Premier League

RDM: We must cope without JT

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Sun, 18 Nov 2012 13:48:00

Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping Wayne Rooney will recover from illness to be available for Manchester United's UEFA Champions League game against Galatasaray.

Rooney was not involved in United's surprise 1-0 defeat at Norwich City on Saturday after being laid low by tonsillitis.

He is due to be assessed by United on Sunday and Ferguson is keen to have the striker in his plans for Tuesday's group game in Turkey.

Ferguson said: "We hope he will be in on Sunday - we will see what he is like then.

"If he does [come in] hopefully we can get him ready for Tuesday."

Rooney had already been a doubt for the Red Devils' trip to Carrow Road after being forced to miss England's midweek friendly against Sweden due to an ankle injury suffered in the win at Aston Villa.

United are guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the Champions League after winning their opening four group fixtures and Ferguson is expected to rest several key players against Galatasaray.

The Red Devils were usurped by rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League after the Citizens had earlier romped to a 5-0 home win over Aston Villa.

United never really got out of second gear in Saturday's televised clash against a well-organised Norwich side who are now unbeaten in five Premier League matches since the international break.

Ferguson had opted for Michael Carrick, on his 400th league appearance, and Ryan Giggs in central midfield, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young providing the width.

However, but for a missed kick by Robin van Persie after a beautiful ball into the Norwich box from Giggs and a close-range effort from Young which was well saved by John Ruddy, United created little of note in the first half.

Indeed, after falling behind to a well-taken header from Anthony Pilkington on the hour, the visitors failed to really stretch their hosts - even after the introduction of Paul Scholes and England forward Danny Wellbeck, who replaced the in-effective Javier Hernandez, given a chance as Wayne Rooney was not fit.

Ruddy tipped over a deflected header from Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong in stoppage-time, and then held onto Anderson's low drive.

For Ferguson, though, it was too little too late.

"We were too long in delaying our crosses. We should have got the ball in earlier," Ferguson said on MUTV.

"But we just didn't get into the space behind them, it just didn't happen for us.

"Norwich got plenty of men behind the ball and closed out all of the spaces and we just couldn't get our crosses in."

Despite the obvious disappointment of not being able to extend their five-match winning streak, Ferguson felt Norwich also deserved credit.

"There are times you have to recognise when your opponents have played beyond themselves," he said.

"It was a game in which you have got to give Norwich lots of credit for working so hard. It was a really special effort."

Anders Lindegaard had deputised for David de Gea in goal, after the Spaniard who was troubled by a wisdom tooth extraction, while Rooney was missing because of tonsillitis.

The forward sat out England's midweek friendly in Sweden because of an ankle problem.

United's medical team will now assess Rooney in the run-up to the Champions League Group H trip to Galatasaray.

Ferguson said: "We hope he will be in on Sunday - we will see what he is like then.

"If he does [come in] hopefully we can get him ready for Tuesday."

The Uruguay international produced another scintillating performance in the 3-0 win over Wigan, scoring twice and having a hand in another goal as the Reds recorded only their fourth home win of 2012.

Suarez is now the Premier League's top scorer with 10 goals in 12 matches and while Liverpool still rely heavily on him for their attacking impetus a seven-match unbeaten run has them heading in the right direction.

Brendan Rodgers' side are now only four points behind perennial Champions League qualifiers Arsenal, in sixth, and eight behind surprise package West Brom, currently occupying fourth place.

"Teams are dropping points all over the place," said Carragher.

"We look at it as if we haven't had a great start to the season but winning yesterday we're not too far of the top four, which is where we want to be.

"From our own point of view we want to push on and make a challenge for the top four.

"It seems like if everyone is throwing it away it is still up for grabs."

Carragher came off the bench late on, which gave him chance to appreciate fully Suarez's performance.

His first-time strike from Raheem Sterling's cross was matched only by his cool finish when played through by Jose Enrique, who then clinched the result with his first goal for the club after he followed in the rebound from Sterling's shot.

Carragher rates Suarez as high, if not higher, than the great forwards he has played alongside at Anfield and feels he is irreplaceable.

"I think he is definitely right up there," he told BBC Radio 5 Liver's Sportsweek.

"I can only talk about the players I've played with (Robbie) Fowler, (Michael) Owen, (Fernando) Torres and I think he comes pretty close to that list.

"It's not a great Liverpool side at the moment. The other players I've played with have played in sides that have won trophies and been near the top of the league.

"For him to do what he is doing in a side that is still building under the new manager I wouldn't swap him for anyone in the Premier League.

"I think what he does in our team and what he gives us no other player really could."

Despite Suarez continuing to grab the headlines Rodgers was keen to ensure the praise was spread around the team.

"I thought Raheem was excellent. At 17 years of age he played 86 minutes for England in his first cap during the week and he could probably have played another game he is that fit," said the Reds boss.

