Thomas Tuchel insists he will give everything to Bayern Munich ahead of his departure in the summer and hopes the decision over his future allows the team to play with “freedom”.

Tuchel has been unable to arrest a downturn in form, and speculation over his position came to a head this week when the club announced he would be leaving at the end of the current campaign.

Saturday’s game against RB Leipzig will be his first in charge since the news became public, with Bayern looking to end a three-game losing streak following losses to title rivals Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio and Bochum.

And while there is a possibility Tuchel could be seen as a lame duck coach over the coming months, he thinks the removal of uncertainty over his role could spark an upturn.

“I view it professionally and unemotionally. It’s a professional sport at the highest level,” he said of his shortened reign.

“There aren’t guilty individuals. I don’t think I’m the only problem, but I have responsibility. Now we have a new situation, it’s resolved, which hopefully makes it clear and brings freedom.

“This job only works if I give 100 per cent of myself. I have a very high professional expectation of myself and that’s completely dedicated to Bayern Munich until the end of the season. We have aims: we’re going for the maximum in the league and won’t give up until it’s over. In the Champions League we still have a second leg (against Lazio), so we are playing for maximum success.”

Tuchel resisted the temptation to divert blame away from himself and on to his players, but accepted the performance levels on matchday had been falling consistently short of expectations.

“The management know my analysis, which is also very self-critical. But it’s definitely not an analysis for the public,” he said.

“I’m not personally disappointed in the players. We have high standards, that won’t change. I’ve never had the feeling that there’s a big problem but there is a glaring discrepancy between the way we’re training and the way we’re playing. We’ve trained at a good level but that’s no guarantee that we’ll produce a good performance.”

Injuries have upset Bayern’s rhythm this term and they continue to be stretched, with Dayot Upamecano suspended and an injury list that contains Kingsley Coman, Sacha Boey, Noussair Mazraoui, Bouna Sarr, Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies.

Leipzig have proved tricky opponents in recent times, taking two draws and two wins from their last four games against Bayern.

Dani Olmo bagged a hat-trick when his side romped to a 3-0 win in the Super Cup final last August, a memory that still burns bright with the Spaniard.

“I would say it was a perfect game from all of us and for me individually to score three goals in Munich, in the Allianz, and to be able to win a trophy,” he said.

“It was for sure one of my best performances but we have to keep going because football never stops and now we have another chance. Bayern is always the opponent that motivates us. It’s always special.”

Nick Tompkins says that Wales are excited and not daunted by the challenge that awaits them against Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland on Saturday.

The odds are stacked against Wales, having not won a Six Nations game in Dublin since 2012 and facing a team marching ominously towards achieving back-to-back Grand Slams.

More than a third of Wales’ match-day 23 have cap totals in single figures, while a vastly-experienced Ireland team last suffered a Six Nations defeat two years ago.

Asked if there was a more daunting test in world rugby than tackling Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Wales centre Tompkins said: “I don’t know about daunting.

“Daunting makes it sounds like we are scared. We are not. We are excited.

“Realistically, we have got nothing to lose. It is a big challenge, but you need those big ones.

“There is no point in playing a mediocre side, and it is going to be good to see where we are at.”

Wales lost their opening two Six Nations encounters against Scotland and England by a combined margin of three points and could easily have arrived in Dublin with an unbeaten record.

Scotland held on for a 27-26 victory in Cardiff after Wales scored 26 unanswered points, while it took a late George Ford penalty to overhaul Wales’ nine-point interval advantage at Twickenham.

Ireland, though, have proved themselves time and time again as northern hemisphere rugby’s current dominant force, with Wales facing easily their sternest test since Warren Gatland returned for a second stint as head coach prior to last season’s Six Nations.

Tompkins added: “If we are off on any one thing, any one aspect of play, they are going to pounce on it.

“We have been talking this week about the need to give everything, in every area of the game, all the time. It needs to be (for) 80 minutes as well.

“We have bigged this up enough for ourselves, we are focusing on ourselves, but the boys know what lies ahead.

“I am not saying you can’t make any mistakes, but in those moments when you have got them under pressure, you cannot let them off.

“It is nice when you have got some of those younger lads. They don’t have that fear, that naivety.

“It’s quite nice, so you try and install that and go out and play and have a bit of enjoyment about it. When you do that against Scotland and you come back and you should have won it, or nearly won it, it just shows where we can take it.

“I don’t want them to go there and worry about outside aspects or we can’t beat them or we can’t do this, I want them to go and just be them and be confident with it and enjoy it.”

Lewis Hamilton said he chose to turn his back on Mercedes and join rivals Ferrari to write “a new chapter” in his record-breaking career.

