Alex Ferguson: Chelsea are our biggest title threat
Sir Alex Ferguson has declared ahead of Manchester United's critical visit to Stamford Bridge tomorrow that Chelsea are now his club's “most significant” opposition and that beating them this weekend “will go a long way” towards United reclaiming the Premier League title.
United have not won at Stamford Bridge since 2002 and, with his side three points clear with a game in hand, the manager declared for the first time that he believes the significance of encounters with the west London club has now surpassed that of those with Liverpool, while the Manchester derbies remain less crucial to the destiny of the title.
“The Liverpool and United derby games have always been the biggest and now City have added to the fire,” Ferguson said.
“That game is now becoming very important because of the change at City with the owners, but in terms of significance, in terms of winning the League, the game on Sunday will go a long way to doing that, more than any other game.”
Ferguson, without Paul Scholes because of a persistent groin problem, said that the departure of assistant Ray Wilkins will give Carlo Ancelotti “his own single-minded determination to prove himself that he's a winner” and insisted that he does not believe the Italian's future is under threat.
He also rejected the extrapolation, from an interview he undertook with an American radio station, that he was accusing of Chelsea of making a mistake this summer.
“I did an interview the other day and said they had lost a lot of experienced players over the summer and said, yes, of course, but they were out of contract,” Ferguson said.
“Chelsea are changing because they are bringing young players in and that's a good thing. But still everyone said I was having a dig at Chelsea. That's modern journalism.
“Every time you go to an interview, they are not looking for the positive signs. The TV cameras have put them under pressure so they begin to sensationalise. That's the problem for managers like myself having to go into press conferences today. You have to be guarded with everything you say. That tells you where the world is going.”
Ferguson also made it clear he was unwilling to discuss Carlos Tevez.
Ferguson believes the strength of the league has contributed to Chelsea's five-game run without a win.
“The mid-table sides have used the TV money to make sure they stay in the league. This is the only place to make money and where there's profile in English football. Everyone knows that,” he said. “It is a tough league.”
But he signalled the absence of Lampard, a player whose ability he often publicly acknowledges, as critical to Chelsea's mere three points in five games.
“If you lose your top players, it must have an impact,” Ferguson said.
“Lampard has averaged 20 a season for Chelsea, an incredible amount for a midfield player, and they lost that, so is it surprising they lost games? It is always going to have an impact.”
Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand insists there has been “no singing and dancing” at Manchester United, even though they are top of the Premier League.
Having clambered above Arsenal and Manchester City courtesy of Monday's win over the Gunners, while retaining a precious game in hand, United are now obvious favourites to claim a record 19th league championship.
Victory at Chelsea really would generate a feeling that Ferguson's men had one hand on the trophy.
But there is no sense of euphoria among Ferdinand’s team-mates, merely a steely determination to reclaim the silverware they believe belongs to them.
“We are not singing and dancing about being top,” he said. “We will sing and dance in May if we are still top. I would rather be there then. We just want to win that league.
“Top-of-the-table clashes are about what happens on the day,” he said. “The type of form you are in doesn't matter.
“There are enough players on the pitch to win the game. Whoever plays best on the day or gets that little bit of luck will come out winners.
“These kind of games are like auto-pilot. You don't have to think too much because you know each other's games so much.
“We have played against them loads in the last few years. They are a good side. We will never doubt that.”
Nevertheless, six points in front with a game in hand — assuming United win — would be a pretty healthy position if this league season was not so uncertain.
“It would be a blow to them if we got six points in front,” Ferdinand said. “But they were six or seven clear of us a month ago.
“It can all change so quickly if you have a bad run. It would be a good boost for us if we could win but it won't define our season.”