Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Reds may challenge Blues

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL Liverpool held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw in the Champions League on Tuesday -- the fourth time this year they've shut out the Blues in Europe. In the league, it's a different matter, with Chelsea beating Liverpool 4-1 in October


Liverpool's Florent Sinama-Pongolle controls the ball in front of Chelsea's John Terry during a Champions League match at the Stamford Bridge in London on Tuesday. The Reds held the Blues to a 1-1 draw.


With Manchester United in disarray and Arsenal fading, Liverpool is shaping up as the main challenger to league leader Chelsea.

Liverpool can overtake Manchester United and move into second place in the Premier League by beating Middlesbrough on Saturday. Rafa Benitez' Reds are on a roll, having shut out Chelsea for the fourth time in European competition on Tuesday for their 10th consecutive clean sheet.

"We are getting increasingly good results against the top sides and emerging as challengers to Chelsea," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. "We feel we are significantly improving in all departments."

Chelsea leads the league with 40 points, followed by Manchester United with 30, Liverpool 28, Tottenham 26 and Arsenal and Bolton 26. Arsenal lost 2-0 to Bolton last weekend, and Thierry Henry missed a penalty in the Gunners' 0-0 Champions League draw with Ajax on Wednesday.

Chelsea plays Wigan at Stamford Bridge today, while Manchester United hosts Everton on Sunday. The Red Devils lost 2-1 to Benfica in Lisbon on Wednesday and were eliminated from the Champions League -- failing to make the knockout stage for the first time in 10 years.

"They are ahead of us in the league for a reason, don't doubt that," Liverpool defender Dietmar Hamann said. "But I feel we are serious challengers now. It is either us or Manchester United. There is only a few points between us."

In today's other games, it's Birmingham versus Fulham, Blackburn versus West Ham, Bolton versus Aston Villa, Charlton versus Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion versus Manchester City and Newcastle versus Arsenal. On Monday, Harry Redknapp takes Portsmouth to Tottenham for his first game since quitting Southampton and rejoining Pompey.

"It was a massive mistake leaving Portsmouth and I am looking forward to starting again," said Redknapp, who left a year ago to join the Saints. "All that matters is staying in the Premiership."

Portsmouth is 18th, five points above last-place Sunderland.

There are two games scheduled Wednesday, with West Ham at Everton and Manchester United hosting Wigan.

Manchester United's loss in Lisbon left the Red Devils last in their group, meaning they failed to even qualify for the UEFA Cup. The future of manager Alex Ferguson -- in charge since 1986 -- is also in doubt.

"I am not going to answer any questions about my future," Ferguson said. "Other people in the media will have plenty to say. I have a job to do, it is a good job and I have every confidence in my players."

United captain Gary Neville, recently returned from three months out with a groin injury, said the club would concentrate on chasing Chelsea in the league.

"We know over the next few days people will criticize us and rightly so because our performances haven't been up to our standards," Neville said. "There will be a lot of disappointment for the next few days but we are training on Friday and Saturday mornings and Sunday's game is a great chance to put it right because the fans will want us to put a show on for them."

In the Football League Championship, leader Reading hosts Brighton and second-place Sheffield United hosts Burnley.

Spanish Preview

Juan Ramon Lopez Caro will be in charge of Real Madrid for the first time in the Spanish league on Sunday when the ailing powerhouse visits Malaga.

Lopez Caro, the reserve team coach who had never been in charge of a topflight side, was described as a temporary appointment when named to replace the fired Vanderlei Luxemburgo last weekend.

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