Edwin Van der Sar wants to keep title contenders at bay

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The Independent Football

Edwin van der Sar has called on his Manchester United team-mates to grasp the moment and not allow their rivals back into the Premier League title hunt.

Although United are on FA Cup duty at Southampton tomorrow evening, thoughts of next Tuesday's encounter with Aston Villa will shape Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection at St Mary's.

Victory will consolidate their present position, five points in front of Arsenal, with Manchester City and Chelsea even further adrift.

It is an unexpected advantage, even to those inside Old Trafford.

But it is one that should not be tossed away lightly.

"We didn't get the results we were looking for at the beginning of the season but luckily we got a break with some of the other results," the veteran Dutchman told MUTV.

"Somehow we found ourselves on the top of the league, without having played that well so far.

"But we are there, so we have to and try to stay there as long as possible."

Although he has not stated himself he intends to quit in the summer, that is what Sir Alex Ferguson expects, which just places extra emphasis on the results Van der Sar helps United achieve this season.

Now past his 40th birthday, it is highly unlikely the veteran Dutchman will make the journey to the south coast, meaning that either Tomasz Kuszczak will return or Anders Lindegaard will be handed his debut.

Lindegaard was on the bench at Blackpool on Tuesday but is still to play a competitive game since his arrival from Norwegian outfit Aalesund and is itching for the chance to prove fellow Dane Peter Schmeichel wrong in doubting his ability to follow in his shoes.

Plenty of other changes are anticipated too.

Rafael has been ruled out due to concussion, so John O'Shea can expect a recall, whilst Jonny Evans would also hope to find a place somewhere in the United defence.

Most interest will surround Ferguson's attack though, where 20-goal Dimitar Berbatov will probably be excused the lengthy trip but Wayne Rooney might be retained, knowing his place against Villa could be at risk if he performs as meekly as he did at Blackpool on Tuesday.

Rooney was a mere bystander compared to the second-half cameo of Javier Hernandez at Bloomfield Road and he may be asked to work in tandem with the Mexican at Southampton, knowing only one of them will keep their place against Gerard Houllier's men.