The seven-time world champion was speaking for the first time at length since his shock blockbuster move to the Italian giants in 2025 was confirmed earlier this month.

Hamilton’s soon-to-be Ferrari team led the way on the concluding day of this week’s test in Bahrain, with Charles Leclerc seeing off Mercedes’ George Russell by just 0.046 seconds.

But it is Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team who head into next Saturday’s curtain raiser, also in the Gulf kingdom, as the favourites, despite the ongoing investigation into their embattled team principal Christian Horner. Horner continues to deny the claims against him.

Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension with the Silver Arrows only last August.

But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to make the switch.

“Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” Hamilton explained. “But an opportunity came up in the new year and I decided to take it.

“I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have had a relationship with Mercedes since I was 13. They have supported me and we have had an incredible journey together and created history within the sport. It is something I take a lot of pride in.

“But ultimately I am writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles.

But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

Ferrari have not won a drivers’ championship since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed for them in 2007.

And two decades will have passed since Michael Schumacher took his fifth consecutive title for the team in 2004 when Hamilton links up with Ferrari at the start of next year.

“All of us sit in our garages and you see the screen pop up, you see a driver in the red cockpit and you wonder what it will be like to be surrounded by the red,” added Hamilton.

“You go to the Italian Grand Prix and you see the sea of red of Ferrari fans and you can only stand in awe of that.

“It is a team that has not had huge success since Michael’s days and I see it as a huge challenge.

“As a kid I used to to play the Grand Prix 2 computer game as Michael in that (Ferrari) car. It is definitely a dream and I am really excited about it.”

Hamilton said the biggest transfer in F1 history would not have happened if Fred Vasseur – the Frenchman who played a prominent role in his formative career – had not been appointed as Ferrari team principal last year.

Hamilton continued: “I have got a great relationship with Fred. I raced for him in Formula Three and we had amazing success in Formula Three and GP2 and that is where the foundation of our relationship started.

“We always remained in touch. I thought he was going to be an amazing team manager at some stage and progress to Formula One. It was really cool to see him at Alfa Romeo and when he got the job at Ferrari I was just so happy for him. The stars aligned and it would not have happened without him.”

As for learning the lingo, the Stevenage-born racer, added: “In all these years I have not managed to learn other languages, but I will definitely try. I do remember when I was younger and karting in Italy I was able to pick up a few lines. Hopefully that will come back to me.”

Ferrari might have finished on top on Friday, but the consensus in the paddock is that Red Bull have significantly improved the machine which won all bar one of the 22 rounds last year.

“Our car is more enjoyable to drive and it is an improvement,” said Hamilton. “But we still have some time to find. Red Bull are out in the distance.”

Ominously, Verstappen, bidding to win his fourth straight title, said: “For sure, the car is better than it was last year.”

The Premier League’s auditor Deloitte has been awarded a key contract in helping to set up football’s independent regulator, the PA news agency understands.

Sources have expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest for financial services firm Deloitte, which signed off the Premier League’s most recent set of annual accounts.

The EFL and campaign groups want the regulator to be able to review whether any new deal agreed between the Premier League and the EFL on how television cash is split meets the regulator’s stated aim of ensuring the sport’s financial sustainability.

The involvement of Deloitte has raised some eyebrows, at a time when the regulator’s precise remit is still unclear as the wait goes on for the publication of the Football Governance Bill.

EFL clubs left a meeting with Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer last week concerned that the regulator would not be given powers to correct any  settlement which is agreed, something which football reform group Fair Game has said would be “unacceptable”.

Government sources say the Deloitte contract will involve the firm providing support around the design and implementation of the regulator’s operating model, and insist the firm will not be providing advice on, or developing, regulator policy.

Deloitte will look at how the regulator is structured, staffed, and its systems and infrastructure requirements, the Government source said.

They said any potential conflicts of interest would be managed in the usual way, and were considered as part of the procurement process.

The Government and Deloitte declined to comment.

EFL chairman Rick Parry told MPs last month that his organisation was prepared to do a deal with the Premier League but stressed that the “right solution” on financial distribution and cost controls would only be reached through independent analysis by the regulator, as part of a planned ‘state of the game’ review once it is up and running.

The EFL has declined to comment following last week’s meeting as it continues dialogue with the Government, but Fair Game – which has 13 EFL clubs within its membership – insists the regulator must have the power to intervene.

“The number one stated aim of the regulator is to secure the financial sustainability of the football pyramid,” Fair Game’s director of advocacy Mike Baker said in a statement issued on Friday.

“So it is not about having any regulator, it’s about having the right regulator. The status quo is not acceptable.

“The proposed backstop powers (of the regulator) currently can only be triggered by the Premier League and the EFL authorities, and if a deal is signed now for six years the regulator will have no powers to correct it.

