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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Arsene Wenger's hidden gem

Arsenal
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By ESPN Staff

Barry to start with Lamps and Hargreaves out?

Gareth Barry is poised to start back-to-back games for England for the first time in nearly seven years after the withdrawal from the squad of Owen Hargreaves and Frank Lampard ahead of the crunch European Championship qualifier with Russia.

Hargreaves has returned to Manchester United after having his thigh injury assessed by the England medical team yesterday when he also underwent a scan and a fitness test.

Lampard only ever had an outside chance of recovering from his thigh setback and he has gone back to Chelsea.

It means Barry is a near-certainty to make successive starts for his country after impressing against Israel at the weekend in partnership with Steven Gerrard.

The last time that happened was in 2000 when the Aston Villa player appeared in a World Cup qualifier against Finland in Helsinki and the friendly international with Italy in Turin.

Gerrard was certainly impressed with Barry in the 3-0 win over Israel when he had a hand in the build-up to two of the goals and brought a balance to the side.

Gerrard said: ``Myself and Gareth were happy with how it went. I think the secret was that we know each other from a long time back, from Euro 2000, and we are good friends off the pitch.

``The communication was there from the off on Saturday and the balance was right. It just seemed to work.

``We only worked on it a couple of days before the game and we seemed to hit it off straight away. Gareth deserves credit for the way he played.''

Gerrard insisted he will be fine to play his second game in five days despite his broken toe and that there was a strong line of communication between himself, Rafael Benitez and Steve McClaren.

He said: ``The toe has been fine over the weekend. There has been no reaction and I am really pleased with how it is feeling at the moment.

``The medical staff with Liverpool and England said I'll get the odd ache and pain for a while but as far as being able to stand up to a game and the pace at this level, it is fine.

``Rafael has been fine about things. I know you guys are searching for a bit of a bust-up between the two managers but they have both been great with me.

``Steve was really understanding when the Germany game came around and he was all for not risking the toe because he knew we had these two big qualifiers and I've been in contact with Rafa all week.

``He has been telling me to be careful but also understands I am desperate to play in these games and he has been really good with me.''