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Fixtures favour City as United hang on

By Reuters

Manchester United will be happy to hang on to Manchester City's coat-tails over the next few crucial weeks as the northwest rivals go head-to-head for the Premier League title. 

That was United manager Alex Ferguson's view after his side negotiated the first of a tricky run of fixtures with a 2-1 victory at Arsenal on Sunday, hours after City got out of jail to beat third-placed Tottenham Hotspur 3-2. 

Those results left City three points clear of United and eight clear of Spurs and, while the Londoners could still claw their way back into the picture, is looking like a two-horse race between the sky blue and red halves of Manchester. 

The next few weeks could go a long way to deciding whether City finally emerge from the shadow cast by Alex Fergsuon's serial title winners. 

City's looming league fixtures look the easier and they will view the next half a dozen games as a perfect chance to turn up the heat on the defending champions. 

After Wednesday's League Cup semi-final, second leg against Liverpool, when they must overturn a 1-0 deficit, they can look forward to hosting Fulham, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers along with trips to Everton, Aston Villa and Swansea. 

United, on the other hand, have Chelsea and Tottenham away in their next five league fixtures, as well as Liverpool at home - all that after this weekend's FA Cup clash at Anfield. 

There is also the small matter of City away in April. 

"I said before the game that we had four massive away games [Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and City] to come and that's one out the way," said Ferguson, whose ability to mastermind the run-in to a title chase is unrivalled, told United's website. 

"What we need to do is stay on City's coat-tails. Football is a funny game. The game at City today tells you things can happen and there will be changes [before the end of the season]." 

That task will be complicated by a nagging run of injuries which is stretching Ferguson's squad to the limit. 

Rio Ferdinand was forced to miss the Arsenal match with a flare-up of his back trouble and Phil Jones lasted just 17 minutes before succumbing to an ankle injury. 

"It's not good news for us," Ferguson, who is also without central defensive rock Nemanja Vidic, said. "I think Jones will be out for a few weeks -- it's ankle ligaments." 

While City must make do without influential midfielder Yaya Toure while he plays at the African Nations Cup, they will be boosted by the return of central defender Vincent Kompany, who will be eligible for the away trip to Everton next week after completing a four-match ban. 

Unpredictable as the top flight has been this season it is not too fanciful to suggest City could harvest maximum points from their next six games -- a return that would test United's staying power to the full. 
Should United still be within striking distance once the days are stretching out and the daffodils are in bloom, however, the odds of them retaining their title will shorten rapidly. 

"I always say the league is not a sprint, it's a marathon," United's experienced left back Patrice Evra said. 

"We are still behind City but we have to keep going, keep winning games and I'm really confident in the team because everyone is working really hard and when we play with the United spirit it is difficult to beat us."