Ferguson wants United to maintain points lead


LONDON – Manchester United hope to strike a major Boxing Day blow as the Premier League title race enters its most hectic period of the season on Sunday. United head into the latest round of fixtures at the top of the table with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, who have a game in hand, two points clear of Arsenal and Manchester City, with champions Chelsea a further point adrift in fourth place.
United have yet to lose in the league this season, having won nine and drawn seven of their 16 matches. They welcome a Sunderland side managed by former United captain Steve Bruce to Old Trafford on Sunday knowing the Black Cats have already won at Chelsea this term. Ferguson believes United will have taken a significant step towards winning back the Premier League title if they are still top of the table on January 4.
“My aim is to be top of the league by January 4,” Ferguson said. “If we’re still top then, we’ve done well. Victory for United would enable them to go five points in front of Arsenal before the Gunners face Chelsea, who have gone five games without a win, in an all-London clash on Monday. Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti would love nothing more than for his side to extend Arsenal’s winless run against Chelsea and United to 12 matches in total.
“Manchester United are having fantastic results because they’ve not lost a game, they’re continuously obtaining results,” said Ancelotti.
“We don’t want that gap to widen. So it’s important to obtain an important result in this game. We have to do our best to take three points against Arsenal, and the same against Bolton and Aston Villa.”
Postponements brought about by the cold snap in Britain have left Chelsea without a game for more than two weeks but striker Didier Drogba will certainly fancy his chances on Monday after scoring 13 goals in 13 games against Arsenal. “I think they are a little bit afraid of the performance of Drogba because he has done very well against them,” Ancelotti said. “This is not the reason that will decide the game but if Drogba plays at his best, we’ll have more opportunity to win.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made no attempt to disguise the enormity of the clash, saying: “Of course this is a must-win game.
“We have mixed feelings because we came out of both games against Chelsea and Man United this season thinking we could have won and that there wasn’t a difference between the teams.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson believes key striker Fernando Torres will rediscover his deadly accuracy in front of goal, starting with Sunday’s trip to Blackpool.
“He does not need reminding of when he misses a goal chance because I bet he can remember every chance he has missed over the last three to four months because they stay with people. Liverpool are determined to erase memories of their sensational loss to a club who were widely tipped as relegation certainties. Ian Holloway’s side were written off before a ball was kicked at Anfield back in October but goals from Charlie Adam and Luke Varney helped Tangerines to a famous and well deserved win over their north-west rivals.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has underlined his determination to keep his best players as the race for the Premier League title begins one of its most hectic phases. Redknapp, whose side takes on Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday before ending 2010 at home to Newcastle two days’ later, has made it clear playmaker Luka Modric is not for sale. Tottenham will be looking to take maximum points at Villa Park to move within a point of Chelsea, who face Arsenal on Monday, in fourth place.
City’s Roberto Mancini has warned Mario Balotelli that he must do his talking on the pitch after claiming his moody demeanour is doing him more harm than good at Manchester City. Balotelli,
who cost Manchester City 24 million pounds in the summer, has never been far away from courting controversy. Now the Manchester City manager has stepped in and told his striker to forget his own hype and concentrate on matters on the pitch, starting against at Newcastle on Boxing Day. And Mancini – who expects the Italian to be fit despite going off injured during last Monday’s defeat by Everton – feels his first move should be to adopt a lighter approach by playing with a smile, rather than a scowl, on his face. Another London derby could have a key bearing on the relegation race with Fulham, above the drop zone on goal difference alone, facing bottom of the table West Ham — currently three points behind the Cottagers.