City title quest enters home stretch
Manchester City enter the final straight of their title duel with Manchester United this weekend with the Premier League leaders launching a challenging run-in with an awkward trip to Swansea.
While City have maintained their two-point lead at the top, Roberto Mancini's men have been unable to stretch their advantage over second-placed United, who have clung stubbornly to their coat-tails in recent weeks.
A growing body of opinion is backing the notion that United are now favourites to retain their title thanks to a run-in that appears to be significantly less challenging than that of City.
After demolishing Tottenham 3-1 at White Hart Lane on Sunday, United now have only one game left this season against opponents ranked in the top seven - the potential title-decider at Eastlands on 30 April.
City by contrast still have to play the likes of Chelsea at home while travelling to in-form Arsenal and sixth-placed Newcastle.
City's immediate focus however is their trip to Wales to face a Swansea side who have already taken points off of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool at the Liberty Stadium this season.
And Swansea striker Danny Graham has warned that the promoted side are ready to blow the title race wide-open on Sunday. "We've had some top results against big teams at the Liberty this season," Graham said. "I don't see why we couldn't do it again.
"It's going to be a tough game and a good challenge - but they won't find it easy either and that's a credit to the lads here. I'm sure City view it as a tough game but we will give as good as we get."
City will be without skipper Vincent Kompany who suffered a calf injury in Thursday's 1-0 UEFA Europa League defeat at Sporting Lisbon.
United, who were also beaten in Europe when Athletic Bilbao grabbed a 3-2, last 16 first leg win, will attempt to maintain the pressure on City as they entertain West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson was purring with pleasure after last weekend's victory over Tottenham, although the United manager is adamant that the run-in will have plenty more twists and turns for both sides.
Ferguson however believes United's formidable experience of coping with the pressure of a title race could prove to be vital as City attempt to land their first championship for 44 years.
"Both teams will drop points, but the important thing is not dropping as many as your opponent and we're experienced, we won't get nervous, we're enjoying it," Ferguson said after the win over Spurs.
Elsewhere this weekend, Chelsea will attempt to get their hopes of a top-four finish back on track against Stoke after a traumatic few weeks which culminated with the sacking of manager Andre Villas-Boas last weekend.
The Londoners have won just once in their previous six Premier League games, although caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo began his reign as interim coach with a 2-0 FA Cup replay victory over Birmingham in midweek.
Chelsea icon John Terry is expected to return from injury for Saturday's clash at Stamford Bridge after making a quicker-than-expected return following knee surgery.
Terry said Chelsea's problems on and the off the pitch had made him determined to return to action as quickly as possible. "I said to the physios, the way things were here, I just wanted to push myself and be involved and try to get back as quickly as possible," he said. "The target for myself was always to get back and hopefully be back for the Stoke game, so this is a massive boost for me."
Tottenham meanwhile will attempt to bounce back from consecutive league defeats against Arsenal and United when they travel to Everton, who are currently unbeaten in eight games. Everton's last defeat came against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January.
Spurs are now nervously looking over their shoulders at Arsenal, who have moved to within four points of their north London rivals. Arsenal, who made a valiant exit from the UEFA Champions League in midweek when they defeated AC Milan 3-0, entertain Newcastle at the Emirates on Monday.
Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said the club were determined to overhaul Tottenham for third place. "I would not settle right now for fourth place. We are four points behind the other north London club - I am not going to say their name - and hopefully we can challenge them," the Polish international said.