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City, Gunners look to close leader gap
Published on: Saturday, February 24, 2024
By: AFP
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City, Gunners look to close leader gap
Chelsea defender Levi Colwill fights for the ball with Manchester City striker Erling Haaland during their English Premier League football match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
LONDON: With Liverpool in League Cup final action against Chelsea on Sunday, the chasing pack have a chance to close the gap on the Premier League leaders.

Manchester City can move within one point of Jurgen Klopp’s team if they win their game in hand at Bournemouth, while Arsenal must beat Newcastle to stay in touch with the title pacesetters.

AFP Sport looks at three talking points ahead of this weekend’s action:

Arsenal cannot afford hangover

Declan Rice has urged Arsenal to use the frustration from their surprise Champions League last-16 first-leg loss at Porto to fuel their bid for Premier League glory.

The Gunners returned from Portugal empty-handed after Galeno’s stoppage-time strike gave the hosts a 1-0 victory on Wednesday.

While the disappointment will linger until the second leg on March 12, England midfielder Rice knows Arsenal cannot afford a Champions League hangover.

Mikel Arteta’s third-placed side will be just two points behind Liverpool if they beat Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, but a defeat would be a major blow to their bid for a first title since 2004.

“Look, we have lost games this year and drawn games, and I have seen the changing room after and it’s been really bad,” said Rice, whose side have won their past five league games.

“We have just lost (to Porto) but there is a real positivity around the group at the minute.

“We have had such a good start to 2024, I think we take the positives from this game, but also see where we can improve.”

‘No worries’ for Man City over Haaland

Manchester City have no concerns over Erling Haaland’s form, according to the Norway striker’s close friend and team-mate Oscar Bobb.

After scoring in just one of his previous seven matches—two goals against Everton—Haaland silenced his critics with a priceless winner against Brentford on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old broke Brentford’s stubborn resistance in the second half at the Etihad Stadium with his 22nd goal in all competitions this season.

That kept City hot on Liverpool’s heels in their chase for an unprecedented fourth successive Premier League crown.

To make history, City boss Pep Guardiola will need Haaland at his sparkling best, but he fell below his own stellar standards when he missed several clear-cut chances in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea.

However, Norwegian winger Bobb said there had never been any angst in the camp regarding Haaland, who has been mourning the death of his grandmother.

“There’s no real worries. When you have the quality he has, it is just about getting to the right spots,” Bobb said ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth.

“As long as he gets in those situations, if he misses a few one game it’s not like he’s going to start missing all his chances.”

Man Utd start Ratcliffe era

After Jim Ratcliffe finally completed his purchase of a 25 percent stake in Manchester United this week, the British billionaire boldly declared his desire to knock Liverpool and Manchester City off their perch.

Having spent the past decade in the shadow of their two bitter rivals, Ratcliffe, who will take control of football operations from majority owners the Glazer family, knows that repackaging an old line from United’s former boss Alex Ferguson will play well with a disgruntled fanbase.

But even Ratcliffe, 71, acknowledged it will take time to put United in position for a first title since 2013.

For now, Erik ten Hag’s side have the more modest goal of trying to salvage a troubled campaign by qualifying for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish.

United, currently five points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa, have little margin for error as Fulham visit Old Trafford on Saturday to officially kick off the Ratcliffe era.

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