Ferguson not banking on flood of goals
Sir Alex Ferguson is pinning his Premier League title hopes on Newcastle United avoiding defeat against Manchester City on Sunday after dismissing any prospect of a miraculous championship win on goal difference.
Manchester United's defeat at the Etihad Stadium on Monday means they surrendered top spot to City after enjoying an eight-point advantage just four games ago. With two games remaining, United's hopes of retaining their title depends on either City dropping points at Newcastle on Sunday or against relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers seven days later, or recording big wins against Swansea City and Sunderland that would allow them to claim the title on goal difference.
QPR avoiding defeat at City on the final day would appear to be a forlorn hope, and on the basis that if the Blues win their last two games United's combined victory margin over Swansea and Sunderland would have to reach double figures, Ferguson has rejected that notion as well. Instead, he can just cross his fingers and hope Alan Pardew's UEFA Champions League chasers do United a massive favour in a game that ends only half an hour before the Red Devils take on Swansea at Old Trafford.
"The challenge for City is to win at Newcastle," Ferguson said. "Newcastle is a very difficult place and they are playing well. After that incredible defeat at Wigan, they galvanised themselves to win at Chelsea and, as everyone knows, winning at Chelsea is very difficult. We have not done it for eight years."
The challenge for City is to win at Newcastle.
However, Ferguson spoke with the air of a man who believes Roberto Mancini's team would triumph, meaning the championship could be decided on goal difference. And the Scot believes the current gap of eight goals is weighted so much in City's favour to render Mancini's claim that United remain favourites dubious in the extreme. "What do you think?" Ferguson said. "They have got two games left. If they win their two games they win the league.
"People talk about goal difference, but it depends how many they win by. Say they win 3-0 on Sunday, their lead would be 11 and they still have QPR at home. That would be impossible."
If City win at Newcastle, it is easy to imagine United finding Swansea very tough to overcome. By contrast, the lift received from any slip up should act as such motivation that Ferguson would not be needed to make a team-talk. "We will be aware of what is going on because everyone will be watching it, hoping it works out for us," he said. "You can't avoid it, but whether we pay a lot of attention to it I don't know because we still have to prepare for our own game. We are not going to be neglecting that part."
In the immediate aftermath of Monday's win, Mancini declared United's final two games to be "easy" on the basis neither opponent has anything to play for. That overlooks the fact that it was the ability of another mid-table team, Everton, to take a point from their visit to Old Trafford that may prove to be the most significant result in the entire run-in.
In any case, Ferguson is not taking Swansea for granted and believes the Premier League's first Welsh representatives have a candidate for manager of the year in Brendan Rodgers. "We don't have easy games," Ferguson said. "If you go to Sunderland on the last game of the season, with the support they have and the manager they have got, you don't expect an easy game, and the way Swansea have played this season has been admirable.
"They have played some fantastic attacking football. Their manager has insisted on that and stuck by his principles. They have had a fantastic season. They look as if they are enjoying their game. They all want the ball and want to play. When you talk about how you pick manager of the year, there always has to be a consideration about the resources.
"Brendan Rodgers came out of the Championship and only brought two players in, Nathan Graham from Watford and Gylfi Sigurdsson from Germany, and even that was not for a big financial outlay. "He stuck by the players who got them into the Premier League and they have rewarded him."