Mikel steeled for a second verbal attack


Last updated at 13:23 18 May 2007

Mikel John Obi will brace himself for another barrage of verbal abuse from Manchester United if he wins his fitness battle and starts tomorrow's FA Cup Final.

Mikel, 20, was astonished by some of the X-rated sledging hurled in his direction during the goalless Premiership draw between the teams at Stamford Bridge last week.

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Gerrard and Mikel

Alan Smith, directly up against him in midfield, was the chief protagonist and he succeeded in winding up Chelsea's Nigeria midfielder.

Mikel lost his cool, throwing himself into a bad tackle on Chris Eagles which earned him a booking. He was substituted by Jose Mourinho at half-time to avoid a red card.

It seemed to be a United tactic to antagonise a player who had originally signed for them before changing his mind in order to join Chelsea. After a protracted battle that involved FIFA, a deal was agreed and £12million was on its way from Stamford Bridge to Old Trafford.

Mikel has been dismissed twice in his first season in English football, including a red card in the Carling Cup Final against Arsenal after coming on as a substitute.

He has worked hard to improve his temperament under the orders of Mourinho, but United targeted him with the sort of provocation often aimed at Wayne Rooney.

Mikel is having intensive treatment on a hamstring problem.

He trained again yesterday and, although he was not able to do everything, remains optimistic of starting the big game.

His availability is crucial to the balance of Mourinho's team because the manager wants to play Michael Essien in central defence in the absence of the injured Ricardo Carvalho.

The Chelsea boss also has a huge decision to make over the fitness of Ashley Cole.

England's left back has not played for Chelsea since the Champions League semi-final defeat at Liverpool and, although he is clearly not fit, Mourinho is desperate for him to play to combat the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.

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