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PHIL JAGIELKA believes Everton must be wary of a vengeful Manchester United on Sunday – but can take inspiration from last year’s 4-4 thriller.
The Blues mounted a stirring comeback at Old Trafford last April, to record a draw which was subsequently blamed for costing Alex Ferguson’s men the title.
Everton then had the upper-hand at the start of this season, beating the Red Devils 1-0 at Goodison, and Jagielka knows the bitter memories of both results will provide their hosts with plenty of extra motivation ahead of this weekend’s contest.
He said: “I’m sure the game will be built up a lot because of how it went last season – but it will still be a really tough game.
“They’ve kicked on a gear and there’s a lot of incentives for them now to try and stay at the top and prove a point after we beat them in September, and then of course the points they dropped last season possibly costing them the championship.
“It won’t be easy going to Old Trafford. We’ve not picked up too many victories there over the years so I don’t think we’ll be favourites by a long shot.
“But hopefully we get everyone back fit and well from the international games, and we can go there confident and draw some inspiration from last time.”
Leighton Baines is one key Everton player who is likely to be fresh for Sunday’s 4pm clash, with England boss Roy Hodgson set to give Ashley Cole the nod to start ahead of him at left-back for tonight’s friendly against Brazil.
And Baines’ Old Trafford counterpart, Patrice Evra, is certainly determined to ensure United remain focused against the Toffees after last season’s costly slip-up.
“I am really happy with what we are doing in the league and the other competitions,” said the France international.
“Nobody forgets the big disappointment of losing the title last season. It’s really important that we just keep going because the league is not finished in February. We have a lead but nothing is done yet.
“We just have to take it game by game and aim to win every match. That’s the right attitude to have. In every game this season we have had the right attitude. That’s why I think the fans and the players are very happy this year because we really want to show we are champions. We have to keep going that way.”
WAVERTREE UFC star Terry Etim and Everton fight fans Tim Howard and Sylvain Distin have a shared ambition – they all want to step out at Wembley this season.
But while the footballers have a tricky trip to giantkillers Oldham to negotiate en route to a possible appearance at the national stadium, fight star Terry is already guaranteed a Wembley billing when the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to London next week (February 16).
It will be UFC’s first show in Britain for two-and-a-half years – and Etim can’t wait.
“It’s going to be huge. I’ve always wanted to fight at Wembley and when I heard the UFC were putting on a show there I was thrilled. It’s going to be a very good night.
“I’ve fought in Brazil, Germany, Abu Dhabi...but the crowd always turns out in force in Britain and hopefully they will give me a real boost.”
It won’t be just the 10,000 crowd packed into Wembley who will rooting for the Liverpool lightweight when he steps into the Octagon against Brazil’s Renee Forte.
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Sylvain Distin are big UFC fans, and for Howard it’s not just entertainment.
Blues stopper Howard tries to pick up some tips from the fighters he can use in his own sport.
“I admire fighters and how they train and their mindset. If I ever encounter a fighter I always try and pick their brains,” he explained.
“You have to gain an edge with the mental aspect of fighting and I try and incorporate that into my mentality too.
“Football’s a team game, but goalkeeping is an individual part of that so I always try and gain a mental edge.
“I’ve met a few UFC fighters before and they’re always humble so every time I meet them I enjoy picking their brains.
“I’ve been following UFC for probably about 10 years now. It’s something I got into when my brother trained ju jitsu and I really enjoy it.
“Down the years I’ve watched everyone. Obviously I was a big fan of Randy Couture and at the moment Jon Jones is currently electrifying people. I tend to ebb and flow and like to see fighters win and get on top, but if they get too big you then want to see them lose because they’re so good.
“Georges St-Pierre seems to have revolutionised the game.
“He is masterful at taking away his opponents strengths so I like watching him at the present.”
Team-mate Distin is just as enthusiastic.
“A good friend of mine has been fighting UFC for a long time and I appreciate the sport,” he added.
