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    Mar 2009
    Lonley Planet


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    Hampered by injury absentees and a humiliating FA Cup exit, Manchester United faces a tricky match at Birmingham in the Premier League on Saturday.

    The cup loss to third-tier Leeds capped a patchy first half of the season for United, which remains second in the standings in its bid for a fourth straight Premier League title.

    United's dip in form is reflected in its last 11 league results, compared with those of newly promoted Birmingham. Both sides have won seven, but while United has lost four, Birmingham is unbeaten after four draws heading into the match (Setanta Sports Canada, 12:30 p.m. ET).

    Injuries are adding to United's problems, with Nemanja Vidic being ruled out for 10 days after tweaking a nerve in his leg and joining fellow centre back Rio Ferdinand on the sidelines.

    Manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists there are funds available for reinforcements, but says he won't rush to make any signings in the January transfer window.

    "I can't see any real diamonds," Ferguson said Friday. "We've got the money -- there's no question about that. I just don't see that player that can make a difference to us in terms of value and availability."

    Midfielder Ryan Giggs, a veteran of every Premier League campaign, remains confident United can lift a 19th English title, with United just two points behind leader Chelsea.

    "It has always been the same. One defeat and it is a disaster. That is never going to change," Giggs said. "But we don't get carried away with that, just the same as we wouldn't get carried away if we had won 10 on the bounce.

    "It is up to us to work hard and get back to winning ways because we are still in a strong position."

    For its part, Birmingham can make club history Saturday by going 12 matches undefeated.

    "It's always nice to break a record but at the end of the day we know at some stage we will lose a match," said manager Alex McLeish, whose eighth-place side is just three points behind the European places.

    The match at St. Andrew's is set to survive Britain's coldest conditions for more than 30 years. But three other Saturday fixtures have fallen victim to the weather -- Fulham versus Portsmouth, Burnley versus Stoke and Sunderland versus Bolton -- while Liverpool has asked the league to postpone Sunday's Anfield clash with fourth-place Tottenham (The Score, 11 a.m. ET).

    Chelsea begins a run of league matches at Hull on Saturday (Setanta Sports Canada, 7:45 a.m. ET) without four key African players. Top scorer Didier Drogba, along with fellow striker Salomon Kalou and midfielders Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi, will be absent for much of this month because of the African Cup of Nations.

    Manager Carlo Ancelotti believes Nicolas Anelka, who has recovered from a hamstring injury, and 20-year-old forward Daniel Sturridge can help fill the void left by Drogba and Kalou.

    "Anelka is a very important player for us," Ancelotti said. "He has shown he can play with Didier in attack and without him. He played the first three games in the Champions League without Didier and he did very well for us."

    Arsenal had to call off its match against Bolton on Wednesday, but remains hopeful that Emirates Stadium can host Everton (Setanta Sports Canada, 10 a.m. ET). Arsenal, which thrashed the Merseyside club 6-1 on the opening day of the season, is four points behind Chelsea with a game in hand but will be without injured captain Cesc Fabregas.

    Everton striker Landon Donovan could make the first appearance of his 10-week loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy.

    "He has had a month's holiday off the back-end of their season and to put him back in after five days' training is not really the right thing to do, but the needs are at this present time that we might need to do that," manager David Moyes said.

    "It will be very difficult for any player coming from another country to deliver straight away but hopefully he can help us in some of the cups and the league. If it doesn't work for him then at least we've given it a go and tried it."

    In Saturday's other scheduled match, sixth-place Aston Villa is at Wigan (Rogers Sportsnet, 10 a.m. ET), while relegation-threatened sides West Ham and Wolverhampton are due to meet at Upton Park on Sunday (Setanta Sports Canada, 8:30 a.m. ET).

    Patrick Vieira could make his Manchester City debut on Monday against Blackburn (Setanta Sports Canada, 3 p.m. ET) after the France midfielder joined the fifth-place club in an initial six-month deal on Friday.



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