Manchester United can take a huge step toward retaining their Premier League title today, but first they must do what none of their rivals have managed this season — take all three points from a meeting with Tottenham Hotspur.
Harry Redknapp’s side may have spent the first half of the season struggling near the bottom of the table, but a defeat of Liverpool, a win and a draw against Chelsea and two draws with Arsenal underline their ability to raise their game against top level opponents.
Liverpool’s 4-4 draw with Arsenal in midweek has increased United’s margin for error.
But although Sir Alex Ferguson’s men capitalized with a 2-0 win over Portsmouth 24 hours later, their performance was sufficiently jittery to suggest Tottenham could pose a tougher challenge at Old Trafford.
Spurs defender Jonathan Woodgate is anticipating a tight encounter and does not expect United to rest any of their big names ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first-leg against Arsenal.
“We haven’t been beaten by any of the top sides in the league this season and we have beaten Liverpool and Chelsea,” Woodgate said. “Our record against the top four is impeccable, but United will put out a strong side and it will be very tough.”
The early evening match will see Michael Carrick come up against his former club and the midfielder believes United just need to hold their nerve for the final month of the campaign.
“Liverpool’s draw was a big boost and we’re in a decent position now,” Carrick said.
Liverpool, who have been scoring freely but also leaking goals of late, cannot afford to dwell on their midweek setback as they prepare for what is likely to be a ferociously contested meeting with Hull City. Phil Brown’s side are fighting for their Premier League lives with only a three-point cushion between them and the relegation zone.
Sunderland, who are only a point better off than Hull, will be desperate to take all three points from their trip to bottom side West Bromwich Albion, who could be relegated as early as next weekend if results go against them.
Middlesbrough, who travel to Arsenal tomorrow, could benefit if Arsene Wenger opts to rest some of his big names ahead of the Champions League clash with Manchester United.
Gareth Southgate’s side, who entertain United next weekend, desperately need to start picking up some points and the Boro boss believes the fact that his side have been in trouble for so long could actually help them beat the drop.
“In a strange way, we have got less tension about us because we have faced the worst possible scenario being where we are and we have realized we can handle that,” Southgate said.
With West Ham United entertaining Chelsea, Fulham will be hoping for a win over Stoke City that could see them leapfrog their London rivals into seventh, the final qualifying spot for next season’s Europa League, the successor to the UEFA Cup.
Blackburn Rovers will see their home encounter with Wigan Athletic today as a golden opportunity to pull clear of the drop zone at the expense of opponents with little left to play for this season.
Everton’s game with Manchester City looks to be the match with the least at stake.