Ferguson wants open title race

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson would be delighted if the Premier League did not turn into a two-horse race this season - even though history suggests it will.

Already this term, a general view has been concluded that Ferguson's Manchester United side will be scrapping it out with Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea by the time May comes around.

Yet a bizarre sequence of results last weekend - including Aston Villa's victory over United at Old Trafford - has cast doubt on such statements.

And, with Tottenham returning to winning ways during the week, there is a sense of optimism about the possibility of a genuinely open title race, one that Ferguson would welcome.

"It could be open," said Ferguson.

"It is a tough league. The form of Aston Villa makes you look over your shoulder and say "Hey, wait a minute".

"And Tottenham are challenging in that top group as well.

"The history of the league points to it being between two teams but, from the spectator and general interest point of view, you hope it changes.

"It would be good if four or five teams are involved in the last month of the season. It would be fantastic."

It seems, even for someone like Ferguson, who has been involved in most of the title scraps over the past two decades, the predictability of the Premier League is becoming a bit boring.

Not that he is likely to blunt his own team's edge to give anyone else more of a chance, hence confirmation, just as he was being pitched into a Champions League meeting with old friend David Beckham, that Ryan Giggs had signed a one-year contract extension.

Over the past 18 months, Giggs has produced some of the most consistently high-class football of his career.

It is certainly only this year that his incredible achievements have received an appropriate acknowledgement.

Either side of collecting his 11th Premier League title, the 36-year-old was named PFA Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Yet, after claiming Ferguson could carry on as United boss for another five years, Giggs has been tipped to terrorise top-flight defences for another two seasons after this.

"Ryan deserves a new contract and I am sure that he will play for another two years," said Ferguson.

"His form is fantastic at the moment and he is playing some of his best football."

Giggs' longevity sets a standard few others will get close to matching.

However, in overcoming long-standing hamstring trouble, he also gives hope to Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, who are stepping up their own fight for fitness.

Ferdinand has not featured for United since being exposed by Fernando Torres at Anfield in October, while Hargreaves has now been missing for almost 15 months after undergoing career-saving knee operations to cure a tendinitis problem.

While Ferdinand stated earlier this week that he was not in danger of missing the World Cup with a long-standing back complaint, Fabio Capello has stated that Hargreaves must make his comeback soon if he is to stand a chance of getting to South Africa.

The England coach will therefore be an interested observer to see whether Ferdinand and Hargreaves fulfil Sir Alex Ferguson's stated aims for a return to first-team duties.

"Rio is improving," said Ferguson.

"He is much better now and not too far away, probably two or three weeks.

"And Owen is doing a bit better this week as well.

"He is getting there slowly and we hope he will be back by the end of January."

Neither will be involved at Fulham tomorrow though. And with Edwin van der Sar, who has returned to Holland for a further assessment on his knee injury, heading a catalogue of injuries, Ferguson can only cross his fingers that Nemanja Vidic will have recovered from a calf strain in time to face Fulham at Craven Cottage tomorrow.

Roy Hodgson has won plenty of praise for his work at Fulham over the last couple of years, with suggestions even being raised that the 62-year-old could be asked to replace Fabio Capello when the Italian quits the England hot-seat.

Ferguson is full of praise for Hodgson's achievements, which continued this week when a much-changed Fulham line-up earned a Europa League last 32 encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk by beating Basle in Switzerland.

"There is no question Fulham's improvement is down to the manager," said Ferguson.

"It is a remarkable turnaround. Who would have thought Fulham would not only qualify for Europe but got into the latter stages by winning away after they have made five changes Wednesday."

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