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Ferguson plays down significance of big-four clashes

sports Updated: Dec 14, 2007 19:46 IST
Pete Oliver
Pete Oliver
Reuters
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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is not expecting many pointers to the destiny of the English Premier League title when the four main challengers clash on Sunday.

Champions United play fourth-placed Liverpool at Anfield, just a few hours before leaders Arsenal take on Chelsea but Ferguson believes the big weekend is too early in the season to be decisive.

"If it was later in the season I think it would be significant whatever the results were in terms of winning the league," Ferguson told a news conference on Friday.

"Whereas we are not even at the half-way stage and we are talking about it as a title decider.

"There is time for whoever drops points and it's possible the four of us could all drop points by having two draws, which you would think would be the bookies' favourite scoreline."

"I am looking at the Chelsea-Arsenal game and hoping it's a draw because that's what we tend to do as managers.

"You hope that the other games that involve your immediate opponents will see them drop points and when they play each other you hope they both drop points."

United could open up a nine-point advantage over Liverpool, albeit having played a game more but the pressure on Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez appears to have eased after he secured their passage to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Newspapers have recently been full of stories of Benitez falling out with Liverpool's American owners over player funding and transfer policy and Ferguson expressed his surprise at the apparent power struggle at Anfield.

"There is obviously some undercurrent of dispute somewhere along the line but with Rafa's record it's strange. I don't know where criticism starts, or how it starts in our game but I think with Rafa's record it will be disappointing for him."

Benitez strengthened his position by avoiding a Champions League exit but Ferguson is happy to be facing a Liverpool side fresh from a 4-0 win at Marseille in a fixture which gets his competitive juices flowing more than any other.

"There are two ways of looking at it. Would you rather face Liverpool as a wounded animal or face Liverpool as they are today with a big win behind them ?" he asked.

"Sometimes the wounded animal is a far more dangerous opponent. But no matter the position of the clubs this is a game separate from everything. I think it's fair to say that both of us look on each other as their main rival in English football," he added.

"I always look at that game as the best game to look forward to. It encapsulates everything in British football, the passion, the fervour of the fans, the ability of the players, the competition and the history between the clubs."

United will be close to full strength after resting several senior players for their 1-1 draw at AS Roma on Wednesday night with John O'Shea, who scored the late winner at Anfield last season, the only doubt from that game.