United seek to extend lead

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LONDON, December 3- English football will hope a typically rousing weekend of Premier League action can take some of the sting out of the country's failure to win the right to stage the 2018 World Cup.

Thursday’s FIFA ballot in Zurich and the subsequent revelation England had won just two votes, were a kick in the teeth for football’s birthplace.

But the global appeal of the Premier League remains undimmed and this weekend is likely to witness another intriguing chapter in the title race, with just six points separating the top five ahead of the latest round of matches.

Table-toppers Manchester United will look to maintain, and perhaps even extend if other results go their way, their two-point advantage over champions Chelsea when they travel to Blackpool on Saturday.

"We’ve managed to claw ourselves into a position where we’re two points ahead of Chelsea," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who set great store by the Blackpool clash.

"You always want to win those games because I think they’re really significant," he added.

Blackpool have so far confounded expectations they were destined for an immediate return to the Championship and have already enjoyed a memorable win away to Liverpool this season.

Now the Tangerines face another one of their fellow north-west clubs in United and manager Ian Holloway is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against Ferguson.

"Sir Alex is a living legend. What he has done in the game is just unreal and he is the top of the tree when it comes to British managers," he said.

"Welcoming Sir Alex will be great and probably the highlight of my managerial career so far because it’s a league game, not a one-off cup match, and we’re playing mighty Manchester United."

Chelsea are set to have captain John Terry back from a nerve injury as they look to return to winning ways against Everton after collecting just one point from their last three league fixtures.

"We have dropped too many points recently," England defender Terry said. "Looking back only two or three weeks ago, we were so many points clear and in the goal difference as well. Now both gaps have been closed."

Saturday’s other matches see Arsenal face Fulham just two days after Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer put an end to talk of a move to the Gunners by signing a new deal that will keep him at Craven Cottage.

Birmingham, fresh from their League Cup quarter-final derby win over Aston Villa, take on Tottenham, Blackburn face strugglers Wolves, Manchester City play Bolton and relegation-threatened Wigan go up against Stoke.

Basement club West Ham will look to build on their shock 4-0 League Cup win over holders Manchester United when they travel to Sunderland on Sunday, when West Brom take on Newcastle.

Liverpool, who booked their place in the last 32 of the Europa League following a 1-1 draw away to Steaua Bucharest on Thursday, welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Monday.

Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated)

Saturday: Arsenal v Fulham, Birmingham v Tottenham, Blackburn v Wolves, Blackpool v Manchester United (1700GMT), Chelsea v Everton, Manchester City v Bolton, Wigan v Stoke

Sunday: Sunderland v West Ham (1600GMT), West Brom v Newcastle (1330GMT)

Monday: Liverpool v Aston Villa (2000GMT)

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