“That is unacceptable. If the regulator is to achieve its core objectives then it must oversee football’s finances and reward well-run clubs. Anything else and we will have a regulator that lacks the teeth to fix football’s ills.”

The deal under discussion between the Premier League and the EFL is believed to be worth an additional £900million over six years to the EFL’s clubs, but the EFL has strong misgivings over the cost control measures attached to it.

While clubs in the Championship are expected to be capped at spending around 70 per cent of revenue on squad costs, in line with UEFA’s new financial sustainability regulations, those relegated to the second tier are set to be capped at 85 per cent while they are in receipt of parachute payments.

That would mean those clubs being able to spend a greater percentage of a larger amount than non-parachute rivals. Parry believes that puts non-parachute clubs in the “horrendous” position of having to choose between being competitive and sustainable and will widen the cliff edge between the top two divisions.

Top-flight clubs are still to agree on how any extra funding for the EFL is paid for, and on a new financial system for the Premier League to ultimately replace its profitability and sustainability rules (PSR).

Premier League clubs are due to gather for further shareholder meetings on February 29 and March 11, with the latter understood to be the more likely to prove decisive in moving this issue forward.

PA understands a number of EFL clubs, even those who had been inclined to agree to the deal, are now feeling more hostile towards the process following the meeting with Frazer which some described as “a car crash”.

Accrington chairman Andy Holt took to social media to voice his concerns about it and felt Frazer was applying pressure to agree to the deal, even though the ball remains in the Premier League’s court at this stage.

Government sources have said Frazer’s position was misinterpreted and that she was advising clubs to do a deal, as has always been the Government’s position, not necessarily to accept the deal that was on the table.

A publication date for the Football Governance Bill, which has the creation of the regulator at its heart, is still understood to be some weeks away after there had been indications it could be published on Monday next week.

Courtney Lawes has accepted a lucrative deal to join French second-division club Brive that will see him depart Northampton at the end the season.

Lawes will bring down the curtain on his illustrious career overseas after accepting a “transformational” offer that Saints – his only club in 17 years as a professional – were unable to match.

The 35-year-old flanker has followed up an impressive 2023 World Cup with his outstanding form in this season’s Gallagher Premiership and Northampton were keen to keep him at Franklin’s Gardens.

But former England captain Lawes, who announced his Test retirement in October, has reluctantly made the decision to join the growing number of English players heading across the Channel.

“I want to make it clear that I really would have liked to end my career as a one-club man and Saints did absolutely everything they possibly could to make that happen – our conversations were all very positive,” Lawes said.

“But first and foremost I have to make sure that my family and I are in the best position possible for my retirement, which will be in the next couple of years.

“This is likely to be the last contract I’ll ever sign and the offer I have received to play overseas will be transformational for my family, so there was no way I could turn it down and I took the decision to move away from Northampton.

“I’ve been through it all with Saints and I just hope that my efforts on the pitch have reflected my appreciation for the club.”

Lawes, a physical and athletic back five forward who has played in four World Cups, has made 274 appearances for Northampton so far, on top of winning 105 caps for England and a further five for the British and Irish Lions.

Saints have suffered more than most clubs from the exodus of players to France, with Lewis Ludlam also leaving at the end of the season, while David Ribbans and Dan Biggar have already departed.

“Clearly it’s very disappointing that Courtney has decided to leave, but it’s a decision he has made with the long-term future of his family in mind, which we fully understand and respect,” chief executive Mark Darbon said.

“We obviously wanted Courtney to stay and we made him a significantly increased offer to remain part of our squad.

“But given this will probably be his last ever contract and the incredible service he has already given to the club over the last 17 seasons, no-one can begrudge him accepting a very substantial alternative offer to finish his career overseas.

“Given the financial challenges that we, like all Premiership clubs, are still navigating, ultimately we just could not compete with the transformational scale of the offer Courtney has received.”

(NB): You can catch the exciting action of the Carabao Cup on Sportsmax.

Virgil van Dijk has warned Chelsea it would not be wise to underestimate a Liverpool team without Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez.

Jurgen Klopp’s side proved in midweek, when they came from behind to beat Luton 4-1 with an impressive second-half performance, they are capable of scoring goals without two of their major stars.

Both face late fitness tests ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final after Salah suffered fatigue in his first match back at Brentford last weekend after a month out with a hamstring injury and Nunez was replaced at half-time in the same game as a precaution.

With Diogo Jota, their second-highest scorer this season, already ruled out it leaves Liverpool looking less threatening up front even though Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz both have reached double figures.

But Van Dijk said that did not mean Chelsea should view it as an easier task as they seek to avenge their League Cup final defeat on penalties of two years ago.

