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United out to finish strong

Stoke-on-Trent, England (Sports Network) - Manchester United faltered at home against Manchester City on Monday to see its lead atop the Premier League table dwindle to just 12 points, but the assistant coach Rene Meulensteen believes that the club's title push begins Sunday with a trip to the Britannia to take on Stoke City.

United has stalled a bit since bowing out of the Champions League in favor of Real Madrid, winning just two of its five subsequent matches across all competitions.

But Meulensteen stressed that the club is on a mission to take back its trophy.

"There has been a certain determination in our performances," Meulensteen told United's official website. "I've sensed it in training as well. The players know we're on a mission. We're now at a stage where the end is coming into view and the challenge intensifies. We're certainly very satisfied to be in the position we're in and hopefully it can only get better because I think the players feel we need to not only win this trophy back but make a statement in the way we hopefully do it."

United can apply more pressure on City with a victory at the Britannia as the Citizens had their Premier League tilt this weekend postponed due to their FA Cup semifinal meeting with Chelsea.

Stoke City has quietly slipped into a battle against relegation as its six- game winless run leaves the club on 34 points, just three points above the drop zone.

Also ensconced in a relegation battle is Sunderland, setting up a massive Tyne-Wear derby at Sports Direct Arena on Sunday. The Black Cats come into the weekend with 31 points and a nine-game winless run. They will face a Newcastle side that picked up a vital 1-0 win over Fulham last time out to pull five points clear of the relegation zone.

The Cottagers resume Premier League action with a match against another facing a relegation struggle as they will head to Villa Park on Saturday to face an Aston Villa side on 33 points.

While Wigan occupies the final relegation spot, the Latics will not feature in this week's Premier League action due to their FA Cup tie with Millwall.

That opens the door for Reading and QPR to make up some ground as they face Liverpool and Everton, respectively.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Arsenal welcomes Norwich to the Emirates while Southampton takes on West Ham at St. Mary's.

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