United ready to flex muscles as title race hots up

Louis Saha expects Manchester United’s superior squad to give the champions a decisive edge as the Premier League title fight hots up.

Sir Alex Ferguson rested Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Anderson and Patrice Evra against Sunderland on Wednesday but United still coasted to an emphatic 4-0 victory that took them back to the top of the table.

Ferguson’s side, who lead Arsenal by a point, face West Ham at Upton Park on Saturday in their third game in six days and a win would see them end the year in first place.

With so many games coming thick and fast over the Christmas period, Saha is confident United’s strength in depth will help them ease further ahead of their title rivals.

The French striker, who scored twice at Sunderland, said: “The squad we have is amazing. It is strong in every position.

“A few players did not even travel on Wednesday and we still have Paul Scholes and Gary Neville to come back.

“We are all aware this is a difficult period. Any team who has not got the right squad will struggle because fitness-wise, it is very hard.”

Arsenal have set the pace in the title race this season but Arsene Wenger’s side showed a few signs of exhaustion when they surrendered pole position with a tame goalless draw at Portsmouth.

The Gunners have another tricky trip this weekend at Everton, who have lost only one of their last 14 matches.

Everton midfielder Tim Cahill believes his side are on the verge of becoming a major force in the English league and he can’t wait to take on Arsenal.

“We are flying and are just happy to be in this position.
I really believe we have a great chance of achieving something. It is all about how we apply ourselves,” Cahill said.

“We will be buzzing again when we play one of the elite teams in the world. Arsenal will be coming here knowing they are facing a massive game. We probably will not see a lot of the ball. But if we get a chance, we have got to try and take it.”

Wenger will be without Robin van Persie again as the Dutch striker struggles with a muscle problem, while captain William Gallas is a doubt.

Chelsea manager Avram Grant faces the first real test of his reign as his side take on Newcastle without John Terry, Didier Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho, with Frank Lampard also likely to sidelined.

Injuries to key players ruined Chelsea’s league campaign last season and they could be derailed by the same problem this term.

But Grant, heartened by Andriy Shevchenko’s impressive display against Aston Villa and the return to fitness of Michael Ballack, refuses to rule out a title challenge.

“As long as we have a chance we will do everything we can to catch Manchester United and Arsenal,” Grant said. “We have character and will not give up. We will do anything to challenge them.

“This job has been a big challenge from the day I started it and I will accept this latest challenge.”

Rafa Benitez knows Liverpool must beat Manchester City on Sunday to cement their place in the top four and keep in touch with the leaders.

Benitez, whose fourth-placed side are nine points behind United, believes they can still win the league.

“When people ask if we have a realistic chance of the title they are really trying to tell me something,” Benitez said. “Let’s wait and see.

“We have Manchester City next and that is very important for us.

“We have two more games over the holiday period. The most important thing for me is that we stay close. You never know what can happen.”

Fixtures (3pm GMT unless stated):

Saturday

Birmingham vs Fulham

Chelsea vs Newcastle

Everton vs Arsenal (5.15pm GMT)

Portsmouth vs Middlesbrough

Sunderland vs Bolton

Tottenham vs Reading

West Ham vs Manchester United

Wigan vs Aston Villa

Sunday

Derby vs Blackburn (1.30 pm GMT)

Manchester City v Liverpool (4pm GMT)—Sapa-AFP

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