The United manager said that when he was told Liverpool were already 21 points in arrears going into today's meeting at Old Trafford it had come as a “surprise” and added that it would be a “disaster” not to be in the top four for any “big club” with ambition.
Ferguson said of the clubs’ comparative league positions, United first and Liverpool eighth: “I never even thought about that until it was mentioned on the television. I don’t really look at that. I look at that mob [ Manchester City] that’s behind us, the team that’s directly behind us. Their programme, who they’ve got next. I do that all the time.”
He admitted that he was surprised to see Liverpool so far behind, adding: “Last year we were 30 points ahead of Arsenal and I’d never have believed that in a million years. If you look at the rivalry over the last 20-odd years it’s quite amazing.”
Liverpool, who have not won the title for 23 years, finished last season 37 points adrift of United – and the champions, City.
An absence of three seasons from the Champions League has hurt Liverpool and Ferguson said their failure had clearly affected their ability to attract players.
“If we weren’t in the Champions League it would be a disaster and that probably applies to other big clubs,” he said.
But Ferguson still regards today’s game against Liverpool as the most important ‘derby’ for United. “I know City represent a different outlook in the last five years but Liverpool were always the one and nothing will change. It’s not about the position in the league.”
Sunday’s match also marks Luis Suárez’s return to Old Trafford after refusing to shake Patrice Evra’s hand in last season’s corresponding fixture following the race row involving the pair. There will be a handshake on Sunday although there will also be further scrutiny surrounding Suárez after he was accused of being a “cheat” for his handball goal during last weekend’s FA Cup tie at Mansfield Town.
Mike Phelan, Ferguson’s assistant at United, was at Burnley on Saturday to run the rule over Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha as speculation mounts that United are about to sign him. It is thought United would loan him back to the Championship club for the rest of the season.