Fergie: Manchester derby could decide season
Sir Alex Ferguson believes the entire Premier League season is building up to a dramatic Manchester derby day crescendo.
United, who face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, are two points adrift of a City side who entertain Bolton Wanderers tomorrow. Yet after that, it is the Red Devils who appear to have the easier run, leaving the battle for the title tantalisingly poised.
More and more it seems that the crunch match between United and City at the Etihad Stadium on Monday, 30 April will decide everything. "It does look that way," Ferguson said. "It is going to be a massive game because you can't see City dropping a lot of points and you can't see us dropping a lot of points either. We are getting into consistent form now so it does point to that game."
As United enter this crucial stretch in the season, Ferguson is delighted to have a second unsung hero around in Michael Carrick. Much is made of Paul Scholes' refusal to embrace the glamorous lifestyle of so many modern-day professionals. Yet Carrick rarely attracts attention either.
It could be one of the reasons why the 30-year-old has not featured for England since failing to make an appearance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. However, when the Red Devils take on his former club at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Carrick will almost certainly be in the starting line-up, just like he has for every major match United have played since his £18.6 million arrival in 2006 - a period in which he has won four Premier League titles and played in three UEFA Champions League finals.
"Michael is not a guy that seeks a lot of publicity," said Ferguson. "He is a quiet lad. He goes about his life in a similar way to Paul Scholes. It doesn't mean to say he is not recognised by us. You get players like that. Denis Irwin was much the same. He was not the type to trumpet his achievements.
"It is quite refreshing in the modern game that we have players who can rely on their ability not only by promoting or projecting themselves."
Where Ferguson and Carrick do have a difference of opinion is in the Scot's repeated claims that the midfielder comes into his own in the second half of the season. Carrick has never understood that, but the United boss is convinced it is true.
"I know he disagrees but I always feel the second half of the season sees Michael at his best," said Ferguson. "He is doing that at the moment. His form for quite a while now has been absolutely superb. He and Scholesy (Paul Scholes) are a good partnership."
"Michael is mentally strong," said Ferguson. "He has a different personality. That can be misread by a lot of people thinking he has to be encouraged all the time. That is not the case."
Along with Carrick in the line-up, Ferguson will be delighted to have Wayne Rooney available after a throat infection. Chris Smalling could also be involved despite a nasty clash of heads with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar during England's midweek friendly defeat by the Netherlands that resulted in him being taken to hospital.
Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia are missing, as is Michael Owen. However, none of the injuries are long term, with even Owen now seeing light at the end of the tunnel after four months out with a thigh injury, the latest in a succession of muscular problems that have blighted his entire time at Old Trafford.
"Hopefully Michael can have a little bit of luck now," said Ferguson. "His injuries have always been long-term but hopefully he will be back for the end of the season now. He is the type of player who if you put him on in the last five minutes he could score two. He has such a great knack of scoring incredibly important goals as late as you like."