Wednesday 16 August 2017

Ferguson is expecting a fierce battle

PAUL WILSON

Alex Ferguson is used to new challenges. In Manchester United's two decades at the top he has experienced intense title rivalry with Arsenal and then Chelsea, though now it appears Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are the greatest dangers.

United visit Stamford Bridge this afternoon, a ground where they have not won in the league for a decade, and Spurs a month later. "We'll certainly be glad to get the two games out of the way," the United manager said.

"Chelsea away followed by Spurs away is a tough spell for us and, if we can get through them both and still be in a good position, it gives us a chance. The league table suggests Tottenham might be the harder game because they have been playing well all season and they are challenging for the title.

"We have had some fierce battles with Chelsea over the years but this time they might not finish in the top four. I am certain Spurs will qualify for the Champions League this season, so if the two Manchester clubs stay in there as well, that only leaves one spare place. The way it looks, either Arsenal or Chelsea are going to miss out."

That Arsenal and Chelsea have found it difficult to maintain momentum over the years while United have remained a constant in pushing for the title is a testament to Ferguson. "Arsenal used to have some very good sides and you knew you would be in for a tough, physical encounter," he said.

"That has changed in recent years. Chelsea used to get off to terrific starts to the season under Jose Mourinho. They caught us cold at first until we started to make sure we could do the same.

"For the past seven years all our games with Chelsea have been battles, nip and tuck all the way, but you can see the new manager is trying to introduce a different style. Didier Drogba is getting a bit older and they have let Nicolas Anelka go but players like Ramires and Juan Mata have been brought in and Daniel Sturridge is a real threat."

Chelsea were beaten 3-1 at Old Trafford in September, in a game so open Ferguson suggested the final score could have been 20-18, back at the stage of the season when United were still unaware that a 6-1 home defeat in the Manchester derby was around the corner. United have recovered but Chelsea and Arsenal have not proved as resilient.

"The landscape has changed in the Premier League this season," Ferguson said. "All of a sudden Spurs and City have come along and they have both got genuine title aspirations. But that's what makes the English league so great.

David de Gea, criticised after United's FA Cup defeat at Liverpool last weekend and replaced by Ben Amos for the win over Stoke City, is set to return today, with Anders Lindegaard still injured.

"You need experience in these situations," said Ferguson.

"David has found it difficult to adapt to the English game and has made a few mistakes, but I don't think we will be talking about those a few years from now."

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