Alex Ferguson expects few Manchester derby surprises

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted there will be "no secrets" to be unveiled by either side in tomorrow's derby.

United entertain City at Old Trafford knowing victory would almost certainly end their neighbours' lingering Premier League title hopes.

However, a second away win in four years would leave the Blues trailing Ferguson's side by just two points and knowing they face a hazardous run-in, which includes matches against Liverpool and Arsenal, and champions Chelsea to face twice.

Little wonder few clues have been offered about team selection.

And even though Ferguson ruled Rio Ferdinand out for a further two weeks with the calf injury he suffered in the warm-up to last weekend's defeat at Wolves, no-one would be too surprised if the England skipper started tomorrow's game.

"I have a good idea of their team, they have a good idea of ours," said Ferguson.

"There are no secrets today. Absolutely none. The video analysis gives you new detail in terms of preparation for games.

"When we come to analyse our opponents, we have a fair idea of who will play, and it is the same for them."

Although there is huge anticipation within the city itself about a game that is getting more significant by the year, Ferguson has opted not to fan any flames.

He is wary of hitting the headlines in the manner he did before the previous game between the two sides in November, when he took exception to the manner in which comments about City were reported, and promptly ceased speaking to the media for five weeks.

Yet the hype this time around does not appear to contain the same fire, possibly due to the international fixtures in midweek, which have acted as a magnet for attention.

"Maybe the internationals have not been a bad thing," he said.

"It has taken away a bit of focus from the game.

"As far as the clubs are concerned, it doesn't really matter how much hype there is. We have to perform on the pitch."

The loss of Ferdinand would be keenly felt as it robs Ferguson of his first-choice central defensive partnership.

As the "knock" which forced Chris Smalling to withdraw from England Under-21 duty has not proved serious enough to rule him out - something that would have been anticipated by Stuart Pearce but raises further question marks about the relationship between club and country - Ferguson has a ready-made alternative.

It would be Smalling's 15th appearance since a summer move from Fulham for a £7million fee that is already looking like exceptional value for money.

"Our scouting department did a great job in identifying Chris," said Ferguson of a player who was only at Craven Cottage for two years.

"Fortunately we got him at a good age, where he can develop at our club.

"He has been outstanding since he came to the club. He lacks that big game experience but in terms of the experience he has had, he has used it well and has done well."

Neutral fans will doubtless hope for a repeat of the corresponding fixture last term, a seven-goal thriller settled by Michael Owen in the sixth-minute of stoppage time, rather than the bore draw at Eastlands earlier this season.

Victory is surely more important for City than United given the relative state of the teams, although with their impressive home record, the only dropped points so far were to West Brom in October when the Red Devils tossed away a two-goal lead, Ferguson is optimistic about his side's chances.

Spirits have not even been dampened by the loss of their 29-match unbeaten run at Molineux, which has allowed attention to drift back towards what was always the main goal.

"This unbeaten run was always hanging over us," conceded Ferguson.

"The focus has changed from that to winning the league again. That is the name of the game.

"In normal circumstances, and it has proved itself again, you do lose games in the Premier League.

"In the run-in to the end of the season, teams will drop points. It is a fact.

"Whoever gets the most consistent form will win the league."