Ti­tle thirst fu­els Ibrahi­movic for Liver­pool show­down

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Lon­don

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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leg at Southamp­ton.

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,

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AN­GEL FERNANDEZ / AP

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.

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