Focus is back on title race
United have chance to close the gap on City
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.