Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Ronaldo returns to boost United's title aspirations

AFP , LONDON

Cristiano Ronaldo's return from suspension should provide Manchester United with a badly needed injection of firepower for a testing trip to Everton today.

Sir Alex Ferguson's champions have started the defense of their Premier League title sluggishly and have found goals hard to come by in the opening month of the season.

But club captain Gary Neville believes that, with Louis Saha having returned from injury with a goal against Sunderland two weeks ago, Ronaldo free to play once more and Wayne Rooney's return imminent, normal service is about to be resumed from the Old Trafford forward ranks.

"Carlos Tevez has been up there on his own. He's come over from the Copa America and been thrown in at the deep end," said Neville, who is nearing his own return from injury but is unlikely to feature at Goodison Park, where Rooney could be on the bench against his former club. "It's been difficult for us not having three of our forwards available."

Unbeaten Arsenal and Liverpool already have a two-point advantage and a game in hand on United.

With only Liverpool and Arsenal ahead of them in the table, Everton have started the season looking the most likely candidate to break into the top four.

But David Moyes's side may have to do without former United goalkeeper Tim Howard, who has been in superb form but dislocated a finger in the US' friendly defeat by Brazil last weekend.

Liverpool and Arsenal both face testing encounters at the end of a week in which most of their squads have been on international duty.

Arsene Wenger will be hoping to celebrate his ?4 million-a-year (US$8.1 million) contract at Arsenal with victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby at White Hart Lane.

In contrast, Martin Jol's grip on his job is looking sufficiently tenuous for him to be concerned that a home defeat today could trigger a dismissal move by a disgruntled board.

It is eight years since Spurs beat their neighbors and Jol knows how much kudos he could gain from delivering a victory this weekend.

"It's not only getting above Arsenal it's beating them," the Dutchman said. "The main thing for us is getting points on the board. We have to change things. We're in a position we don't like and we have to improve on that."

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will take his squad to Portsmouth and the Spaniard is deeply unhappy that a lunchtime kick-off has squeezed his internationals' recovery time.

"The players arrive back on Thursday evening and the only thing you can do with some of them is just to run a little bit and send them home," he said. "For me it's impossible to prepare the team properly, you can prepare small details but to prepare the team physically and mentally for the game will be difficult."

Benitez expects to have Jamie Carragher back in action after a two-match absence caused by a rib injury and was relieved that Steven Gerrard had come through two England matches without aggravating his broken toe.

"He was a hero for England and it had been a very positive week for him and us in that sense," he said.

Chelsea have the most relaxed schedule of last season's top four, an early evening kick-off, but their visitors, Blackburn Rovers, have a habit of making life anything but relaxed for Jose Mourinho's men.

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