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West Brom boss Alan Pardew reveals Jonny Evans exit fears

West Brom boss Alan Pardew reveals Jonny Evans exit fears


The Manchester derby of 2012 was probably the most important since 1968. Like now, United needed to avoid defeat. In both those years both clubs were going for the league title and on both occasions City won and became champions. But however big those matches were, no derby attracted as much global media interest as the first derby of last season with Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola newly installed.

The world's best newspapers sent their finest writers, not only to write about the two clubs, but the city of Manchester. A distinguished Italian writer from La Republica came wanting to know why a regional working class industrial city had become world football's most important city. He was pleasantly surprised with Manchester as a city, if not the August drizzle.

Most thought United and City would be successful last season, more so after both clubs won their opening three games. United lost the fourth, outclassed by City, Kevin De Bruyne the star man at Old Trafford. United never really got over it, slipped to sixth and the notion of Jose Mourinho being the closest thing to a manager who guarantees success was tweaked, with attention shifting to silverware in the cups rather than the Premier League. City meanwhile won nothing.

Much was expected of the Mourinho and Guardiola rivalry in their first season in Manchester, but it didn't amount to much. They embraced on the touchline before the September league derby, they both held the opinion that confrontation wouldn't do either of them any good in their new homes.

United finished 24 points behind champions Chelsea and City 15 points off the top. The April Manchester derby was a soporific goalless affair.

Expectations are now higher at both clubs. City are flying, United too. But will the Manchester derby deliver? Like encounters between United and their other great northwest rival Liverpool, the eyes of world football are upon them, yet they often underwhelm.

United's long-time domination, one which saw Ryan Giggs play in 14 derby matches before he was on a losing side in Nov. 2002, has gone. United battered City in the 90s and much of the noughties, so much so that in Nov. 1994, City manager Brian Horton sat his players down in the Old Trafford dressing room before the derby and said: "You know what? I'm fed up of going to United and being negative. We're going to attack them."

Horton had seen Barcelona put four past United a week earlier and thought his City could do the same. City played two out and out wingers and they were 3-0 down in no time with Andrei Kanchelskis roasting Terry Phelan. A great night for United, a terrible one for City. Then, as now, the fans, especially Mancunians, considered it to be a huge match, but the United players didn't prepare for it any differently to a normal game. They simply expected to beat City because they usually did.

City had several notable results in the noughties and grew in strength after their 2008 takeover. The 4-3 United win when Michael Owen grabbed a late goal in 2009 was the first game where City showed their new quality.

The League cup semifinal games of 2010 saw City confident enough to go toe to toe with United on quality. The outcomes have been remarkably equal since 2010, with both teams claiming nine wins each and three draws. City have put six past United at Old Trafford, a game their fans still immortalise in a "It could have been 10" song, while United fans have taken down the Stretford End odometer which used to record the years that City went without winning a trophy. It got as far as 35 before City won the 2011 FA Cup, knocking United out in a Wembley semifinal.

I stood on Wembley Way that day as rival groups of lads with no identifying colours who travelled 200 miles south from the same town squared up to each other, yet were reluctant to throw a punch for they knew it would be on camera. There was trouble that day though.

There's little love lost between the two clubs, between the fans, the players and even relations between officials. It frustrates United employees that they have to work within a conventional business which is expected to watch costs and make a profit, while they feel City are bankrolled and have to worry less about the bottom line. Both clubs poach staff from each other in almost every department, with money -- rather than loyalty -- king. Don't be surprised that United didn't grant City permission to film in their dressing rooms.

Violence between fans has subsided, but Manchester can still be a nasty place on derby day. The security is extensive at the stadiums, with incidents more likely in public houses across the city where both clubs enjoy vast support.

United fans laugh at the myth that there are more Blues in Manchester and they're also amused that City are excelling in the areas that their fans used to criticise -- the marketing, commercialism and global support. City fans used to joke about United being the "Pride of Singapore", but City have chosen to raise their profile in as many countries as possible -- including Singapore.

As the quality of City has risen, with better players and managers, the Manchester derby has grown into one of the biggest games in football. It was a localised affair when I saw my first derby at Maine Road in 1986. My father took me across the forecourt and knew a lot of the ticket touts because he'd played football with them. Only 32,440 attended that day in a ground which held 50,000.

Though United were far better supported (it's been that way since the 1930s), derbies at Old Trafford didn't sell out either -- the stadium was 10,000 short of capacity for the return league derby

of the 1986-87 season. It's only since the early 90s that tickets for derby games have sold out.

This time, there's a feeling among the United players that if they can beat City and cut their advantage back to five points, then the title race is on. Another City win at Old Trafford is not something United fans are contemplating.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy has been described as "the complete player'' by his manager Claude Puel.

Vardy has scored two of his seven Premier League goals his season in the six matches since Puel was appointed as manager at the end of October.

The 30-year-old, who joined Leicester from Fleetwood for £1 million in 2012, will look to score his 50th Premier League goal for the club when the Foxes face Newcastle at St James' Park on Saturday.

Puel has been impressed with Vardy during the short time he has been working with him and heaped praise on the player ahead of the trip to the northeast.

