Sir Alex Ferguson admits surprise at Manchester United's 15-point advantage

City's battle to retain their crown has been poor

Sir Alex Ferguson is stunned Manchester United are 15 points clear in the Premier League title race.

Following Manchester City's demise at Everton just before the international break, United require only 13 more points from their remaining nine games to clinch a record 20th championship.

They might not even need that many given City visit Old Trafford on April 8, and the feeling is Ferguson has already set his sights on eclipsing United's record 18-point winning margin from 2000.

It has certainly been the best possible recovery from having the title snatched from their grasp by Sergio Aguero with virtually the very last kick of the previous campaign.

And one that Ferguson did not expect.

"With Manchester City coming on the scene in the last couple of years and Chelsea and Arsenal and Tottenham, you have teams vying for that top-four position," Ferguson told Sirius XM.

"I expected it to be really tight.

"The first point was that after last season, we wanted to make sure we didn't lose it on goal difference, and that has improved markedly.

"But I never thought we would be 15 points clear at this stage of the season."

It has given Ferguson some leeway with his selections over the Easter weekend, when United find themselves pitched into two key games in the space of 48 hours.

Following Saturday's lunchtime trip to Sunderland - which could move United 18 points clear given City are not in action until slightly later - the Red Devils must prepare for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

As one of the players not being troubled by international duty, Rio Ferdinand can expect significant involvement following his controversial trip to Qatar, whilst Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic and Anderson should also be fresh.

"Every coach is praying that their players come back fit," said Ferguson.

"They played last Friday and they are playing tonight. Once I know later this evening how many minutes each player has played, I will start to think about my team for Saturday.

"I have to make sure I have some freshness in the team because we also have Chelsea on Monday lunchtime.

"It is a big ask for our squad and something we need to concentrate on because I need to make sure I pick the right teams."

Meanwhile, Ferguson has reiterated his claim that Paul Gascoigne is the player he most regrets missing out on.

Gascoigne is attempting to piece his life back together after another bout of drinking that left many of his friends fearing for his future.

No-one knows what might have happened had Gascoigne elected to join United instead of Tottenham when he had the chance in 1988.

But the charismatic former England midfielder wishes his life had taken a different direction, and so does Ferguson.

"I have always said when Paul Gascoigne chose to go to Tottenham ahead of Manchester United it was a big mistake," he said.

"He always regretted that.

"He was a fantastic footballer. He was the best player England produced since the days of Bobby Charlton."

PA

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