United’s form causes Mancini to re­vise ti­tle tally

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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

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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.

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