Steve McManaman: Defi Du Seuil now the one to beat

Defi Du Seuil was a deeply impressive winner of Saturday's Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
Defi Du Seuil was a deeply impressive winner of Saturday's Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

In the latest edition of his exclusive column on the site, Steve McManaman talks about what we learned about the Champion Chase following Saturday’s Clarence House Chase, and the prospect of a five-day Cheltenham Festival…

Defi Du Seuil was incredibly impressive on Saturday, so you'd have to say until we see something visually which is better, he’s now the one to beat in the two-mile division. 

I think that was the best that we’ve seen of him so far, last time it was a real duel between him and Un De Sceaux, but this time around he was very, very impressive with the way he went about winning his race.

He’s also in the Ryanair Chase, but a nice, quick two miles seem to really suit him and he’s probably going to Cheltenham in the form of his life - we’re now just waiting for the reemergence of a certain two-time Champion Chaser in Altior.

At the start of the season it looked as though Altior was going to be stepped up in trip, but that seems to have been quickly dispelled after his defeat to Cyrname, and it’s now a case of whether he’s going to be powerful enough and quick enough to handle Defi Du Seuil over a fast two miles - time will tell…

Meanwhile, it’s great to see the 12-year-old Un De Sceaux still enjoying his job.

It definitely looks as though he’s still enjoying himself judging by his performances on the track, and he ran a brilliant race to finish second to the horse who’s now the favourite for the Champion Chase.

Nowadays they come to a certain age and everybody wants to put a horse to pasture, but the trainer knows if the horse is bucking and kicking in the morning and whether he’s still enjoying himself and his racing and it’s brilliant to see a 12-year-old like that, who is still out there competing after the career he’s had, winning all of those Grade 1 races and it’s amazing that he’s still able to compete at the top level.

Perhaps two miles is a little too quick for him these days, but he won the Ryanair Chase over two and a half miles in 2017 and finished second in 2018, so you never know, he may hit top form at the Festival once again.

There’s a lot of talk about the prospect of the Cheltenham Festival being extended to five days, and plenty of big names have put their support behind it.

Personally, I don’t think we need a fifth day. When I look at the current four-day structure we have, we seem to look after every division and distance of race that we need to - whether that’s over two, three or four miles or catering for the mares - so I think we have to be really careful about it.

I wouldn’t just make races up to extend it, as it would take even more focus from the rest of the season and that would be to the detriment of racing everywhere else. I’m immensely proud of the Grand National Meeting at Aintree, and it would be a shame to take away from that.  

When it was a three-day meeting it was fine, and we accommodated the move to four days by shifting the Gold Cup to the Friday, but now everyone seems to want to go again just because we’re sitting on a highly successful race meeting. 

We have to remember that there are a lot of other tracks, a lot of whom aren’t as well attended as Cheltenham, and we need to be very, very mindful of not spoiling everybody else’s race meetings and festivals just because Cheltenham is a big success. 

Perhaps switching the format to be from Wednesday to Saturday would be a good compromise. I like how it is at the moment, but that change wouldn’t bother me personally, as it gives people who are working the opportunity to visit the track and experience the Cheltenham Festival. 

Today's Racing

In the world of football, Liverpool are well on their way to greatness after Sunday’s victory over Manchester United. 

It’s hard to quantify where they are in terms of the Premier League’s best ever teams just yet, because as everybody say,  they need to win it again to be considered and win multiple trophies consistently.

It’s pointless to say that they’ve gone undefeated in a calendar year, because it actually doesn’t mean anything if you don’t lift a trophy.

If they can be Champions League winners, Club World Cup winners, European Super Cup winners and then go and win the Premier League, then that’s an incredible 12 months.

They will rank very highly as a consequence, but they have to go and do it again next year to be considered one of the great teams. If they win the league this year after the season they’ve had will be an incredible achievement. Then they need to do it back to back.

They’ve been so good, that it’s really difficult to say who’s going to be crowned as their player of the year…

We all get caught up with the forwards - and rightly so because they score the goals - but who’s to say that Virgil Van Dijk hasn’t been the best player for Liverpool this season? Or Trent Alexander-Arnold? Or Andy Robertson? They’re the less spoken about players or the less admired players because they’re defenders, but they’ve been equally impressive. 

The goalkeeper Alisson has been immense too, but because he’s not having to make world-class saves - he hasn't needed to as his positional play is so good - means he doesn't get the attention his play deserves. 

Now that it’s clean sheet after clean sheet, we just take it for granted and then whenever Salah or Mane score everybody raves about them.

The forwards get the plaudits, but Henderson was great again on Sunday. He’s very quiet and understated and doesn’t like to tell people how good he is and he stays under the radar.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to see that Kylian Mbappe is being linked with a switch to Merseyside in the summer.

I’d love to see him make a move to Liverpool!