“We stay up late to watch it as a team when we can and ring each other to talk about it, or we record it and watch it the next day and it’s always talked about in the dressing room. It’s great to watch.
“I like the style of Jose Aldo, he’s quite attacking and when you watch it on TV that’s what you want to see.”
Distin added that the Blues stars even pull on UFC gloves every now and then and try to put what they see into practice.
“We try to do some pad work once a week,” he added. “Just three one minute rounds, and that helps us understand how difficult it is which is why I enjoy watching the guys.”
The players stress that they only work on the pads and the punchbag, but – hypothetically of course – if Terrible Tim stepped into a UFC arena with Slugger Sylvain, who would come out on top?
Tim smiled...“Sylvain has a big left hand, but if I slip it, and get inside...he could be in trouble!”
Terry Etim will be fighting for real at Wembley, and he aims to ensure that Brazil’s Renne Forte is the man in trouble.
“I don’t know too much about him, but he’s top level so I’m expecting a tough fight,” he said. “But I’m also 100 per cent confident and I know I’m going to come out on top.
“I’ve trained three hours in the morning three hours at night – I’m super-fit and super-ready.
“But I’m fed up with training now and just want to get to fight night and come away with the win. I love fighting in England. The fans have always shown me such great support. It really makes you want to dig deep because you can hear the crowd. I will be looking to put on a show for them.”
ENGLAND centurion Ashley Cole last night insisted: I don’t care if nobody loves me.
The Chelsea star picks up his 100th cap tonight in the friendly with Brazil.
But despite being one of the Three Lions’ most consistent performers, Cole has never been an England favourite – unlike the most most recent ton-up stars David Beckham and Steven Gerrard.
His off-field antics even saw him booed by the Wembley crowd in 2008, when his mistake led to a Kazakhstan goal.
Cole has kept his head down in recent years, but in a rare interview for England sponsors Vauxhall, he said: “In football you can’t always have it your own way. You can’t always have the good times.
“You’re going to have bad spells and periods when you are not playing well. It is something I have to deal with. I have learned to deal with it.”
Asked if he was bothered about not getting the recognition and praise he deserves, despite team-mates respecting him, Cole added: “Yeah, you are probably right.
“I don’t want to sit here and keep going on about wanting to be loved. I am here to play football. That is all I want to do.
“I have been lucky to win trophies. That is my aim. Of course I want to do it in an England shirt.”
Cole’s reputation with England fans has improved of late and in 2010 he was voted England Player of the Year and was third in the 2012 poll, behind Gerrard and Danny Welbeck.
But at 32, and with rival Leighton Baines, 28, enjoying a brilliant season at Everton, Cole accepted he was not guarateed a starting place for his country.
The left-back insisted he would be willing to take a backseat if Baines continues to blossom.
“It is about the team, it is not about me,” he added.
“If he is playing well and plays in front of me, it is going to benefit the team. It is not as if I am going to start moaning or saying I should be playing.
“I am not going to quit just because someone is playing better than me or deserves to play. I enjoy being with the manager and the players.
“It is stiff competition but I have had it so many times – Wayne Bridge and so many other players who were going to take my place.
“I just get my head down and keep fighting for my place.”
BELGIAN pair Marouane Fellaini and Thomas Vermaelen sat out competitive training yesterday for their national side ahead of the friendly with Slovakia.
And both players are major doubts for that game in Brugge after spending the day working in the gym, as well as being potential absentees for their club matches at the weekend.
Fellaini scored two second half goals to help Everton secure a point against Aston Villa last time out, but complaints of a hip problem mean the 25-year-old may not be fit in time for the Toffees crunch clash with Manchester United on Sunday.
And Arsenal captain Vermaelen may not recover in time for the Gunners visit to Sunderland on Saturday, having sat out the 1-0 victory over Stoke City at the weekend with a recurrence of his troubling ankle injury.
Both players have been key figures for their sides during this campaign, and remain hugely important in either team’s quest for Champions League football next season.