Fergie rallies troops for festive battles
Alex Ferguson has delivered a motivational speech to his Manchester United squad and urged the players to increase the pressure on Manchester City by using the forthcoming Christmas period as a launchpad for a push for the title.
United, who face City in an FA Cup third-round tie at the Etihad Stadium on January 8, are the closest challengers to Roberto Mancini's Premier League leaders after overcoming the disappointment of Champions League elimination in Switzerland last week with a 4-1 win against Wolves at Old Trafford on Saturday.
But with United having lost 6-1 at home to City in October, the odds have swung in favour of a first title in the blue half of Manchester since 1968. Ferguson has insisted that United will be contenders for the title if they stay in touch with City over the Christmas fixture programme.
And midfielder Michael Carrick has revealed Ferguson held a squad meeting prior to the 1-0 victory at Aston Villa earlier this month in which he spelt out the requirements for his players for the rest of the season. "He sat down with us the other day and just put things into perspective, reminded us what we're here for and what this club is all about," said Carrick.
"It wasn't a rant or anything, it was a simple talk, but the way he does it is like no one else. You could sense the whole room taking everything he was saying on board and really wanting to pull together and be prepared for what's ahead.
"He's always had a good response from us in the past and I'm sure he'll get one between now and Christmas. That's our aim."
Despite City's impressive form in the first half of the campaign, Carrick insists United are still on course to retain the title.
"City have obviously set the standard and not dropped many points, but there's a cluster of clubs behind them which we're heading up, so we're quite happy with the way things have gone," he said.
"Of course we'd prefer to be on top, but we're actually in a better position than last season, in terms of points won and games played, and hopefully we'll be even closer to City come the end of the year.
"At this stage, it's all about winning games and momentum, but hopefully it won't be too long before we are winning by two, three and four-goal margins."
City have the opportunity to end United's ambitions in a third competition this season by defeating Ferguson's team in next month's Cup derby. But Carrick insists there is a special motivation to win the FA Cup this season.
"It was typical of the Cup for that tie to come out, wasn't it?" Carrick said. "I'm one of a few players in the dressing-room who haven't won the FA Cup and it's a trophy we all really want. We're aware of how big the occasion will be." (© Daily Telegraph, London)