Man United already playing catch-up game

LONDON: Manchester United could be lagging five points behind Chelsea in the Premier League by tonight.

No wonder Alex Ferguson doesn’t relish Monday’s match at Portsmouth, where his team have not won in 30 months, with even more daunting trips to Liverpool and Chelsea up next.

“We’ve got difficult away games,” Ferguson said on Friday. “It’s never easy at Fratton Park. Teams go down there and know they’re going to get a battle – it’s never an easy place to go to.”

Ravaged by injuries, the Red Devils were lacking sharpness and the finesse that delivered European and English tiles in May as they were held 1-1 by Newcastle at home in the season opener. Chelsea, meanwhile, looked far more impressive in dispatching Portsmouth 4-0 at Stamford Bridge, and has an easier visit to Wigan today.

While Carlos Tevez has returned after his uncle’s death, Ferguson is still no closer to signing another striker before the transfer deadline closes on Sept 1. Cristiano Ronaldo was jogging on Friday morning, but won’t return to action until October.

Midfielder Michael Carrick is also out for three weeks after limping out of the season opener.

“By the time we get to Liverpool and Chelsea we’ll be in a far better position, player-wise and hopefully form-wise too,” Ferguson said. “But Monday’s a big one for us, we get that one out of the road, get a result there and it’s a positive step forward, given the players who are all coming back.”

Pompey also knocked United out of the FA Cup last season at Old Trafford.

After scraping past Sunderland, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is looking for a more emphatic performance against Middlesbrough today.

“We know we can improve, but we have players in the Olympic Games and players returning late,” Benitez said. “Maybe the game wasn’t the best but we can improve clearly.”

Ryan Babel has returned from Beijing, but Javier Mascherano and Lucas won’t be back until next week.

If Fernando Torres, who netted the winner at Middlesbrough, can find the net for a ninth successive home league match, the Spain striker will break a record set by Roger Hunt in the 1961-62 season.

“We hope Fernando can create his piece of club history, and then maybe more in the future,” Benitez said on Friday.

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