United’s form causes Mancini to revise title tally
MANCHESTER CITY will go into the hectic Christmas period with a two-point lead at the top, but with a nagging feeling that champions Manchester United are breathing down their necks.
City ensured they would be top at Christmas with a 3-0 win over Stoke in midweek, but United have matched them almost every step of the way in recent weeks. The Red Devils’ 5-0 thumping of Fulham at Craven Cottage was an impressive performance and, even with a number of injuries, they look the side most likely to deny Roberto Mancini’s side the title.
United manager Alex Ferguson has been forced to use most of his squad in the past few games, but his oldest player, Ryan Giggs, believes they are beginning to play their best again.
“We have to carry on the form we’re in at the moment,” the 38-year-old said. “If we do that we’re a very hard team to beat, especially at home.
“At Old Trafford we always expect to go out and win, but we still need to go out with the same hunger and appetite as we had at Fulham. You saw what we’re capable of and that’s the standard we set ourselves. When you have so many options on the ball, we’re a difficult team to play. The performance was pleasing.”
United take on Wigan at Old Trafford on Boxing Day – and will have to do without winger Ashley Young, who will be sidelined for several weeks with a knee injury picked up during the win over Fulham.
“It’s not so good for Ashley Young,” Ferguson told a news conference. “We’re still waiting on some of the bleeding to go away, which is quite extensive at the moment. It was a sore one, so he’ll be out for a few weeks.”
There was better news about Phil Jones who was caught in the face by an elbow from Fulham’s Clint Dempsey during the match and came off in the 20th minute.
Ferguson said x-rays showed the versatile defender should be fit for Monday.
“He has some swelling in his jaw, but there’s no break, no fracture, which is good news,” Ferguson said. “We feared the worst because he lost his vision a bit in that period when he came back on to the field. Thankfully it’s good news.”
City are away to West Bromwich Albion on Monday – and manager Mancini thinks his side might need 90 points to win the title “because United keep on winning”.
City are unbeaten at home in a year, but Mancini admitted they needed to continue picking up points on the road.
“It is a good record and something about which we can be proud, and it shows we are improving and working hard,” he said.
“It is not easy to play a year without losing in a league as hard as the Premier League and, while home form will be important in whether or not we win the league, we must start improving our away record.”
Seven points separate United from Tottenham Hotspur in third, but Harry Redknapp’s team have a game in hand and still have legitimate, if outside, hopes of the title.
Having drawn with fourthplaced Chelsea in midweek, Spurs will be looking to stay ahead of their London rivals by winning at Norwich on Tuesday.
Spurs are likely to be without Rafael van der Vaart for the Christmas and New Year fixtures after the Dutchman injured his hamstring in the draw with Chelsea.
“Rafa keeps getting hamstrings,” Redknapp said. “He seems to suffer from that problem, but when he plays he is a fantastic footballer. I would think he will be out for the festive period.”
Redknapp’s injury problems are mounting, with winger Aaron Lennon also sidelined by a hamstring injury and defender Younes Kaboul suffering a similar problem in the warm-up against Chelsea.
Striker Jermain Defoe, who missed the Chelsea game, is another with hamstring problems.
“A load of games in a short spell gives you problems,” Redknapp said.
Chelsea play Fulham Stamford Bridge on Monday.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-boas said his side have shown enough character in recent weeks to believe the title is not yet beyond them, either.
“If you had told me we would have had two wins and two draws from our December games so far, I think I would take it,” he said. “It keeps our title challenge alive. If we take the six points from the home fixtures, we are pretty much in it.”
Arsenal and Liverpool, in fifth and sixth places respectively, are both at home, with Arsenal playing Wolves on Tuesday while Liverpool take on bottom side Blackburn Rovers on Monday. – Sapa-dpa and Reuters
English football festive fixtures
MONDAY Chelsea v Fulham Bolton Wanderers v Newcastle United Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers Manchester United v Wigan Athletic Sunderland v Everton West Bromwich v Manchester City Stoke City v Aston Villa TUESDAY Arsenal v Wolverhampton Swansea City v Queens Park Rangers Norwich City v Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal’s home match against Wolverhampton was scheduled for Monday but postponed for 24 hours because of the strike by London Underground train drivers.