LONDON, England, November 26 – Several of England’s leading clubs will look to banish the memory of a disappointing week in the Champions League by getting back on the victory trail in the Premier League this weekend.
Manchester City may be five points clear at the top of the domestic table heading into this weekend’s matches but their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knockout phase were dealt a huge blow by a 2-1 loss to Napoli.
Before Roberto Mancini’s side go in search of a reviving win at Liverpool on Sunday, cross-town rivals and Premier League champions Manchester United will be on the lookout for a pick-me-up at home to Newcastle on Saturday.
By surrendering a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Benfica at Old Trafford, United left themselves needing to avoid defeat in their final group match at FC Basel next month to be sure of qualifying for the knockout phase.
But if they beat a resurgent Newcastle they will, at least, close the gap on City to two points.
“People can look at the season and criticise and maybe we are not in the position we would like,” said United midfielder Darren Fletcher.
“We had one disastrous result in the league against Manchester City (a 6-1 derby defeat) and a couple of draws in the Champions League but overall it has been a solid start.
“As the season goes on, we will be looking to progress, as we always do.”
No-one, though, is more in need of a domestic tonic after a poor Champions League result than Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Wednesday’s 2-1 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen followed back-to-back home league defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal.
Chelsea are now 12 points behind City and with Blues owner Roman Abramovich notorious for sacking under-performing managers, many feel the 34-year-old Portuguese’s days with the Londoners could already be numbered.
Failure to take maximum points on Saturday against a Wolves side who have struggled away from home this season will only intensify the pressure on Villas-Boas but the Chelsea boss is well aware of what his side need from him. “They expect the manager to inspire them,” he said. “That’s my job: to motivate and inspire these people to change our faith.
“The talent is immense; the work is good. The responsibility is mine.”
Villas-Boas found a supporter in Wolves’ Mick McCarthy, who cited Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger as an example of what can happen to a good manager given time.
Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat of Borussia Dortmund means the Gunners are the only English club already assured of a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League and Wolves boss McCarthy said: “Look what Villas-Boas achieved in Portugal. You don’t achieve that unless you are good.
“Some people wrote off Arsenal and Arsene Wenger eight games ago and how ridiculous does that look now? They are now the only English team guaranteed to progress in the Champions League.”
Arsenal, who won just once in their opening five games, are at home to London rivals Fulham.
Saturday’s other fixtures see basement club Wigan travel to a Sunderland side who are only two points above the relegation zone themselves while Bolton, who are in the bottom three, welcome Lancashire rivals Everton to the Reebok.
Third-placed Tottenham travel to West Brom, while two promoted clubs in Norwich and QPR meet at Carrow Road.
Elsewhere, Stoke face second-bottom Blackburn Rovers.
Sunday sees Swansea at home to Aston Villa in a match where a win for the Welsh club will put them above their visitors in the table.
Fixtures (6pm Kenyan time unless otherwise stated)
Stoke v Blackburn (3:45pm), Arsenal v Fulham, Bolton v Everton, Chelsea v Wolves, Man Utd v Newcastle, Norwich v QPR, Sunderland v Wigan, West Brom v Tottenham
Swansea v Aston Villa (4:00pm), Liverpool v Man City (7pm)