Man Utd's mettle tested at Fulham as rivals wait to pounce
After last weekend's 4-1 hammering by Liverpool, Manchester United's performance at Fulham on Saturday is certain to be closely examined for clues as to the state of the champions' psyche.sports Updated: Mar 20, 2009 10:16 IST
After last weekend's 4-1 hammering by Liverpool, Manchester United's performance at Fulham on Saturday is certain to be closely examined for clues as to the state of the champions' psyche.
But if an element of self-doubt has contaminated the Old Trafford dressing room, Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have escaped infection.
The Portuguese winger remains convinced that United, who head to Fulham with a four-point advantage and a game in hand over Chelsea and Liverpool, can hold off their rivals in the title race as well as going on to lift the FA Cup and the Champions League trophy.
"We're positive about all the competitions we're involved in and we want to win them all," Ronaldo said. "It would be great to achieve that.
"Last season we won the league and the European Cup, and this year we have the opportunity to do even better. We'll continue working hard and we believe we can do this."
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson shrugged off Sunday's mauling at the hands of Liverpool as "just one of those days" but it would be a major surprise if he did not shake things up for the trip to Fulham, who were comfortably beaten 4-0 when the champions visited Craven Cottage for an FA Cup tie last month.
Carlos Tevez scored twice in that match but an ineffective display against Liverpool is likely to see the Argentinian return to the bench with Dimitar Berbatov set to return.
Darren Fletcher is likely to come into a midfield that was outmuscled by Liverpool and Nemanja Vidic's red card in that match means Jonny Evans will return to the back four in place of the suspended Serb.
While hoping for United to slip up again, both Liverpool and Chelsea face tough assignments as they seek to keep the pressure on the leaders.
Chelsea travel to Tottenham for what is always a closely contested London derby while Liverpool, buoyed by manager Rafael Benitez's decision to commit himself to the club until 2014, entertain 5th-placed Aston Villa on Sunday.
Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish believes this week's announcement of Benitez's deal could not have been better timed.
"It allows Rafa plenty of time to prepare for next season, to identify new players he may want to bring into the club and to look at any other changes he may want to make," said Dalglish, who served Liverpool as both player and manager.
"If we'd gone into the summer with his future still undecided then it would have been difficult to make those sort of plans."
Dalglish added: "It's been a very positive week for everyone connected with the club, but let's hope it's just the first of a number of positive weeks before the end of the season.
"This season isn't finished yet and it's by no means a foregone conclusion that Manchester United are going to win the league. We gave them a fright at the weekend so the title race is open again."
Having regained the initiative in their battle with Villa for fourth place, Arsenal will seek to maintain their recent momentum on Saturday at Newcastle, who are desperately hoping fit-again Michael Owen will rediscover his goal touch quickly.
Newcastle go into Saturday's clash at St James with only their goal difference advantage over Stoke and Portsmouth keeping them out of the relegation zone and Owen admitted the pressure is mounting.
"I have got a history of taking one or two games to get into my stride again, but we haven't got time for me to do that," he said. "Hopefully my eye is in straight away and I start knocking the goals in again immediately."
Six points adrift of safety, bottom side West Brom will regard Bolton's visit on Saturday as a last chance to launch a great escape from relegation while Stoke and Middlesbrough, the other two sides currently residing in the drop zone, will both regard their meeting at the Britannia Stadium as a must-win fixture.