Premier League leaders Manchester United begin the year 2013 at Wigan Athletic on Tuesday, with manager Alex Ferguson hoping they can muster enough freshness to keep Manchester City at arm’s length.
United overcame West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday to take their tally of goals to 50 in 20 games and preserve the seven-point advantage they enjoy over second-place City at the top of the standings.
Ferguson’s men have galvanised their grip on first place during the Christmas period and are now overwhelming favourites to secure a 20th English title.
United face games against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Fulham and Everton over the next six weeks, while Real Madrid loom in the Champions League.
Wigan moved out of the relegation zone by beating Aston Villa 3-0 on Saturday and Ferguson is wary of returning to the DW Stadium after seeing his side beaten there in April last season as United’s title push began to come apart.
“It will be a hard game,” said the United manager.
“But hopefully we can freshen up again. Possibly Phil Jones will be ready and Rafael will be ready. We rested Javier Hernandez (against West Brom), and also Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, so we have enough freshness to bring in.”
Ferguson must also assess whether or not captain Nemanja Vidic is capable of playing twice in four days, having only recently returned to action.
While United were strolling past West Brom, City were embroiled in a frantic game at Norwich City in which they eventually prevailed 4-3.
For all the champions’ endeavour, the distance between themselves and United remains the same, but manager Roberto Mancini believes it is still too early to be concerned by league positions.
Below the top two, the contest to secure Champions League qualification threatens to be keenly fought, with just five points separating third-place Chelsea and West Brom in seventh.
Fourth-place Tottenham welcome Reading to White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day, while Chelsea, who won 2-0 at Everton on Sunday, host rock bottom Queens Park Rangers – who are eight points adrift of safety – on Wednesday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, will hope for a more straightforward game at Southampton after seeing his side blunder past Newcastle United 7-3 in a madcap match on Saturday.
The new Premier League year begins at the Hawthorns, where West Brom host Fulham.AFP