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Chelsea bar Man United's path back to summit
 
 
 

LONDON - Having stemmed a run of three straight defeats by beating Swansea City last Saturday, Manchester United will look to provide further evidence of their backbone at Chelsea this weekend. The 2-0 win over Swansea enabled United to avenge their FA Cup elimination by the Welsh club a week earlier, but victories for all the teams above them meant they remained 11 points off the pace in the Premier League.
When the sides met in August, drawing 0-0 at Old Trafford, the season was only a week old, but while champions United have floundered since then, Chelsea are riding high in third place ahead of Sunday's encounter. The London club have already dispatched Manchester City and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge this season and have never lost at home in the league under manager Jose Mourinho, but United midfielder Darren Fletcher is undaunted.
"We are expected to win every game and it doesn't matter if it is Swansea at home or Chelsea away -- it is viewed as a disaster if we don't win," the Scottish midfielder told the United website. "We will treat it like we do with every other game. We will go to win. We know it is a great challenge going to Chelsea, but we can take some confidence from the Swansea game and we are fully confident of going down there and getting more of the same."  Leaders Arsenal displayed the sort of nerve required to mount a sustained title challenge when they won 2-1 at Aston Villa on Monday evening, having seen all of their title rivals win over the previous weekend. Arsenal welcome relegation-threatened Fulham to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday and manager Arsene Wenger has been eager to play down injury concerns surrounding his side.
The Frenchman will be without Theo Walcott, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Thomas Vermaelen for the visit of Fulham, while Nacho Monreal and Nicklas Bendtner are doubtful, but he believes he has enough alternatives.
"In midfield we have plenty of quality players who you can rotate easily without really feeling, 'Today we are weaker,'" Wenger said. "I would say, purely on the football front, it's true that we only have excellent players in every position and that allows you to have different types of teams that can really be efficient."
Second-placed Manchester City gave yet another demonstration of their awesome strike power in a 5-0 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup in mid-week, which took their goal tally for the season to 99. They will be expected to bring up triple figures at home to third-bottom Cardiff City on Saturday and Sergio Aguero, who returned from an injury lay-off against Blackburn, says they will not take their foot off the pedal. "I think we are doing very well. We have improved a lot since the beginning of the season," said the Argentine striker, who had spent a month on the sidelines with a calf problem.
"We must keep working like that. We are all playing very well. We are building a great team and we need to continue trying to score more goals." Liverpool will look to maintain their recent momentum when they host Villa, having responded to successive losses at City and Chelsea over Christmas with back-to-back wins against Hull City and Stoke City. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has yet to make any moves in the January transfer window, but with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge having returned from injury in the 5-3 win at Stoke, he is relaxed about the situation.
"There are no real developments yet," he said on Thursday. "We have been working for a number of months on possibilities which can strengthen the team and we need to see how that goes over the next couple of weeks. I'm not concerned. The owners have been great in terms of if there is something there to be done that will help us, then I am sure they will support that." Monday's game sees Spaniard Pepe Mel take charge of his first game as manager of West Bromwich Albion, with high-flying Everton the visitors to The Hawthorns


FIXTURES


SATURDAY
Arsenal    v    Fulham
Crystal Palace    v    Stoke City
Liverpool    v    Aston Villa
Manchester City    v    Cardiff City
Norwich City    v    Hull City
Sunderland    v    Southampton
West Ham United    v    Newcastle United
SUNDAY
Swansea City    v    Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea    v    Manchester United
MONDAY
West Bromwich     v    Everton


POINT TABLE


Club    M    P    D    L    GF    GA    Pts
Arsenal    21    15    3    3    41    19    48
Man City    21    15    2    4    59    23    47
Chelsea    21    14    4    3    40    19    46
Liverpool    21    13    3    5    51    26    42
Everton    21    11    8    2    34    19    41
Tottenham    21    12    4    5    26    25    40
Man Utd    21    11    4    6    35    24    37
Newcastle    21    10    3    8    29    27    33
Southampton    21    8    6    7    27    23    30
Hull    21    6    5    10    22    27    23
Aston Villa    21    6    5    10    20    27    23
Stoke    21    5    7    9    22    35    22
Swansea    21    5    6    10    26    30    21
West Brom    21    4    9    8    23    28    21
Norwich    21    5    5    11    17    35    20
Fulham    21    6    1    14    22    46    19
West Ham    21    4    6    11    21    30    18
Cardiff    21    4    6    11    15    34    18
Sunderland    21    4    5    12    19    34    17
Crystal Palace    21    5    2    14    13    31    17

 
 
on epaper page 16
 
 
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