder of how far they have come and how quickly.

Of course, there is the small matter of 1.5billion of investment from Sheik Mansour of Abu Dhabi, and becoming what amounts to being a state-sponsored club, which has helped them on their way.

But even when Mancini took over two-and-a-half years ago they looked a long way from being potential Premier League champions.

And though they have spent much of this season playing with a swagger typical of world-class teams, that moment at Arsenal seemed to confirm the capacity of the club to create calamity out of the most promising situations and that the disease that Joe Royle called 'Cityitis' had struck again.

Only Mancini thought otherwise… or so he claims.

Just warming up: City's stars in training at their Carrington base ahead of their date with destiny

Just warming up: City's stars in training at their Carrington base ahead of their date with destiny

'After Arsenal it was difficult – not for me, because I believed we could have another chance, but for the players,' he said. 'That moment was really crucial because I said to them, “It's important for a top team to win but if we can't win, we need to finish well. Because sometimes when you lose an important match four or five games before the end, you don't play well and you lose three or four games – and that is not good for a team who have worked hard to be on top”.'

Perversely, as Mancini acknowledges, it was the bleakest moment of the season that produced the response that looks as though it will prove decisive.

'It was also good (after Arsenal) because they played without pressure,' said Mancini of the 4-0 and 6-1 victories over West Bromwich and Norwich that followed.

Final preparations: Mancini (left) looks over his side's training session for their match at home to QPR

Final preparations: Mancini (left) looks over his side's training session for their match at home to QPR

Mancini claims he still believed he could get to the Manchester derby three points behind United and therefore seize back control of the title race. He is, after all, the veteran of three Serie A wins with Inter Milan, so he is not without title race experience.

1.5bn to win the title…

Manchester City looked like they had wasted Sheik Mansour’s huge outlay when Mikel Arteta sealed a 1-0 win for Arsenal on April 8 but Vincent Kompany’s winner in the Manchester derby put them back in the driving seat and
it will be 1.5billion well spent if Roberto Mancini’s men seal the title on Sunday afternoon.

Mansour’s spending includes 304.9m on
buying the club and wiping out the debt, 398m on transfers, 589.8m on wages and 201.1m on travel and other expenses.

But it was not the view of senior figures at the club, who thought the race to be run – no one could imagine United throwing away such a lead given their domination over the years.

City had always known that the way the fixtures fell meant their neighbours would always come back at them, given their run-in. And once United had overhauled them by eight points, it was clearly fanciful to imagine a comeback.

There never was a discussion about replacing Mancini but it was clear the manager himself was unsure of his future when he spoke to the press before that Arsenal game.

Perhaps that was only natural having
worked for Massimo Moratti at Inter, a president from the old school of
owners who behave like intemperate monarchs, reacting to the
slightest dent to their egos.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, City's 36-year-old
chairman and said to be the most powerful man outside of the royal
family in Abu Dhabi, does not appear to be cut from that mould.

Despair: City looked to have blown their chance after defeat at Arsenal left them eight points adrift

Despair: City looked to have blown their chance after defeat at Arsenal left them eight points adrift

Despair: City looked to have blown their chance after defeat at Arsenal left them eight points adrift

Not that he is sentimental. As the man who is in charge of Mubadala, the personal investment fund of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Sheik Mohamed, he can hardly afford to be, as demonstrated by the clinical way in which Sunday's opposing manager Mark Hughes was removed, with Mancini installed the following day.

But the fact that Hughes, who was not Al Mubarak's appointment, was given 18 months to make the new project work shows that decisions are not taken on capricious whims.

Back in charge: Vincent Kompany's header sent City back above United and within grasp of the title

Back in charge: Vincent Kompany's header sent City back above United and within grasp of the title

Back in charge: Vincent Kompany's header sent City back above United and within grasp of the title

Before that Arsenal game, and under the most intense scrutiny, Mancini said that his relationship with Al Mubarak would remain whatever the board decided, because of the respect he had for him, though Al Mubarak never rang Mancini to assure him about his future.

