BOLTON, March 26 – Manchester United make the short trip to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday looking to underline their lead at the top of the Premier League and knowing they are finally hitting their best form.The reigning champions will arrive at the Reebok Stadium looking for a seventh straight victory in all competitions.
With goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic now looking strong at the back, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have conceded just two goals in their last six matches.
They have a one-point lead going into the weekend but, as they have a late kick-off at the Reebok, Chelsea, who currently trail the champions by a point, could move above them if they manage to beat Aston Villa earlier on Saturday.
Before the 3-0 victory over Fulham, Ferguson had called on his team to win each of their remaining nine matches in the Premier League.
They subsequently beat bitter rivals Liverpool 2-1 at Old Trafford last weekend and the omens suggest they should extend that run against Bolton.
They have won nine of their last 10 matches against Wanderers, including victories in their last four meetings, with just one goal conceded.
This match is sure to come too soon for midfielder Owen Hargreaves, who made his first appearance after 18 months out of with a knee injury with a 45-minute run-out for the reserves last week.
He was due to play for the reserves again on Thursday and although the game against Burnley’s second string was eventually called off due to a waterlogged pitch, he had already been pulled out in order to step up his training with the first team.
Ferguson left the 29-year-old former Bayern Munich player out of his Champions League squad.
But the United manager believes there is still time for England international Hargreaves to make a significant contribution in the final weeks of the season.
"We’re keen to get him back involved because he’s an experienced player and will be a valuable addition for us in the run-in, when having a strong, fit squad is vital," the manager said.
Ferguson’s selection at the Reebok Stadium will certainly be interesting, considering the three matches that follow the Bolton game.
Sandwiched between the two legs of the Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich is the clash with Chelsea on April 3 and Ferguson may decide to field some fringe players against Bolton.
United’s last away game against bottom-half opposition was a gritty 1-0 victory over Wolves, which saw Ferguson line up with Dimitar Berbatov as a lone striker and with Darron Gibson given a chance in midfield.
Wayne Rooney missed that game with a knee problem and although an outing at Bolton would be his 39th United appearance of the season, the England striker, who has scored 33 goals in the current campaign, is unlikely to want a rest.
Bolton have moved seven points clear of the relegation zone with a run of three wins from five matches.
But manager Owen Coyle, whose then Burnley side beat United 1-0 at the start of the season, admits his players face a huge task this weekend.
"In Wayne Rooney they have someone who is in inspirational form," he said. "With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, he is one of the top three players in the world.
"We know that we are going to have to be at our very best, but if we are, then it’s a game we can take points from.
"We are six unbeaten at the Reebok. I know that my group of players will give everything."