Sir Alex Ferguson said today that history suggested the Premier League campaign would be a two-horse race.
The Manchester United manager, who revealed that Nani would be out for five weeks with a hamstring injury, said ahead of his side's visit to Reading tomorrow there were reasons to believe that his club and Manchester City would fight it out - even though Rafael Benitez's Chelsea could not be discounted. "I don't think you could be certain of saying it's a two-horse race at this time. But over the years I've always hoped that you can say the top five can win the league but year after year its ended up being the two-horse race," he said. "Last year there was a big gap between ourselves and City and the rest. You just have to look at yourself. We want to say up there."
Ferguson offered a wry reflection of Prime Minister David Cameron's decision effectively to dismiss the central recommendation of the Leveson report. "You lot will be pleased Cameron let you off the hook!" he said to journalists.
Reading manager Brian McDermott has revealed that he has sought out Ferguson's advice through a phone call but the United manager - who said he will play Anders Lindegaard rather than David de Gea tomorrow - said the pressures were the same as when he started management in 1974.
"We do get that type of [phone call]" Ferguson said. "There's not problem taking a phone call - it's only ten minutes of your day. Harry [David] Bassett, Alan Curbishley and all these managers out of work also have a role to play. But you still have to win games. It's a results business. The nature of the type of owners we have got has changed [since I started in the job.] But you could not go ten days without winning even back then in '74. Even then there was some kind of pressure. That hasn't changed. The intensity of journalism has been more severe - you [the press] are under pressure a lot more. Agents have come in more, freedom of contracts has gone. But the pressure to get results is the same."
Nemanja Vidic is back in training after the ankle injury which has severely curtailed his last 18 months, Ferguson revealed, declaring hopes to play him against Cluj in next Wednesday's Champions League dead rubber.
Ferguson expects a tough afternoon in Berkshire against Reading. "I think the Premier Leaue is looking that way that away games are getting more difficult," he said. "Norwich fought like tigers and were really organised and motivated. When [McDermott] became manager it took him a little bit of time to get his ideas across. But he came from nowhere to take the league."
Roberto Mancini said today that Chelsea could challenge the Manchester clubs. "I don't think in this moment [it is a two-horse race]" he said. "We are on the top but it is difficult to say this because the season is wrong. I think [Chelsea] could be [title contenders]. At this moment I think [it is a three-horse race.] It's too long. It's difficult to say."