Liverpool can eliminate one of their two rivals from the Premier League title race by beating Chelsea on Sunday and the way the dice is rolling for them they might even have one hand on the trophy by the end of the weekend. If Brendan Rodgers’s side overcome second-placed Chelsea at Anfield and notch a 12th consecutive league win it would knock Jose Mourinho’s side out of the reckoning and should Manchester City then fail to beat Crystal Palace a little later a first title for 24 years would be almost assured.
‘If’ is a notoriously fickle word in the often unpredictable Premier League, but Liverpool have built up a seemingly inexhaustible head of steam and with Chelsea having one eye on next week’s Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid the omens look good for the Anfield club. What is more, City are up against a Palace side on a five-game winning spin that has lifted the threat of relegation — a run that includes wins over Chelsea and Everton.
With Chelsea having drawn 0-0 in Madrid on Tuesday but suffering injuries to keeper Petr Cech and skipper John Terry, Mourinho has made no secret of the fact that the Champions League has now taken precedence over the domestic title scrap. While the Portuguese, known for his mind games, has not actually conceded the title, he has said he wants to send out a weakened side at Anfield on Sunday despite knowing victory there would put them within touching distance of Liverpool with two games remaining.
“I know what I would do, but I’m not the club. I have to speak with the club,” Mourinho said after the Atletico draw. “I would play with the players that are not going to play Wednesday.”
Having been deprived of striker Samuel Eto’o and Eden Hazard for the first leg in Madrid, Mourinho would be loathed to risk them against Liverpool and with Cech and Terry sidelined his starting line-up will likely have an unfamiliar look on Sunday.
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Whatever distractions Chelsea have, however, Liverpool will be acutely aware that they have a poor record against the west London club with Mourinho in charge. The Portuguese has won six and lost just once in eight league meetings with Liverpool.
Rodgers has steadfastly refused to get caught up in title talk but should the best case scenario occur on Sunday his side would be nine points ahead of City who would only have three games left to play, compared to Liverpool’s two. The Northern Irishman’s calm assurance, aligned with skipper Steven Gerrard’s influential displays at the heart of midfield and Luis Suarez’s goals have underpinned Liverpool’s march.
Results have also gone their way with bottom club Sunderland taking points off Chelsea and Man City, but keeper Simon Mignolet stressed it also showed the dangers that lurk at every turn.
“Three points was all that mattered at Norwich (in their last game),” Mignolet told Liverpool’s website. “Before the game the manager told us that Chelsea’s defeat (against Sunderland) was a warning sign — that it showed what can happen in the Premier League against any team.
“We’ve seen with the points Chelsea and City have dropped recently that every single game in this league is tough. There are no signs of nerves. There is no point making ourselves nervous.”
After playing Chelsea, Liverpool visit Palace and finish at home to Newcastle United. City’s game in hand next week is away to Champions League chasing Everton before home matches against lowly Aston Villa and West Ham United. While City battle to keep alive their title hopes, outgoing Manchester United will aim to end a tumultuous week with victory over relegation-haunted Norwich in what will be Ryan Giggs’s debut as manager.
Shackles are off
The evergreen Welshman, who could even name himself in the side, was put in charge for the final four games of the season following Tuesday’s sacking of David Moyes. Norwich, who are one place above the drop zone, could probably not have picked a worse time to visit Old Trafford where a backlash is expected now the shackles are off in the wake of Moyes’s troubled 10-month reign.
‘Give fans something to shout about’
MANCHESTER: Ryan Giggs is starting his stint as interim Manchester United manager by urging his players to entertain the fans who have endured a miserable season.
The 40-year-old midfielder was put in charge on Tuesday when David Moyes’ reign ended after 10 months with the defending champions in seventh place in the Premier League.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his temporary appointment, Giggs provided an insight into what he has told the squad ahead of Saturday’s match against Norwich at Old Trafford.
“I trust you and I know what you’re capable of and go out there and show it on Saturday and give the fans something to shout about,” Giggs said Friday. “Entertain them, score goals, make tackles, play with speed, play with tempo.”
Giggs is only expected to manage the team for the remaining four matches of the season before a more experienced successor to Moyes is appointed.
“It has been a difficult week for the club and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind week for me but one I’ve enjoyed,” Giggs said. “It has been different, chaotic and I’ve been getting a little taste.”
Giggs came through the youth ranks at Old Trafford and was part of the famed “Class of 92” youth team that helped contribute to so much of the club’s success.
“I’ve had to take a bit of stick (from the players),” Giggs said. “Things like, ‘Where are you going to park? What do we call you?’
“The players have been great and the reaction in training has been sharp. I’ve just tried to make things relaxed and for everyone to enjoy themselves … let’s have a good end to what has been a frustrating and disappointing season.”
The club’s most decorated player, who has made 962 appearances, is still in the squad and could pick himself to play against Norwich.
“I’ve just given myself a five-year contract,” Giggs joked. “I haven’t done much this week but am still involved as a player as well.”
Giggs is being assisted by former teammates Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes as he tries to stabilise a team in turmoil.
“It’s the proudest moment of my life,” Giggs said. “I’ve supported Manchester United all my life. I’m proud, happy, a little nervous but just like I am as a player I can’t wait for the game on Saturday.”