United relying on home form to claim English title
With Manchester United entering the most critical phase of its season, manager Alex Ferguson is hoping his team’s home form can hold up going into Saturday’s match against Everton.
United has won 15 of its 16 home matches in the league this campaign and with Everton not having won at Old Trafford in nearly 19 years, the hosts will be confident of claiming three of the 10 points they need to clinch a record 19th English title.
If United slip up against its northwest rival, Chelsea and Arsenal – who are both six points adrift of the leaders – need to capitalize.
"It is never going to be easy against Everton. It is a local derby of sorts," said Ferguson. "But our home record is fantastic and so is our performance level."
Second-place Chelsea, which is the league’s in-form side, hosts second-bottom West Ham and Arsenal looks to extend a 16-match unbeaten run in the league when it travels to Bolton on Sunday.
Both of the London title challengers still have to play United but the experience of Ferguson’s squad, which is almost at full strength with right back Rafael da Silva and midfielder Darren Fletcher back in training, makes them heavy favorites.
"If we win tomorrow, we will only have four games left and we will have a six-point lead," Ferguson said. "That is the way I am looking at it. I am not looking beyond that."
As well as a visit to Arsenal on May 1 and a home match against Chelsea seven days later, United’s upcoming schedule also includes a two-legged Champions League semifinal against Schalke. The first leg is on Tuesday in Germany.
Everton will be no pushover. David Moyes’ team has won five of its last seven league games, drawing the other two, and could welcome back Australia star Tim Cahill and fellow midfielder Mikel Arteta from injury this weekend to ease a lengthy absentee list.
"We are playing well and hopefully we can get points at Old Trafford," Everton winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov said. "We have played very well in the second half of this season and there is a good atmosphere at the club at the moment."
The teams drew 3-3 at Goodison Park in September, with Cahill and Arteta scoring goals in second-half injury time as Everton recovered from being 3-1 down.
While Chelsea should improve its recent record to seven wins in eight games when it hosts West Ham on Saturday, the pressure is on Arsenal to stay in the title race after squandering winning positions in matches against Liverpool and Tottenham over the past week.
Manager Arsene Wenger insisted Friday that Arsenal still had a "winning mentality" and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said the team can win the title to end a six-year run without silverware.
"It is going to be very difficult, but we are going to fight until the end," the Poland keeper said. "It is not in our hands any more and has not been for some time. We now have to rely on other teams to take some points off Manchester United.
"But they are not on form and we have to hope they will drop points."
In the fight for the fourth and final Champions League spot, fifth-place Tottenham, which is two points behind Manchester City, hosts West Brom. City visits Blackburn on Monday.
At the bottom of the Premier League, Wigan climbed out of the relegation zone last week and will look to continue its resurgence by beating Sunderland, which has been dragged into the scrap to stay up by losing eight of its last nine games.
Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is bottom and level on 32 points with West Ham, is at home to Fulham on Saturday and third-bottom Blackpool hosts midtable Newcastle.
Elsewhere Saturday, Liverpool hosts Birmingham and Aston Villa is at home to Stoke. Villa manager Gerard Houllier is expected to remain in hospital over the weekend after being admitted on Wednesday so his assistant Gary McAllister will take charge of the team.