United coach Alex Ferguson enjoys the Qatar weather as concerns grow about his impending retirement and the knock-on effect on the club [AFP]

Champions Manchester United face Burnley at Old Trafford in this weekend's English Premier League after returning from a short-stay training camp in Qatar, and the club will be happy of a distraction after a week of ongoing tension about United's debts. 

United's owners began to take steps to refinance the club's existing $1.14 billion debt, provoking frosty hostility from supporters groups.

The Glazer family plan to raise funds with a bond issue, and in order to raise that the club had to reveal to potential investors a number of risks that could affect their returns.

Among them is the question of manager Alex Ferguson's retirement and his successor, an issue that is beginning to take on more significance after Ferguson turned 68 at the end of last year and has said he plans to retire when he is 70.

Ferguson has spearheaded an extraordinarily successful Manchester United campaign since becoming manager in 1986 and victory over Burnley would keep them right in the hunt for a fourth successive League title - unprecedented in England.

Concerns

However, United admitted publicly for the first time that the club was concerned about what happens after he leaves.

"Any successor to our manager may not be as successful as he has been. A downturn in the performance of the first team may adversely affect our ability to attract and retain such coaches and players."

United also said they faced increased competition from other Premier League clubs who have benefited from "recent investment from wealthy owners", and that Uefa's new financial fair play initiative could limit their ability to attract top players.

Another manager firmly in the public eye is the beleaguered coach of Liverpool, Rafa Benitez.

A truly dismal performance by Liverpool saw them out of the FA Cup [GALLO/GETTY]
A woeful Liverpool were knocked out of England's FA Cup by championship side Reading on Wednesday, with the loss leaving the Europa League as Liverpool's only likely consolation prize.

Benitez's main priority is ensuring the team finish in the top four of the Premier League and qualify for next season's Champions League.

Going into Saturday's match at Stoke, the Reds are seventh in the league -
five points behind fourth-place Manchester City with 18 matches remaining.

Yet it appears that Benitez's job is still safe and the Spaniard will be given time to turn around Liverpool's fortunes with the club hierarchy privately dismissing the mounting pressure on the coach following the 2-1 extra time loss to Reading.

"People have been talking about me for three months, I am used to it,'' Benitez said.

"All we can do is continue to work hard, to think only of raising spirits for our next match.

"Everyone is very disappointed. It was a massive competition that we wanted to do well in. As for me, I will continue to do my best all the time.

"We have to carry on. We have to improve.''

Injury woes

In another blow for Benitez, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres departed injured before half-time against Reading. Torres is out for six weeks following surgery on his right knee, midfielder Yossi Benayoun is sidelined for up to a month with a fractured rib and Gerrard is out for two weeks with a hamstring strain.

The arrival of Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid on Wednesday could be a big boost.

"He can help me score goals - one of the main qualities he has is to help strikers,'' Torres said.

Results & fixtures

Saturday January 16

 Chelsea v Sunderland
 Everton v Man City
 Man Utd v Burnley
 Portsmouth v Birmingham
 Stoke v Liverpool
 Tottenham v Hull
 Wolverhampton v Wigan

Sunday January 17

 Aston Villa v West Ham
 Blackburn v Fulham
 Bolton v Arsenal

"He will help Stevie, Dirk (Kuyt) or myself to score goals because he gets a lot of assists. Maxi will help us a lot.

"I played with him for two seasons at Atletico and he's a very good player. I am sure he'll score goals and work hard.''

League leaders Chelsea, who hold a one-point lead over Manchester United and have a game in hand, host Sunderland. Arsenal, who are at Bolton on Sunday, are a further two points adrift.

"Thankfully the teams in and around us have been slipping up as well, but Arsenal are right back in the frame again,'' Chelsea captain John Terry said.

"When we beat them 3-0 (in November) I thought they were out of it to be honest. We need to concentrate on ourselves because apart from the Watford (FA Cup) victory, when we were brilliant albeit against a lesser side, we haven't been playing as well.''

Arsenal visit Bolton Wanderers on Sunday with the home side playing their first match under new coach Owen Coyle, whose immediate priority is to lift Bolton out of the relegation zone.

Patrick Vieira, 33, could make his Manchester City debut nearly five years after leaving Arsenal and the Premier League for Italy.

Manchester City will be without Emmanuel Adebayor when they go to Everton on Saturday. The Togo striker is on compassionate leave following the deadly attack on his national team's bus at the African Cup of Nations last Friday.

Former England defender Sol Campbell, 35, could make an even more unlikely return for Arsenal, if, as expected, he rejoins them following a reserve appearance as a free agent.

Source: Agencies