PREVIEW-Soccer-Spurs aim to pounce with rivals' backs turned
MANCHESTER, England, March 7
MANCHESTER, England, March 7 (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur will seek to take advantage of their rivals' FA Cup distractions this weekend by gaining ground in the race for Champions League football with a rare victory at Liverpool.
With Premier League leaders Manchester United, second-placed champions Manchester City and fourth-placed Chelsea in cup action and fifth-placed Arsenal's next league game not until March 16, Spurs can go two points behind the runners-up spot.
Andre Villas-Boas' side, in buoyant mood after a 2-1 victory over bitter rivals Arsenal in last weekend's north London derby at White Hart Lane, have 54 points from 28 games with City on 59 and United leading the way with 71.
Spurs mean business having lost out on a Champions League place last season when fourth place was unusually not enough because Chelsea, who finished sixth, took the last of England's four places by winning Europe's elite club competition.
The fact Tottenham lost out on third spot to bitter rivals Arsenal also stung after they looked certain of a top-three finish for much of the season before a late collapse.
"The most important thing is to be in the Champions League next season and I think we have to keep our ambition," local media quoted Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris as saying.
"It will be a very difficult game but very exciting game in Anfield... Liverpool are playing maybe the best football in the Premier League at this moment."
Spurs face a challenge to take the points away from Anfield on Sunday, having won there only twice in the Premier League.
Seventh-placed Liverpool should have England striker Daniel Sturridge back from a thigh injury as they seek to jump above city rivals Everton and close within two points of Arsenal.
"We are finally starting to show some consistency and that's what we need," Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger told the Liverpool Echo. "It's vital we keep playing this way and try to get as high as possible in the league.
The top teams are not the only FA Cup quarter-finalists who could lose out in terms of their league position this weekend with Wigan Athletic poised to be dragged into the relegation zone while their backs are turned.
Hovering just above the bottom three on goal difference with 24 points from 28 games, Wigan will be overtaken by either 18th-placed Aston Villa or Reading, who are 19th, after the pair meet at the Madejski stadium on Saturday (1500 GMT).
Reading, who last term earned promotion thanks to a strong second half of the season having at one point been 23rd in the Championship (second tier) table, believe they are far from certain to go down.
"Last year we had to make up about 15 or 16 points," their manager Brian McDermott told reporters. "I just said to the players, 'Can we make up one or two?'. They all said 'yes'."
Bottom side Queens Park Rangers, who have 20 points and made up ground on their rivals with a 2-1 victory at lowly Southampton last weekend, host Sunderland who with 30 points are in danger of becoming sucked into the relegation battle.
In other action on Saturday, Norwich City host Southampton and Swansea City travel to West Bromwich Albion, while Stoke City visit struggling Newcastle United on Sunday. (Editing by Ken Ferris)
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