'He didn't say that,' said Mancini. 'But he supported the team always, also when we lose important games. I think that they understand the situation, that as a team we have improved a lot this year.'

Now it is a new contract for Mancini that is up for discussion rather than a P45, a meeting that was always scheduled for the end of the season. A new deal will be offered, whatever Sunday's result. However, it would be reassuring to enter those talks as a champion.

Mancini deserves credit for where the club are today. When he arrived he replaced a hugely popular manager. It was his first job outside Italy. He did not speak nor understand English especially well but he took on the elements of England's football culture which he identified as a malaise at the club, especially the drinking culture.

Alive and kicking: Carlos Tevez in training

Alive and kicking: Carlos Tevez in training

And he set about imposing a training regime, often putting on two sessions a day with hard physical work, which was fiercely resisted by some senior professionals. Those training methods were non-negotiable.

'This I can't change,' he said. 'I have my methods. Because I am sure that by this method you can win. Because if you put everything on the pitch every day you can improve. I accept their culture but [in this] they accept my culture.'

It was not always clear he would win those battles but Al Mubarak proved a steady chairman. Having hired Mancini, he gave him the tools for the job and protected him from rebellious players. It might seem common sense but it is not applied at every club.

Even now one insider says that Mancini is not a manager who is hugely loved. He does not get over-familiar with any of his players. But he is undoubtedly respected. And Al Mubarak, Mancini and City now have their potential reward in sight.

The manager said: 'For the players it will be really important. If we win they change history here. After so many years . . . they will be part of history, of this club and of English football.'

As will Mancini. He won two Serie A titles as a player and three as a manager while he virtually made the Coppa Italia his own, with six wins as a player and four as a manager. This, however, would be his greatest achievement.

'For me, this is the best championship in the world, the most difficult. For me, if we win, the result will probably be the best,' he said, then paused, as if to remember this is City he is talking about.

'If,' he repeats, emphasising the word for comic effect. 'If…'

How City spent 1.5bn to win the title

West Indies fight back against England Lions after Kieran Powell century

Windies bite back at Lions as Powell century frustrates England second string

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UPDATED:

18:15 GMT, 12 May 2012

Kieran Powell registered the first hundred of West Indies' tour, and only the second of his first-class career, to lead the fightback against England Lions in Northampton.

Powell (108) shared back-to-back century stands with Darren Bravo (57) and then Shivnarine Chanderpaul (77) as the West Indies defied expectations that they might end this match with a whimper.

Instead, on day three of four, they lost just five wickets to close on 377 for eight – with a lead of 183, after conceding a mammoth first-innings deficit of 194.

Raise your bat: Darren Bravo (left) celebrates his half century with team-mate Keiran Powell

Raise your bat: Darren Bravo (left) celebrates his half century with team-mate Keiran Powell

Opener Powell showed great determination as well as a workable range of strokes in a 217-ball hundred which contained 13 fours, and a straight six off Joe Root's off-spin.

He reached three figures with an ungainly boundary swept off Samit Patel, one of the uglier shots in his innings but one which was nonetheless followed by due and enthusiastic celebration.

It was also a prime example of how Powell and Chanderpaul milked the spin at both ends from Root and Patel while Lions captain James Taylor awaited the second new ball.

Stoke of swagger: Darren Bravo pulls the ball for four at the County Ground in Northampton

Stoke of swagger: Darren Bravo pulls the ball for four at the County Ground in Northampton

In those circumstances, it was a telling moment when Patel got his revenge – bowling Powell middle-stump as the left-hander miscalculated a flatter delivery which turned.

Bravo, on his way to his second 50 of the match, and Powell had shut the Lions out throughout the morning session – which the tourists began on a far-from-encouraging 28 for three.

