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Ferdinand fears Man City stalling title defense

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand fears a resurgent Manchester City could stall his team's Premier League title defense in Sunday's derby match.

sports Updated: May 07, 2009 18:16 IST

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand fears a resurgent Manchester City could stall his team's Premier League title defense in Sunday's derby match.

The Red Devils need just seven points from a possible 12 in their remaining matches to secure the championship, while City is trying to qualify for the UEFA Europa League.

Ferdinand is taking nothing for granted, despite United's midweek triumph over Arsenal that put the team back in the Champions League final.

"We have to keep performing," he said. "It'll be a tough against City. They have won their last couple of matches and are on a bit of a roll, so they will feel they can come and do a job on us. It is up to us to make sure it doesn't happen."

A victory for City at Old Trafford would help manager Mark Hughes secure his future at the club at the end of a mixed first season, which has seen the arrival of wealthy Abu Dhabi owners and Robinho signed for a British record fee. The Brazil forward has scored in his last three matches after a barren spell.

"We are playing with confidence in every game _ we are strong, and that's reassuring for everybody," Hughes said. "We know we can cope with the intensity of the game.

"There are many elements that come together to get a good result, and they all have to come together when you play one of the top sides. The confidence comes from winning and knowing you can stand up to the challenge. I think we are at that point now." City's biggest fan this weekend will be Rafa Benitez, who still believes his second-place Liverpool side can close the three-point gap on United despite having played an extra match. But first on Saturday the Reds must beat West Ham to keep the pressure on United.

"United are not playing at their best level in the league, but not playing at your best level and winning games is a great quality," Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt said. "By contrast, we're now playing at our best level of the season. Everybody is fit _ it's great to have Stevie (Gerrard) back from injury. As I say, we are playing our best football.

"We always fight to the end. It is something that is embedded in this club, it is a great quality of the team. You have to believe. We always believe and if we can keep winning, who knows what might happen?"

Chelsea and Arsenal meet on Sunday needing to put aside the midweek Champions League semifinal losses as the London rivals battle for third place. Chelsea has 74 points _ three behind Liverpool _ followed by Arsenal on 68.

"We have got three more games to go but to be honest it has been a very difficult season for me," Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor said. "Now we have to focus on what we do best. This season was a little bit difficult for everyone, for the club, for myself so you just have to, with a few more games to go, play for our dignity, show character and hopefully come back."

On Monday, Newcastle hosts Middlesbrough in a crucial match for the northeast rivals facing relegation to the League Championship. Both are tied on 31 points with only West Bromwich Albion below them on 28.

Interim Newcastle manager Alan Shearer is doing little to alleviate the pressure on his side.

"I've been in huge games in my time, but this is the biggest," Shearer said. "I don't have to tell the players that this is one hell of a football match. The stakes are massive. There is a tremendous amount of pressure."

A draw would help neither team's survival prospects. But even if the St James' Park clash produces a winner, that team will still be tied on 34 points with Hull, assuming Phil Brown's side does not beat Stoke on Saturday.

A point above Stoke is Sunderland, which travels to Bolton. Blackburn can move closer to safety by beating Portsmouth. Aston Villa, which is at Fulham, has already secured qualification for the successor to the UEFA Cup and sixth-placed Everton can join them by winning at Tottenham.

But the final European place is still up for grabs. While West Ham is currently seventh, Man City, Fulham and Spurs are all just a point behind.

First Published: May 07, 2009 18:13 IST