LONDON - Despite getting only one win in its last five games, Liverpool still tops the Premier League and plans to continue its lead with a win over Bolton on Boxing Day. The Reds head into the busy festive period hoping to prove their form can pass the test of endurance
It was legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who said the race for the English league title is a "marathon not a sprint".
But lasting the distance has proved a problem in recent seasons for the club the Scot molded into one of the giants of the English game.
Liverpool heads into the busy festive period, which sees them welcome Lancashire rival Bolton to Anfield today, with a one-point lead at the top of the table.
However, not since 1990 have Liverpool, who has won the title a record 18 times, been able to call itself champion of England.
Sammy Lee, now back at Anfield as assistant manager to Rafael Benitez following an ill-fated spell in charge of Bolton, said: "People ask and expect more, and they are entitled to want that.”
"We are stronger, getting stronger," added Lee, an ex-England midfielder who won several English titles with hometown club Liverpool as a player.
Liverpool, who could have star striker Fernando Torres back in their side for today’s Boxing Day clash, has not lost to top-10 team Bolton at Anfield since 1954.
Second-placed Chelsea has failed to take advantage of Liverpool draws to top the league twice in successive games.
But should Benitez's side, held to a 1-1 draw by Arsenal last time out, drop more points it is hard to see Chelsea being quite so generous at home to bottom-of-the-table West Brom, even though the Baggies come into the game on the back of a win over fellow strugglers Manchester City.
Chelsea will, however, be without inspirational captain John Terry after the England center-half was sent off for a dangerous tackle on Leon Osman during Monday's goalless stalemate against Everton.
Manchester United, buoyed by winning the Club World Cup in Japan, return to domestic action away to Stoke.
Sir Alex Ferguson's English and European champion is seven points off top spot but with two games in hand.
Stoke is one of several clubs above the bottom three who, even now, are involved in a scrap for survival in the lucrative top tier of English football.
"We expect Stoke to fight for everything because you look at how tight the league is," said United manager Ferguson. "It is the tightest I can remember. It may need over 40 points for a team to be guaranteed safety, maybe even 43."
Aston Villa, currently third, is doing its best to edge Arsenal out of the top four.
Villa will be looking to complete a double over the Londoners, who are without injured captain Cesc Fabregas and suspended striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
"It is a big game," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "We are three points behind and have a good opportunity to come back on them."
Moneybag Manchester City's descent into the bottom three contrasts sharply with the position of Hull, who visits Eastlands. A club of modest means, Hull sits an impressive sixth in the table in its first top-flight season.
City may be bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi United group but its league position means even a fantastic salary offer may not be enough to persuade the world's best players to join the club during the January transfer window.
But the team already has Robinho and the Brazil star is now fit again after an ankle problem.
Portsmouth, in danger of being drawn into the relegation dogfight, is at home to West Ham. This will be FA Cup holder Pompey's first match since Lassana Diarra's transfer to Spanish giant Real Madrid.
"The midfield from the FA Cup final has been pretty much ripped out," said Portsmouth manager Tony Adams. "That is the heart of your team and your protection for the defense. But I will pick up the pieces, work with the lads here and try to get some results."
Blackburn Rovers will look to make it two wins out of two for their new manager, Sam Allardyce, as it tries to climb out of the bottom three against a Sunderland side that has scored eight goals in its last two games under caretaker boss Ricky Sbragia.
Tottenham, beaten by Newcastle last weekend, takes on in-form Fulham in a London derby.
The Wigan manager, as opposed to the boyhood Newcastle fan, in Steve Bruce may have cause to regret England striker Michael Owen staying with the Magpies until at least the end of the season.
Meanwhile Middlesbrough, only two points above the relegation zone, is at home to Everton. Boro, who boasts Turkish attacker Tuncay Şanlı, failed to win in its last six games.