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The big games are just fantastic

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Michael Gray | 08:00 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

The big games just keep coming. Not only have we got the continuing promotion and relegation fights in the the Football League, we also have some intriguing ties in the Uefa Champions League, plus the Carling Cup final this weekend.

It was great for football to see Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan paired against Chelsea in Europe's top club competition. I think Mourinho has been a big miss for English football since leaving Stamford Bridge. When he was interviewed on TV or watching his team play, everybody's eyes were fixed on him to see what he was going to do next. Everyone misses his charisma and character.

The first leg at the San Siro was an amazing occasion but I think the return fixture at Stamford Bridge will be even more special.

Mourinho has not lost a home game in seven years, which is almost unthinkable. He has a great squad at Inter and if everybody is fit he has an excellent side. Personally, I think Chelsea might just be a little bit too powerful for them, despite losing the first leg 2-1, but only time will tell. What do you think?

As for Sheffield Wednesday, we have the next instalment of our scrap against the drop onSaturday. Consecutive defeats, against Doncaster and Ipswich, have left us only a whisker above the Championship's bottom three. We go to Reading, who are also fighting for their lives.

We didn't perform well against Doncaster. That said, they got the ball down and played some very good football. That's not easy to do on our pitch at the moment, so hats off to them. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by a better side.

The game against Ipswich was a scrappy affair but it could have gone either way. I had a couple of chances on goal myself, while Marcus Tudgay hit the bar. If one of those had gone in, we would have been confident of winning the game but Ipswich went ahead and we found ourselves chasing the match.

The next 14 games are all going to be 'cup finals'. We have a points target, and the sooner we get to that the better, but we have to be prepared for a long, hard fight to keep the club in the Championship.

On Sunday, I will be watching the Carling Cup final on BBC One. The League Cup is probably the competition that the top four teams have not really taken as seriously as qualifying for the Champions League or winning the FA Cup in recent years. But it should be, given that it is another route into European football.

I think both Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill will field strong teams at Wembley. United are out of the FA Cup, so I think they will take the game very seriously, while Villa have enjoyed an excellent season so far and have a great chance to land some silverware.

As for the players, they want to win as many trophies and medals as possible during their careers. Whether it is the final of the League Cup, FA Cup or any other competition, they want to be on the winning side.

Wayne Rooney celebrates his winner in the Carling Cup semi-final, second legWayne Rooney celebrates his winning goal in the second leg of the semi-final against Manchester City (photo: Getty)

We all know that United are fighting to win every competition they play in, every year. They can never be written off and you would never tip against them winning a major trophy. But they've got injuries, so I think it is a huge opportunity for Villa.

They will have to play with a bit of freedom but O'Neill, who has experience of winning cup finals with Leicester and Celtic, always likes his teams to attack. Both teams like to play attractive football, so I think it's going to be an open game and an entertaining final.

I played in a two-legged semi-final against Manchester United when I was at Blackburn. We drew 1-1 at Ewood Park but my dream of playing in the final ended when we lost 2-1 away. When you draw United in a semi-final, it's hard not to think "here we go again, we've gone so far and then come up against United".

That proved to be the case that year but both of the games were fantastic and great to be involved in. Not many people remember the teams that get to the semi-finals but I have got my memories at least.

Brad Friedel was in goal for Rovers then, so he will get a chance to put the record straight this weekend with Villa. I rate Brad among the best players I have played with and he is the ultimate professional as well as a great goalkeeper.

He is 38 now, still playing at the very top level and looks like he can go on for another two or three years. Blackburn signed him on a free transfer and he was a rare bargain for them. I think Liverpool paid for letting him go because they ended up having problems with goalkeepers until Pepe Reina arrived at Anfield. If they had held on to Brad, he would probably have played for their first team for many years. He really is top drawer.

So good luck to Brad and may the best team win on Sunday. I'll be watching from the comfort of my own home, hopefully having helped Sheffield Wednesday bag three more points.


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