"I think Jamie Vardy is the complete player. I would always prefer to have him in my team,'' Puel told reporters at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

"He's enjoying his football, it's amazing to see. He works hard for the team and always has a positive attitude.

"If we can help him to score it will be 50 goals, which is a good thing. He is a great player, and now with a lot of experience, maturity in the Premier League he can give a lot to the team. I was surprised to know his qualities.''

Leicester have won half of Puel's six matches in charge, including back-to-back victories against Tottenham and Burnley.

The Foxes have earned 11 points under the Frenchman, taking them up to ninth in the table, and Puel admits he has been pleasantly surprised.

"I don't know if I expected this,'' he said. "The most important thing is to continue the hard work and to keep building momentum and confidence. We need to try and improve all the time.

"We must keep a good focus and try to make a strong game. After, we'll see the result.''

Puel has no new problems ahead of the trip to Newcastle and he remains without defender Robert Huth (ankle) and midfielder Matty James (Achilles).

Stoke have disciplined striker Jese Rodriguez after he left the bench early during last weekend's victory over Swansea.

Sources told Press Association the on-loan Paris Saint-Germain forward walked down the tunnel and left the stadium after Mark Hughes made his second and third substitutions in the 70th minute.

Jese lost his place in the side after the defeat against Bournemouth in October and has made just two short substitute appearances since.

Hughes said: "He made a mistake. He's been disciplined for that. He understands it wasn't the right decision at that time. It's been addressed, we've obviously highlighted what he needs to do in the future. He's a little bit frustrated, he wants to play, as all players do.''

Asked if Jese had apologised, Hughes added: "Not in so many words because his English isn't great but he understands that it was incorrect.''

The Spaniard, who began his career with Real Madrid, will be unavailable for this weekend's game against Tottenham because he has had to rush home to Gran Canaria to be with his baby son.

Jese has made frequent trips back to the Canary Islands with the blessing of the club following the premature birth of Nyan, who has been fighting for his life in hospital.

Hughes said: "Unfortunately he's not available this weekend because he's had to go back, which is a real worry for him and everybody concerned. We send him and his family our best wishes.

"My intention with the games we have coming up was to involve him more along with other players to share the burden with the players who have been playing more regularly.

"Obviously at the moment we're not quite sure when Jese will be back. But he's still very much in my thoughts, as are the likes of Saido [Berahino] and Charlie Adam.''

There was bad news on the injury front for the Potters ahead of Saturday's trip to Wembley to face Tottenham with Bruno Martins Indi ruled out for up to eight weeks.

The defender suffered a serious groin injury early in the second half of the 2-1 win over Swansea and was wheeled off on a stretcher.

But Geoff Cameron is available again after finally recovering from the concussion he suffered in training six weeks ago.

Hughes said of Martins Indi: "As we feared, he's likely to be out for quite some time. The worst case is about eight weeks.

"Hopefully he'll get back sooner than that but clearly he's really damaged the groin area and we sensed that on the day. Obviously he got stretchered off and he was in a lot of pain.

"But he's started his treatment already. We're waiting for it to calm down then we'll try and get him back as quickly as we can but long process I think.

"Geoff Cameron has been training for a full week now so he should be available.''

West Brom boss Alan Pardew admits he fears losing Jonny Evans next month amid renewed speculation regarding the Albion captain.

Evans was a summer transfer target for Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester, with all three clubs having offers for the 29-year-old turned down as West Brom stuck to an asking price in excess of £30 million.

Recent reports have suggested City and the Gunners remain interested in signing Evans and both will return to test the Baggies' resolve when the transfer window opens again on Jan. 1.

City manager Pep Guardiola is still keen to add a new centre-half to his squad, with the absence of John Stones due to a hamstring injury heightening the Premier League leaders' need for defensive additions.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, will see Per Mertesacker retire at the end of the current campaign.

Evans has 18 months remaining on his contract at The Hawthorns and, while committed to West Brom, it is difficult to see the former Manchester United player signing a new deal with the prospect of European football on offer elsewhere.

"There's interest in him because there was interest in the summer and it makes sense to stir it up -- it makes good headlines for the media and I understand that and we deal with it,'' said Pardew, who will take charge of West Brom for the second time against Swansea on Saturday.

"Jonny's dealt with it in his way. He was terrific for me against Crystal Palace, I can only go on his performance and I thought he was outstanding.

"You are never confident when you've got great players because other clubs want great players so your best players are always vulnerable.

"Jonny Evans is certainly one of them, and he's our captain. Do I want to lose him? Of course not. Do I fear losing him? Of course I do.''

A goalless draw at home to Palace, Pardew's former club, last weekend left West Brom without a win in 13 Premier League games and just one place above the relegation zone.

Albion travel to bottom-of-the-table Swansea on Saturday knowing a win in south Wales would open up a seven-point gap over their opponents.

Asked if the match at the Liberty Stadium was a six-pointer, Pardew said: "No. A six-pointer is when there's two games to go and you need to win six points to stay in the division. This is just three points in a season.

"We need to win at least nine games to be safe and hopefully after Saturday it'll be eight games.''