City penalties irritate Alex Ferguson
ALEX Ferguson has launched a cheeky Manchester United derby-day counter-offensive by questioning the number of penalties Manchester City get.
City have profited from four in their previous three home games, including a debatable one against Everton last weekend that allowed them to preserve a near two-year unbeaten record in the Premier League on home soil.
It is part of an overall tally of 21 City have been awarded since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, prompting Ferguson's jibe.
"The number of penalty kicks they get, 21 in the last year or something like that," said Ferguson.
"If we got that number of penalty kicks there'd be an inquiry in the House of Commons. There'd be a protest."
It had evidently escaped Ferguson's attention that United have been awarded just as many in exactly the same period of time, presumably because his side have missed a greater percentage, four this term alone.
Nevertheless, Ferguson's comment underlines the irritation that exists between the two Manchester clubs, whom the United boss is convinced will battle it out for the Premier League title, as they did last season.
"It will be close again between the two sides," said Ferguson.
"We have that gap over Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham and it will be difficult to think the two of us will collapse.
"I think it will be between the two of us."
It merely heightens a rivalry that has always existed, but not in its present form since the late 1960s when the pair were last scrapping it out for major honours.
"Liverpool and United games over the last 25 years have been unbelievable," he said.
"They've always been the most important games. But it's shifted because Liverpool aren't challenging for the league like City are.
"City are our biggest threat and we're their biggest threat.
"Their fortunes changed when Sheikh Mansour took over. We knew the minute that happened it was going to be a different ball game altogether.
"But we have to accept their challenge like we did when Chelsea came along and when Arsenal overtook Liverpool in the early 90s."
The problem for Ferguson is that over the past couple of years, his side have tended to end up second best.
That was the case two seasons ago, when City won the FA Cup semi-final on their way to ending their 35-year trophy drought.
And United were the victims again in May when Sergio Aguero ended City's 44-year wait for the championship with his never-to-be-forgotten injury-time strike against QPR.
Ferguson's team presently have a three-point advantage over City, just as they did ahead of the corresponding fixture last term.
However, as they did then, the Blues are ahead on goal difference, meaning victory on Sunday will take the home side top.
"The gap doesn't mean a great deal because there's such a long way to go until the end of the season," said Ferguson.
"But the derbies had a big impact last season, particularly that 6-1 defeat, on goal difference.
"It turned us right around and that's what cost us."
And Ferguson is wary about the advantage City may eventually get from their unexpectedly early exit from Europe, having missed out on the Europa League this season with their defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.
"It's obviously an advantage to City," he said.
"Fewer games mean fewer chances of injuries and they get a full week to prepare for games now.
"They do have a big squad - probably a bigger squad than most teams - and they need to keep everyone happy.
"That, in itself, is a bit of an encumbrance in terms of the manager picking the right teams and keeping everyone involved.
"And I do believe they'd rather have European football. That's the biggest disappointment for them."