LONDON, January 14 – Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to unleash Wayne Rooney on Tottenham here Sunday as Manchester United aim to extend their phenomenal 23-match unbeaten streak against the Londoners.
Rooney missed last Sunday’s FA Cup win over Liverpool at Old Trafford with an ankle knock but is expected to be fit as United travel to White Hart Lane looking to cement their place at the top of the table.
United last lost to Spurs in May 2001 and since then have held a hex over Harry Redknapp’s side, who currently stand fourth in the table, eight points behind the unbeaten league leaders.
Ferguson is expected to welcome both Rooney and Nemanja Vidic back to United’s starting line-up as Spurs try to avenge their 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford in October, when Nani’s controversial strike stole the headlines.
But there is no chance of former Manchester United icon David Beckham making an emotional return against his old club.
Beckham, who trained with Spurs this week, could yet agree a short-term loan deal from the Los Angeles Galaxy but Redknapp has said the the former England captain will not feature even if he does agree a deal before Sunday.
"Manchester United this Sunday would be a non-starter even if he does sign," Redknapp said. "He is not fit to play yet and he knows that. It’s going to take him a few weeks to get back to anywhere near the fitness levels he’s used to."
Tottenham and Manchester United’s top four clash is the most eye-catching fixture of a Premier League schedule notable for a slew of derby matches.
The pick is at Anfield on Sunday, where Kenny Dalglish can expect a rapturous reception as he returns for the Merseyside derby against Everton in his first home match since taking over at Liverpool from Roy Hodgson.
Dalglish’s second coming has got off to a bumpy start, however, with last Sunday’s FA Cup exit to Manchester United followed by a disappointing 2-1 loss at Blackpool.
Defeat at Bloomfield Road has left Dalglish under no illusions about the size of the task facing him at the fallen English giants.
"It’s obviously a big challenge and very seldom do you walk into a job with no challenges," Dalglish said. "Every team that has ever been successful has needed luck and at the moment that is going against us."
While Liverpool entertain Everton, Sunderland will have the chance to avenge their humiliating 5-1 defeat to Newcastle in the Tyne and Wear derby last October at the Stadium of Light.
In Sunday’s other derby tussle, Birmingham face bitter rivals Aston Villa at St Andrews.
Second-placed Manchester City meanwhile can claim top spot ahead of United’s clash with Spurs if they defeat Wolves at Eastlands.
Wolves however are brimming with confidence following their win over Chelsea last week and City boss Roberto Mancini is only too aware that the Black Country side are capable of another upset — City were beaten 2-1 by Wolves at Molineux earlier this season.
After a year in English football, Mancini, whose side drew 2-2 at Championship side Leicester in the FA Cup last weekend, knows better than to dismiss opponents on the basis of where they are in the league table.
"Against Leicester we were told it was easy and Arsenal lost against Ipswich, in the FA Cup Newcastle lost against Stevenage and Derby lost to Crawley," said Mancini.
"In Italy this doesn’t happen. Here every game is very strange and if you don’t play 200 percent you have a risk (of losing)," added the Italian, who may hand a debut to new 27 million pound signing Edin Dzeko.
Chelsea meanwhile will aim to build on their 7-0 demolition of Ipswich in the FA Cup when they face Blackburn at Stamford Bridge.
Third-placed Arsenal will seek to shake off their 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg defeat to Ipswich on Wednesday against bottom club West Ham.
Arsenal defender Johan Djourou called on the Gunners to register an instant improvement after the Ipswich defeat.
"We have to pick ourselves up because we have a very important game against West Ham on Saturday," the Switzerland international said. "We are disappointed, but we have to bounce back straight away."
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated):
Chelsea v Blackburn, Man City v Wolves, Stoke v Bolton, West Brom v Blackpool, West Ham v Arsenal (1730), Wigan v Fulham
Birmingham v Aston Villa (1200), Liverpool v Everton (1405), Sunderland v Newcastle (1200), Tottenham v Man Utd (1610)