Fletcher relishing return to big time
The reins are off for Darren Fletcher as the Manchester United midfielder looks to make up for lost time.
Fletcher completed another step forward on the comeback trail when he managed the full 90 minutes in Tuesday's UEFA Champions League victory over Braga.
It maintained the Scotland skipper's ever-present record in this season's competition, in addition to giving him some more much-needed match practice.
A couple of years ago, he would now be optimistic Sir Alex Ferguson would pick him for Sunday's Premier League showdown with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
After all, the 28-year-old has built an impressive reputation as a big-game player.
But that was before he started being affected by a chronic bowel complaint that - although no-one knew it - first became apparent not long after a visit to Chelsea in March 2011.
Fletcher appeared just 13 times for United in the eight months after that, before United confirmed a condition which had Ferguson fearing whether his fellow countryman would ever return to the top flight.
He should not have doubted. Not only is Fletcher a thoroughly likeable individual, he is also blessed with an admirable strength of character that made him want to push himself last summer, when the advice was not to.
"I was impatient," he said. "When you have been out for a long time you are desperate to play so you do push yourself.
"But I had good people around me, putting the reins on and holding me back. Deep down I always knew they were right but it is hard to accept."
The outcome looks like it will be a positive one. Whilst, understandably, Fletcher has no desire to speak about the precise details of his condition, the steps he has taken to combat it appear to be working.
He is certainly delighted with his present position. "If selected, it would be the biggest game of my comeback. But either way, I am back a lot quicker than I expected," he said.
"Maybe I don't have the sharpness in my legs yet but I can react quicker because I have been in situations before.
"My legs are coming back. If you had said I would be in this position back in June and July I wouldn't have believed you.
"I always appreciated how fortunate I was. But after going through something like this, you appreciate it more without a shadow of a doubt."
One senses Fletcher would love to be given the task of breaking up Chelsea's much-hyped midfield quartet on Sunday.
Fletcher anticipates Chelsea test
Indeed, had the Blues not won the Champions League last term, Eden Hazard could well have been a team-mate given he was tipped to join United when it seemed Stamford Bridge would not be playing host to Europe's major club competition.
Instead, together with Juan Mata and Oscar, Hazard is responsible for guiding Chelsea into a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League, and revolutionising a club that was still adhering to the philosophy Jose Mourinho installed six managers ago.
"It is a different Chelsea side now," he said. "It used to be a big strong physical side whereas now you are facing something more like Barcelona, the small intricate players who get in pockets behind you and play killer passes.
"As a midfielder it means you are never really up against anyone. You have to be aware, looking over your shoulder and communicating well because they want to get behind you.
"At the same time it gives you opportunities to break on them. Normally they are very solid but with all those attacking players it may give us spaces to exploit."
Not that Fletcher regards the task as a particularly easy one. Tottenham have already proved United are vulnerable at the back.
And they are not the only ones given the Red Devils have fallen behind in eight out of 12 matches so far this season.
"We spoke about losing goals before the game but, unfortunately, it happened again," said Fletcher.
"We realise we cannot keep doing it against better teams and if anyone knew the answer we would eradicate it.
"But we have to find the answer quickly thought because we certainly cannot let it happen at Chelsea."