United look to turn the screw on Chelsea


LONDON, December 17 – Manchester United will attempt to take a grip on the Premier League title race on Sunday when they travel to Chelsea aiming to end an eight-year winless streak at Stamford Bridge.Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have not tasted victory at Chelsea since April 2002, but a win in this weekend’s heavyweight encounter will leave United six points clear of the champions, having played a game less.

United, who remain unbeaten this season after 16 games, head into the match fresh from a 1-0 victory over rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford on Monday.

Another three points against top four opposition will fuel United’s belief that they can mount a sustained challenge for a record 19th league title.

"Sunday is a massive game," said Ferguson. "That will go a long way to establishing what happens at the top of the league.

"We are 16 games undefeated. Now we have to make it 17."

After a slow start to the season, United have now won 20 points from their last 24, with Ferguson believing the return to form and fitness of the United defence has played a crucial role.

Chelsea, by contrast, are still searching for their first Premier League victory in six matches after a dismal run of form stretching back to early November, which has seen them take only six points from a possible 21.

Nevertheless, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has drawn encouragement from his side’s showing in their 1-1 draw at Tottenham last weekend, when only a saved Didier Drogba penalty in stoppage time denied them a win.

"I think our bad moment is behind us," declared Ancelotti, who expects Frank Lampard to start against United after more than three months out injured.

Lampard, who came on as a substitute for the final moments of the draw with Spurs, completed a training match on Thursday and will play provided he suffers no adverse reaction.

Elsewhere, Arsenal will seek to bounce back from the disappointment of defeat at Old Trafford when they face mid-table Stoke at the Emirates.

The match will be the first time Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross faces Arsenal since he broke Gunners’ midfielder Aaron Ramsey’s leg in February.

But Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger dismissed suggestions the game would have an edge to it, and denied reports that Shawcross would be given a special security detail on arrival at the ground.

Wenger, who has angered Stoke in the past by branding them a "rugby team" because of their physical style, says past encounters will count for nothing.

"It is Arsenal against Stoke. Every game is different and it is a new start," Wenger said.

"We do not have any preconceived ideas before the game about any individual. We want to win the game, focus on it and respect our opponent as we always do. What happened in the past, happened in the past."

Manchester City, meanwhile, will hope to set aside the simmering spat involving captain Carlos Tevez when they entertain Everton at Eastlands on Monday.

Tevez stunned the club this week by issuing a transfer request, but it is not clear whether the Argentine international will continue to be available for selection.

Tottenham will hope to maintain their push for a place in the top four when they travel to Blackpool on Sunday.

Blackburn will begin life without sacked manager Sam Allardyce with a match against West Ham at Ewood Park.

Hammers boss Avram Grant has reportedly been given three matches to save himself from the sack as West Ham try to haul themselves off the bottom of the table, where they are four points adrift of safety.

Fixtures (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)


Sunderland v Bolton (1245GMT), Arsenal v Stoke, Birmingham v Newcastle, Blackburn v West Ham, Wigan v Aston Villa, Liverpool v Fulham (1730GMT)


Blackpool v Tottenham (1330GMT), West Brom v Wolves, Chelsea v Man Utd (1600GMT)


Man City v Everton (2000GMT)