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Premier League

'Ridiculous' television scheduling could cost us the title, fears Ferguson

Manchester City's free European weeks prompt United manager to launch pre-emptive strike

Sir Alex Ferguson fears that Manchester United's challenge to wrest the Premier League title back from Manchester City in the second half of the season could be undermined by "ridiculous" television scheduling.

Having already acknowledged that City will benefit by having clear weeks instead of European games, he wants the TV companies to avoid scheduling United games for Saturday lunchtime kick-offs after an away game in Europe.

Assuming United progress past the first knockout stage of the Champions' League, they then immediately face weekend fixtures against City, Arsenal and Chelsea as well as a potential FA Cup semi-final. In one of the pre-emptive strikes of which he has become a master, United's manager said: "If you go back to the year we lost to Chelsea, we played away in Europe in midweek and then played a lunchtime game against Chelsea on the Saturday and they battered us. It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. The biggest disadvantage will be television, because the demand for United will never weaken, and if they get us playing lunchtime on a Saturday after European games it's ridiculous. We tried to stop that but they control it, absolutely control it."

Sky Sports and the Premier League declined to comment but are understood to dispute the notion that clubs have no say in scheduling. They say the process is that TV companies make their selection of dates and kick-off times, which are then passed to the clubs, who can argue against them if they feel strongly enough. There are often other considerations, such as the police wanting high-profile fixtures to be at lunchtime rather than later in the day. Sunday afternoons, which are Sky's favoured slot, are also impossible if one of the teams are playing in the Champions' League the following Tuesday.

Today's Manchester derby will be on Sky with a 1.30pm kick-off as City aim to cut United's three-point lead over them at the top of the table.

Yesterday, third-placed Chelsea, seeking a first League win under Rafa Benitez before heading to Japan for the Club World Cup, beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light.