Sat, Feb 09, 2013 - Page 18 News List

United’s distractions give City hope

NINE-POINT GAP:Manchester United face a two-legged tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League and City will be hoping they take their eye off the ball in the title race

AFP, LONDON

Christopher Samba of Queens Park Rangers, left, clears the ball in front of Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan in their Premier League match in London, England, last Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Manchester City hope to capitalize on Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League distractions by relaunching the defense of their Premier League title, starting with today’s trip to Southampton.

City’s 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool last weekend enabled United to stretch their advantage at the top of the table to nine points, with only 13 games of the season remaining.

However, while United will have half an eye on Wednesday’s trip to Real Madrid when they host Everton tomorrow, City’s own failure in the Champions League means their agenda is free of European commitments.

Aside from a home game against second-tier Leeds United in the FA Cup on Feb. 17, City can therefore channel all their resources into the pursuit of United.

Ivory Coast’s quarter-final exit at the Africa Cup of Nations means that City manager Roberto Mancini will have both Yaya and Kolo Toure at his disposal for today’s visit to the English south coast.

Yaya Toure played a key role in last season’s drive to the title, when City came from eight points behind to pip United on the final day, and he says the experience of the 2011-2012 campaign proves it is too early to abandon hope.

“We are further behind than we’d like, of course, but all we need to do is think about last season to know what is possible,” the midfielder told the club’s Web site. “Anything can happen. We have a full squad of fantastic players and I think the most important thing is we are all back together. United have a strong squad and on paper they have an easier run-in than we do, but the title race is a long way from finished.”

Everton’s last visit to Old Trafford, in April last year, saw them come back from 4-2 down to force a 4-4 draw that played a pivotal role in tilting the momentum of the title race in City’s favor.

As well as a two-legged tie with Real Madrid in the Champions League round-of-16, United are also scheduled to face Reading in the FA Cup, but manager Alex Ferguson is happy with the depth in his squad.

Ferguson told Inside United magazine: “We’ve got players back from injury, which is important, and I usually find that during the second half of the season when the big games come along, everyone is fit.”

The contest for third place took an intriguing turn last weekend, with Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle United enabling Tottenham Hotspur to close the gap on them to just a single point.

Spurs host improving Newcastle United today at lunchtime and with Chelsea playing at home to Wigan Athletic later in the afternoon, victory for Tottenham would provisionally take them above their London rivals.

In another part of the capital, bottom club Queens Park Rangers are running out of time to close the six-point divide that currently separates them from safety.

Ahead of QPR’s visit to League Cup finalists Swansea City today, new signing Christopher Samba said he saw encouraging signs in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Norwich City.

“I thought we did enough to win and we were unfortunate not to, as we could have had three points. That will come, hopefully against Swansea this Saturday,” the former Blackburn Rovers centerback told the club’s Web site. “We played very well overall, though, and I have seen we have enough to remain in this league for myself now.”

With nearest rivals Wigan, Reading and Southampton all facing sides in the top half of the table, second-bottom Aston Villa could make up ground in the fight for survival by defeating West Ham United tomorrow.

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