Fulham Vs Manchester United, Sat 19 Dec 2009

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Football News

Sir Alex Ferguson would be delighted if the Premier League did not turn into a two-horse race this season - even though history suggests it will.

Already this term, a general view has been concluded that Ferguson's Manchester United side will be scrapping it out with Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea by the time May comes around.

Yet a bizarre sequence of results last weekend - including Aston Villa's victory over United at Old Trafford - has cast doubt on such statements.

And, with Tottenham returning to winning ways during the week, there is a sense of optimism about the possibility of a genuinely open title race, one that Ferguson would welcome.

"It could be open," said Ferguson as he prepares to take his side to Fulham.

"It is a tough league. The form of Aston Villa makes you look over your shoulder and say `hey, wait a minute'.

"And Tottenham are challenging in that top group as well.

"The history of the league points to it being between two teams but, from the spectator and general interest point of view, you hope it changes.

"It would be good if four or five teams are involved in the last month of the season. It would be fantastic."

United are sweating on Nemanja Vidic's fitness ahead of the trip to Craven Cottage.

Vidic limped out of the midweek win over Wolves with a calf strain but with Jonny Evans (calf), John O'Shea (leg), Gary Neville (groin), Rio Ferdinand (back) and Wes Brown (hamstring) all definitely out, Ferguson is hoping the Serbian makes it.

Tomasz Kuszczak continues in goal as Edwin van der Sar (knee) has returned to Holland for treatment.

Just as he was being pitched into a Champions League meeting with old friend David Beckham, Ferguson confirmed Ryan Giggs had signed a one-year contract extension.

"Ryan deserves a new contract and I am sure that he will play for another two years," said Ferguson.

"His form is fantastic at the moment and he is playing some of his best football."

Giggs' longevity sets a standard few others will get close to matching.

However, in overcoming long-standing hamstring trouble, he also gives hope to Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves.

"Rio is improving," said Ferguson. "He is much better now and not too far away, probably two or three weeks.

"And Owen is doing a bit better this week as well. He is getting there slowly and we hope he will be back by the end of January."

Roy Hodgson has won plenty of praise for his work at Fulham over the last couple of years, with suggestions even being raised that the 62-year-old could be asked to replace Fabio Capello when the Italian quits the England hot-seat.

Ferguson is full of praise for Hodgson's achievements, which continued this week when a much-changed Fulham line-up earned a Europa League last 32 encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk by beating Basle in Switzerland.

"There is no question Fulham's improvement is down to the manager," said Ferguson.

"It is a remarkable turnaround. Who would have thought Fulham would not only qualify for Europe but got into the latter stages by winning away after they have made five changes Wednesday."

Fulham striker Andy Johnson will miss Saturday's encounter as he continues his recovery from a groin injury.

Johnson has been sidelined since October and misses out along with Simon Davies (ankle), Seol Ki-Hyeon (leg) and Diomansy Kamara, who has been to France for more treatment on his knee injury.

Hodgson's team is likely to contain several changes from the side that beat Basle on Wednesday, with Damien Duff, Brede Hangeland and Clint Dempsey all likely to start.

Hodgson himself meanwhile believes his side have been handed one of the toughest Europa League draws by being paired with reigning UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar.

The Ukrainian side beat Werder Bremen in the final of Europe's second competition last season before its name and format changed this summer.

Shakhtar topped group J, which included Club Brugge, Toulouse and Partizan Belgrade to make the last 32 - while Fulham beat FC Basle to come second in their group, which also contained CSKA Sofia and Italian giants Roma.

Hodgson, whose side sit in ninth place in the Premier League ahead of Saturday's visit of Manchester United, is expecting a tough European test.

He said: "It doesn't get much harder than playing the champions I suppose. We saw last year what a good team they are.

"Last year was a great success for Ukrainian football with Dinamo Kiev reaching the semi final as well so we couldn't have asked for a much tougher draw.

"On the other hand we have battled hard to get through the group stage and we were hoping for a good game, an interesting game."

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Ryan Giggs
Tomasz Kuszczak
John O'Shea
Edwin Van der Sar
David Beckham
Wes Brown
Premier League
Diomansy Kamara
Manchester United
Simon Davies
Brede Hangeland
Nemanja Vidic
Damien Duff
Owen Hargreaves
Gary Neville
Jonny Evans
Clint Dempsey
Rio Ferdinand

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