Champions League return on horizon for Man United
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The reversal in fortunes of England’s two most successful clubs could be underlined this weekend as Manchester United looks to secure a return to the Champions League and end Liverpool’s brief stay in Europe’s top competition.
A turbulent first season at United for Louis van Gaal is ending with a late-season wobble, with the team losing three straight league games for the first time in 14 years. But beating Crystal Palace on Saturday could still seal a top-four finish for United, if Liverpool loses at newly crowned champion Chelsea on Sunday.
Regaining its Champions League status is crucial for United, both financially and in terms of the prestige it brings to the club. A year out of Europe’s elite hasn’t harmed its pulling power — United still managed to lure Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao last summer — but a continued exile may start making the world’s biggest stars think twice about moving to Old Trafford.
Liverpool, though, hasn’t the same revenues and may find it harder to quickly bounce back. Dropping out of the Champions League will be a major blow to manager Brendan Rodgers’ hopes of building a team capable to challenging for a first English league title since 1990. Keeping hold of its top names, like Raheem Sterling, may also prove difficult without the attraction of the Champions League.
Much depends on this weekend’s games as United then finishes with a tough home match against Arsenal and a trip to a Hull side that is fighting for survival. Liverpool is four points behind fourth-place United.
“It’s not over yet,” Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana said. “We can still finish in the top four but we need to take maximum points now. United have some tough games to play and I am sure they will drop more points.”
Liverpool will give Chelsea’s players a guard of honor before the match, a week after Jose Mourinho’s team clinched the title with three games spare.
Here are some more things to know about the upcoming round in the Premier League:
Jose Mourinho may already be planning for next season, but his Chelsea team has a few loose ends to tie up first.
By winning its last three games, Chelsea can reach 92 points, which would be the second-highest total in the 23-year history of the Premier League — and only three off the record set by Mourinho’s Chelsea team from 2004-05.
The Blues have an unbeaten home record to protect and Diego Costa is still in contention to finish as the league’s top scorer in his first season in England. The Spain striker is on 19 goals and three behind Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.
Potentially, however, Costa may not be risked for the final games to allow him to fully recover from his nagging hamstring problems that have sidelined him since April 4.
Mourinho has been content in the past to make personnel changes once the championship is secured, and there’s a possibility that some ever-presents like Eden Hazard, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic will be rested.
Newcastle is in a mess and could yet be relegated to cap a thoroughly disappointing season for a club that never seems far from imploding.
The team has lost a club-record eight league games in a row to drop within two points of third-from-last Sunderland, which has a game in hand. The relationship between temporary manager John Carver and the players also may have been fractured after Carver claimed defender Mike Williamson deliberately got himself sent off in Saturday’s humiliating 3-0 loss at relegation rival Leicester.
With fans also angry at owner Mike Ashley’s lack of ambition and investment, Newcastle is in turmoil ahead of Saturday’s home match against West Bromwich Albion. There have even been reports that the club tried to bring in former England manager Steve McClaren, currently in charge of second-tier Derby, for its final three games.
“I would like to make a call to all fans . to leave aside all differences, all different opinions, anything that divides us as people who love this club,” Newcastle captain Fabricio Coloccini wrote in an open letter. “Neither players nor staff would like to be in the position that we are in at the moment.”
Burnley and Queens Park Rangers will be relegated this weekend if they lose away games at Hull and Manchester City, respectively. Draws might not be enough to stay in the top division either.
Many have already written them off, leaving one of five teams to join them. Sunderland, on 33 points, occupies the final relegation spot and plays Everton away on Saturday. Hull and Leicester are on 34, and Aston Villa and Newcastle have 35.