United out to tighten screw on flagging City
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Manchester United forward Robin van Persie controls the ball during a Premier League match. The Dutchman, who was signed from Arsenal in the off-season, is on a red-hot form, having scored 13 goals in the Premier League. AFP photoManchester United will look to put even more daylight between themselves and Manchester City when they host West Bromwich Albion on Dec. 29, as the Premier League’s busy festive season continues.
Speaking prior to the Christmas period, United manager Alex Ferguson had set his players the modest target of being top of the standings on New Year’s Day, but his side is already disappearing towards the horizon.
A thrilling 4-3 win at home to Newcastle United on Dec. 26 left the 19-time champion seven points clear, and with second-place City facing a difficult trip to Norwich City, United could stretch its advantage by disposing of West Brom.
Javier Hernandez’s last-minute winner against Newcastle left Ferguson beaming, and he will have more room to maneuver with his squad after injury and illness robbed him of key players against Newcastle.
Young, Welbeck, Vidic, Jones to return
Wayne Rooney sat out the game after sustaining knee ligament damage in training that will keep him out for up to three weeks, but Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic could all return.
“Ashley Young also got injured on Tuesday and Phil Jones got injured (in the 1-1 draw) against Swansea,” said Ferguson.
“They should both be OK for Saturday, and I will also have Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher, who are fresh.
“We couldn’t risk Vida [against Newcastle] after playing his first game [at Swansea]. He had a bit of soreness in his knee, which is only to be expected after being out for so long.”
Manchester City’s title defense was dealt a potentially decisive blow in a 1-0 loss at Sunderland on Dec. 26, and Norwich has been beaten at home just twice all season.
The champion’s odds of retaining its crown are lengthening by the week, but manager Roberto Mancini says he is not fazed by his side’s seven-point deficit.
“It hasn’t changed. At this moment, United are better than us, they are at the top, but we have time to recover,” said the Italian.
“We need to resolve our problems before and after, maybe we can win. It’s no problem, seven points.
“That’s not important. We know United are a fantastic team and probably they will win every game, but the season is long and it is not important if it is six or seven or four points.”
City’s setback enabled Chelsea to close to within four points of second place by winning 1-0 at Norwich and Rafael Benitez’s side, 8-0 victor over Aston Villa in its previous game, also has a game in hand.
On Dec. 30, last season’s Champions League winner visits fifth-place Everton, one of three teams in the table on 33 points, along with Tottenham Hotspur and West Brom.
Arsenal falls behind
Arsenal lost ground in the battle for a top-four finish, and Champions League qualification, after its midweek game with West Ham United was cancelled due to a strike on the London Underground transport network.
The Gunners have therefore benefited from an unexpected period of rest at a time when their rivals’ resources have been stretched, but midfielder Jack Wilshere says his teammates will have to switch on quickly when they return to action at home to Newcastle on Dec. 29.
“It’s a tough game against Newcastle,” he said.
“They need the points, they’re not in a good run of form and they’ll want to prove something, but we want to keep this momentum going.”
Queens Park Rangers, who returned to the foot of the table after losing at home to West Brom, hosts Liverpool on Dec. 30, while second-bottom Reading tackles West Ham on Dec. 29 and third-bottom Wigan Athletic is at Villa.