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Di Maria vows to fire United to top four finish

Angel di Maria has promised to make up for his spluttering start at Manchester United by firing his side into the Champions League.

Louis van Gaal’s team face Sunderland at Old Trafford on Saturday with the race for a top four finish in the Premier League hotting up.

Fourth placed United are one point ahead of Southampton in fifth place and hope to return to winning ways after seeing a seven-game unbeaten run ended by a 2-1 loss at Swansea in their last outing.

Their bid to return to Europe’s elite club competition after a one-year absence would be significantly boosted if di Maria can finally hit peak form.

The Argentina international has only offered occasional glimpses of his vast talent since a British record £59.7 million ($92 million) move from Real Madrid last year and he told MUTV: “I’ve had a couple of games where things haven’t gone as well as they could have.

“I think it’s part of that settling-in process to the English game.

“I started off quite well but I think that then made expectations rise and everyone thought I would just carry on in the same way.

“But football is like that, sometimes you have these ups and downs. It took me a while to settle fully in each of the countries where I’ve played before.”

Scarred by mid-week Champions League disappointment, Manchester City have a golden opportunity to enhance their title defence when they visit Liverpool on Sunday.

City’s hopes of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time were dealt a sizeable blow on Tuesday when they fell to a 2-1 loss at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

The result seriously compromises their chances of going through and the extent of Barcelona’s first-half dominance will take some forgetting, but Sunday’s return to domestic duties promises much.

With leaders Chelsea not in action due to their participation in Sunday’s League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, a City win at Anfield will lift the defending champions to within two points of the summit.

City then face a kind run of fixtures, against Leicester City, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, at a time when Chelsea, held to a 1-1 draw by Burnley last weekend, have begun to show frailties.

– Draining trip –

Victory at Liverpool, the team City pipped to last season’s title, will not be straightforward, with Brendan Rodgers’ side unbeaten at home since November and on a 10-game unbeaten run in the league.

But Rodgers feels that Liverpool’s draining trip to Istanbul on Thursday, where they lost on penalties following extra-time to Besiktas in the Europa League, could give City an advantage.

“That extra period of 48 hours that City have could be crucial, certainly physically, especially as we will have very little preparation time,” Rodgers said.

“But the players have had lots of challenges to overcome this season and we are ready to keep performing and doing the best we can.”

Liverpool, currently sixth, will recall Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho after he was rested for the trip to Turkey, while Yaya Toure returns for City after missing the Barcelona defeat through suspension.

Another side bidding to overcome European disappointment are Arsenal, who host Everton on Sunday, four days after a demoralising 3-1 home defeat by Monaco in the Champions League.

A run of seven wins in nine games had seen Arsene Wenger’s side climb to third place in the league table, but with their Champions League hopes now hanging by a thread, the club have been plunged into doubt.

“It was a hugely disappointing night, you could feel that after the game in the stands and in the dressing room, but there is still a small chance (to qualify),” said German centre-back Per Mertesacker.

“We still have hope to come back even stronger from that disappointment.”

With just four points separating third-place Arsenal and seventh-place Tottenham, the battle for Champions League qualification is one of the fiercest for several seasons.

Southampton visit West Bromwich Albion, where they will look to re-energise their season following a return of just one win in four matches.

Fixtures

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Burnley v Swansea City, Manchester United v Sunderland, Newcastle United v Aston Villa, Stoke City v Hull City, West Ham United v Crystal Palace (1245 GMT), West Bromwich Albion v Southampton

Sunday:

Arsenal v Everton (1405 GMT), Liverpool v Manchester City (1200 GMT)

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