Manchester United will seek to pile the psychological pressure on their absent Premier League rivals on Saturday with a victory against Wigan to increase their lead at the top of the table.
With second-placed Arsenal preparing for the League Cup final against Birmingham, and defending champions Chelsea with no fixture, a United win at Wigan will leave their rivals with little margin for error. A United victory would leave them a mammoth 15 points clear of Chelsea ahead of the two sides re-arranged fixture at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be certain to remove any trace of complacency from his team's ranks as they prepare to meet a Wigan side mired in a relegation dogfight at the foot of the table. Ferguson's squad have struggled to find their best form in recent matches, with a lacklustre 1-0 win over non-league Crawley last weekend followed by a mind-numbing 0-0 UEFA Champions League match with Marseille on Wednesday.
United captain Nemanja Vidic believes the club are entering what could be the decisive part of their season, with next Tuesday's clash with Chelsea followed by games against Liverpool and Arsenal in coming weeks. Vidic is insisting that the club abide by the old adage of taking each game as it comes - starting with Wigan. "We have other important games to play first and the next is Wigan. We have to take three points and I believe we can," Vidic told the club's website.
Wigan meanwhile have prepared for the game by re-laying the notoriously boggy playing surface at the DW Stadium, a move that will assist both sides, who favour a slick passing game. Latics boss Roberto Martinez said he had qualms about preparing a surface which is likely to benefit United as much as his own team.
"You don't want to go into a game where the players cannot express themselves and cannot play the game they want to play or we want to play," he said. "I'm extremely proud of that. From now until the end of the season every point is going to be valuable and it is important we do everything we can to help our players."
City reunion for Hughes
Elsewhere at the top of the table, Manchester City, who sit in third spot, eight points behind United, will attempt to keep their flagging title hopes alive with a win over Fulham, managed by former City boss Mark Hughes. Fulham have prepared for the game with a trip to Portugal, as Hughes seeks to rejuvenate his squad following last weekend's disappointing FA Cup exit to Birmingham. "Man City will be a big test, they are a good side," Hughes said. "I think the disappointment (of the FA Cup) will help us in that respect."
At the other end of the table, basement club Wolves will be hoping to drag Blackpool back into the relegation quagmire at Molineux. Wolves remain anchored to the foot of the division on 25 points, and need to start winning if they are to preserve their Premier League status.
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who watched Blackpool defeat Tottenham 3-1 at Bloomfield Road in midweek, said nothing less than three points will do for his team, who drew with West Bromwich Albion in their last outing. "It's a game we have got to win, there's no point dressing it up," McCarthy said. "Had we got six points out of the West Brom and Blackpool games then that would have been fabulous. But after drawing the first one, we need to make it four points out of the two matches."