United face Liverpool test
Manchester United are expected to face the sternest test of their unbeaten Premier League campaign on Saturday as the leaders resume their bitter rivalry with Liverpool.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team travel to Anfield after an unconvincing run of results before the international break, with shaky draws against Stoke and Basle in the UEFA Champions League followed by an unconvincing win over Norwich.
Liverpool by contrast are heading into the fixture following consecutive wins over Brighton, Wolves and Everton, and Kenny Dalglish's men will also be buoyed by the fact they trounced United 3-1 in the corresponding fixture in March.
A win for Dalglish's men on Saturday would take the Merseysiders to within three points of United, who overtook Liverpool as the most successful club in English football history last season by clinching their 19th league title. Yet despite the invariably titanic nature of meetings between the two clubs, Dalglish insists he attaches no special importance to the fixture.
"People say this is the biggest game of the season but I don't look at any game as being big or small," Dalglish said. "It's another game, another three points for a win. The only difference this time is the fact that if we win we will move a bit closer to them."
Dalglish, who may start captain Steven Gerrard for the first time this season, has played down the fact that Liverpool have a good recent record against United, winning their last three games at Anfield. "In this fixture last season, we got our reward for playing very well and won 3-1," Dalglish said. "But we won't get anything on Saturday because of what we did the last time we faced off against them."
The pressure-cooker atmosphere may also see Wayne Rooney's temperament come under scrutiny once again following the striker's dismissal on England duty last week, a red-card which has seen him banned for all three matches in the UEFA EURO 2012 group stages.
Ferguson however is relaxed about Rooney's sending-off, insisting the England star had matured in recent years. "He has this fiery temper which, to my mind, is not the worst thing in the world," Ferguson said.
"He has shown tremendous improvement in his temperament and his reactions to tackles and things over the past few years. As maturity comes along it brings other things. It brings responsibility. He is improving all the time."
Second-placed Manchester City meanwhile will attempt to put the saga of Carlos Tevez's future to one side as they face Aston Villa at Eastlands.
City boss Roberto Mancini may have striker Sergio Aguero fit again but is uncertain if he will risk the Argentinian star against a Villa side who are one of only four sides in the league who remain unbeaten this season. "I think that Sergio could be ready for Saturday. But I don't know if we'll take this risk," Mancini said. "Villa will be a difficult game. They haven't lost. For me they are a strong team."
Third-placed Chelsea meanwhile will attempt to keep touch with United and City with a victory against Everton, who have not lost a league match at Stamford Bridge since 2006. "Everton are looking for the sixth game unbeaten coming to the Bridge. We have to be alert and it is going to be a hard battle," Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas cautioned.
In other matches this weekend, Arsenal entertain Sunderland at the Emirates on Sunday while north London rivals Tottenham travel to unbeaten Newcastle.