Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Premier League

Only Chelsea can challenge Manchester United says Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson believes the Premier League will turn into a two-horse race as usual this season.

The Manchester United manager admits the first half of the season has been more competitive than in recent years and would not be surprised if the Big Four's monopoly of the Champions League places is challenged.

But come May he clearly believes United and Chelsea, currently five points clear, will be battling for the big prize.

Ferguson, who has won 11 Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies in his 23 years at Old Trafford, said: "I had a feeling about there being a change last season. The top teams are losing games and more points than ever through the early part of the season.

"That gives rise to the hope that it could be a very competitive league. But my experience tells me that two teams break away towards the last part of the season."

Ferguson, however, is unsure who might snatch the fourth Champions League slot.

"I could toss a coin and that could be my best chance of deciding who could break into the top four out of Tottenham, Aston Villa, Everton and Manchester City with all the money they have.

"That's a difficult competition in itself and any one of them is capable of doing that"

Ferguson was speaking at an inaugural dinner of the League Managers' Association Hall of Fame 1000 club, celebrating those who have managed more than 1,000 domestic league or cup matches.

The English leagues have boasted 18 such managers, including the late Sir Matt Busby, Sir Bobby Robson, Brian Clough and Alec Stock.

Ten surviving members were present at the Hilton hotel in London and as well as Ferguson they comprised Dave Bassett, Steve Coppell, Brian Horton, Lennie Lawrence, Harry Redknapp, Denis Smith, Jim Smith, Graham Turner and Neil Warnock.

Ferguson also admitted football had been taken over by a new breed of chairmen and owners with a hair-trigger for sacking managers.

He said: "It's a different world we're in. Managers were always sacked but in most cases there was a reasonable cause. A run of bad results. But I remember Peter Reid was sacked after five games at Manchester City at the start of the season.

"Ruud Gullit was sacked a few games into one of his seasons at Newcastle. There is an instant response from chairmen which has been unusual in recent years.

"We have a new breed of chairmen and new owners. It's not the establishment we've got now. We have new owners from Americans, Chinese, Russians. How they achieved their money is not what football is used to.

"The sudden wealth (has brought) the quick reaction of chairmen to what happens on the football field."