Man United can wrap up Premier League with Spurs win
MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- After slipping out of the Champions League qualification places, Tottenham will look to halt its traditional end-of-season slump by beating Manchester City on Sunday to potentially set up an early end to the Premier League title race.
Manchester United has been on the brink of a record-extending 20th English title for weeks and it could finally be clinched at home against Aston Villa on Monday if second-place City loses at White Hart Lane.
On current form, that is unlikely, with Tottenham imploding in the league to compound its exit in the Europa League quarterfinals last week. City has won its last four matches in all competitions, delaying United's inevitable championship.
The potential return of wingers Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon from injury will boost Tottenham's chances of a first league win in four, an all-to-familiar slump that has dropped the team down to fifth place below London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.
"We have to stay together and to go for that top-four place in the Premier League,'' Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen said. "We have had a rest, we clear our heads and we come back against Manchester City.
"A lot of players could be coming back, important players, and we only have big games now - City, Chelsea, all cup finals. We go for the highest place possible.''
The fight for third and fourth place, which sees four teams separated by five points with Everton also in contention, is proving to be much more exciting than the title race.
Missing out on Champions League football for a second straight season would be a bitter blow to Tottenham, which finished fourth last season but was denied a place in Europe's top competition by Chelsea winning the Champions League.
Like last season, Tottenham put itself in a strong position heading into the run-in but has been beaten by Liverpool and Fulham in recent weeks and also drawn at home to Everton. Arsenal has taken advantage, winning four of its last five matches and can put even more pressure on its north London rival by beating Fulham away on Saturday.
"My belief was always strong and still is,'' said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has qualified for the Champions League every season since joining the club in 1996. "I'm confident we'll do it.
"We just have to make sure we don't depend on the results of the other teams. Therefore what is the most important thing is to win our next game.''
Chelsea, which climbed above Arsenal into third with a 3-0 win at Fulham on Wednesday, visits Liverpool on Sunday for its 61st game of a grueling season that interim manager Rafa Benitez is just about managing to keep on course by rotating his team every week.
For that reason, captain John Terry - a scorer of two goals against Fulham - could again be rested at Anfield despite it being a crucial game in the race for the Champions League spots.
"We have been playing two games a week for four or five months, so it's not easy keeping the players focused, concentrated and not tired,'' said Benitez, when asked about Terry's availability. "We have to keep them ready for every game. Every player wants to play every game, but they have to realize they can't do that and be 100 percent in each game.''
United can only wait and see if City slip up before hosting Villa at Old Trafford, with the title tantalizingly in reach. Holding a 13-point lead, a maximum of six points is needed in its last five games but that target could be reduced if Spurs do the leaders a favor on Sunday.
"We've been confident throughout the season,'' United defender Phil Jones said, "and nothing is going to change now.''
At the bottom, Norwich and Stoke have been dragged into the relegation mire in recent weeks and are desperate for victories against Reading and Queens Park Rangers, respectively, who are the league's bottom two teams and on the verge of going down.
Third-from-last Wigan, which visits West Ham on Saturday, is three points behind Villa, Stoke and Sunderland, which is at home to Everton.