Derby delight will fire United charge: Giggs

Updated 15 December 2012
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Derby delight will fire United charge: Giggs

LONDON: Manchester United star Ryan Giggs has warned Manchester City that his side’s derby triumph will provide the perfect springboard to wrestle the title away from Eastlands.
United moved six points clear of second placed City after an explosive 3-2 win over their bitter rivals in the Manchester derby last Sunday and Alex Ferguson’s team have a golden opportunity to extend their lead this weekend.
While spluttering champions City have a tricky assignment at Newcastle, United host lowly Sunderland on the back of four successive league victories and with confidence sky-high following Robin van Persie’s stoppage-time winner at Eastlands.
Giggs has seen 12 previous title-winning teams take shape during his career at United and the veteran Welsh midfielder is beginning to sense another dominant team forming at Old Trafford.
Asked if the win over City would provide a major boost, Giggs said: “It should do, purely because of the way we performed.
“We have got everything in place for the busy Christmas period and the confidence of such a great result.
“We accept that we are letting too many goals in and we’ve had to come from behind too often, but the signs are there that this could be a very good season for us.
“The wins against Chelsea, Newcastle and City away have been our three best performances and you probably can’t get three bigger challenges.” While Giggs and his United team-mates can contemplate a successful second half of the season, City are facing a fight to salvage their campaign.
Roberto Mancini’s side have already crashed out of the Champions League and another setback at Newcastle this weekend would deal a hammer blow to their hopes of retaining the title.
Last weekend’s loss to United exposed City’s flaws in defense and attack as they were beaten at home for the first time in the league since December 2010.
United defender Patrice Evra rubbed salt into the wounds by claiming they now have the mental edge, but defiant City captain Vincent Kompany remains convinced the title race isn’t over yet.
“I don’t know anything about psychological blows,” he said. “Losing on Sunday changes nothing. We lost and we move on to the next game.
“The beauty of football is that you are always challenged, whether you have lost or won, and the next game is always the most important.
“We all know the importance of the (Newcastle) game but I don’t do very well thinking about bad scenarios.
“For me there are so many positives that can happen if we win that game. I can’t think of the other side of that coin.” Elsewhere, the spotlight will be firmly on Arsene Wenger on Monday when Arsenal travel to Reading hoping to erase the painful memory of Tuesday’s humiliating League Cup quarter-final defeat at Bradford.
Wenger suffered the most embarrassing loss of his 16-year reign as League Two minnows Bradford won 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw and he has come under heavy fire from critics in the media and among his club’s fanbase this week.
Former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson described Wenger as a “dictator,” while many reports claimed the Gunners boss has fallen out with his assistant Steve Bould.
Wenger, whose side are currently seventh, can ill-afford to see Arsenal beaten by second bottom Reading, who have won just one of their first 16 matches, and the Frenchman admits he is feeling under pressure to turn the tide.
“I always feel under pressure to deliver, always,” Wenger said.
“You can only be successful if you question yourself, because the game has become bigger and better.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Liverpool v Aston Villa, Man Utd v Sunderland, Newcastle v Man City (1245GMT), Norwich v Wigan, QPR v Fulham, Stoke v Everton
Sunday: Tottenham v Swansea (1330GMT), West Brom v West Ham (1600GMT)
Monday: Reading v Arsenal (2000GMT)


AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

Updated 46 min 57 sec ago
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AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.

  • Brilliant batsman's retirement from international cricket leaves the game all the poorer without one of its true stars.
  • Treadmill of international games leaves players with little room to breathe.

If the disbelief on South African faces after their tied World Cup seinifinal against Australia in 1999 was one of the emblematic cricket images from the latter part of the 20th century, then the picture of an inconsolable AB de Villiers walking off Eden Park after losing another last-four clash will forever stick in the minds of the present generation.
No one grudged a magnificent New Zealand side their victory, especially not in front of a raucous home crowd, but the thought persisted that the loss marked the end of the World Cup road for some of South Africa’s greatest cricketers.
Graeme Smith had already quit at the age of 33, worn down by presiding over World Cup debacles in 2007 and ‘11 and the slog to the top of the Test rankings. De Villiers was only 30 at the time, but that night in Auckland he looked older and wearier. It is only now that he has called time on his international career, a year before the start of another World Cup, that we can begin to fathom just what was lost at Eden Park.
Unlike Smith, whose powers as a batsman were in decline after a succession of injuries, de Villiers exits the big stage while still the cock of the walk. Before the start of South Africa’s punishing home season, so much of the talk was about the great batsmen who would be visiting their shores — Virat Kohli and Steven Smith. De Villiers, who had spent time away from the Test side the previous season, was not quite an afterthought, but he certainly did not dominate parlour discussions.
In the very first Test, one dominated by the bowlers at Newlands, he showed us just how wrong we were to look to others. His masterful batsmanship in both innings, in conditions where most other batsmen were shipwrecked sailors, was as integral to South Africa’s victory as Vernon Philander’s riddle-me-this seam bowling. 
He did it again at Centurion to all but seal the series against India for South Africa. Over the course of the three Tests, Kohli almost matched him, but in a series that South Africa won 2-1, it was de Villiers that landed the decisive blows. A month later, Smith arrived in the southern cape, feted, with justification, as the best Test bat in the world. Again, in a series that unraveled rapidly for the visitors, he was no match for Mr. 360, who left his inimitable signature on yet another marquee series.
The greatest thing about de Villiers the batsman is the complete absence of ego. He could smoke the 31-ball centuries and play strokes others would not even have dreamt of. At the same time, he could stonewall all day in the Adelaide heat, or block 297 balls on his way to 43 in New Delhi. Whatever he felt was the best option for the team, he would choose that. With him, it was never my way or the highway. He never hid behind those this-is-how-I-play excuses.
For the international game, the loss of a star batsman who still has so much to offer is a grievous blow. It once again shines the light on the ramshackle scheduling and the skewed payment structures that have cast cricket adrift on uncertain seas. Jonathan Trott, a contemporary who went to England to try his luck there, made more from playing international cricket for half a decade than de Villiers did from 14 years with the Proteas. Administrators keep harping on about the primacy of Test cricket, but England, Australia and India apart, no one can afford to play the players what they are worth.
For de Villiers, it was never about the money. For nearly a decade now, he has been handsomely rewarded for being one of the talismans of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But when he talks of feeling tired, we would do well to listen. Just look at the itinerary that he and Kohli, who play all the formats, have been subjected to in recent times. What is surprising is that they have picked and chosen so little, putting their bodies on the line month on month, year on year.
Unlike football, with its clearly defined off-seasons — though greed is eating into that with tours of the Far East and the United States organized every summer — cricket offers no pause. It affects the players, who are getting off the international treadmill earlier and earlier. It affects fans too, because it has taken away the sense of anticipation that is such a huge part of the spectator experience.
And right now, it has also taken away the game’s most captivating batsman.