“If they take us lightly then that’s their problem. That fear factor, we don’t have influence on that,” said the Netherlands captain.

“I think the players coming in then have to step up and show they’re wrong. I think that’s the only way to do it.

“I think we have enough quality to read the opponents. Players who come in have to show that.

“Everyone has to step up and the ones that play have to deliver to get results.
“I think if you play for Liverpool, you’re quite a good player already, so go out there and make everyone proud.”

Van Dijk assumed the captaincy in the summer after Jordan Henderson’s departure, so this is the first opportunity for him to lift a trophy having watched his predecessor celebrate with the Premier League, Champions League, League and FA Cup and Club World Cup.

“It’s important, but the most important thing is to try and win the game, and then we’ll see what happens after,” added the Dutchman, who accepts Chelsea are a different prospect from the one beaten 4-1 at Anfield a month ago.

“I visualise myself leading the boys out, but I don’t think about me lifting anything.

“I try to lead out the boys as good as possible, on and off the pitch, be their leader and so far, so good.

“So I’m thinking about a big challenge ahead of us. Hopefully we can make it an amazing afternoon on Sunday.”

In terms of whether victory at Wembley can provide a springboard for more silverware – Liverpool are still fighting on three other fronts – Van Dijk said: “We’ll focus on trying to win the game and then we’ll see.

“You know we can’t think about what’s coming next, we have to think about what’s ahead of us and that’s Chelsea at this stage.

“It’ll be a very difficult game, an interesting game as well. We have to be very good to do that, but let’s go for it.”

Gavin Cromwell expects Vanillier to take a step forward in the Tote.ie Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday as he builds up towards a return to Aintree.

The grey flew home in the Grand National last year – and passed all bar the winner Corach Rambler.

He has been allotted 4lb more in his quest for National glory this term but first he must take on last season’s Irish National winner I Am Maximus and the Gordon Elliott pair of Fury Road and Minella Crooner.

In three runs to date this season, Vanillier has failed to get anywhere near troubling the judge.

However, Cromwell said in his William Hill blog: “Vanillier is certainly moving in the right direction and I’m happy with him ahead of the Bobbyjo Chase.

“We’re hoping to see a good run here which should set him up well for the Grand National. He’s taken a bit of time to get to where I’d like him to be, but we weighed him on Friday morning and he’s a similar weight to where he was this time last year, which was encouraging to see.

“We were happy with the weight the handicapper gave him for the race at Aintree. It’s a lovely racing weight considering how well he ran in it last year and you can’t really make any excuses on that front.

“It would be amazing to win a Grand National and I do think he’s capable of doing it, as we know he likes the fences and has the stamina. He’s coming along nicely and Saturday will hopefully bring him forward again.”

Joe Marler is desperate to help England wrestle back the Calcutta Cup on Saturday after growing exasperated with Scotland’s recent dominance of the fixture.

The 33-year-old prop grew up in an era when the Red Rose firmly held the upper hand over the Scots and he was on the winning side four times in a row after first playing in the highly-charged showdown in 2014.

The tables have turned since 2018, however. Scotland have lost only one of their last six matches against the Auld Enemy under Gregor Townsend and go into this weekend’s match buoyed by having won each of the last three.

That situation rankles with Marler, who is intent on ensuring England are celebrating on enemy territory come Saturday evening.

“It would just be nice to be on the winning end of it for once because it has been so long since we have,” he said at Murrayfield on the eve of the match.

“Obviously we had 2020, but the continued dominance from Scotland over us – it has been a long time now.

“From the start, we hadn’t lost to Scotland. Then the 2018 game the tide started to turn, the players that have come through in the Scottish side, you go, ‘Hang on, they have got some world-class operators now’.

“And it does shift the mindset slightly coming in as underdogs.

“The last few years without that cup, seeing Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, that video of them with their shirts off and singing with the cup.

“I wish I could be doing that rather than watching it. Or that famous Finn Russell photo where he’s got his Spiderman hands up and he’s loving it.

“That stirs passion in me to go, ‘I want that cup’, and I know a number of the other boys in the team want that cup back as well.”

Marler is pleased to still be in a position to help improve England’s record against Scotland after wondering if the World Cup last autumn might signal the end of his international career before Steve Borthwick assured him he still had a part to play.

“It’s almost like an addiction,” he said of his ongoing involvement with the national team. “I want to be part of a winning England team, creating new stories, creating new memories.

“I thought the World Cup was going to be my last opportunity at that, but Steve rang to ask if I’m still hungry.

“He asked if I had the desire to still crack on because he needed to blood some new players and move into the next cycle, but he also needed guys around to help with that.

“I asked my wife first but for me, yeah, it’s that addiction to be part of a winning England team and helping those young guys come through. That’s why I keep coming back.”

