Belfast Telegraph

Champions League is priority for Manchester United

By Ian Herbert

Sir Alex Ferguson has declared the Champions League to be his priority, despite a season that presents an opportunity to depose Chelsea as Champions for the second time in four years.

Ferguson, who seeks to avoid a repeat of last season's early defeat to Burnley as his side begin their Premier League against Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Monday evening, said his lingering sense of injustice about the defeat to Bayern Munich in last season's tournament reinforced his desire for Europe.

“From my perspective, the history of this club [makes] the European Cup is a big attraction -- for me anyway,” Ferguson said.

“That must be a priority. But, of course, because the Premier League is such a tribalistic competition, you cannot help but go for it. Every game is so competitive, you have six or seven competitors, you can't avoid going for it.”

Ferguson sees challenges everywhere, with Everton, who start at home to Blackburn today, a club he has frequently mentioned in the past fortnight.

“You expect Liverpool to improve with Roy [Hodgson], Spurs are on the upswing, given their fortunes last year and Harry's experience.”

Ferguson briefly overlooked Manchester City, though it was not deliberate.

“[Roberto] Mancini has settled into the job and he will know the strength of the players from last year,” he added, when reminded of them.

“I said last season they could easily go and buy another team. That is a possibility. They have got to be in the pecking order.”

The United manager said that United's ability to maintain a squad was just as significant as City's ability to assemble a new one.

“If you're saying that with Mancini having a year extra under his belt, Manchester City will be better, then surely Manchester United, with the present squad and the younger players a year older, will just improve, too.”

Ferguson said United's new £7m Portuguese player Bebe was signed on no other surveillance than the “instinct” of the club's Portugal scout.

“We have a great scout in Portugal, who has tremendous instinct, and we worked on that,” he said. “The player is two-footed, very quick, so the raw materials are there.

“And other clubs were starting to hover over the boy so we had to make a quick decision.”

United have no injury problems after the midweek internationals. Javier Hernandez may start on the bench as Wayne Rooney goes in search of his first competitive goal since March.

Meanwhile, Ferguson admits he is surprised that Newcastle have bounced back to the Barclays Premier League so quickly.

“I didn't expect Newcastle to come back so quickly,” said Ferguson. “You could sense there was going to be an upheaval in terms of players leaving and they did sell quite a few.

“It is not easy to go down and come back at the first go. Very few teams have done that over the years.

“But you have to give Chris Hughton credit. He wasn't everyone's choice as manager but he dealt with all the financial constraints Newcastle had last season and still got all his players playing for him.”

“And with their fanatical support, they had a big advantage.”

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