Both batsmen was dropped once in the teens, Powell when Nick Compton could not hang on to a tough chance low to his right at third slip off Matt Coles and then Bravo mistiming a drive at Stuart Meaker straight to gully, where Root missed a regulation catch.

Frustration: The Lions fielders react as Powell is dropped in the slips early in his innings

Frustration: The Lions fielders react as Powell is dropped in the slips early in his innings

The Lions rarely came close otherwise to a breakthrough on a pitch which had begun to provide occasional low bounce from the Lynn Wilson end. Bravo and Powell therefore needed to be watchful, but were able to pick off the scoring balls.

It was Bravo who narrowly beat the opener to his half-century, with an aerial drive down the ground off Patel for his ninth four from the 76th ball he faced.

Bravo was then dropped for a second time, on 51, a very difficult half-chance away to Ian Bell's left at slip off Patel. But he was gone anyway in the second over after lunch, when he contrived to deflect an attempted glance at Jack Brooks (three for 46) down on to leg stump.

So close: Jade Dernbach shows his frustration as a delivery narrowly misses taking a wicket

So close: Jade Dernbach shows his frustration as a delivery narrowly misses taking a wicket

Chanderpaul was always likely to be tough to shift for the Lions, though, and he and Powell kept the bowlers at bay for 34 overs until the latter was undone shortly before tea.

The world's No 1 batsman comfortably survived his partner, and was pushing the Windies into useful credit already by the time he misjudged a ball from Stuart Meaker that straightened to have him lbw playing no shot.

A previously unlikely final day of action was already assured by then. But it took a fourth significant contribution of the innings, from Marlon Samuels, to put the outcome of the contest back in serious doubt.

Hair today: Jack Brooks of England Lions runs in to bowl at the West Indies

Hair today: Jack Brooks of England Lions runs in to bowl at the West Indies

Samuels, one of the Windies' three late arrivals on this tour following his travel delays from the Indian Premier League, played in this match ahead of fellow Lord's Test candidate Narsingh Deonarine – who took even longer to make it here from Guyana via Jamaica because of visa issues.

Samuels put his name in the frame too, dominating a stand of 65 with Denesh Ramdin, during which there was a reprise of yesterday's joust with Jade Dernbach. Samuels taunted Dernbach on Friday when the tailender was on the end of some aggressive short and fast bowling from Fidel Edwards. Dernbach had the last laugh then, as he and Taylor added frustrating late runs.

But this time, it was Samuels who held sway – taking Dernbach for 15 runs from five balls, including a six pulled over wide long-on – after which the seamer was taken off.

Samuels eventually fell to another attempted pull, mistiming Coles to mid-on – but by then, it was definitely 'game on' for Sunday.

Premier League stats, facts and tips: March 31

Premier League Boot Room: The stats, the facts, the tips and the teams

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UPDATED:

21:45 GMT, 30 March 2012

Cool Jelavic is the answer to Moyes' prayer

Everton have found 'the one' in Nikica Jelavic – he’s just what they need.

They’ve had 16 different scorers this season but Leighton Baines is No 1 with four league goals and a club in the top 10 should not have a left back as their top scorer.

I think it’s good they have been able to share goals around and spread it about across the squad. If they hadn’t, they’d be looking over their shoulders at the bottom three.

Rescue mission: Nikica Jelovic has transformed Everton

Rescue mission: Nikica Jelovic has transformed Everton

But now they’ve found the answer. Jelavic is the one, with three in six since joining but with his goals for Rangers earlier in the season he’s on 20 in 36 games.

Croatia manager Slaven Bilic said the ball is kind to him in the box. It means the ball drops for him. He seems to be in the right place at the right time.

One thing that struck me more than anything else is his finishing. He is a cool, classy finisher. Someone who knows what to do in front of goal. Where others snatch and grab at chances he keeps his composure.

He’s got a coolness running through him that’s perfect for Everton. He’s got a swagger about him, like Dimitar Berbatov. He gives a completely different look to the side.

jelavic

Recently they’ve had Jermaine Beckford but manager David Moyes didn’t see him as the right fit. Louis Saha is very good when he’s fit and about his business but unfortunately it’s pot luck when that’s going to happen.