England will be led out at Murrayfield on Saturday by captain Jamie George, who lost his mother, Jane, a week last Wednesday following a short battle with lung cancer.

Marler, who will start on the bench, has been hugely impressed with the way his friend and fellow 33-year-old front-rower has dealt with the situation.

“Jamie has been incredible,” said the Harlequins prop. “I remember talking to him a few weeks before coming into camp, and he was talking about the captaincy being offered to him and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to take it up with things going on with his mum.

“Having known Jane since I was 16, 17, coming through the age groups with Jamie, I said, ‘Mate, just flip it and tell her you’re not doing it and see how upset, disappointed and gutted she’d be if you didn’t do it. You’ve got enough support around you in terms of the senior group to help you with it and you’re the best bloke for it, so let’s crack on and do it.’

“I’m pleased that he did. It has been tough since we found out about Jane, but he’s shown huge strength, and vulnerability which is great for the whole group, especially the youngsters to see that.

“He’s very much thinking, ‘I want to come up here, get the job done’. He’s dealt with it incredibly well.”

Harry Derham cannot believe his luck that the first horse his two superstar new owners Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka became involved with is heading to Kempton with a live chance in the Coral Adonis Juvenile Hurdle.

Derham played in a Pro-Am golf tournament with McDowell and ended up with a horse after the fledgling trainer won a nearest to the pin wager with the 2010 US Open hero on the way round.

The unlikely outcome was McDowell’s involvement with Givemefive, and he got Koepka involved as well, adding a bit of stardust to his new yard. The fact their horse is more than useful is a big bonus.

“As with any ownership, if you’re new to the sport, then you’re hoping to get a horse like him. He has had two runs, two wins and he looks really exciting,” Derham told OLBG.

“Obviously, being in Florida makes it difficult for them to come and see him but in the WhatsApp group they are really excited about this weekend.

“Graeme is coming over this weekend to watch, which is great, and I think any ownership pays more attention when they’re winning.”

A winner at Market Rasen in December, the former Johnny Murtagh inmate really impressed at Warwick last time out, showing soft ground will be no issue this weekend.

“It makes a lot of sense for us to go for the Adonis,” said Derham. “There are a few four-year-olds who have won the Dovecote but we will stick to our own age group, we are second-favourite.

“Kalif Du Berlais is a very smart horse but has to give us 5lb, which is handy, and we are really looking forward to it.

“This is a big step up in grade, we are really excited for it. I’m 15 months into my training career and I have a second favourite in a Grade Two, it’s brilliant. I am really excited, he has schooled very well and we will give it a really good shot.”

In a time of dwindling ownership, it is not lost on Derham how big a boost for the sport as a whole it is to have two such high-profile patrons in his yard.

“Brooks and Graeme said when they bought him that they just want to do the right thing for the horse. We are not going for the Adonis as a prep, we are going to have a good go. If he comes out of it well, then we will consider Cheltenham, but it is not the be all and end all,” he said.

“New owners are massively important. If you can give them a good experience, then great, but you can’t always guarantee them a nice horse. But for their ownership journey to start with Givemefive, it couldn’t have gone much better. Hopefully he keeps progressing and giving them a lot of fun.”

Kalif Du Berlais is trained by Derham’s uncle, 14-time champion Paul Nicholls, and he created a big impression when winning on his UK debut.

“He was bought to be a chaser and could hardly have been more impressive on his first start in this country over hurdles last month at Kempton,” said Nicholls.

“He was in control the whole way, jumped fluently and stretched clear for a decisive success. Kalif is very smart, worked great this week and has an obvious chance of defying a 5lb penalty. We will see how he runs before making any plans about Cheltenham or Aintree.”

Nicholls also runs Swift Hawk, another who made a winning start for the stable – but the ground may have turned against him.

“Rated 72 on the Flat, he made a pleasing winning debut for us over hurdles at Taunton at the end of December. But this is a big step up in class for Swift Hawk, who would not want too much more rain at Kempton and I wouldn’t be keen on running him if it gets testing,” Nicholls told Betfair.

In the Coral Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, Ben Pauling’s Fiercely Proud will attempt to return to winning ways, having finished third to the highly touted Jeriko Du Reponet at Doncaster.

“I thought we were going to win that race at Doncaster quite nicely – we were the last horse on the bridle and travelling the best, and I just think he was a bit green when Brian (Hughes) asked him,” said Pauling.

“I do honestly think it was just greenness, he certainly wasn’t tired, and he’s got a lot of speed, so I think Kempton will suit him more than Doncaster.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on, he’s in very good form going into the race and I think it’s a good opportunity for him to try and get a one by his name in a decent race.

