Alex Ferguson has warned Manchester City to prepare for a renewed threat from Manchester United next term — even if the Premier League trophy heads across town tomorrow.
Ferguson admits United have been left hoping for City to do “something stupid” to allow them to retain their crown.
It seems impossible, given QPR’s chronic away record, even though they are desperate to claim a point at the Etihad Stadium that will ensure top flight survival.
Ferguson insists the analysis of the season will not begin until Monday. However, he is not planning for a lengthy stay in City’s shadow.
“We are not going away, that’s for sure,” said Ferguson. “We know we have a challenge. The important thing is to know you have one. This club has an inbred discipline about what is needed to win a league.”
It is the attitude that has made United so successful down the years and ensured the periods of transition that have caused many of their rivals to grind to a halt, has usually come with a trophy, if it has been noticed at all.
And why, last summer, Ferguson spent £18m (€22m) signing David de Gea from Atletico Madrid when he knew the 21-year-old might need time to adapt to life in the Premier League. That process was just made more difficult by the injuries that robbed United of so many defenders.
“My biggest job this season was to be able to manage the back four,” said Ferguson.
“Bringing a young goalkeeper in was a risk worth taking because, ability-wise, there is no question. But it was only when Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand started playing regularly our results became more consistent.
“That is the story of our season really. But we have a lot of young players who will benefit no matter what happens. If we win it will be better but we know the job we have to do.”
City and United are locked together at the top, fully 19 points clear of third-placed Arsenal. And Ferguson realises Roberto Mancini will be wanting to strengthen still further in the summer, with Lille’s Edin Hazard amongst the stars on both their radars.
“I have said City are not going away,” he said. “With the money they have to spend, they will buy more players this summer. But you can only buy so many and keep the balance for so long before it disrupts.”
Ferguson expects City to come out on top against relegation-threatened QPR. However, while there is still a chance, the United boss will not abandon the fight.
The straw Ferguson is clutching at stems from the knowledge a QPR side managed by United old-boy and former City boss Mark Hughes will start at the Etihad Stadium needing a point to secure their own Premier League survival.
Ferguson said last week he wished Hughes was playing. But he is confident the toughness that characterised Hughes throughout his playing career will transmit itself to his players.
“Probably most of the players will be put on the transfer list,” said Ferguson.
“A lot of their salaries will be halved from what I can gather. It is a dramatic thing for QPR. They have invested a bit of money and it could a big effect on the players and club.”
Meanwhile United skipper Patrice Evra admits the Red Devils “killed themselves” by tossing away an eight-point lead with just six games to play.
After all, when City lost at Arsenal last month, hours after United had beaten QPR, there appeared to be only one outcome.
“I don’t like to look into the past because the past can’t benefit the present,” said Evra.
“But it’s a reality. We killed ourselves when we were eight points clear with six points to go. We were winning 4-2 against Everton and then, in the last six minutes, ended up with a draw, at Old Trafford. I thought something like that wasn’t possible. It was a bad sign.”
* Manchester United and England defender Chris Smalling will miss Euro 2012 with a groin injury.
Ferguson confirmed the news after Smalling suffered the injury during last week’s win over Swansea at Old Trafford.
But Ferguson confirmed Danny Welbeck would be available for this summer’s tournament, even though he will miss the trip to Sunderland with an ankle injury.
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