Fergie: We don’t want the gap to open

Alex Ferguson has dismissed the idea Manchester United’s Premier League title rivals would gain a significant advantage if they got dumped out of Europe.

Ferguson is virtually certain the only realistic challengers to his side this season are Manchester City and tomorrow’s opponents Chelsea.

Yet, whilst United continue to march on purposefully in the Champions League, City and Chelsea both have a problem. Indeed, City seem certain to tumble through the exit door after collecting just one point from their opening three games. Chelsea have done a bit better.

However, their defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday means they only have a point advantage over Juventus as they cling to second spot.

Whilst clearly a blow to their pride, not participating in the Champions League would surely have a beneficial effect in keeping legs fresh for Premier League battles.

Ferguson does not think so.

“It is never a good thing to lose a game of football,” said the United boss.

“If you are knocked out of the Champions League it would not be a good thing. If you were knocked out of Europe completely it would be even worse. We are better when we are playing in all the competitions. I much prefer that.”

Indeed, it could be argued that United would be in no better position in the Premier League than City are in Europe if they were to lose at Stamford Bridge. Already four points behind Roberto di Matteo’s men, the Red Devils cannot get out of the habit of conceding early goals.

It is a failing that has already condemned them to two defeats this season, whilst Chelsea have only dropped two points.

“We don’t want a gap to open,” said Ferguson. “This could be a league where you will suffer if you lose bad ones. We couldn’t afford to lose the Tottenham one the way we did. If we get any more of that we will be in trouble.

“There are lot of big games still to come of course and I think it will be close.

“But Chelsea, City and ourselves are creating that little gap from the rest and whilst I cannot be dead certain, I would be surprised if one of us didn’t win it.

“Chelsea are undefeated, which gives you an idea of the level of consistency they have produced.”

As halfway through his answer Ferguson seemed to become aware of the route he might be heading down, the United boss truncated his response to how much Chelsea will miss their suspended captain.

“Terry is a loss because he has been such a dominating figure,” he said.

“He is the captain and has so much experience at the back.

“He can be a ruthless defender and a lot of the time, his presence alone was the most important thing.

“You always miss a player like that.”

Terry has been on duty in eight of the 10 Premier League matches the two sides have played at Stamford Bridge since United last won there.

Interestingly, the two he missed were both amongst the four draws United have managed during a frustrating decade, including last season’s 3-3 draw.

“They have had a terrific record against us since even before I came down here,” he said.

“When we beat them in August 1987, it was the first time they had lost at Old Trafford for 22 years.

“Even when (Claudio) Ranieri was there they had a good squad of players.

“And now they have people who have been at the club for a number of years like Terry, (Ashley) Cole, (Frank) Lampard and (Petr) Cech.

“It gives them stability, and continuity, with that kind of experience, must help the dressing room.”

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