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PLAY IT SHORT: Ba signing stuff of genius; Wenger's long goodbye?; Mourinho won't be worried by Man Utd; Adkins' replacements must wait

BA SIGNING PROVING INSPIRED AT CHELSEADemba Ba already looks an inspirational signing by Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. Unlike Fernando Torres, Ba offers Chelsea the physical presence for their diminutive midfield to play around. And also in contrast to his Spanish rival, Ba can play with his back to goal, being a target for teammates to hit from deep and laying the ball off for the likes of Eden Hazard and Juan Mata as they buzz around him. The manner of victory at Stoke City shouldn't be dismissed. Chelsea's midfield fought Stoke for the right to play and with Ba constantly throwing himself into Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth, the scoreline was well deserved. Benitez, Michael Emenalo, Piet de Visser or Roman Abramovich, whoever it was that recognised how Ba would complement the Blues midfield deserves a pat on the back.

TORRES IN PEAK 'PHYSICAL' CONDITIONWord from those who worked with Fernando Torres at Liverpool is that the Chelsea striker is in great, physical shape. His strength and conditioning at Chelsea is as good as it was at his peak at Anfield. The problem is between the ears. His self-belief is shot and as much as he talks a good game, the Spaniard is allowing any setback to escalate into a confidence crisis. A former scout for Sevilla back in the day has likened Torres' problems to what happened to Jose Antonio Reyes at Arsenal. Returning to Spain allowed Reyes to rebuild his career, though he never reached the heights he enjoyed at Sevilla before Arsene Wenger (and Gary Neville) came calling.

MAN UTD WON'T BE GIVING MOURINHO SLEEPLESS NIGHTSUnder his hood, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is unlikely to have been concerned checking on Champions League opponents Manchester United yesterday. In the first 45, United were a class apart from Liverpool. But once the visitors started pressing United's midfield, all the long-standing doubts about Sir Alex Ferguson's current team again emerged. The midfield struggled to keep the ball, individuals faded and David De Gea, again, let the opposition into the game with an elementary goalkeeping error. If Danny Sturridge and Fabio Borini can give United the shakes, then what chance against Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil next month? No matter Real's Liga form, on paper they're as far ahead of United as the Premier League giants are of Liverpool.

THE LONG GOODBYE FOR WENGER?Is Arsene Wenger getting in his excuses early? "Cheap, timid and dodgy" was how he described his Arsenal team in defeat to Manchester City. Even the usual defence of his players was missing when discussing Laurent Koscienly's dismissal. There was an air of resignation about it all, none of the usual defiance from the Frenchman. Now sitting in sixth place, missing Champions League qualification could force a change of thinking inside the boardroom towards Wenger. The tension inside Emirates stadium shows no signs of abating and it's difficult to see how the atmosphere can change. If Pep Guardiola is committed to Manchester City, then the job at PSG is up for grabs - as will Real Madrid's if Jose Mourinho fails to win the Champions League. With no new contract talks on the agenda, are we seeing the final months of Wenger's 16-year reign at Arsenal?

ADKINS EARNS HIMSELF BREATHING SPACENigel Adkins admits winning their six-pointer against Aston Villa was "massive" for Southampton. But it was just as big for the manager from Birkenhead. In the lead up, Adkins saw his job linked to Christian Gross and Roberto di Matteo. Then in Spain, barely 48 hours before the Villa clash, it broke that Mauricio Pochettino, the former Espanyol coach, had met with Saints officials on the south coast. The game was looming as something decisive in Adkins' St Mary's career and beating a relegation rival should give him some breathing space.

APPLETON NOT AFTER EASY LIFEHe doesn't do things the easy way, Michael Appleton. He had a nice, settled job as first team coach at West Bromwich Albion. But since branching out on his own, the former Manchester United midfielder has taken on a Portsmouth with no money and practically no players, gone to Blackpool to succeed club legend Ian Holloway and now embraced the chaos at Blackburn Rovers! In a week when we've seen the demise of another talented, young manager in Derek McInnes at Bristol City, Appleton's ambition has to be admired.

ITALIAN EYES ON PETERBOROUGHPeterborough United's PR team can expect plenty of calls from the voracious Italian media if Davide Petrucci starts turning it on. Interest in the Manchester United youngster's loan switch to London Road has already sparked in his homeland and is sure to intensify if he can find the form that had the 21 year-old being likened to AS Roma legend Francesco Totti as a teenager. He's now been with United for over four years, with the majority of that time spent on the sidelines due to serious injury. Italy U21 coach Ciro Ferrara rewarded Petrucci for his form with a first call-up in October. Posh now offers Petrucci the chance to introduce himself to those United fans who know him more for his bust-up with Nani this term than his progress over the last 12 months.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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