"I thought he was well supported by those around him but of course the goalscorer always gets top of the bill.

"I thought Jordan Henderson was outstanding when he came on (in a tactical switch after just 36 minutes).

"I thought we needed to flip our midfield around and I thought he was excellent.

"He has been really patient, he is learning all the time and he has a great part to play in our future going forward."

Rodgers knows he needs to strengthen when the transfer window reopens but hopes by then his current players have put themselves in a position to be able to challenge for the top four.

"I am not going to say we are going to get five or six players in, it doesn't work that way," he added.

"We know it is going to be very difficult this season in terms of transition in the group but we'll get some players in and with the players we have we'll work with them and see where it takes us.

"I am looking forward to pushing on now. Hopefully we will keep a strong squad and see what happens in January then we can have a great second half to the season."

Having lost Ben Watson to a broken leg in a freak clash with Sterling Wigan manager Roberto Martinez also has an injury worry about captain Gary Caldwell.

"He is a concern because he has a little problem with his hamstring but we will get a better diagnosis on Monday," said the Spaniard, who felt the midweek internationals had affected his side.

"I can't wait to get rid of all the distractions of international fixtures and concentrate on the league now until March.

"We can't wait to get back into a normal week and hopefully get the injured players back as quickly as we can."

Walcott further strengthened his negotiating position in his ongoing contract saga by scoring his fifth goal in as many games in Saturday's 5-2 Premier League win at Emirates Stadium.

As well as having been at loggerheads with the Gunners over the value of any new deal, the England star has reportedly demanded assurances from manager Arsene Wenger he would get more opportunities to play as a striker.

And despite being made to wait until the 86th minute to show what he could do in the position, he still managed to rack up his ninth goal of the season.

With Olivier Giroud having continued his own fine scoring run before Walcott was shifted inside from the right wing, his team-mate was prepared to bide his time.

But asked whether he still craved a more central role, Walcott told talkSPORT: "Oh, without a doubt. I've always believed I'm a striker.

"The boss gave me five minutes at the end there and I managed to grab a goal, which is great.

"But when you've got someone like Olivier, who's playing well, there's no need to change a winning team at the moment.

"I think my time will come. I've just got to be a little more patient.

"But, like I say, I want to play up front. That's my position."

Walcott was relaxed about contract talks that threatened to end in an acrimonious split during the last transfer window, while Wenger insisted he was doing everything possible to ensure the former Southampton star did not walk away when his current deal expires next summer.

Wenger has repeatedly failed to convince his biggest names not to quit the club during Arsenal's seven-year trophy drought but Walcott appeared more optimistic about the club's prospects following the derby victory, which lifted them to sixth in the table.

"It's looking bright," he said.

"We've just got to, obviously, not get ahead of ourselves because we need to push on.

"If we don't win our next game, it's going to be a disappointing result."

Arsenal still look an accident waiting to happen at the back but in Walcott, Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and the outstanding Santi Cazorla, they have the ammunition and sharpshooters to fire themselves into the Champions League spots.

Walcott told BBC Sport: "We were very ruthless going forward and it's great to win, especially in the derby, for the fans, for us players as well, because these are the games you do not want to lose.

"But now we've got to show that in every single game."

Cazorla, particularly, looks key to Arsenal's hopes.

Walcott said: "He's on top of the world at the moment.

"His first season in the Premier League, he's an absolute dream to play with.

"I'm on the pitch now with him and the stuff he does is absolutely fantastic to watch.

"I don't know what foot he's best at. He's supplying goals. He just sort of slows the game down when needed.

"You've got him and Jack in the middle and that's definitely going to help our game."

Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski all found the net in what was their first derby and Walcott added: "The foreign guys, they know what it means now."

The outcome yesterday could have been so different but for Emmanuel Adebayor's needless red card while Spurs were winning 1-0, while Arsenal still looked far from comfortable when allowing Gareth Bale to make it 4-2.

Wenger said: "You could see that the confidence was not completely still there.

"I hope this result will help us make a step up on that level.

"When your confidence drops, your game suffers straightaway.

"We have to find stability in our expression and we need more time to work on that but there is something special in the team.

"We are off the top and we have not much time to improve."

City may have benefited from one hugely contentious and pivotal refereeing decision, but by full time there was no doubting their superiority as they reached the summit with a 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa.

After much criticism over performances, reports of disharmony and speculation over various club matters, moving top for the first time this season was highly satisfying for Mancini.

And as he reflected on that feat in the aftermath of the game at the Etihad Stadium, the Italian did not know rivals Manchester United would lose in the evening to ensure they remained there.

Mancini said: "In our mind we found good spirit like last year and with all the problems we've had these two months, for 45 minutes we are on the top and this is very important.

"I think we can improve more. Like I said against Tottenham (last week), I saw the spirit we had last year."

The flair and momentum which carried City to that memorable first title in 44 years last season has certainly not always been evident this term.

