Alex Ferguson regards Liverpool as Manchester United's real local rivals

Manchester City may have spent £120million on new players - but Sir Alex Ferguson will always regard Liverpool as Manchester United's true local rivals.

Not since 1968, when United won the European Cup and City finished top of the old Division One have Manchester's two giants met on anything like an equal footing.

But the pair go head to head at Old Trafford on Sunday with far more than bragging rights at stake.

United are looking for victory to enhance their chances of landing a record fourth consecutive title, while City bid to extend a four-match winning streak that will raise optimism about a sustained championship challenge.

However, while Ferguson is aware of the threat, after 23 years of dominance over City, his natural instinct remains to view the threat from Merseyside as more acute and dangerous.

"I don't know. I don't think so," replied Ferguson when asked whether the derby could one day be bigger than those titanic tussles with Liverpool.

"To me Liverpool will always be the derby game.

"It is just because of the history. When I came down here they were the king-pins of England. They had won four European Cups and quite a few league titles.

"My aim was to do well against them and to try and turn that round. It is hard for me to go against that history."

The United boss sent a few barbs in City's direction as he assessed Sunday's game, mainly in the assessment of what constitutes success for a club who have achieved so little for so long but now find themselves muscling their way onto the top table.

There is, though, one pretty significant irritation, in the shape of the provocative Carlos Tevez poster proclaiming: "Welcome to Manchester."

Ferguson was unhappy at the time when it went up at one end of Manchester's busy Deansgate shopping area, emphasising as it did City's claim to be the city's only club bearing in mind Old Trafford is outside the boundaries. It still irks him now.

"That stupid poster upset us," he said.

"It showed an arrogance. It was naughty. It showed a cockiness that wasn't required at the time because they hadn't done anything.

"The season hadn't even started."

Clearly, there is more to the irritation than losing a player who was integral to two championship wins and a couple of Champions League finals.

Ferguson stated in the summer a private belief that Tevez wasn't worth a figure in excess of £30million. To hear the suggestion City actually paid £47million is eye-watering.

"It doesn't bother me one bit whether Tevez is playing or not," said Ferguson.

"I know their best player won't be. Emmanuel Adebayor has been their star player. There is no question about that.

"He has scored in every game. That is their loss."

Even Ferguson was smiling when he described the contest as "small", knowing just how much attention will be focused on it, not just in Manchester and the north west of England, but worldwide.

Yet the words he has kept hearing about City relate to their ability to reach the top four, breaking, as it would, the cartel that has existed in England for too long.

Ferguson himself has no interest in the top four - only in being number one.

"The things City are doing don't particularly worry me," he said.

"What we concern ourselves with is winning the league.

"People talk about trying to get into the top four. That is not the question. The question is who is number one.

"Manchester City have been given the chance to be better than Manchester United.

"But when you spend that kind of money there is an expectation. The challenge has to be for them to try and win something, whether it is the league or the FA Cup.

"They will be expected to challenge for these trophies without doubt."