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Football | Barclays Premier League

Fergie wants to keep six-point lead



All Sir Alex Ferguson will want for Christmas will be for Manchester United to keep at least a six-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Ahead of taking on Swansea City in Wales on Sunday, the Old Trafford club have a comfortable cushion over derby rivals and defending champions Manchester City, who host rock-bottom Reading on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the final set of Premier League fixtures before Christmas, on Saturday, Arsenal go to Wigan Athletic in the 12.45pm kick-off, Liverpool welcome Fulham in the evening after Newcastle United welcome Queens Park Rangers.

Sunderland also visit Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur take on Stoke City and Norwich City travel to West Bromwich Albion.

On Sunday, after United's lunchtime game at Swansea, Chelsea play Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.

RECOVERY

Ferguson's Manchester United mean business this season after the pain of losing the title to Manchester City in such dramatic circumstances in the last campaign. They have moved to the top of the table with a run of 10 wins from their last 11 games and that does not bode well for Swansea.

Michael Laudrup's much-praised hosts and Capital One Cup semifinalists have suffered a bit of a dip after back-to-back league defeats by Norwich and Tottenham. They will therefore hope for what would be a shock win over United at the Liberty Stadium.

Manchester City will want to have closed the gap, albeit possibly temporarily, on United with a win over Reading on Saturday. It will be the first time Roberto Mancini's reigning kings of England return to the Etihad since losing the derby, and their long unbeaten home record, to United. They will therefore expect to get back on track against Brian McDermott's rock-bottom Reading, who have lost six games in a row.

Monday's hammering of Reading continued Arsenal's recovery, which has seen them climb back up the table following back-to-back wins, including the victory over West Brom. Arsene Wenger can therefore be confident of building extra momentum when visiting an out-of-form Wigan, who have been sucked into the relegation zone after three defeats and a draw in their last four outings.

Arsenal will also be boosted by the midweek announcement of new contracts with Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson.

Last weekend's shock defeat by Aston Villa gave Liverpool a reality check at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers has consequently spent the week speaking of his players' determination to atone for the defeat when they host Fulham.

Martin Jol's Fulham have won just once in their last nine games and they do not have a good record at Anfield. But the Dutchman is unbeaten in his last three encounters with Liverpool as a Premier League manager, including two 1-0 wins last season.

Newcastle have gone from being the surprise package of last season to the underachievers of the current campaign. Last weekend's home defeat by Manchester City leaves Alan Pardew's squad in 15th position with just 17 points from 17 games having suffered six losses in their last seven games. Harry Redknapp's QPR will therefore arrive on Tyneside hoping to add to the misery on the back of their first win of the season against Fulham last week.

HECTIC

Tottenham remain in the top four after four wins from five and they look like they will remain contenders for Uefa Champions League qualification. Andre Villas-Boas' methods appear to be sinking in and Spurs are singing from the same hymn sheet. But Stoke's notoriously tight defence will pose a difficult obstacle on Saturday, when Tony Pulis' team visit White Hart Lane on a seven-match unbeaten run.

Eight draws in 11 Premier League games have seen Everton slide out of the top four but David Moyes knows there is no need to panic when they still only trail Tottenham by two points. A win over an inconsistent West Ham at Upton Park, where they are unbeaten in their last four, would as a result be a good boost.

Reality is beginning to kick in for Steve Clarke's West Brom as, following an incredibly impressive start to the season, four games without a win has seen them fall to seventh place. West Brom stopped the rot of three defeats by drawing 0-0 with West Ham last Sunday.

But Norwich will not be an easy side to play when aiming to get back to winning ways. Chris Hughton's visitors will kick-off at The Hawthorns having not lost in the Premier League since October.

Southampton make the long trip to Sunderland in a game which looks like it could be of immense importance come the end of the season. Both sides sit just outside the relegation zone and are separated by only one point. Sunderland have a game in hand but Martin O'Neill's team have managed a meagre three wins in the Premier League this campaign.

On Sunday, Chelsea will complete what has been an immensely hectic week when they return to Stamford Bridge to host Aston Villa.

Having lost the Club World Cup final in Japan last weekend, Rafa Benitez's side shook off jet-lag to hammer Leeds United in the Capital One Cup quarterfinals in midweek. There was little sign of fatigue at Elland Road but fellow League Cup semifinalists Villa will aim to expose any tired legs.

Source: Sky Sports

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