United face Norwich with Madrid in mind

The league leaders must decide whether to go for a 15-point lead or save themselves for Real

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 5:23am


Manchester United must weigh the prospect of a 15-point Premier League lead against the importance of next week's Champions League clash with Real Madrid when they entertain Norwich City today.

United go into the weekend with a 12-point advantage in the league with second-place Manchester City not in action until their trip to Aston Villa on Monday.

However, with such a commanding points cushion beneath them, the priority is likely to be Tuesday's encounter with Madrid, which United will approach in a strong position following a 1-1 draw in the first leg.

Alex Ferguson's team selection for the Norwich game is likely to reflect the importance of the European tie and the United manager is expected to make several changes to his starting XI.

But with Robin van Persie sidelined by the hip injury he sustained in last weekend's 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers, Wayne Rooney looks likely to be handed a starting berth in attack.

Whether he starts on the pitch or on the bench, Ryan Giggs stands to make his 1,000th appearance in senior football.

With the title race seemingly a foregone conclusion, the keenly contested battle to secure Champions League qualification can expect to garner an increasing share of the headlines.

City's 2-0 defeat of Chelsea on Sunday gave them five points' breathing space in second place, while the Blues now find themselves in fourth place after being leapfrogged by in-form Tottenham Hotspur.

Fifth-place Arsenal, who visit derby rivals Tottenham tomorrow, now trail Chelsea by only two points, while Everton are five points farther back in sixth.

Chelsea welcome West Bromwich Albion to Stamford Bridge today, when attention is sure to focus on home manager Rafael Benitez after he criticised the fans for their continued protests against him.

With Chelsea having picked up just 11 points from a possible 24 in the league, winger Victor Moses says his side cannot afford to take their eye off the ball against a West Brom team chasing a third consecutive win.

"We've got an important game coming up on Saturday," said the Nigerian.

"We're looking forward to it but it's not going to be an easy game, so we need to make sure we get three points."

Everton will also hope to make ground on the teams above them when they host struggling Reading, who slipped to second from bottom in the table after a chastening 3-0 defeat at home by Wigan Athletic last weekend.

Wigan's win took them out of the relegation zone at Villa's expense and ahead of today's game with Liverpool, captain Gary Caldwell has urged the club's supporters to re-create the atmosphere that helped them escape the drop in 2012.

Bottom side QPR visit Southampton, who are three points above the relegation zone.