But their durability has not been in question and even amid rumours of crisis - fuelled by an admittedly poor showing in the Champions League - they have remained unbeaten in the Premier League.

Their overall unbeaten sequence in the competition now stretches to a club record 18 matches and they have not lost in 36 home league games going back almost two years.

Their latest victory came after assistant referee Adrian Holmes controversially flagged for handball against Andreas Weimann as David Silva swung in a corner early in the second half.

Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot amid much bemusement and protest but Sergio Aguero coolly slotted the penalty to add to Silva's scrambled opener.

Carlos Tevez added a second penalty and the two Argentinians then doubled their tallies as Villa wilted.

City will now hope to carry some momentum into their midweek glamour clash with Real Madrid, even though their Champions League task seems a forlorn one.

After collecting just two points from their first four games, City must beat Real and Borussia Dortmund and hope other results go their way to reach the knockout phase.

Mancini said: "They are two different competitions.

"On Wednesday we play against one of the best teams in the world, with a fantastic history.

"We want to do a good job. I think we have few chances to go through but it is important to do a good job."

Aguero expects City to play like they have nothing to lose.

The 24-year-old, who has now scored four goals in his last three City games, said: "It's a good game. The truth is we have to win so we are going to go out and win however we can.

"We will have to see the other results but in the meantime the important thing is to play how we have been doing and do our best to win."

Another pleasing aspect of the performance for City - whose position was further enhanced by defeat for third-placed Chelsea - was their clean sheet.

The defence, formidable last season, has been under fire this term but they have now shut out opponents in four of their last six league games.

Aguero said: "Scoring goals is good but last season we were champions on goal difference, so it's important that we don't concede and try to score a lot.

"The result I think was very good. We needed to win and now we are calm and in good spirits.

"With Chelsea having lost their match, we are very happy."

After surrendering a two-goal lead to lose to Manchester United last week, defeat was another painful one for Villa.

It left Paul Lambert's young side in the bottom three with just nine points from 12 games and still searching for momentum.

But Villa did have their moments before Silva forced in the opener after 43 minutes and Lambert could not escape the thought the outcome might have been different without the first dubious penalty.

Lambert said: "I have been saying for the last few weeks, the lads are giving it everything they have got.

"In the first half Joe Hart made a world-class save to keep it nothing each.

"We had some chances and coming here is a difficult place.

"City are a top side with some really fantastic players, so take nothing away from them, but I am just disappointed the officials were not strong.

"The lads will be fine, they always have been. They will bounce back strongly."

The Blues boss is set to put more emphasis on making his side hard to beat by changing personnel and formation after the 2-1 defeat at his former club West Brom on Saturday.

Chelsea have now conceded 18 goals in their last eight games in all competitions and collected two points from their last four Premier League matches.

The absence of Terry with a knee injury for three weeks after only just returning from a four game domestic ban has added to their woes ahead of Tuesday's away Champions League clash with Juventus.

Di Matteo said: "Clean sheets certainly give you a chance to win games and we certainly have to improve on that side.

"Defensively we just weren't good enough. Of course we miss John (Terry). He is an important player for us.

"He gives us a lot of confidence at the back and in general to the team.

"It's a shame that he is injured - but we will have to do without him until he comes back - and improve."

Di Matteo added: "It's trying to find the right balance for us, whereby we can still create chances to win games.

"Maybe it's a time where we might have to change a bit in terms of our selections and the way we play but certainly we have to start with paying more attention defensively.

"Against West Brom, the first goal came from a cross and our defenders should have done better in dealing with that cross.

"We also had enough bodies in there to deal with the second goal as well."

At least left-back Ashley Cole should be available in mid-week after appearing on the substitute's bench at the Hawthorns after his hamstring injury denied him a 100th England cap in Sweden.

Di Matteo is also conscious of Chelsea suffering their now accustomed decline in fortunes during November and the need to at least partially address their annual slump.

After the trip to Turin, they entertain league champions Manchester City next weekend and can ill afford to lose if they want to remain realistic title contenders.

He said: "They are two massive games coming up we've got the players with a lot of experience.

"We've been in this position before but, for some reason, November for our club is a bad month and it seems to again be the case this year. we have to try and address that."

Chelsea looked more menacing when Daniel Sturridge was switched to being the main striker after an anonymous contribution from Fernando Torres.

Di Matteo said: "I think we were pushing on and putting West Brom a bit more under pressure.

"Sturridge had at least two very good chances. He showed that he has an impact there."

In Chelsea's defence, Di Matteo was forced into five changes because of gruelling trips back from mid-week internationals particularly for several of his players.

He said: "Players came back from mid-week fatigued and not in the right condition to start the game."

Albion's man of the match Shane Long headed his side in front and, after Eden Hazard's equaliser, turned provider to set up the winning goal for Peter Odemwingie.

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