I’ve said for the last three or four years that he’s going to be the best around, but Liverpool are flying at the moment and they don’t necessarily need Kylian Mbappe at this moment.

They’re going to have to pay £250 million for him. Let’s be honest, that’s what he would cost. If Neymar cost £198 million, then Mbappe is going to cost a quarter of a billion. Liverpool are the best around at the moment, so if you’re going to take a jump like that then there’s going to be a lot of baggage that comes with that.

Not him personally, but the transfer fee itself and that you’ve already established yourselves as the best team and you could be upsetting the equilibrium by bringing another big, big forward in, who’s arguably already one of the best in the world, even at this slender age.

It’s a lot to consider for Liverpool if they are going to make this jump. However, to stick up for Kylian Mbappe, all I’ve heard about his is that his attitude is fantastic and he’s an incredible football player who would make Liverpool’s squad better, but you just need to be very careful, firstly with the price tag and secondly the effect it will have on the rest of the squad.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Meanwhile, as Liverpool carry on setting a blistering pace, Manchester City continue to fall further and further behind.

I know they have a big enough squad, but losing Vincent Kompany on the pitch and off the pitch has affected them this season. 

Along with that, the injury to Laporte has hindered them a lot because he’s a wonderful central defender. Losing Sane early on in the season is another reason, because we all know what a great player he is and that’s not helped of course.

I also think that teams have learnt from last season and have adapted and got better. City are still playing really well and they’re still going to be a great team - they’re probably going to finish second to Liverpool with a great tally of points - but sometimes you just can’t win every single trophy, every single year.

Liverpool ran them close last season and have been more consistent this season, that’s all that has happened.

I still think Manchester City will finish second and they’re still a great team with a great manager. Pep will probably learn from this, bring in a few new additions and go strong again next season.

Over at Spurs, Harry Kane’s injury has created something of a headache for Gareth Southgate ahead of the Euros.

Personally I think Harry Kane will be fit. I'm not an expert but even though he's had an operation on his hamstring you would hope he'd recover by June or July. 

However, there are other places up for grabs, and I think if Danny Ings keeps on scoring then he deserves his opportunity to be involved; for Gareth Soutgate to have a look at him and bring him into the squad, look at him in the training sessions, look at him in a friendly match and get a grip of what he’s like.

He certainly deserves it, he’s playing great, he had a number of awful injuries when he was at Liverpool and his attitude was brilliant and he kept on battling.

I saw him play for Liverpool’s under 23s because he needed to play games and his attitude was spot on with the young players and now he’s getting his rewards, so he certainly deserves a chance and then we will see what happens come June.

Tammy Abraham likewise, he’s still a young player and lets see how he carries on until the end of the season but of course we should look at these types of players.

Jamie Vardy? That’s just a case if he wants to play. He’s having another incredible year for his club and that’s because he’s not playing for England.

That’s a different scenario from Danny Ings or Tammy Abraham, but he must feel that he’s better for Leicester because of the regime he had adopted. It’s working for him

Even though he hasn’t played in the qualifiers, if Gareth asks him to go to the Euros then of course he deserves to go. 

I’ve got no problem with him sitting out the qualifiers because he wants to prolong his professional career.

The fact that he’s in his 30’s and he’s playing really well and having one of his best season’s , if he feels that actually it’s because he’s not playing all those games for England and travelling all over Europe, then I have no problem with that whatsoever. 

If he scores 30 goals this season and Gareth says he needs him for the Euros because people are injured and Jamie says ‘Yes, I’m all for that’, then who cares if it’s for the greater good?

Finally, I don’t think the sacking of Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona despite being top of La Liga was a risky move for the club.

The manager isn't the most important man at Barcelona.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Valverde, Quique Setien (or myself!) the team is run by the players and the players do what the players want to do. 

Setien will come in and he’ll keep it nice and calm, and he will keep it nice and happy, but there’s no way he’s going to be shouting and screaming and telling the players what to do. He will just tell them what the team is and that’s the end of it.

Real Madrid are flying now. They’re settled, they’re playing well, they won a trophy again, the team is happy and there’s no rumblings coming out of Real Madrid anymore because they’re winning and they’re winning and they’re winning.

I don’t think the managerial change at Barcelona will have any effect on Real Madrid, the manager's job in Spain isn’t as important as it is in the Premier League, they certainly don’t have the same power, especially at the top two. 

I did feel very sorry for Valverde, the fact that he lost his job and the time that he lost his job, I think it’s really poor play from a team like Barcelona, I wouldn’t expect that from them.

They haven’t been happy for a while, but the fact that they’re top, the fact that they’re still in the Champions League, then it’s a really strange scenario. 

When I was a player at Real Madrid and we won the league, Vicente Del Bosque was sacked the next day, so that just shows you what goes on in Spain!

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