Manchester United ready for resurgent Tottenham

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The Independent Football

Manchester United's players saw Liverpool and Chelsea slip up in their pursuit of the Premier League title this week and now must avoid a stumble of their own against Tottenham on Saturday.

United beat Portsmouth on Wednesday to go three points clear at the top of the standings after Liverpool and Chelsea both drew their midweek games.

But the Red Devils are only just emerging from their own period of shaky form, which included back-to-back Premier League losses and elimination from the FA Cup semifinals, and could be vulnerable at Old Trafford against a Tottenham side unbeaten in six Premier League games against the top four this season.

Spurs, who beat both Liverpool and Chelsea this season, have won six of their past eight matches to move from the verge of the relegation zone and into contention for European qualification.

The north London side will hope to have captain Ledley King back in central defense alongside Jonathan Woodgate after his chronic knee complaint kept him out of last weekend's 1-0 win over Newcastle.

"Our record against the top four is impeccable but United will put out a strong side and it will be very tough," Woodgate said.

One of those players could be Ryan Giggs, who would make his 800th appearance for the club. Giggs set up the opening goal in Wednesday's 2-0 win, while fellow veteran Paul Scholes may also play again after making the second goal for Michael Carrick in his 600th club match.

The pair's guile could be crucial against a team increasingly hard to break down.

After five consecutive home games without conceding, Tottenham are trying hard to replicate their form at White Hart Lane in away matches.

Spurs have conceded just five goals in their last 15 home games - and nine all season - suggesting they could beat the club record of 11 in a season set back in 1919-20.

"We've done well in the games that we've won 1-0," Woodgate said. "It's important to keep clean sheets because our strikers are always going to score goals."

Liverpool are at Hull knowing they have to win if they are to avoid compounding the damage done to their challenge by Tuesday's 4-4 draw with Arsenal.

The Reds have scored 27 goals in their past eight games to shake off their reputation as one of the league's less attractive big sides, but have to tighten up a defence that has been breached eight times in two matches.

"Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football but now we must sort some of the problems we're having in defence," Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina said. "We've always had the balance between attack and defence. That's why we're always there in the Champions League and cup competitions, because we are a team with balance.

"We have to get back to this way."

Chelsea's challenge is fading after the Blues slipped six points off the lead with Wednesday's 0-0 draw against Everton, leaving the side similarly hungry for a win at West Ham - a side that is also desperate for points to keep seventh place and likely European qualification ahead of a resurgent Tottenham.

Also on Saturday, Aston Villa are at Bolton, Manchester City are at Everton, Stoke are at Fulham and Sunderland are at last-place West Bromwich Albion.

If the Baggies lose, Blackburn could end up effectively relegating them with victory over Wigan on Sunday, when Arsenal host Middlesbrough.

Newcastle hosts Portsmouth on Monday still looking for a first victory under manager Alan Shearer.