Fo­cus is back on ti­tle race

United have chance to close the gap on City

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

CROSS-TOWN ri­vals Manch­ester City and Manch­ester United will try to re­turn to win­ning ways in the Premier League fol­low­ing their shat­ter­ing group stage ex­its from the Cham­pi­ons League.

Ta­ble- top­pers City lead reign­ing English cham­pi­ons United by five points.

But United, at home to lowly Wolves to­day, can cut that gap to just two points with vic­tory at Old Traf­ford ahead of City’s trip to Chelsea on Mon­day.

Mean­while, Liver­pool man­ager Kenny Dal­glish has in­sisted Luis Suarez has his full sup­port af­ter the con­tro­ver­sial Uruguay striker was hit with two Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion charges.

Suarez has been charged with im­proper con­duct fol­low­ing an al­leged ges­ture he made to­wards Ful­ham fans dur­ing Mon­day's 1-0 de­feat at Craven Cot­tage. The in­ci­dent was cap­tured by pho­tog­ra­phers and Suarez, who al­ready faces an FA charge for al­legedly mak­ing racist re­marks to Manch­ester United de­fender Pa­trice Evra, has un­til Mon­day to re­spond.

Dal­glish said it was a “joke” the racism charge hang­ing over Suarez had yet to be dealt with by the FA. And he in­sisted the former Ajax player, who has scored seven league and cup goals this sea­son, re­tained the full back­ing of ev­ery­one at Liver­pool.

“The staff, play­ers and sup­port­ers will stand by him be­cause they know what the truth is,” said An­field great Dal­glish. “We'll stand by him. It's only in other peo­ple’s in­ter­ests that if they can­not stop him on the pitch, they have to try some other ways and means to stop him.”

De­spite be­ing hit with a new FA charge, Suarez will start when Queens Park Rangers visit An­field to­day.

While City had the con­so­la­tion of beat­ing Bay­ern Mu­nich in their fi­nal Cham­pi­ons League match, United’s de­feat by un­her­alded Basel will have set alarm bells ring­ing for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

And that de­feat could be made worse if the knee lig­a­ment in­jury suf­fered by cen­tral de­fender Ne­manja Vidic in Switzer­land proves as se­ri­ous as first feared.

United’s fans have taunted arch-ri­vals Liver­pool for hav­ing had to com­pete in the Europa League – the sec­ond tier tour­na­ment which both Manch­ester clubs are now in af­ter fin­ish­ing third in their re­spec­tive Cham­pi­ons League groups – and Ferguson showed lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for a com­pe­ti­tion that is sure to drain his squad’s re­sources.

“It’s a com­pe­ti­tion I’ve never been in with United,” he said. “It does mean one thing. Thurs­days all the way through. Thurs­day and Sun­days. That’s got to be dealt with. It’s not the best, but that’s our penalty for not qual­i­fy­ing.”

UEFA pres­i­dent Michel Pla­tini hit back at Ferguson over his com­ments which seemed to be­lit­tle the Europa League.

“The world does not re­volve around Eng­land, I like Eng­land a lot, it’s foot­ball is fan­tas­tic, it’s sup­port­ers are won­der­ful but you shouldn’t crit­i­cise the Europa League just be­cause you’ve played in three Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals,” said Pla­tini re­fer­ring to United’s fi­nal ap­pear­ances in 2008, 2009 and ear­lier this year.

“The Europa League is a bril­liant com­pe­ti­tion, it’s amaz­ing. I know Mr Ferguson would have pre­ferred to be in the Cham­pi­ons League but so would many clubs who don’t have that pos­si­bil­ity.”

Ferguson’s City coun­ter­part, Roberto Mancini, did not ex­pect the Europa League to have a big im­pact upon the English ti­tle race.

“I think that for the Premier League it changes noth­ing be­cause both teams are in the Europa League,” said Mancini. “The dif­fer­ence is that the Europa League is harder be­cause we play Thurs­day and we won’t have a lot of time to re­cover for the games but this will be the only dif­fer­ence.”

Arse­nal may have lost to Olympiakos in mid­week but Arsene Wenger’s men had al­ready qual­i­fied for the knock­out stages of the Cham­pi­ons League. That, and the fail­ure of the Manch­ester giants to make it into the last 16, looked any­thing but likely dur­ing the Gun­ners’ stut­ter­ing start to the sea­son.

Arse­nal, who this week­end cel­e­brate their 125th birth­day, will look to make it eight suc­ces­sive Premier League games un­beaten when they face Ever­ton at the Emi­rates Sta­dium.

To­day’s other matches see sec­ond bot­tom Bolton at home to As­ton Villa and Nor­wich up against New­cas­tle. Ful­ham, fresh from a 1-0 win over Liver­pool, travel to pro­moted Swansea, while base­ment club Wi­gan are away to West Brom. Martin O'neill’s first match as Sun­der­land man­ager fol­low­ing the sack­ing of Steve Bruce sees the Black Cats at home to fel­low strug­glers Black­burn Rovers while third-placed Tot­ten­ham travel to Stoke. – SAPA-AFP

RED MIST: Liver­pool striker Luis Suarez is hit­ting the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons.

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