Sir Alex Ferguson admits Manchester United’s Premier League clash against Tottenham Hotspur today is one of the champions’ most important games of the season. While leaders Liverpool and second-placed Chelsea have winnable home games against Hull City and West Ham United respectively this weekend, United go in search of a cure to their away-day blues at White Hart Lane.
Ferguson’s team have already been beaten at Liverpool and Arsenal this season, as well as drawing at Chelsea, Aston Villa and Everton. The trip to north London is arguably the toughest away game left on their schedule and Ferguson admits a victory is essential to keep them in touch with the top two before United jet off to Tokyo for the Club World Championship.
“It is one of our most important games of the season,” he said. “Tottenham are in good form. They played well on Monday against West Ham and had control of the game, so I am expecting a close contest and a good match. It always is against Tottenham. It is a game that people look forward to because there is usually a quality about it, particularly at White Hart Lane, and there are quite often a few goals. We have a great record down there and hopefully we still will have after Saturday.”
Ferguson’s hopes of improving United’s away record aren’t helped by injuries to Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Beratov, who may miss out on a first return to his former club.
“I don’t know if Carrick is going to be fit, I don’t know if Berbatov is going to be fit,” Ferguson said. “Rio Ferdinand picked up a back spasm again, so that is a concern for us too. With the squad we’ve got I hope we can cope, but I’d rather not have them.”
While United try to keep the pressure on Liverpool, Reds manager Rafa Benitez has told his players they need to open up a big lead at the top before the Champions League resumes in late February. Liverpool face Hull at Anfield today after securing first place in their European group with a midweek win over PSV Eindhoven.
“We now have almost three months to concentrate on the Premier League,” Benitez said. “We would want to go back into Europe next year still top of the table. We do not want to give up top spot. If we are still there when we start up again in Europe, the chances of a really good season will be obvious.”
Chelsea’s London derby against West Ham is already important enough at both ends of the table. But throw in Blues legend Gianfranco Zola returning to Stamford Bridge as Hammers boss and Frank Lampard’s latest meeting with his former club and the stage is set for a battle royal.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side need a win to make sure Liverpool don’t break away, while West Ham are sinking dangerously close to the relegation zone after a woeful run of one win in 10 matches.
Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre is confident Arsenal can still figure in the title race despite the Gunners’ erratic form. Only a win will do for Arsene Wenger’s side at Middlesbrough as they try to close the eight-point gap on Liverpool and erase the memory of Wednesday’s dismal defeat to Porto.
“It is difficult if you judge the team on Wednesday night, because you cannot expect to perform like that and win anything,” Silvestre said. “But the squad is big and there are going to be different games, there are going to be points to catch — on the road to Middlesbrough first of all. It is going to be tough, but we have got time to grow up and we made it difficult for ourselves. However, we are still in the race. We proved against Manchester United and Chelsea that the quality is there, so we just have to get the consistency.”