Ferguson's shock and awe over Real threat
Alex Ferguson has admitted to being "shocked" by the manner of Real Madrid's midweek destruction of Barcelona after undertaking a personal scouting trip to identify weaknesses in the armoury of Manchester United's Champions League opponents.
Ferguson, who dismissed claims by Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini that United are "lucky" to be 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League, admits his team must overcome the "mundane, practical situation" of facing Norwich at Old Trafford today before turning their attention to the round of 16 second-leg against Real on Tuesday.
The Spanish champions face Barcelona again at the Bernabeu this afternoon after securing an emphatic 3-1 victory in the Copa del Rey at the Nou Camp in front of Ferguson and his assistants, Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen, on Tuesday.
However, the United manager, who conceded that Phil Jones faces a fight to overcome an ankle injury to face Real, admitted that he saw enough in Barcelona to underline the threat posed by Jose Mourinho's team at Old Trafford.
"I was shocked," Ferguson said. "I thought Real Madrid were magnificent, I really did. They were absolutely brilliant and won well with (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Angel) Di Maria and (Mesut) Ozil on the counter-attack.
"But we already knew that Madrid are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe, there is no question about that. That is what we will be up against on Tuesday and that is what our preparations are centring around – making sure their counter-attack doesn't kill us."
Real's preparations for the United game have been disrupted by proposed industrial action by Spanish airline Iberia, which has prompted the club to fly to Manchester on Sunday, rather than remaining in Madrid and training on Monday morning before flying to England.
As a result, Real are now planning to train at the Etihad Stadium, rather than Old Trafford, in an effort to avoid prying eyes when going through their final preparations.
United are relaxed about Real's decision not to train at Old Trafford, having themselves chosen not to train at the Bernabeu two weeks ago.
City's hospitality to Real is in contrast, however, to Mancini's claims that United are lucky to be so far ahead in the title race.
The Italian pinpointed United's late goals this season to justify his accusation, but Ferguson insisted City are the fortunate ones.
"He (Mancini) is lucky they are only 12 points behind," Ferguson said.
"It's not lucky because we have only been doing it for 25 years. It is a terrible habit! Late goals are no accident. We did it in 1999 (when winning the Treble).
"Every step of the way, we got late goals. It is not an accident because this team wants to win all the time."
Having confirmed that Robin van Persie has trained this week and is fit to face Norwich and Real after injuring his hip against Queens Park Rangers last week, Ferguson warned against overlooking the dangers posed by Norwich today.
Chris Hughton's team inflicted United's most recent league defeat when winning 1-0 at Carrow Road last November and Ferguson insists it is a game to be taken seriously.
"Today is an important one for us because Tuesday will look after itself, there is no doubt about that," Ferguson said.
"Tuesday is an occasion, today is the mundane, practical situation, but we need to win because it is an important league game for us.
"I can assure you, the players will not be thinking about Tuesday at this moment because all week we have been talking about how important Norwich is.
"The league games are even more important because we don't want to give our immediate opponents an advantage. That accentuates it even more for me."
Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand is expected to join Ryan Giggs in committing his future to United beyond this summer.
Giggs, who could make his 1,000th career appearance against Norwich today, will play beyond his 40th birthday in November after signing a one-year contract yesterday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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