Ferguson out to pile pressure on Chelsea

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The Independent Online

It is too early for squeaky-bum time and he is only too aware of the formidable opponents who lurk on his shoulder, yet Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United can regain the psychological edge in this season's title race if they extend their six-point lead over Chelsea this weekend. He may even switch over from Celtic against Dunfermline tomorrow afternoon just to find out.

Less than a fortnight after Jose Mourinho claimed United had squandered a glorious chance to establish a commanding lead at the top of the table, Ferguson's men have an opportunity to go nine points clear of the reigning champions in the 147th Manchester derby this lunchtime, albeit having played two games more. Such a gap represents uncharted territory for Chelsea under Mourinho, and uncertainty over how they will respond may tempt even Ferguson to change his Sunday television ritual when they confront Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.

"Aye, I'll be watching it, unless it interferes with Setanta and the Scottish Premier League," he said, within a yard of a mortified reporter from Sky. "If we win [against City] then I don't have to worry about what happens in the Chelsea game but it is valid that Chelsea would never have been in that situation before," the United manager added. "Yes, they've got experience. None the less, they've never been in this position or had to deal with it. It is always better to have the points than the games. I am not saying it is a great advantage, but it is certainly an advantage."

Though Park Ji-Sung is available for the first time in three months, Ferguson is expected to select Ryan Giggs for the 688th time today at Old Trafford, a figure that will move the Welsh winger to joint second in the all-time United appearance list alongside Bill Foulkes and 71 behind Sir Bobby Charlton's club record.

"Ryan is 71 games behind Sir Bobby and it is definitely a realistic target to reach that figure," said Ferguson. "He's in great physical shape. He looks after himself, does not carry any weight and there's no reason why he can't play for another two or three years."

City have not won at Old Trafford for 32 years, the season of the infamous Denis Law back-heel, but have drawn three out of their past four League games on enemy territory and have slowly improved their season with only one defeat in the past five matches.

Optimism has been further fuelled by the announcement from their chairman, John Wardle, at Thursday's AGM that the club are in talks with an unknown investor about a possible takeover, although with supporters salivating at the prospect of being bank-rolled à la Chelsea or, potentially, Liverpool, Pearce sounded a cautionary note.

"I can't see the point in a club being taken over if it doesn't help the football team financially," he said. "We've got a fantastic stadium, so we don't need to build another. It has to help the football team, the product on the pitch. If that is not the case then I don't understand the significance of it. When the chairman put his money into the club it helped the team because it went directly to the team. If there is a takeover then that needs to happen again."

New funds are unlikely to materialise for the January transfer window and the City manager believes it will take an Abramovich or Dubai-sized investment for his club to compete with their local rivals consistently.

Pearce added: "To be able to catch Manchester United and break through on a regular basis you are talking about a massive amount of investment. Put it this way; for what money Liverpool have put into their team it's fair to say they are not competing with Chelsea and United at the moment. They are one of the biggest sides in the country, they won the European Cup, but we are talking about guaranteeing your club is first or second in the championship. That is a massive order. The finance that would take and the years of evolution that would require are massive."

Of more concern to Pearce is the threat presented by Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to his ambitions of becoming the first City manager since Tony Book to triumph in the league at Old Trafford.

"In my time with England there was never anyone who was so young and so good as Rooney," he said. "At this moment in time he's up there with the all-time greats who have played for England and he's still only a baby, although it will be better to judge him when he's 30. As for playing against Ronaldo, I'd have made my wide player double up on him and try to get in his shorts. Though not in the biblical sense, of course."

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