Scottish Premier League

Mulgrew: Hoops up for Hibs clash

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Fri, 05 Apr 2013 16:40:00

Blackpool boss Paul Ince believes Wilfried Zaha's ?15million move to Manchester United makes his son Tom worth ?25million.

Ince issued the transfer warning to clubs trying to prise his son away from Bloomfield Road.

Ince senior told the BBC: "If you're talking ?15million for Zaha, Thomas has got to be ?25million. If you compare the two, Thomas should cost more.

"Zaha is a fantastic player, don't get me wrong. Zaha's a stronger runner and does a lot of tricks, whereas Thomas is more direct, he makes things happen and he scores goals.

"You've got a kid playing in the Championship who has scored 18 goals. When you look at the leading scorers, they're all strikers, and he's there among them.

"Potentially, I think he can reach that value. If Palace want ?15million for Zaha who has scored six goals, it makes you wonder what price he's going to be.

"You're not going to get it because he's not proven in the Premier League, but if United are paying ?15million for Zaha, on the stats you'd have to say Thomas is worth a lot more than that. That's my opinion."

United hold a 15-point advantage over their rivals heading into Monday's derby clash at Old Trafford.

With just eight games remaining, Mancini has already conceded the title to United but the Italian is determined to cut the deficit to a figure he believes more accurately reflects the on-field gap.

Mancini said: "We don't deserve to stay 15 points behind.

"They have played very well, they have won a lot of games.

"The last 18 (unbeaten) - the last time they lost was Norwich.

"They deserve to stay on the top, but not 15 points. It is not a true table.

"Now we have eight games. If we play well, if we win a lot of these games, maybe we can reduce this gap.

"This should be our target in this moment."

City memorably thrashed United 6-1 when they visited Old Trafford last season. Mancini is certainly not expecting a repeat.

"This is impossible," he said. "This can happen every 100 years."

But he does expect his team to give everything, even though the title seems out of reach and they face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals the following week.

He said: "If it is not important for the table or the title race, I think the derby is always a derby. It is important for us and for them.

"We have pressure, always. It will be like the first (derby). I think every derby is important.

"We want to show we don't deserve to stay 15 points behind and we can reduce the gap from now to the end. "But the title race is finished."

City go into the game on the back of an encouraging 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle and boosted by the news key midfielder Yaya Toure has signed a new four-year contract.

The influential Ivory Coast international has committed himself to the Etihad Stadium until 2017, ending speculation he could leave in the summer.

Mancini said: "I am happy because Yaya, for me, is one of the best players in the world and we are happy he plays for us and he stays here for another four years.

"I think it is very important for the club."

Toure turns 30 in May but Mancini does not see that as an issue.

The Italian, speaking at a press conference to preview Monday's game, said: "I think that Yaya is a player that can play until 36, 37 because he can play in front of the defence, like a central defender.

"I think he can play every position. I think when he is very old, like me, he can play as a defender."

Toure's agent had claimed last month that the player - who still had more than two years remaining on his previous deal - was growing impatient over the delays in reaching an agreement and issued an ultimatum.

Dimitri Seluk threatened to start negotiations with other clubs if a deal was not agreed before the end of March but City were always confident talks would be concluded satisfactorily in the fullness time.

Mancini said: "We are only happy that he continues to play for us and has signed another contract.

"This is important for me, for him, for the club, for the players."

Playmaker David Silva signed a new five-year contract earlier in the season and Mancini expects more deals to be agreed with existing players in the coming months.

Two that could become a priority are Carlos Tevez and Gareth Barry, who will both enter the final years of their contracts in the summer.

Mancini said: "We have time to talk about this.

"Yaya was important - also for the other players it would be the same, in the next month, next two months. I am confident."

With a year left on his current deal beyond this season, speculation has already started as to the possibility of Reds skipper Gerrard signing up to a further extension.

Rodgers today refused to disclose whether talks have already started with Gerrard about a new contract, stating it is "private between Steven, I and the club". Rodgers has, however, made it clear he wants Gerrard - who turns 33 at the end of next month - to stay on at Anfield.

With Gerrard now approaching 15 years' service as a professional with Liverpool, Rodgers said: "He's 32 years and super fit at the moment. He's played every minute of every (Premier League) game.

"We've worked very hard on his individual plan to make him as fit as he possibly can be, and the rest has been down to him really.

"It's about his responsibility on the field, how he manages himself off it. He's been first class, and as a captain he's been brilliant this year.

"So he's 32, 33 in May, and I still see another three to five years left in him yet as long as everything holds up with his body, which this year has been nigh-on perfect.

"So that (a new contract) is something we will sort out in due course."

Rodgers has no doubts he can envisage Gerrard playing at the highest level through to the age of 37 or 38.

"Why not?" said Rodgers. "He's a brilliant professional.

"Look at the likes of (Javier) Zanetti at Inter Milan (currently 39) and (Andrea) Pirlo (currently 33) who are still talked about as top European players.

"Steven currently is that at the moment, and I can see him being that for the next number of years.

"As I've said, he's had a fantastic season this season up until now and he wants to finish it strongly.

