Title thirst fuels Ibrahimovic for Liverpool showdown
Manchester United has a golden opportunity to haul itself into the Premier League title race at the expense of bitter rival Liverpool this weekend, while leader Chelsea will look to steady its nerves at Leicester.
United goes into the Old Trafford showdown with its tail up after beating Hull in the League Cup semifinal first leg in midweek to extend its winning streak in all competitions to nine.
Jose Mourinho’s sixth-placed side trails Chelsea by 10 points and is five behind second-place Liverpool.
But victory on Sunday, with Mourinho calling for United fans to raise the roof, would be a significant statement of intent.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a key figure in United’s recent surge and, despite his team’s current position, the Swedish striker has set his sights on adding a Premier League medal to the titles he won in Spain, Italy, France and Holland.
“I’m chasing the head trophy, the Premier League, that is my aim,” said Ibrahimovic, who has 13 league goals this season.
“I try to help the team and do what I’m best at — scoring goals, playing good and creating chances for my teammates.”
In contrast to United, Liverpool — after emerging as title contenders thanks to a fourmatch winning run in December — has suffered a dip.
A draw at Sunderland in the league was followed by an FA Cup stalemate against fourthtier Plymouth and a 1-0 loss in the League Cup semifinal first PPTV),
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Reds manager Jurgen Klopp will hope the return of Brazil forward Philippe Coutinho against the Saints after seven weeks out with an ankle injury provides a timely boost for his team, who was held 0-0 by United in October.
By the time Liverpool kicks off at Old Trafford it could be eight points behind Chelsea, which faces struggling champion Leicester at King Power Stadium 24 hours earlier.
Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Tottenham last week halted its 13-match winning run in the league, but the west London club was boosted in midweek when plans to redevelop its Stamford Bridge home into a 60,000-capacity arena were approved.
On the field, defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante will make a first appearance at Leicester since his $37 million summer transfer.
Kante was the driving force behind Leicester’s incredible title triumph and his absence has been felt as the Foxes have slumped to within six points of the relegation zone.
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri called on the club’s fans to salute Kante, but he hopes his side can make it an unhappy return.
“I hope our fans give Kante a warm welcome as he was our champion. It’s important to remember what he gave to us,” Ranieri said.
“We respect Chelsea a lot but we are ready to fight and ready to try to win.”
Third-place Tottenham can extend its winning streak in the league to six when it hosts West Bromwich Albion, but Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino isn’t getting carried away by that impressive success against Chelsea.
“Today it’s about maturity and learning from this period. It doesn’t mean that we will win every game,” Pochettino said.
“It’s important to show that maturity we did against Chelsea, that is important for trying to be more realistic and fighting for a bigger objective.”
Manchester City, in fourth, looks to maintain the momentum from its FA Cup thrashing of West Ham when it travels to Everton, while fifth-place Arsenal, eight points behind Chelsea, can’t afford a slip at second-bottom Swansea.
It will be an emotional day at Vicarage Road as Watford pay its respects to former manager Graham Taylor following his death on Thursday, aged 72. Weekend fixtures
(1500 GMT unless stated) Saturday Burnley v Southampton Hull v ( Bournemouth (
Leicester v Chelsea (1730 GMT), Sunderland v Stoke ( Swansea v Arsenal ( Tottenham v West Brom (1230 GMT), Watford v Middlesbrough ( West Ham v Crystal Palace (
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Sunday Everton v Manchester City (1330 GMT), Manchester United v Liverpool (1600 GMT,
Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos (right) and Sevilla’s Ben Yedder tussle for the ball during their Spanish King’s Cup tie at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, in Seville on Thursday.