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Man United out to stretch EPL lead

23 February 2013-AFP

EPL English Premier League Manchester United

Out of action ... Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (Getty Images)

Manchester United will be without Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones as it aims to stretch its lead at the top of the English Premier League to 15 points on Saturday (2.00am Sunday AEDT) with victory at bottom club Queens Park Rangers.

Rooney, who has scored 10 goals in his past 11 starts, has a sinus problem, while Jones injured his ankle in Monday's 2-1 win at home to Reading in the FA Cup fifth round.

With progress in the FA Cup secured and a healthy 1-1 draw recorded in last week's trip to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last 16, United can re-focus its attention on the quest for a 20th English league crown.

United faces five consecutive games against sides in the table's bottom half, before a potential title decider at home to nearest rival Manchester City on April 8.

With Manchester City facing an awkward game at home to third-placed Chelsea on Sunday (12.30am Monday AEDT), a United win at QPR could represent a decisive blow in the title race.

However, having seen his side squander an eight-point lead over City last season, United manager Alex Ferguson has warned his players to concentrate on the task at hand.

"The only way we can approach it is by taking care of each game and eventually we run out of matches," he said.

"I can understand from Manchester City's point of view why they are talking about us dropping points. But the fact of the matter is they will drop them as well."

City has all but given up hope of retaining the title, after a run of three games without victory - culminating in a woeful 3-1 defeat at Southampton in its last league outing - dropped it 12 points off the pace.

It finds itself under pressure from Chelsea, who capitalised on City's defeat at St Mary's by crushing Wigan Athletic 4-1 to close within four points of Roberto Mancini's side.

Arsenal has endured a bleak week, crashing out of the FA Cup to second-tier Blackburn Rovers and then losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but it has plenty of incentive to beat Aston Villa on Saturday (2.00am Sunday AEDT).

Tottenham Hotspur enjoys a four-point lead over Arsenal in the final Champions League spot but, with Spurs not in action until Monday against West Ham United, a win for the Gunners will give them renewed hope of overhauling their derby rival.

QPR go into the weekend seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the table, but second-bottom Wigan and third-last Reading are within touching distance.

Swansea City's meeting with fourth-tier Bradford City in the League Cup final on Sunday means neither the Welsh club nor scheduled opponent Liverpool are in league action this weekend.

In other games, Fulham hosts Stoke City, Norwich City is at home to Everton, Wigan Athletic travels to Reading, West Bromwich Albion awaits Sunderland and Southampton is on the road to Newcastle United.

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