"His priority is always Liverpool, which is real humbleness from the guy. He is more worried about the football club than himself.

"I, as a manager, want to make sure he stays here because he's very, very important for what I want to do."

Rodgers must first try and clinch a European place for next season, with no guarantees as Liverpool are currently seventh in the Barclays Premier League.

The Reds are three points behind sixth-placed Merseyside rivals Everton in a bid for a Europa League spot and seven adrift of Chelsea, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League position.

On a roll of four wins from their last five league games, Rodgers is simply looking to extend that run going into Sunday's home match with West Ham.

"I am not even thinking about how many points we might need to clinch a Champions League place," said Rodgers.

"We just need to win the next game. We've won five of our last six in all competitions. Hopefully we showed the Southampton performance (a 3-1 defeat) was a blip.

"We came back and showed great determination and will last week, as well as quality, to beat Aston Villa, and we want to continue with that.

"West Ham will be a difficult game for us. They're a tough team to play against as they've some very good players.

"We'll need to be at the top of our game, physically, mentally, tactically, to get something from it.

"But how the players have been in training, how they've been for the last few months, gives us great hope we can finish strong."

Rodgers' only doubt for the game is striker Raheem Sterling who is struggling with a thigh injury.

Now coming towards the end of his second season with the Old Trafford outfit, De Gea has bounced back from more criticism to help keep six successive clean sheets as United charge towards a record 20th league championship.

The Spain Olympic star was also nominated for the Premier League player of the month prize, not a bad effort considering he was being written off at the start of the year, with even former United captain Gary Neville joining in the chorus of condemnation.

Ferguson famously dismissed the criticism, insisting there was no point listening to the "idiots".

Yet speculation endured that De Gea would be offloaded to Real Madrid this summer, with Stoke's Asmir Begovic lined up as a replacement.

That does not seem so likely now, with Ferguson hinting the former Atletico Madrid man will be staying where he is.

"David has developed and matured as the season has gone on," said Ferguson.

"We've seen a very progressive and developing young goalkeeper and next season he'll be even better."

Doubts must have persisted in Ferguson's mind over the first half of the campaign though given the manner in which he rotated De Gea with Anders Lindegaard.

However, Lindegaard's dreadful performance in United's 4-3 win at Reading effectively ended his chances of becoming the permanent number one, with De Gea once again given the chance of proving he was worth his ?18million price tag.

On pure shot-stopping ability, there can be no further concerns.

But Rio Ferdinand accepts the physicality of English football does take some getting used to.

"When you are a 'keeper, experience comes with games and becoming used to certain situations," said the veteran defender.

"He hasn't been here long. He is young, he had to become accustomed to his new surroundings and he wasn't given time."

There was also a quick initiation into life as a United player.

As it transpired, a seamless progression through professional ranks to the extent of featuring in Atletico's 2010 Europa League final triumph over Fulham proved to be no preparation for Old Trafford, where every mistake has been seized upon.

"When you play for Manchester United you are under incredible scrutiny," said Ferdinand. "That is just the way it is.

"You have to get used to it. You need a thick skin to be a Manchester United player. Because if you cannot take a battering at times you will fall by the wayside and someone else will fill your shoes.

"He has a huge price tag on his head that carries a lot of weight.

"But he is resilient, even if he still has a lot to prove because this season is not over yet."

Having drawn a blank in his first season at Old Trafford, De Gea is within touching distance of his breakthrough trophy for United.

With a 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League, even if Manchester City win Monday's derby, it is hard to see how they can reverse the situation.

Wayne Rooney and Brazilian defender Rafael are expected to be fit, although defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans remain doubts.

Victory at Parkhead could see the Hoops clinch the title, if nearest rivals Motherwell lose to St Mirren.

And, with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United looming, Mulgrew believes those given the nod against Hibs could also be playing for their place at Hampden.

The defender said: "At a club like Celtic, there is always pressure and everybody is fighting to get into the team every week, especially when there's a semi-final coming up.

"I'm sure everybody will want to be involved with that game.

"Our focus will be on trying to win on Saturday.

"It's been a successful campaign for us so far.

"We've had a good run in the Champions League and we're clear at the top of the SPL by quite a few points.

"There is still a lot to be done before we win the league.

"We'll just need to wait and see what happens on Saturday."

Hibs are one of four teams who will be battling to claim the final top-six spot this weekend.

Mulgrew added: "It will be a very hard game. Like any team that comes to Celtic Park, they are very motivated.

"It's one of the big games of the season for them and we will need to match that."

As well as Celtic and Motherwell, Inverness, Ross County and St Johnstone have already secured their place in the top half of the table ahead of the league split.

The progress of some of those clubs may have been surprising to some but Mulgrew does not believe the standard of the SPL has dropped this season.

"I don't think it has," he said. "I think it's been the same as before.

"There are a lot of quality teams and a lot of quality players in the SPL and maybe it doesn't get the credit it deserves.

"We have played every team and we have realised that every game is as hard as the next one.

"Everybody looks to win and raise their game against Celtic.

"It shows that anybody can beat anybody - there are a lot of good players in the different teams."

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