Everton have attacking midfielders in Steven Pienaar, Seamus Coleman and Royston Drenthe who can create chances. If they provide, Jelavic will score.

They’ve had a good campaign: in the top eight and the FA Cup semi-finals. It will be interesting to see what they can do next season with him in their side.

Judgement day for Wolves

If Wolves lose to Bolton on Saturday, that’s it for them, as I’m not sure they’re capable of the type of run they would need to stay up.

In the past Wolves have taken big scalps at Molineux but this season they haven’t looked good enough in big games.

flashback

A victory for them would keep everybody in the fight; it would keep Wolves in touch with Bolton and QPR and Blackburn, who face Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, are unlikely to get wins.

I think Wolves got it hopelessly wrong after sacking Mick McCarthy. They needed a new type of leader: someone to shake things up and get the players going. A new approach. They didn’t get that with Terry Connor and it’s cost them.

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Prem table

Kauto Star takes "big step forward"

Kauto making progress as Nicholls' Star takes 'big step' towards Cheltenham

Paul Nicholls reports Kauto Star to have taken a 'big step forward' after watching him work at Ditcheat.

The legendary steeplechaser fell when schooling at the champion trainer's base last week and while no serious injury was suffered, connections revealed he was only 50-50 to bid for a third Gold Cup.

However, Nicholls expressed his satisfaction after seeing the 12-year-old enjoy a canter with stablemate and fellow Gold Cup hope What A Friend.

Getting there: Kauto Star has a good chance of recovering fully for Cheltenham

Getting there: Kauto Star has a good chance of recovering fully for Cheltenham

'Kauto had his physio this morning and had an hour on the walker, and you could just tell that he had more of a buzz and a spring in his step, and that a bit of the old swagger had returned,' Nicholls said in his Betfair column.

'So we decided to send him out second lot and he did a strong canter over ten furlongs with What A Friend, and delighted us.

'And when Clifford (Baker, head lad) pulled up and said 'big step forward', he didn't need to add anything. I could simply tell by the smile on his face.

'I cannot tell you how massively relieved I am to see Kauto progressing and going forward.

'Don't get me wrong, or carried away, because he is not there yet.

'Not at all, and things can change daily. But this was a step in the right direction and I'm much happier, I can tell you.

'We were going to give him Sunday off but I have decided to keep the momentum going and he will have another canter tomorrow.

Dream team: Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star

Dream team: Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star

'I just hope that Clifford and I are as pleased with him tomorrow, as we are right now.'

Earlier, Nicholls admitted he faced 'the biggest decision I've ever had to make' regarding whether Kauto Star would be allowed to line up in the blue riband in less than a fortnight's time.

No final decision will be made on his Prestbury Park participation until next weekend.

'It's getting better and better every day,' Nicholls told Channel 4 Racing's The Morning Line.

'He's never taken a lame step, he's never been off his grub, he looks great and he's cantered every day since it happened.

'He can't talk to you and tell you exactly where it (pain) is, it's impossible to tell. Clifford can just tell by riding him.

Optimistic: Paul Nicholls says the signs are good for Kauto Star

Optimistic: Paul Nicholls says the signs are good for Kauto Star

'Every day he comes back from work, he always has a roll. He hadn't done that until yesterday morning, so that's a good sign. We're moving forward.

'The idea is to work him hard as normal next week and next Saturday he is due to do a strong piece of work, his last serious gallop, with Big Buck's.

'There are no fitness issues here, we haven't missed any work and he was fit and well.

'Next Saturday will tell us, then I'll have a discussion with Clive (Smith, owner) and Clifford. We'll all have a little input and see if we can come up with the right decision.

'It's a difficult decision, probably the biggest decision I've ever had to make.

'We've got it right so far this season, we want to try and get it right again.'