Manchester United chase top spot
Champions close in on Liverpool in our preview of all the weekend's EPL action.
Last Modified: 15 Jan 2009 14:51 GMT

Rooney's stand in Carlos Tevez goes down after a Wigan tackle in Wednesday's game, putting him in doubt for the weekend fixture [EPA]

Manchester United have to show they can do better than Liverpool did without their star striker if they are to overtake their Premier League rival at the top of the standings on Saturday.

With Liverpool hosting Everton on Monday, the defending champions can take
top spot for the first time this season with victory at Bolton but will have to do it without Wayne Rooney, who is out for three weeks after injuring his hamstring on Wednesday.

Although Liverpool stayed in first place after winning three and drawing three of the six league matches that Fernando Torres missed in December because of a hamstring problem, the points they dropped have allowed United to close to within two points with a game in hand.

Constant pressure

After nine Premier League games without conceding a goal, United have few worries in defence but have to prove they can keep scoring without Rooney, who hit his ninth United goal of the season in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Wigan.

The pressure of nine games in 30 days is starting to tell, with Rooney's replacement against Wigan, Carlos Tevez, and defender Jonny Evans - himself a stand-in for Rio Ferdinand - also injured.

"Carlos limped through the second half and Jonny limped through virtually the whole game,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said.

"We will have to assess them and see how they are.

"We need our best team on Saturday because Bolton are a big side.''

Bolton have lost to Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Arsenal in their past seven games, but were only beaten 1-0 by the Gunners last week after conceding in the 84th.

Bolton manager Gary Megson sent a team depleted by injuries and suspension
to defend against Arsenal but may be forced to take a more adventurous approach on Saturday with the game at home - which could be to United's advantage.

Ferguson may push Cristiano Ronaldo up front alongside Dimitar Berbatov to
unsettle the Trotters with the Portugal winger's pace and trickery.

Ronaldo scored 42 goals last season but has been restricted to the wing more this season following the signing of Berbatov.

Megson isn't expecting to take much from the game and was already looking
elsewhere for the points that would keep his team safe from relegation.

"The tough games come thick and fast in the Premier League and next we've
got Manchester United,'' Megson said.

"But once we get them out of the way we have only got Chelsea away, and that's the top four done, barring Aston Villa at home.

"We've got a good run-in and I don't think we will have any problems.''

Is Drogba, right, out of favour with Scolari? [GALLO/GETTY]
Local derby

If United win, Liverpool could be a point back in second place by the time they host their city rival on Monday.

Everton has not won at Anfield for 10 years but have won five of their past six matches to rise to sixth place and some players are still smarting from the teams' first meeting this season.

Torres scored twice to give Liverpool a 2-0 win at Goodison in September, but midfielder Tim Cahill was given what looked to be a harsh red card for a foul on Xabi Alonso.

Chelsea have slipped to third place after beating only Bolton and last-place West Bromwich Albion in their last eight Premier League games but have the chance for a morale-boosting three points against visiting Stoke on Saturday.

The Blues rallied to win 4-1 at Southend in an FA Cup replay on Wednesday and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari could largely stick with a winning team, again leaving Didier Drogba on the sidelines.

Joe Cole, though, was hurt and is likely to miss out.

Also on Saturday, fourth-place Aston Villa are at Sunderland, Newcastle are at Blackburn, Wigan are at Manchester City, and Middlesbrough are at West Brom.

Arsenal are at Hull seeking to avenge September's 2-1 home loss to the Tigers.

Fulham are at West Ham on Sunday, when Tottenham host Portsmouth in a match likely to be tense because of the teams' fight against relegation and a simmering rivalry.

Spurs sold several players to Pompey over the past three years before hiring its manager and star striker this season, while police were involved in the investigation of racial and homophobic abuse directed at Portsmouth defender Sol Campbell, a former Tottenham player, at the reverse fixture in September.

While both teams have appealed to fans not to misbehave, Portsmouth goalkeeper David James said fans are entitled to heckle opposition players.

"You pay your way and you are entitled to your opinion.

"As long as it is not racist or homophobic, give stick,'' James said.

"It is football. You can't all be happy chaps going around saying everyone's wonderful.''

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