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English Premiership

The rivalry continues

LONDON, March 4- Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish will resume their ferocious rivalry on Sunday as Manchester United attempt to reassert their Premier League challenge against Liverpool at Anfield.

Ferguson and Dalglish have been on opposite sides ever since they faced each other in the 1960s while representing Rangers and Celtic respectively, an encounter Dalglish remembers mostly for Ferguson’s flailing elbows.

When Ferguson took over at Manchester United in November 1986 — a few months after Dalglish had led Liverpool to the double — his famously stated aim was to knock the Merseysiders "off their effing perch".

Ferguson however would have to wait seven more years before landing the first League title of his United career; Liverpool under Dalglish added three more during that period, winning their last in 1990.

Fast forward 20 years however, and the fortunes of the two clubs could not be more different.

Two decades of steady decline at Anfield — albeit studded with the odd memorable success in European and domestic cup competitions — have contrasted with United’s rise as the dominant force in English football.

United are now level with Liverpool on 18 league titles — 11 won under Ferguson — and need only one more to edge ahead of their rivals and lay claim to being the most successful club in English football history.

Until this week, league leaders United had looked to be moving serenely towards a coveted 19th league title.

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But Tuesday’s 2-1 reverse against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge has given their nearest rivals a glimmer of hope, and Liverpool can blow the title race wide open on Sunday if they are able to inflict another defeat on Ferguson’s men.

Dalglish however insists that his focus remains his Anfield rebuilding job rather than trying to thwart United’s title challenge.

"We want to help ourselves first," Dalglish said. "If we help ourselves and it hinders somebody else then that’s not our problem, that’s theirs. If we get a result on Sunday it is more helpful to us than it is harmful to them."

Dalglish admitted however that he had never expected United to surpass Liverpool’s haul of league titles when they won their first under Ferguson.

"I never considered they would catch us," he said.

"To their credit they have won a fantastic amount of Championships and it shows how successful they have been.

"But at the end of the day we’ve still got bits we can hang on to. We’ve still won five European Cups."

Dalglish’s first match back in charge at Liverpool was an FA Cup defeat against United at Old Trafford in January, and the Reds boss is looking forward to locking horns with Ferguson again on Sunday.

"I’ve never had a problem with Fergie. I’ve got respect for the job he has done as a manager. I’ve never had a problem," he said.

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The biggest beneficiaries of a Liverpool win on Sunday will be second-placed Arsenal, who can move to within a point of United with victory over Sunderland at the Emirates on Saturday.

Arsenal bounced back from their shock League Cup final defeat to Birmingham with a 5-0 drubbing of Leyton Orient in the FA Cup in midweek, a result that manager Arsene Wenger believes has got the Gunners back on track.

The defeat of Orient was just the response Wenger had been looking for as his side prepare to face Sunderland, Barcelona and Manchester United in quick succession over the coming week.

"We have Sunderland on Saturday, Barcelona on Tuesday and then the quarter-final of the FA Cup. It keeps us well focused," Wenger said.

Wenger insisted also that title challenges from Manchester City, who play Wigan on Saturday, and Chelsea, who face a trip to Blackpool next Monday, could not be discounted.

"I don’t rule Chelsea out, I don’t rule Man City out, because everybody can drop points everywhere," he said.

Fixtures (1500 GMT):

Saturday

Arsenal v Sunderland, Birmingham v West Brom (1245), Bolton v Aston Villa, Fulham v Blackburn, Man City v Wigan (1730), Newcastle v Everton, West Ham v Stoke.

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Sunday

Liverpool v Man Utd (1330), Wolves v Tottenham (1600)

Monday

Blackpool v Chelsea (2000)

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