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Manchester United aim to cement their Premiership lead

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24 Sep 2011 04:05:36

Manchester United aim to cement their Premiership lead

Sir Alex Ferguson will have an embarrassment of attacking riches at his disposal as Manchester United aim to cement their lead at the top of the Premier League against Stoke on Saturday.

United travel to the Britannia Stadium having made a blistering start to their title defence, scoring 21 goals in five consecutive victories including last weekend's 3-1 defeat of Chelsea at Old Trafford.

While Wayne Rooney has been in sensational form for United, scoring in each of United's five wins for a total haul of nine goals, Ferguson is also buoyed by the fact that all of his strikers are now available.

Danny Welbeck returned to duty in the 3-0 defeat of Leeds in the League Cup, while Javier Hernandez is back in training after recovering from a wild challenge from Ashley Cole last weekend.

Former England striker Michael Owen has also served notice of his match sharpness with two goals against Leeds on Tuesday, a game which also saw Dimitar Berbatov complete a full 90 minutes for the first time this season.

Ominously for Stoke, they face United having been thrashed 4-0 last weekend at Sunderland, a game which ended a nine-match unbeaten run.

Although Stoke restored some pride with a penalty shoot-out League Cup win over Tottenham in midweek, Potters skipper Ryan Shawcross admitted his team faced a daunting task against the champions.

"They are a top team. But everyone is beatable, and we know if we have the fans right behind us and we perform in a way we know we can, then we do have a chance," Shawcross said.

Ferguson meanwhile has been paying more attention to his defence, where he hopes to have Rio Ferdinand available after the central defender's three-game absence with a calf problem.

"I'm hoping Rio will be okay for Saturday. When you go to Stoke you need a bit of experience," said Ferguson, who is already without captain Nemanja Vidic and Brazilian full-back Rafael Da Silva.

Ferguson's defensive headaches pale in comparison to the problems facing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose side face Bolton at the Emirates after leaking four goals in last weekend's calamitous 4-3 defeat at Blackburn.

Wenger was irritated this week when asked if he would consider bringing in a former Arsenal great such as Tony Adams or Martin Keown to work with the defence.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle meanwhile said criticism directed at Wenger following Arsenal's poor start to the season has been "absolutely ridiculous."

"Arsene Wenger is one of the best managers in world football, and always will be," Coyle said. "But we have to accept football is a game of opinions and criticism comes along the way."

Second-placed Manchester City meanwhile will aim to improve their dismal recent run of form against Everton at Eastlands.

Everton have won seven and lost just one of their last eight encounters with City, although David Moyes men will have their work cut out as they face Roberto Mancini's side, who are desperate to atone for squandering a two-goal lead in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Fulham.

Chelsea aim to stay in touch at the top against promoted Swansea, with Fernando Torres aiming to banish the memory of his horror-show miss in last weekend's 3-1 defeat at Manchester United.

Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas has brushed off questions about the £50 million signing's confidence however.

"It's not a question about an individual player," he said this week. "I'm very, very happy with how the team responded. Everybody is strong and with the correct frame of mind."

Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)

Saturday: Man City v Everton (1145 GMT), Arsenal v Bolton, Chelsea v Swansea, Liverpool v Wolverhampton, Newcastle v Blackburn, West Brom v Fulham, Wigan v Tottenham, Stoke v Man Utd (1630)

Sunday: QPR v Aston Villa (1500)

Monday: Norwich v Sunderland (1900)


AFP

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