Football: United avoiding fix with fixtures

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IF Alex Ferguson was not trying to patch together a team from his long list of crocks, he might find time to study and smile at the paradox of Manchester United fitting in a Premiership fixture today.

No matter the result - and Manchester United could be 14 points clear tonight if they defeat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough - they will have three fewer League fixtures to fit into their crowded season than their closest rivals Arsenal. And who was it who was most vocal in his opposition when Ferguson complained about fixture congestion last season?

Arsene Wenger, of course, and the Arsenal manager is likely to be the biter bit as his side run headlong into a pile-up of matches. A home game against Derby has yet to be arranged and that is before any potential replay coming out of tomorrow's FA Cup tie with West Ham or any semi-final commitments.

Meanwhile, United play another match although they will hardly be at full strength. According to Ferguson, Denis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel and Gary Pallister are definitely out but David Beckham has recovered from Wednesday's European Cup match in Monaco.

That match tops the Premiership bill but today's undercard is hardly wanting either as Liverpool and Bolton require points for differing reasons at Anfield, while Southampton hope to give their far-fetched European ambitions greater credibility against Everton at The Dell.

Liverpool tend to get one black month a season and this time February is likely to be duly condemned after they gained only two points out of a possible 12 in the League and lost both Robbie Fowler and their Coca- Cola Cup place in 28 miserable days.

Tomorrow Chelsea will also attempt to revive their hopes of gaining a Champions' League place after a splendid victory in the Cup-Winners' Cup on Thursday. Aston Villa are the opponents at Stamford Bridge and they also got a good result in Spain during the week. It could come down to who is less tired.