United ready for 2012 title charge - Fergie

Updated: 2011-12-28 08:17

(China Daily)

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United ready for 2012 title charge - Fergie

MANCHESTER, England - Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United will be ideally placed to retain its Premier League title if it reaches New Year's Day alongside Manchester City at the top of the table.

Ferguson, who turns 70 on New Year's Eve when his team entertains struggling Blackburn, saw United draw level with City on points after an emphatic 5-0 victory over Wigan at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

It marked a remarkable recovery from United which, as recently as Dec 10, trailed City by five points and 17 goals before a 4-1 victory over Wolves.

Now, following consecutive 5-0 victories, all that separates United from the league leader is five goals in the goal difference column - the margin of defeat that United suffered at the hands of City in its historic 6-1 home loss to Roberto Mancini's side in October.

"As I say, it's a long season," said Ferguson. "If we get to New Year's Day top, or joint top with City, then I will be happy.

"I've been saying for a few weeks that somebody was going to suffer against us and we've really hit good form now and got a goal threat from all departments.

United ready for 2012 title charge - Fergie

"The clean sheet was a good part of the game for us and the consistency of the team is very good now.

"But the injuries are mounting up for us now - Phil Jones was down ill, Chris Smalling was ill, Rio Ferdinand called off with a back injury and Jonny Evans came off injured at halftime. We're getting our fair share."

Those injuries will severely test United with Ferguson confirming a calf strain will keep Evans on the sidelines for two weeks.

"We will just have to wait and see," said Ferguson, with an eye on his team selection for the Blackburn game. "I'm hoping Smalling and Jones will recover. That will make a difference."

A single point against Blackburn will take United to solitary ownership of first place and place intense pressure on City, which visits Sunderland 24 hours later on New Year's Day.

However, for all its defensive injury concerns, there is no doubt United seems to have found the answer to its goalscoring problems with Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov, starting just his second league game of the season, claiming a hat-trick against Wigan.

Berbatov, joint leading scorer in the Premier League last season with City's Carlos Tevez, now has four goals to his name this term and Ferguson said: "It was the right game for him.

"We needed his height to defense against set pieces. It helps his confidence. He has not had the best of starts to the season in terms of selection, with the options I have - in (Danny) Welbeck, (Wayne) Rooney and Chicharito (Javier Hernandez)."

United was also aided in small part by referee Phil Dowd, who harshly dismissed Wigan forward Conor Sammon after 38 minutes, with the score 1-0, when he caught defender Michael Carrick in the face with a flailing arm, and even Ferguson leaped to his opponent's defense.

"I didn't think it was intentional," he said. "He is a big, aggressive lad, he throws his body around a lot. He caught Michael across the face, it is not intentional.

"Michael has not made a meal of it, which was good, and the referee was left to make a decision."

Wigan, who also conceded goals to Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia, was furious with the performance of Dowd, who also handed Berbatov his hat-trick goal from the penalty spot after awarding a spot kick for Antolin Alcaraz's trip on Park, even though the offense appeared to take place outside the area.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 12/28/2011 page23)