Soccer-Man Utd out to put a spoke in Man City's title charge

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Fulham - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - February 24, 2024 Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes reacts REUTERS/Carl Recine/ File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United have the opportunity to knock Manchester City off their perch when they travel to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday even if they will not be the main beneficiaries of a surprise Premier League win.

United's new minority owner Jim Ratcliffe laid out his plans to return the 20-time English champions to the summit when he completed his acquisition of 27% of the club's shares this month, including re-establishing the pecking order in the city.

With 15 points separating second-placed City to sixth-placed United, that ambition might take a while to come to fruition.

United are a long way from a gripping three-way title race also featuring leaders Liverpool and Arsenal, but would take immense satisfaction at denting City's hopes of winning a record fourth successive Premier League crown.

City, who are one point behind Liverpool and one ahead of Arsenal with 12 games left, are unbeaten in their last 18 games in all competitions and warmed up for the derby with a 6-2 FA Cup win at Luton Town in which Erling Haaland scored five times.

United also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in midweek and were in a decent run of league form themselves until a 2-1 home defeat by Fulham last weekend.

"We are also on a good run, the spirit is very good," manager Erik Ten Hag said on Thursday. "We have done it before against City, also against Liverpool. We will prepare well. The players are looking forward to it. I can smell it. I'm excited."

United were humiliated 6-3 in the fixture last season but won the home match, although they also lost to Pep Guardiola's side in the FA Cup final with City going on to match United's 1999 feat by completing a treble.

City, who also won 3-0 at Old Trafford in October, are in ominous form, but Ten Hag says his side can halt their charge.

"We need a great day," he said. "We like the challenge and we are looking forward to challenge with them. We know we have to give everything and show a team performance, if we want to get the result. But if you do it, it is possible."

Liverpool have the advantage of playing first at the weekend with a trip to struggling Nottingham Forest on Saturday, while Arsenal go to bottom club Sheffield United on Monday.

Juergen Klopp's Liverpool have been decimated by injuries to key players but have maintained the momentum with their League Cup final win over Chelsea last weekend and a victory over Southampton in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday -- both of which highlighted the Anfield youth production line.

Free-scoring Arsenal, meanwhile, will be eyeing another chance to boost their goal difference against a Sheffield United side who have conceded 66 league goals this season.

The battle for Champions League qualification continues with fourth-placed Aston Villa away to Luton Town on Saturday and Tottenham Hotspur, who are five points behind with a game in hand, hosting Crystal Palace.

At the bottom, Everton will seek to crown a good week in which they had four points of their 10-point penalty for breaking financial rules returned on appeal.

Victory at home to West Ham United could lift them eight points clear of 18th-placed Luton.

"Adding on the points going back, and then adding a win on that against West Ham, then it'll be a very good week," manager Sean Dyche said. "We got four back, the league table looks different, now it's about using that wisely and stepping on."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

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