Ferguson fancies flutter on strikers topping charts

Ferguson has cited the travails of his players in front of goal as the principal reason for last season's barren campaign at Old Trafford, especially in an FA Cup final that epitomised United's failure to match dominance with delivery. The sight of Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy on the scoresheet at Goodison Park last Saturday was an added fillip to a well-rehearsed and well-executed curtain raiser.

Ferguson made two wagers with his main strikeforce during summer weeks spent in Portugal, Hong Kong, China and Japan; that neither the Dutchman nor Rooney would beat his own proud record of 45 goals in one season, a feat he achieved in 51 games for Dunfermline in 1965-66. It is a typically safe bet by a canny Scot, although he would contemplate offering his forwards the same odds on a combined total for the simple reason that a 45-goal attack invariably represents a title-winning one too.

"I think it is an essential part of winning the league, having strikers who will get you over 35 goals between them in a season," Ferguson said. "We got over 40 one season with [Dwight] Yorke and [Andrew] Cole, we know Ruud is capable of scoring over 30 league goals, no question of that, and with Wayne Rooney progressing the way he is he could easily give us a partnership of goals that would play a substantial part in winning the league.

"I haven't set them individual targets, though, I have just had wee bets with them that they could never break my record. That would be impossible."

While Rooney has made a flawless transition from his first season at Old Trafford into his second, with a goal in every competitive fixture thus far, it is the return to predatory form of Van Nistelrooy that has strengthened Ferguson's conviction United's profligacy is drawing to an end.

Ferguson added: "Ruud was excellent last week, he's been terrific in pre-season and looks really sharp and fit. When you see him in that form you know you are going to get goals."

Rooney and Rio Ferdinand were two of only five players to play for 90 minutes for England against Denmark last Wednesday although Ferguson was in no mood for an early season confrontation with Sven Goran Eriksson yesterday.

"To be honest I lose track of all these things now, I don't even bother with them and I'm not sure what the arrangements [for Rooney and Ferdinand] were," he said. "I never spoke to Sven."

Cristiano Ronaldo is available for the visit of Aston Villa today when a United victory would grant Ferguson the first psychological edge of the season over either Chelsea or Arsenal, who meet tomorrow. Yet he insisted: "I'm not bothered about that at this stage, it is far too early to have an influence on the title. If we get three points against Villa I can go for my Sunday lunch and not bother my backside about them. I hope they both get beat."

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