“He was in the Supreme at Cheltenham early doors, but we just feel he’ll be better going here and then Aintree, so we’ve taken him out of the Supreme.”

Panjari runs for Nicholls but he is giving weight to all his rivals.

“He has improved with experience, is growing up all the time, and put up his best performance in cheekpieces when cruising clear at Musselburgh early this month,” Nicholls said.

“We found he had a problem with ulcers after a below par run at the same track on New Year’s Day. Panjari is definitely going the right way and must have a leading chance despite carrying a 3lb penalty at a track which is quite similar to Musselburgh. We are very happy with him.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea are “awake” after recent results that have altered the course of their season ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The meeting with Liverpool at Wembley will be the club’s first final since co-owner Todd Boehly took charge and embarked on a radical overhaul that has so far not brought success.

It comes after wins away at Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, which were followed by a fine draw against champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago.

Those three performances have significantly changed the perception of Pochettino’s rebuilding of the team, after the last home game – a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge early in February – saw Chelsea booed off the pitch by sections of their own support.

Days earlier they were soundly beaten 4-1 at Anfield by Sunday’s opponents, a disjointed performance in which the team looked to be in disarray and well short of expectations set by the more than £1billion spent by Boehly on recruitment.

Now the the Argentinian is confident that the last three weeks have brought a significant change in his players’ ability to compete at Wembley with title-chasing Liverpool.

“We will need to manage some moments during the game,” he said. “But I think in the last few weeks we’ve learned a lot, we’ve stepped up from (the defeat at Anfield). We arrive with very good momentum.

“After competing against Villa, Palace and Manchester City, it’s provided the team with the confidence and the trust.

“The team is awake to the competition. There was a click to change in the way we compete, that we were missing in the first half of the season.

“The circumstances are completely different (now), for us and for (Liverpool).”

Since the game at Anfield, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost a number of key players to injury including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones.

Pochettino has selection worries of his own, with Thiago Silva to be assessed having missed the last three games.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is available after injury but Djordje Petrovic, who has impressed since coming into the side early in December, could keep his place.

Klopp has stated he believes his team are not favourites at Wembley, an idea the Chelsea manager rejects.

“(Klopp) is clever enough,” said Pochettino. “He knows that when you play a final, anything can happen. If they’re not the favourite, then we are not the favourite.

“For me Liverpool is the favourite. After eight years they have the experience to compete like a team, and be involved in different finals.

“For our players, it’s new. For some of them it’s maybe their first final. That’s why they are favourites, in my opinion. But he is clever enough to say it’s 50-50.”

Pochettino added that his team may ultimately be stronger for their chastening night on Merseyside in January.

“In this type of process, you need that these type of things happen,” he said. “You need to really wake up about the situation.

“The team needs to learn from the good and the not-so-good experiences. It was positive.

“After Liverpool, that result was completely unfair. But maybe that was good for us, to feel the pain, the negative situation, to be stronger now, and to find the way to compete better.”

Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart has revealed he wanted to end his playing career on his own terms and could not imagine finishing it at any other club.

The 75-times capped England international this week announced his decision to retire at the end of the season, when he will be 37.

The former Manchester City player rejuvenated his career after moving from Tottenham in the summer of 2021, adding a clean sweep of Scottish domestic trophies to his full collection of English major honours.

And he wants the focus on his future to quickly switch to his attempts to continue that success as Celtic bid to rise to a strong title challenge from Rangers after losing top spot in the cinch Premiership last weekend.

Hart said: “I have loved every moment of being here, myself and my family, it’s been everything and more than I wanted it to be, and I will be forever proud that I represented this club.

“The most pleasing thing for me is a lot of the people here respect that I come and I give my all. Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of times when people wanted me in, wanted me out, but that’s the life of a goalkeeper. But ultimately you are respected as a person, and welcomed into a really special club.

“I will be 37 at the end of this season. What direction the club wants to go, whether I fitted into that, I wasn’t too sure. We didn’t even have that conversation.

“I certainly wasn’t interested in going and trying to play anywhere else.

“So I felt, right, I wanted to be strong and fit and ultimately happy. If there is such a thing, I feel I am in that place, and I feel like it’s the right time.”

Hart, who made his first-team debut for Shrewsbury 20 years ago, added: “I looked at what age I’m going to be, I’m aware of all the stresses I have put myself through body-wise all through my career.

“I didn’t really want to wait and be told. And with the cycle of the three years I have managed to do here, I wasn’t interested in playing anywhere else. It just felt right.

“I felt like I know and I wanted the club to know because I have a lot of love and respect for this club and I want the club to move forward to bigger and better things.

“No-one needs the speculation of whether a regular starter is going to be offered a contract, sign a contract, whether he is looking elsewhere. That’s a needless narrative when all of us are on the same page so I thought it was important to address it.

