EPL: Leaders Manchester United eyeing record points haul
With a 20th league title virtually in the bag and no more European distractions, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is challenging his side to push for a Premier League points record.
United visit Sunderland on Saturday (1245) when victory would open up an 18-point lead, at least until second-placed Manchester City host Newcastle United later (1500).
With nine games remaining, United have 74 points and need 22 more to break the record of 95 set by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side in 2004-05. Their own record is 92.
"If we get to 96 points I'd be absolutely delighted," Ferguson, whose side face Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday.
"That would be a fantastic season. If we get to that position, we have probably won the league."
Opponents Sunderland will be without top scorer Steven Fletcher after he suffered ankle ligament damage playing for Scotland, and captain Lee Cattermole, who has had knee surgery, for the rest of the season.
The ease at which United are moving towards the title has surprised many, not least Ferguson who expected a much tougher fight from champions City, Chelsea and Arsenal this season.
"I never thought we would be 15 points clear," he said."I expected it to be a really tough fight."
Image: Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson with Mascot Fred the Red
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
City face sorry Newcastle
City have not officially waved the white flag but the manner of a 2-0 defeat at Everton in their last match before the World Cup qualifiers took centre stage, sucked any remaining optimism from the sky blue half of Manchester.
They face a Newcastle side who, like Sunderland are still looking anxiously over their shoulder at the relegation zone.
A week after that they travel to Old Trafford for what most would have assumed would be a huge fixture in the title race but which now looks like being an anti-climax.
At least the battle for Champions League qualification appears to be going the distance.
After beating Arsenal a few weeks ago, Tottenham Hotspur looked hot favourites to finish third and leave Chelsea and Arsenal scrapping for fourth but consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Fulham have stopped them in their tracks.Chelsea are now a point ahead of Spurs with a game in hand while Arsenal are breathing down the necks of their north London rivals who are still haunted by last season's poor finish which cost them a place in the Champions League.
Image: Manchester City players
Photographs: Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Can Bale re-ignite Tottenham's challenge?
Tottenham visit mid-table Swansea City on Saturday, hoping that Welshman Gareth Bale, who scored at the Liberty Stadium for his country in midweek, can re-ignite their challenge.
Arsenal, who are four points behind with a game in hand, host joint-bottom Reading, for whom Nigel Adkins takes charge for the first time since being appointed manager.
Chelsea travel to Adkins' old club Southampton looking for a third consecutive league victory.
Sixth-placed Everton, whose own top-four hopes were revived by their victory over City, are at home to Stoke City.
Wigan Athletic can boost their chances of remaining in the top flight when they take on Norwich City on Saturday.Victory would lift them out of the bottom three above Aston Villa who are at home to Liverpool on Sunday.
Image: Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale
Photographs: Eddie Keogh/Reuters