Spot­light on Old Traf­ford

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

MANCH­ESTER, Eng­land (AP): HE FI­NAL round of in­ter­na­tional fix­tures in 2016 did no favours for man­agers of some of the English Premier League’s ti­tle hope­fuls.

Jose Mour­inho and Arsene Wenger, in par­tic­u­lar, will vouch for that ahead of the re­newal of their of­ten-heated coach­ing ri­valry.

When Mour­inho’s Manch­ester United and Wenger’s Arse­nal meet at Old Traf­ford to­mor­row for the stand­out game in the 12th round of matches, there could be some ma­jor names miss­ing be­cause of in­juries sus­tained on in­ter­na­tional duty.

United cap­tain Wayne Rooney has caused a furore by be­ing pho­tographed, look­ing bleary-eyed, along­side some guests at a wed­ding party tak­ing place at the Eng­land team ho­tel last Satur­day. But by then, he’d picked up a knee in­jury dur­ing Eng­land’s 3-0 win over Scot­land the night be­fore, caus­ing him to miss Tues­day’s match against Spain, and Rooney is now doubt­ful for the Arse­nal game.

TSERIOUS DOUBTS

It was the last thing Mour­inho would have wanted, con­sid­er­ing he is al­ready with­out sus­pended striker Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic and cen­tre backs Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, as well as hav­ing se­ri­ous doubts over the fit­ness of mid­fielder Marouane Fel­laini and full backs Luke Shaw and An­to­nio Va­len­cia.

Wenger, mean­while, will ask Alexis Sanchez for an hon­est as­sess­ment of his fit­ness af­ter Arse­nal’s star for­ward sus­tained a ham­string in­jury while away with Chile. Sanchez missed a draw against Colom­bia, but re­turned for the 3-1 win over Uruguay on Tues­day, although his right leg was heav­ily strapped for the match.

Sanchez isn’t due to re­turn to Arse­nal’s train­ing base un­til today and the match against United is a lunchtime kick-off.

“What I will con­sider is the risk of in­jury, be­cause he played while re­cov­er­ing from a ham­string in­jury,” Wenger said yes­ter­day. “I’ll con­sider the way he feels as well. On that front, you de­pend on the hon­esty of the player, how they feel and how they re­cover.”

Wenger will be care­ful about over­load­ing Sanchez, who has scored eight goals for Arse­nal this sea­son from his new po­si­tion as con­verted striker. This time last year, Sanchez picked up a ham­string in­jury fol­low­ing a gru­elling run of back-to-back games for club and coun­try and ended up miss­ing the next two months, which proved to be a huge blow to Arse­nal’s ti­tle hopes.

KEY PLAYER IN­JURIES

Liver­pool and Chelsea, the Premier League’s top two, could also be count­ing the cost of the re­cent in­ter­na­tional games af­ter in­juries to key play­ers.

Adam Lal­lana, one of Liver­pool’s quar­tet of sprightly for­wards that has been in dev­as­tat­ing form this sea­son, hob­bled off dur­ing Eng­land’s game against Spain and is a doubt for the lead­ers’ trip to Southamp­ton.

As for se­cond-place Chelsea, Diego Costa was ruled out of both of Spain’s games dur­ing the break be­cause of groin in­jury and Eden Haz­ard limped off dur­ing Bel­gium’s 8-1 win over Es­to­nia with an ap­par­ent calf in­jury. It isn’t yet clear if ei­ther Costa or Haz­ard — the scor­ers of 15 league goals be­tween them — will be fit for Chelsea’s match at Mid­dles­brough.

Palace have con­ceded 10 goals in their last three games and have not kept a clean sheet in the league all sea­son. In terms of points per game (0.73) in 2016, Alan Pardew’s side is the worst-per­form­ing team across Eng­land’s four leagues this cal­en­dar year.

Prob­a­bly, then, the last team they would want to see ar­riv­ing at Sel­hurst Park to­mor­row is Pep Guardi­ola’s free-scor­ing Man City side. Star striker Ser­gio Aguero will be raring to go for City, hav­ing failed to start for Ar­gentina in ei­ther of their World Cup qual­i­fy­ing games over the in­ter­na­tional break.

Manch­ester United’s Mour­inho

Arse­nal’s Wenger

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