“There will be a couple of days of noise but after that no-one will care. ‘Oh right, Joe is retiring at the end of the season, Celtic need a goalkeeper, but right now he is there and he is going to be head down and fully fighting for this special club’.”

Hart’s decision gives manager Brendan Rodgers one less big call to make as he plans for what appears to be a crucial summer transfer window.

“I think we are very clear on what we need to improve on within the team and the squad,” said Rodgers, who welcomes Alistair Johnston and Cameron Carter-Vickers back from injury for Sunday’s trip to Motherwell.

“But certainly with Joe going, that really quickens that up in terms of needing to bring in someone for next year.”

Anthony Honeyball has a trio of chances ready to line up in the valuable Coral Trophy at Kempton on Saturday.

Forward Plan heads the group, an eight-year-old last seen finishing just a nose behind Annual Invictus in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster.

Prior to that, he was a winner on Town Moor when taking the bet365 Handicap Chase over the same three-mile distance, his third victory in eight runs over fences, having only been out of the placings once.

He has now reached a career-high mark of 133, though Ben Godfrey’s 3lb claim eases his handicap allocation and he will run off a competitive 10st 9lb.

“Forward Plan goes quite well on any ground really,” said Honeyball.

“The best of our racing has been on goodish ground with him and our next race for him will be Aintree, so we feel like he’s ready for a race and we’ve got to have a go because it’s such a brilliant prize – it’s worth £25,000 more than the Ultima at the Festival.

“If we had our dream scenario, we would like slightly quicker ground, but he has a light weight, he’s one of the favourites after his run at Doncaster and we kind of feel duty bound to give the owners a chance to win it.

“He loves a bit of decent ground, but there’s no reason why, off a light weight, he can’t run well.”

Stablemate Blackjack Magic began his season in good form when taking the Badger Beer Chase at Wincanton and subsequently came home fourth in the Howden Silver Cup at Ascot.

Much of his best form is on testing ground and he is expected to appreciate the soft going at Kempton.

“Blackjack Magic has proven he is up to this class and he won the Badger Beer,” said Honeyball.

“He will love the soft ground and, in fact, the heavier the better for him, that will suit him a bit better than a couple of the races he has run in this season.”

Honeyball’s third runner is the veteran chaser Sam Brown, who carries a top weight of 12st under Jonathan Burke.

The 12-year-old has some valuable races on his CV and showed he was not losing his enthusiasm when landing the Veterans’ Chase Series Final at Warwick last month.

His age and the significant weight he carries may leave him an outside chance, but his trainer is not ruling out a good performance from the gelding.

Honeyball said: “He’s a big outsider at the minute, but that’s only because he’s 12 years old and rated 152 and there’s probably some stats that tell you that is a near impossible task.

“Is he going to win and go up to 156 or 157? It’s probably unlikely, but he is overpriced.

“There’s plenty in his favour, he will enjoy the ground and he doesn’t mind a competitive handicap. He can sit halfway and he has that turn of foot where if he can stay in the hunt approaching the business end, then he can quite come through with a decent surge.

“I don’t think it would be the biggest shock ever, but we have got to run him and hopefully there is another day in the sun for him – we’ve got to give him the chance.”

Ben Pauling has a live chance in Bowtogreatness, an eight-year-old jointly-owned by Harry Redknapp.

The trainer enjoyed a three-timer at Ascot last weekend, along with jockey Ben Jones, but Bowtogreatness was not among his runners after a tracheal wash which caused connections to skip the meeting.

He will instead line up at Kempton for his third start of the season, after which he has one of his three Cheltenham Festival entries on the horizon.

“He’s in really good form with himself. He was supposed to go to Ascot last weekend, but just had a slightly average tracheal wash 10 days previous, so we decided to wait,” Pauling said.

“He was as clean as a whistle this week and worked well on Saturday, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he runs.

“On his first run of the season, I left the ear plugs out and he just head-butted his fences round Newbury and didn’t jump well enough, then he went to Cheltenham and it was almost like his first run of the season really. He travelled into it very well and just blew up going to two out.

“I dare say he’ll be spot-on for Saturday and he’s a hardy horse that needs a lot of graft, so it’s very much the plan to get a proper run into him before going to the Festival.

“He’s in the Ultima, he’s in the Kim Muir and he’s in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and how he goes on Saturday will tell us which race he’ll run in.”

At the head of the market is Dan Skelton’s Flegmatik, a winner over course and distance last time out, with Nicky Henderson’s Tweed Skirt and Chris Gordon’s Lord Baddesley also well fancied in a field of 12.

