Friday, March 16, 2007


United determined to keep Chelsea at arm's length

by Angus MacKinnon(courtesy

LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United's resilience as Premiership pacesetters will come under scrutiny when Bolton visit Old Trafford on Saturday. While Chelsea, who trail the leaders by six points, will be confident of securing maximum points at home to Sheffield United, United face a testing lunchtime date with Sam Allardyce's awkward squad.

Any slip-ups on Saturday will be of added value because the upcoming break for international matches means that, after this weekend, there will be no Premiership matches until March 31.

United midfielder Paul Scholes sits out the Bolton clash as the second game of a three-match ban. But the former England star insists the Red Devils are in no mood to let Chelsea get any closer to them.

"After not doing so well in the Premiership over the last couple of years, we are more determined than ever to lift the trophy this year," Scholes said.

"We have not had that trophy for four years now - that's too long. It is a trophy we desperately want to win back."

Scholes could be one of half a dozen United players missing this weekend. Darren Fletcher, Mikael Silvestre, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are ruled out through injury while Patrice Evra is also a major doubt as well.

With Henrik Larsson now back in Sweden, Ryan Giggs could be pressed into service as an emergency striker alongside Wayne Rooney, with Park Ji-Sung occupying a wide role with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Allardyce has seen his side's form dip in recent weeks but the Bolton boss always relishes crossing swords with the league's big boys.

"We have to try to get our act together as my team have been under-achieving," Allardyce said.

Liverpool's visit to Aston Villa on Sunday will bring them up against Anfield old boy Patrik Berger.

The Czech winger's days had looked numbered at Villa Park after he refused to play in a reserve match in December and was loaned out to Stoke after being fined by Villa boss Martin O'Neill.

But the 33-year-old has recently forced his way back into O'Neill's plans and could yet win himself a new deal at the club.

"Will Berger be given a new contract? I wouldn't rule anything out," said O'Neill. "I have an open mind. It has been a big turn-around for him and at the end of it all, he is a good player."

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt will be aiming to improve a goal strike-rate that he admits could be better.

Kuyt, who has found the net ten times since joining from Feyenoord last summer, said: "I expected to have scored more by now than I have. The boss gave me an 18-goal target for the season when I joined and I still believe I can achieve that by the end of the campaign."

Peter Crouch will miss the match as he is recovering from an operation on his broken nose.

Arsenal travel to sixth-placed Everton looking to put their recent disappointments further behind them with Arsene Wenger's squad slowly returning to full strength.

Defender Kolo Toure is available again following a three-match domestic suspension, Alexander Hleb (knee) is likely to feature and midfielder Tomas Rosicky should start.

But with skipper Thierry Henry out for the rest of the season, the Gunners are short of forwards -- Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor is due to complete the last match of his suspension.

Sunday also sees relegation-threatened Charlton entertain Newcastle, with defender Luke Young insisting a win is vital to the Addicks' chances of beating the drop.

"We have got two games at home now and if we can pick up two victories against Newcastle and Wigan, the table will look an altogether different proposition," said Young.

Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)


Blackburn v West Ham (1715 GMT), Chelsea v Sheffield Utd, Manchester Utd v Bolton (1245 GMT), Middlesbrough v Manchester City, Reading v Portsmouth, Tottenham v Watford, Wigan Athletic v Fulham


Aston Villa v Liverpool (1335 GMT), Charlton v Newcastle (1330), Everton v Arsenal (1600)

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