United look to knock Liverpool off top

Manchester United's seemingly inevitable march to the top of the Premier League table could finally come to fruition at nearby Bolton Wanderers on Saturday as the champions step up their bid for a third successive title.

Alex Ferguson's men followed up the weekend's emphatic victory against Chelsea with a 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic on Wednesday to reduce Liverpool's lead at the top of the standings to just two points with a game in hand.

Playing two days before Liverpool are embroiled in a tough Merseyside derby, Manchester United will lead the league for the first time this season with a win at a ground where they have lost only once in their last 10 visits.

However, they will be forced to make the relatively short trip without England striker Wayne Rooney, who picked up a hamstring injury soon after scoring the first-minute winner against Wigan. Argentine striker Carlos Tevez is also a doubtful starter.

Ferguson said he expected Rooney to be out for at least three weeks, adding that the visit to Bolton would not be an easy one.

"It is a critical time of the season and the games fall pretty quickly," Ferguson told Sky Sports News after Wednesday's win.

"We want to build on the win over Chelsea and this one tonight. These big games take it out of you, but you just have to keep going."

United travel to Bolton having not conceded a Premier League goal in nine matches, one short of Chelsea's league record.

ANFIELD SHOWDOWNS

Liverpool, meanwhile, do not play until Monday, when they meet Everton in the 180th Merseyside league derby at Anfield before locking horns again at the same venue six days later in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Both encounters are likely to be hard fought and passionate, with Liverpool enjoying an unbeaten streak of 12 matches in all competitons against an Everton side riding high on a six-game unbeaten run in which they have not conceded a goal.

Chelsea, who slipped back to third place after United's win over Wigan, host Stoke City at Stamford Bridge, where the visitors have not won a league match for 35 years.

The home side will go into Saturday's game in a positive frame of mind after beating Southend United 4-1 in an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday, although coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's new zonal defensive system was tested in the early stages.

Scolari will be without England midfielder Joe Cole who appeared to suffer a serious knee injury at Southend - and he is also unlikely to include Didier Drogba after leaving the striker out of the squad for the FA Cup tie.

Extra police and stewards will be employed at White Hart Lane for what could prove to be a prickly encounter between Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth.

Spurs fans have been warned not to target indecent chants towards their former skipper Sol Campbell following the recent arrest of 11 fans for doing just that when the teams met earlier in the season.

Portsmouth fans are also unlikely to be too friendly in their tone towards former manager Harry Redknapp and striker Jermain Defoe, who returned to Spurs last