LONDON: Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur will be looking to boost their Champions League ambitions at each other’s expense when they clash in a crucial Premier League New Year’s Day fixture at Old Trafford.
Both sides have endured trying periods this season, United losing five of their first 15 games and Tottenham sacking manager Andre Villas-Boas, but both have enjoyed improved fortunes in recent weeks.
United have won their last six games in all competitions, while Tottenham are unbeaten in the league under new head coach Tim Sherwood, who has introduced an adventurous 4-4-2 formation.
The two teams remain eight points behind leaders Arsenal, with United ahead of Spurs on goal difference, but results over the festive period enabled them to close to within just three points of the Champions League places.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are only two points ahead, having conceded their grip on top spot and slipped to fifth place following consecutive losses at title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea.
United expect to welcome back Wayne Rooney after he missed Saturday’s 1-0 win at Norwich City with a groin injury but Robin van Persie remains sidelined due to a thigh problem.
In the Dutchman’s absence, manager David Moyes has urged Danny Welbeck, scorer of four goals in his last four league games, to carry his impressive recent form through to the end of the season.
“He got one goal last year and now he is on seven for this season,” said Moyes.
“It could be better but you have got to say it is going in the right direction.
“With the second half of the season to go, he should be certainly looking to score 20 goals.”
Spurs held United to a 2-2 draw when the sides last met at White Hart Lane on December 1 and won 3-2 on their last visit to Old Trafford in September 2012.
Arsenal finished 2013 in first place after a hard-fought 1-0 win at Newcastle United at the weekend and on Wednesday they host a Cardiff City side still adjusting to life without sacked manager Malky Mackay.
However, with Manchester City a point behind in second place and Chelsea a point further back in third, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that it is too early to be thinking about the league title.
“Look, we believe in ourselves and we are determined to give our best, absolutely, and to turn back on the season at the end and think we have given our best,” he said.
Chelsea produced one of their most impressive performances of the season to date in Sunday’s 2-1 win at home to Liverpool and Jose Mourinho’s side will look to keep the pressure on Arsenal when they visit Southampton.
City, meanwhile, can give themselves an early taste of life at the summit if they avoid defeat at Swansea City in the first game of 2014.
However, like Wenger, City captain Vincent Kompany has played down the significance of podium placings at this stage of the campaign.
“Being top is important but it doesn’t mean too much yet,” said the Belgium centre-back.
“We’ve put ourselves in a nice position for the second half of the season, but ultimately we arrive in January and there’s still not much between all the teams.”
Liverpool will be doubly motivated when they welcome Hull City to Anfield, having been beaten 3-1 by Steve Bruce’s side a month ago.
Everton capitalised on Liverpool’s loss at Chelsea by stealing into fourth place with a 2-1 win at home to Southampton, but on Wednesday they visit Stoke City, who have lost only once at home this season.
Bottom club Sunderland, meanwhile, will hope to escape from the relegation zone when they host Aston Villa, having closed to within two points of safety following a run of four games without defeat.