Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his Manchester United players that the Premier League title race is far from over, predicting that his side will drop points in March and April. The Red Devils, who completed stage two of their bid for a clean sweep of five trophies this season by lifting the League Cup at Wembley on Sunday, face Newcastle United at St James' Park on Wednesday.
By then, the FIFA Club World Cup holders will have seen their lead at the top cut to four points if Chelsea claim victory at Portsmouth on Tuesday, or if Liverpool overcome Sunderland. Blues manager Guus Hiddink has insisted that his team can still win the Premier League and Ferguson, whose side have difficult fixtures against Liverpool and Aston Villa forthcoming, admitted that the coming weeks will be pivotal in the outcome of the title race.
"I keep saying it and nobody seems to listen, but March and April are the months that decide the league title," he said. "A lot can happen in those months. We have lost leagues in March and April in the past and we have also won them by going on fantastic runs at that time. I think we will drop points between now and the end of the season, but I also believe that the others will drop points too."
Hiddink has vowed to keep his team believing that they can beat United to the title, despite the current seven-point deficit. And Ferguson believes the Dutchman is right to talk up Chelsea's slim hopes of snatching the title from their rivals.
"You hope to disturb your opponents and I have done it myself because you hope to get nearer," Ferguson said. "But we won't take anything lightly and we go to Newcaste on Wednesday knowing that they are fighting for survival, and that it won't be easy. It will be nip-and-tuck for all teams in the division, so we will not be falling into any traps."
Ferguson is ready to restore his big guns to the starting line-up on Tyneside, after omitting several stars from his Wembley line-up. Republic of Ireland defender John O'Shea is the only fitness doubt with a heel injury, with Wayne Rooney declared fit after missing the League Cup final with a virus.
"Sunday was a long day on an exacting pitch, so we need to change the team to get the freshness back. Newcastle is a fantastic club and I think they are probably still selling videos of the day when they beat us 5-0 at St James's in 1996! It won't be an easy game for us up there and we have to be ready for it."