New Crystal Palace boss Oliver Glasner warned he was “no magician” as he prepares for his first game in charge of the relegation-threatened side.

While there will no doubt be changes coming at Selhurst Park, the Austrian’s message in his first press conference at times echoed his predecessor Roy Hodgson who, in the weeks leading up to his departure last Thursday, liked to remind critics that he did not have a “magic wand.”

Glasner, who led Eintracht Frankfurt to Europa League glory in 2022, takes over a Palace side five points clear of the relegation zone and 12 ahead of Saturday’s opponents Burnley, still missing a trio of their most influential players, and in recent weeks playing in front of an increasingly disillusioned fanbase.

The 49-year-old, who took charge of his first training session on Wednesday, referenced the famous American illusionist as he said: “I’m no magician. I’m not David Copperfield.

“But what I always tell the players is the same for me. You can grow with your challenges, and it’s a challenge for me, it’s a challenge for all of us, but I’ve had a warm welcome from all the players, from the whole organisation, also from the British weather the last few days.

“It made it really easy to start the players listening. The players have great character. We’ve had more meetings than training sessions on the pitch, but I really think we all did well together.

“Now it’s up to us to get the confidence back. It was a short week but the players are listening, are willing, are open-minded and this is what I like.

“I don’t expect that there will be something totally different tomorrow because that is not possible – sorry, no David Copperfield here – but I feel this is a great team with great character fighting for each other, fighting for a win.

“What I can promise is that it is always our basic (philosophy), the only thing I expect from my players in every game is that we give 100 per cent to win this game.”

Glasner, who spent almost his entire playing career as a defender for Austrian side SV Ried, had spells leading Ried and LASK before moving to the Bundesliga where he led Wolfsburg to Champions League qualification and then joined Frankfurt.

He was in talks to take over from Hodgson when the 76-year-old’s contract expired at the end of this season but was instead announced ahead of schedule, replacing a man already under pressure and rumoured to be on his way out before he was hospitalised after falling ill during a training session on Thursday.

Glasner sees himself as a glass-half-full character when it comes to the relegation battle and, in a meeting with league officials, checked to see where his naturally expressive nature on the touchline could get him into trouble.

He added: “I was used to sprinting down the sidelines and celebrating with my players. I try to be calm but sometimes I’m not calm.

“I don’t know what you will see tomorrow but everything you will see, this is Oliver Glasner.

“I cannot change in two days and I don’t want to change. If I feel the emotion, I want to show it.”

Pep Guardiola has bluntly responded to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s aim to knock Manchester City “off their perch” by pointing out he speaks “the truth”.

Ratcliffe completed his purchase of a 27.7 per cent in Manchester United this week and immediately set out his ambitions to restore the club to the top of the English and European game.

He did this by reprising the language of Sir Alex Ferguson, who similarly pledged to rein in Liverpool in his early days as manager at Old Trafford.

United have won just one trophy compared to City’s 14 in the past six seasons and Guardiola feels Ratcliffe’s acceptance of the Blues’ current pre-eminent status is the Red Devils’ first step towards a fightback.

The City manager said: “It’s the truth! As (soon) as the teams admit it, they will be closer to us.

“If they want to deny it for things that are not the reality then it’s their problem. It’s not our problem.

“When I’ve been below teams I’ve always admired them and thought about what we need to do to be close, to challenge them.

“If they want to be judged on things they are comfortable with for one day they will not arrive where we are now.

“When we were below and United were winning, we were watching them, admiring them. We wanted to learn from them.

“The period of Sir Alex Ferguson – the generation with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gary Neville – and all those big, big players, Rio Ferdinand – I’m pretty sure City admired and thought ‘we want to be there’. Now we are there.

“That’s why, for these type of comments, that I have the feeling that they will be back.”

While Guardiola now expects United to improve under the guidance of Ratcliffe, who has taken control of footballing operations at Old Trafford, he insisted it was not something that concerned him.

The Spaniard said: “It’s not about (being) worried. I’m pretty sure with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and the other people that United are going to take a step forwards.

“I feel that they know exactly what they have to do, appoint the people they need to appoint with their experience in the business world to make projects better.

“But that is normal. It’s not just United. All the teams want it. We want to be there and as long as I’m here, we will try to be there again.

“What I want is Man City, my team, being there. The rest, I don’t care.”

Second-placed City travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday with a chance to cut the gap to leaders Liverpool to one point in what is their game in hand.

Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne was not risked in the midweek win over Brentford due to what Guardiola described as “niggles”.

He would not confirm if he would return this weekend but said he was “pretty sure he will travel”.

Guardiola said: “He’s good. He’s not injured. He’s better but I don’t know if he’s 100 per cent. I think we took a good decision not to take a risk.”

Page 1 of 3637
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.