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Fergie: Faith in youth sets us apart

ALEX FERGUSON has rejected the theory that next Monday's Manchester derby represents a collision between passion and money.

After looking to have their 20th Premier League title sewn up a fortnight ago, Manchester United will head to the Etihad Stadium knowing they must avoid defeat if they are not to surrender top spot to neighbours City.

It promises to be a fascinating duel, far more than a battle between the established elite and City's nouveaux riche excesses.

"That's not really accurate," Ferguson said. "I don't agree with that.

"It's true City became rich in a pretty incredible way, but it's not the fact there is a new owner and new ambitions which necessarily change things.

"The difference is perhaps that we're trying to build with youth."

United soothsayers have been quick to try and limit the damage by claiming that, at the beginning of January after successive defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle, hands would have been bitten off to approach this game with a three-point advantage.

It has also been pointed out that United began their surge by beating City in an FA Cup tie where they established a three-goal lead.

However, for every positive, a negative can be found.

That Cup tie, for instance, ended with shredded nerves from a United perspective as City fought their way back to 3-2 despite the additional handicap of being reduced to 10 men due to Vincent Kompany's harsh dismissal.

And whilst United's form up to Easter Sunday was almost flawless, they have won only once in three games since and the defensive frailties again exposed by Everton are unlikely to be sorted out fully in a week, no matter how much work is done on the training ground.

For virtually the first time since he ruptured cruciate ligaments in December, United have cause to lament the absence of skipper Nemanja Vidic, knowing the Serbian was also missing when City inflicted that morale-sapping 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford in October.

Vidic is not available though, so Ferguson has to work with what he has.

Such was the poor performance of Rafael at right-back against Everton that a change is virtually certain.

Yet Phil Jones has been equally loose in his defending recently and Chris Smalling would be a better bet if it were not for the fact he has not started a Premier League game since January.

There has to be a question mark over Ferguson electing to start with two wide players, as he did in that first traumatic Premier League derby of the season, especially as he cannot allow his team to run the risk of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick being outmanoeuvred in central midfield by Yaya Toure.