Manchester United's trademark reaction to a setback in more than two decades under Alex Ferguson has been to come out with all guns blazing and the manager will expect nothing less at Fulham on Saturday. Last week's 4-1 defeat by Liverpool after 11 consecutive Premier League wins did more than dent a few egos, it stoked the embers of a title race that appeared to have been extinguished by United's relentless pursuit of a record-equalling 18th English crown. Guus Hiddink, whose Chelsea side are locked together with Liverpool four points behind United, believes the door has been left slightly ajar and that the tension is back in the league season. Rafa Benitez says Liverpool must win their remaining nine games to stand a chance of overhauling the leaders but he and Hiddink are in high spirits and will take more than a passing interest in events at Craven Cottage at the weekend. Ferguson has seen it all before but even the old master, with 10 Premier League titles on his glittering CV, says the closing weeks of a title race can be an uncomfortable experience however many times you have done it. "You only really relish it if you end up winning," Ferguson told MUTV. "You're prepared to go through the agony as long as you end up on top. "It can be edgy but you have to accept the challenge. Being there is the greatest thing and that's what we are striving for." BIG STATEMENT United, who have a game in hand on Liverpool and Chelsea, will try to make a big statement at Fulham and slam the door firmly back in the faces of their pursuers. With no midweek fixture to worry about, Ferguson's troops will have had a full week to lick their wounds and will be keen to make amends, even without suspended defender Nemanja Vidic. Earlier this month they thrashed Fulham 4-0 at Craven Cottage in the FA Cup but will be expecting more resistance this time against a side still not clear of the relegation dogfight. Chelsea, looking to maintain their unbeaten run since Hiddink took over last month, visit Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday while a rejuvenated Liverpool host fifth-placed Aston Villa on Sunday. Midfielder Michael Ballack believes Chelsea are ready to pounce should United falter. "It will be difficult to catch them but if they drop points we will be there," Ballack told the club's website. Liverpool have been boosted by the news defender Daniel Agger is ready to return after being sidelined with a back problem while Alvaro Arbeloa is also expected to be in the squad after missing the win at United. Elsewhere, Newcastle United host fourth-placed Arsenal on Saturday with just goal difference separating the St James' Park club and the bottom three.
19 March 2009
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