No domestic respite for Manchester duo
London: If the Manchester clubs were hoping for simple-looking Premier League games to ease themselves back into domestic action after Champions League woes, the duo have failed to strike it lucky with tricky matches awaiting the top two.
Leaders Manchester City, beaten at Napoli on Tuesday to leave their European adventure out of their hands, on Sunday (1600) travel to a Liverpool side who are on cloud nine after a 2-1 win at Chelsea last time out re-energised their top-four push.
Wayne Rooney is a doubt for Saturday when Manchester United host Newcastle United (1500), who have the joint-meanest defence this term and were unbeaten in the top-flight before last weekend`s loss to City.
United, five points behind City after 12 games, gave away two sloppy goals in Tuesday`s 2-2 home Champions League draw with Benfica which meant Alex Ferguson`s men need a draw in their final group game in Basel to reach the last 16.
One positive from the match for United was striker Dimitar Berbatov scoring after making a rare start with Rooney ruled out due to a hip problem.
If the England striker has not recovered to face Newcastle, who challenged United for the league title twice in the 1990s, Berbatov could be called into action again for the champions.
"There`s always a goal in Dimi, always the ability to turn a game. He`s always in my thoughts," Ferguson told reporters despite the Bulgarian being largely a substitute this term after last season`s emergence of Javier Hernandez.
Centre back Nemanja Vidic, suspended against Benfica, will return to add steel to a flimsy-looking back four as United aim to negate a largely unheralded yet effective Newcastle front line which has helped Alan Pardew`s side into fourth.
Phil Jones could make way or shift to right back following his early own goal on Tuesday while goalkeeper David De Gea was mentioned by Ferguson as making a mistake with his clearance for Benfica`s second goal.
City also showed defensive frailties at Napoli and Roberto Mancini is likely to continue his rotation policy at Anfield with record signing Sergio Aguero itching to come back into the starting lineup to partner in-form Mario Balotelli.
Liverpool also found their form in a battling display at Stamford Bridge last weekend but the counter-attacking verve which marked that win will be difficult to replicate at home --albeit against the league leaders.
Inflicting a first league defeat of the season on City would be no mean feat but the Anfield atmosphere and Liverpool players being on their toes given a big competition for places could be major factors.
"The squad is stronger this year and I think the weekend proved that. If you look at the bench, it was very strong," Liverpool assistant Steve Clarke told Liverpoolfc.tv with his sixth-placed side level with Chelsea and Arsenal on 22 points.
"What you try to create at a club like Liverpool is competition for places. Everybody has that competition for their place now, it can only be helpful for the group going forward."
Chelsea welcome struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday (1500) with the perfect chance to end a run of three league defeats in four and the last-gasp Champions League loss to Bayer Leverkusen which have put manager Andre-Villas Boas under pressure.
Tottenham Hotspur, in third, travel to West Bromwich Albion (1500).