Manchester United will look to crank up the psychological pressure on Manchester City this weekend as they aim to extend their lead at the top of the table with victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Neither United nor City have anything else to distract them in their pursuit of the English crown, with both sides having been eliminated from the UEFA Europa League in the last 16 on Thursday. United were outclassed 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao for a 5-3 aggregate defeat, while City fell victim to the away goals rule despite battling back from 2-0 down at home to Sporting Lisbon to claim a 3-3 draw on aggregate.
A reduced Premier League fixture list owing to the FA Cup quarter-finals means United have the opportunity to go four points clear if they manage to defeat second-bottom Wolves at Molineux on Sunday. But United, who displaced City from the top of the table last weekend, will be all too aware of the dangers of complacency, having seen a 29-match unbeaten run end in defeat at the same venue last season.
Wolves' victory in the corresponding fixture last year proved to be a turning point in their season, with the Midlands club eventually climbing off the bottom and narrowly avoiding relegation. However, few pundits are expecting a repeat upset this weekend, with Wolves heading into the game on the back of three defeats in four games that have seen their leaky defence ship 14 goals.
United, by contrast, are on a roll - Europa League disappointments notwithstanding - with four consecutive league wins suggesting that the reigning champions are building an ominous momentum.
And manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists that he will not dwell on the Europa League exit. "Feeling sorry for myself is not an issue for me," he said. "There is a disappointment, but analysing the performances is more important and we have an important game on Sunday."
In-form United winger Ashley Young also believes the Red Devils are perfectly positioned after successfully taking maximum points in recent fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. "A lot of people might not have said that we'd be in front of City but we've got that belief that as long as we're winning our games, the pressure is on them," Young said.
"We said if we came through the tough (recent) fixtures then we set ourselves up for the rest of the season. We have managed to do that away from home and our home form is key now."
City left to cool their heels
Second-placed City will not re-enter the title fray until next Wednesday, when they entertain Chelsea at Eastlands. City manager Roberto Mancini has reiterated the need for cool heads, insisting the fate of the league title is still in the club's hands with United still to visit the City of Manchester Stadium next month.
"We can't cry, now is the time to be strong and keep going. We have a top team and we have time to recover," Mancini urged. "We can't cry because we are one point behind Manchester United.
"We have 10 games, our fortune is in our hands and we can change it if we want to. Just like we lost points against Swansea, United can lose points against Wolverhampton. Every game will be difficult for both teams."
Mancini believes his team's Europa League defeat will tee-up a dramatic season's finale. "I think it will be a good fight between them and us until the end of the season because we only have the Premier League and we can put all our strength into this. I think it will be good," he said.
Elsewhere this weekend, Wigan Athletic will attempt to move off the bottom of the table with victory over West Bromwich Albion. Wigan manager Roberto Martinez insists that his club is unfazed at being one of the favourites for the drop.
"The belief is always there. From the outside the first team to go down is always Wigan. That has never affected us and you learn to live with that," said Martinez, whose side are just two points behind 17th-placed Bolton Wanderers. "We are bottom of the league, but we don't play like a team at the bottom of the league."
In other matches this weekend, Newcastle United will attempt to bounce back from their last-gasp defeat by Arsenal on Monday when they face Norwich City at St James' Park, while Fulham tackle Swansea City at Craven Cottage.