Meeting of mediocrity as Liverpool hosts Man United in EPL
Rob Harris (Associated Press) - January 14, 2016 - 9:15pm
LONDON — As English football's most successful teams, Manchester United and Liverpool are the mainstays around the summit of the league.
Rivals come and go but United and Liverpool are always to be found among the chasing pack, at least, for the top prize.
No longer.
When the northwest rivals play on Sunday at Anfield it will be a meeting of mediocrity — by their standards.
For the first time in 35 years, the league could finish without either United or Liverpool — who have 38 titles between them — in the top four.
And it's about cash, not just symbolism. Finishing outside the top four would mean missing out on the Champions League next season.
With only one win in eight league matches, record 20-time champion United has dropped to sixth place, two points behind Tottenham in fourth. Liverpool is three points behind United in ninth after failing to achieve the uplift anticipated in the three months since hiring Juergen Klopp as manager.
While United's draws have added to the pressure on Louis van Gaal, Liverpool's scrambled comebacks to rescue points have been celebrated by Klopp and his squad almost like wins — including Wednesday's 3-3 comeback at home to Arsenal.
"There has been a big improvement recently (in our mental strength) and that's very important when you're at a big club," Liverpool defender Kolo Toure said. "You can't ever give up. When you refuse to lose games, you often find yourself winning them.
"It's always important that if you don't win, you don't lose. We showed character and resilience and we didn't give up until the end of the game. It's very important that we keep things going at home."
There's halfway to go in the January transfer window.
Having not signed an outfield player in the summer window, Arsenal recruited midfielder Mohamed Elneny on Thursday from Basel.
Arsenal expects the Egyptian to be registered in time for Sunday's game against Stoke.
"Arsenal is one of those teams that everyone enjoys watching and of course I would love to play for such a great team," he said.
Elneny arrives after winning three consecutive Swiss league titles at Basel, which he joined from El Mokawloon in Egypt.
Arsenal is seeking its first league title since 2004 but is only ahead of surprise contender Leicester at the summit on goal difference.
On Saturday, Arsenal's north London neighbor Tottenham faces Sunderland, which has signed striker Dame N'Doye on loan from Trabzonspor for the rest of the season.
The 30-year-old Senegal international was previously at Hull, scoring five times in 15 appearances before moving to Turkey.
"Having already played in the Premier League, he should have no problems in hitting the ground running, too, which is very important at this stage of the season," Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce said.
After setting a Premier League record for scoring in 11 consecutive games, injury-hit Jamie Vardy has failed to score for a fifth consecutive match.
The 1-0 victory at Tottenham on Wednesday was secured by a rare goal from Robert Huth, on Vardy's first game back from groin surgery.
"It difficult to say (when he was last fit), it's important he continues to play," Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri said ahead of Saturday's game against Aston Villa. "If he doesn't train very well, it's important he keeps going to play. The match is like a training session for him.
"Jamie will start to make training sessions with us, he's getting better."
Bottom of the league and facing relegation, Aston Villa has decided to shake things up in the boardroom.
American owner Randy Lerner will take a back seat in the running of the club after hiring local business executive Steve Hollis as chairman.
"As we have witnessed in the Premier League this year with other clubs, money no longer buys success," Hollis said, in a clear reference to Saturday's opponent, Leicester.
"Randy has consistently provided financial backing no less so than last year. Our future success however lies in building a winning culture that is underpinned by a commitment to continuous improvement both on and off the pitch."
Bournemouth and Norwich — both hovering above the drop zone — play on the south coast on Saturday when ailing champion Chelsea, which is only a place above them in 14th, hosts Everton. Third-place Manchester City faces Crystal Palace, West Ham travels to Newcastle and Southampton takes on West Bromwich Albion. The Monday night game sees Swansea host Watford.

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