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Manchester United eye post-Moyes lift Liverpool in title crunch

LONDON, April 25, (AFP): All eyes will be on the Old Trafford dug-out and the Chelsea teamsheet this weekend as Manchester United begin life after David Moyes, while Liverpool aim to move within touching distance of the Premier League title. Ryan Giggs, assisted by three fellow members of United’s famed ‘Class of 92’, will be in temporary charge of the troubled giants when struggling Norwich visit Manchester for the first match following Moyes’ sacking. Then at Anfield on Sunday, leaders Liverpool will wait with bated breath to see if Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho carries out his threat to field a weakened team as the Reds look to move a giant step closer to winning the title for the first time since 1990.

So often at the centre of late-season title drama themselves, United have hogged the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, but their bench will be a different and probably calmer environment without the sight of the strained Moyes growing more pained with each chastening defeat. After only 10 months in charge the beleaguered Scot was put out of his misery on Tuesday, with Old Trafford icon Giggs appointed as interim manager until the end of the season with the intention of lifting flagging spirits.  Giggs, a gloriously successful product of United’s youth academy, symbolises all that was best about Alex Ferguson’s reign and the Welsh midfielder has already instructed his team to “go back to playing like Manchester United” — a call to show more freedom and verve after the dour displays of the ultra-conservative Moyes.

The 40-year-old has surrounded himself with other gilded graduates of United’s youth academy, with Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes all helping their old colleague and if those familiar faces can inspire a win over struggling Norwich it would put smiles back on many faces at Old Trafford. “Saturday is a massive occasion, not only for Ryan, but for the staff, the fans and the players as well because they know that we’ve underachieved as a club this year,” Butt said. “The players in that changing room know how good they are. They look round, look left and look right at the players next to them and know that they are very proud, hard-working lads. I’m sure we’ll see that on Saturday.”

Once United have begun the post-Moyes era the focus will turn to Anfield, where Liverpool are on the verge of returning to their perch at the pinnacle of the English game that Ferguson so relished knocking them from during the 1990s. Brendan Rodgers’ team are five points clear of second placed Chelsea with three games remaining and a victory over Jose Mourinho’s team would eliminate the Blues from the title race. Although this is Chelsea’s last chance to close the gap, Mourinho has apparently opted to prioritise the Champions League, where his injury and suspension ravaged side face Atletico Madrid in the semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

After a goalless draw in Madrid in midweek, the Blues boss believes European glory is more realistic than domestic success and, frustrated by the Premier League’s refusal to move the game to Saturday, he has claimed he is likely to rest several players against Liverpool because he can’t risk further injuries. If Mourinho sacrifices the league it will be major blow to third placed Manchester City, who trail the Reds by six points but have a game in hand and kick-off at Crystal Palace on Sunday just minutes after the Anfield clash finishes.

Whoever Chelsea send out will face a stern examination from a Liverpool in red-hot form after reeling off 11 successive league wins to leave their title rivals trailing in their wake. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 league goals this season, has been key to Liverpool’s charge, but even the Uruguay striker is shocked by his team’s run. “Winning the title would be something that no one would believe,” he told Perform. “Because we have good players but if you look at the complete roster, we don’t have the players to be up there. The truth is that we are surprised ourselves at how well we’re playing. “It would be something amazing because of the investment made by Chelsea, City and Arsenal.” Fourth placed Arsenal host Newcastle on Monday looking to maintain the advantage in the battle to qualify for the Champions League, while fifth placed Everton, currently a point behind the Gunners, travel to Southampton on Saturday.

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