United boss predicts successful festive period will put crown within grasp
Alex Ferguson has declared that his Manchester United side will have a major claim on the Premier League trophy if they can emerge from the three-game Christmas period at the top of the table.
The United manager has always ascribed huge importance to his side being in touch with the challengers on New Year's Day and has won the English championship four times on those occasions when his side have led the way at that staging post.
Ferguson (right) was impressed by Manchester City's win at Newcastle last weekend but, on the third anniversary of Roberto Mancini's appointment to the City manager's seat, he made no secret of his belief that their hold on the title may be limited to one season.
"If we are top of the league on New Year's Day, you know fine well – and everyone else knows fine well – that we're going to be in the ballpark at the end of the season," he said.
"We know there are going to be challenges – it could come from Chelsea too – but I think City and ourselves will be battling it out."
The six-point lead at Christmas which United hold is something they have bettered only twice under Ferguson. Both times they went on to win the title. The prospects of City making any inroad into United's lead over Christmas look slim, given Ferguson's run of fixtures.
Tomorrow's visit to Swansea City looks the toughest, given United's concession of 14 goals on their travels this season and that only United, City and Arsenal have scored more goals than Swansea at home.
Newcastle and West Brom then visit Old Trafford before United's trip to Wigan on New Year's Day. Ferguson, who announced a new three-and-a-half-year deal for Jonny Evans and said he had not discussed with Paul Scholes the suggestion that he might finally quit after this season, was still luxuriating in the prospect of facing Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League.
The Portuguese player would probably never return to United, Ferguson reflected. "I'd love to see that, but it's fanciful thinking really," he said. "First of all, how much it would take to get him from Real Madrid? And secondly, I don't think there's any chance they would want to sell him. But you never know."
A mile away, Mancini made a similar declaration to Ferguson when he said that "if at the end of January we are close with (United) we have a good chance".
Ferguson acknowledged the challenge revealed by City's win last weekend. "It's a wake-up call for us," he said. "I thought for the first 20 minutes (at Newcastle) they played really well."
Mancini said the only deficit between his side and Ferguson's was now one of confidence. "They are used to winning for 20 years. Their mentality is stronger than our mentality. But as a team our quality is the same level as theirs," he said. (© Independent News Service)