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Ferguson ready to scale another mountain in pursuit of Manchester City

  • @stevetongue

The sound of Sir Alex Ferguson singing is generally an indication that all is well in Manchester United's world, and although "Climb Every Mountain" is not known to be in his repertoire, it should nudge aside Frank Sinatra once in a while.

Preparing for this afternoon's match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the subsequent pursuit of Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League, United's manager came up with a rather apposite metaphor based on mountain climbing.

"I've climbed Ben Donich [2,776ft] in Scotland and when you get up there it's so fantastic," he said, "but the only problem you've got is that you have to come down."

Twice in his extraordinarily successful period in charge United have managed to stay on top admiring the view for three years running, and from the middle of the past decade onwards Chelsea have been their main challengers. These have been the top two clubs for five of the past six seasons, Liverpool being the only intruders when splitting the pair as United won the title three years ago.

However, this season Manchester City seem certain to ensure there will be no further one-two from the old firm.

"We won our first title in 1993 and 20 years on we're still battling there and we've only been out of the top two once or twice," Ferguson said. "We had that 10 years with Arsenal when every year it was between us and them and they were tough. When Chelsea came, they got off to such great starts under [Jose] Mourinho that we found it very difficult to catch them. It's not easy. It's a tough league and we're finding that this season with City. They've improved a lot and they're still favourites to win the League but if we can get through these away games then we've got a great chance."

After Chelsea, the next away game is actually at Ajax, but it is safe to say the Europa League is not occupying too many of the manager's thoughts. After a potentially volatile home fixture against their FA Cup conquerors, Liverpool, he will be more concerned with going to Norwich and then, critically, a Tottenham side who nevertheless face a tricky game of their own at Anfield tomorrow night, which they could start eight points behind United.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are breaking the mountaineers' code and looking down, where they find Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal in pursuit. Andre Villas-Boas may promise with a smile, as he did on Friday, "I don't think we'll finish below fourth," but they are currently in no position to end up any higher.

Although, as he admitted, this was never intended to be a transitional season, that is how it is turning out.

"Villas-Boas is playing a different way," Ferguson noted, "and when we played them earlier in the season they were far more fluid. He's brought in a couple of players who have made a difference in Ramires and [Juan] Mata and he's given [Daniel] Sturridge a chance and he's repaid him."

Then, of course, there is Fernando Torres, who scored against United at Old Trafford in September's 3-1 defeat, a scoreline that would have been closer had he not later committed one of the misses of the season.

"We're not just looking for Fernando the goalscorer, we're looking for Fernando the player to reach the level of performance he had against Sunderland," Villas-Boas said. "I think a goal will trigger it all but we have to wait and see.

"There is a new way of playing of Chelsea where you have more of the ball and less spaces in behind. This changes the nature of a player's movement and requires certain adaptation, and that's what we're trying to get."

Chelsea v Manchester United is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm