Sir Alex Ferguson: We're never going to go away

Ahead of tomorrow's derby, and with the title as good as won, United's manager has a message for Manchester City, a team at the crossroads

When the Premier League's fixture computer did its work last June and came up with Manchester United at home to Manchester City in the first week of April, the game jumped out as one of singular significance. Like the derby at the opposite end of the month a year ago, when City's 1-0 victory turned the championship chase in their favour, it had the potential to be decisive.

From the start of the season, Roberto Mancini's strategy was to play down his own team's prospects, making United clear favourites to claim the title back – unlike the bookmakers – and in doing so prompting Sir Alex Ferguson to exclaim: "We're favourites every week according to him – I don't know if he realises he's got a decent team."

"Decent", however, was as good as it got for the champions, and even some eight weeks ago, when Sky Sports shifted the match to a Monday night meeting, just like last year, hope was diminishing that the outcome could be relevant to anything more than a little local pride. City have even been looking over their shoulder at Tottenham, who with a win at home to Everton today would be only two points behind (albeit from two games more).

So in the build-up both managers have spent much time looking beyond tomorrow, and even beyond the end of the season, given that they know where the trophy is heading this time. From Ferguson, an almost unthinkable 15 points to the good with only eight games to play, there was even talk of a potential championship hat-trick to equal those of 1999-2001 and 2007-2009.

"We're not going to go away," he said. "Whether we can go on another run of three titles in a row, who's to say? But the material is there."

By that he means that a gradual revamping of the squad, brilliantly augmented by adding Robin van Persie at the other end of the scale, has produced a young crop that should only improve to compensate for the ageing of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. "We'll have players who are maturing nicely – Rafael, the goalkeeper David De Gea, Shinji Kagawa, the boy Alex Buttner, Phil Jones, who can do anything he wants to do. So it's looking good.

"With the squad we've got, there are maybe 14 players aged 23 or under who could play together for another seven or eight years. The record over the last 20 years tells you we're not going away – so I would expect us to have a real good challenge next year too."

United, like the great Liverpool teams of the Seventies and Eighties, are not inclined to look back in triumph. When the time does come in a few more weeks, they are more likely to dwell on trophies that got away in the home defeat by Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid and the FA Cup loss to Chelsea. Neutrals, meanwhile, will point to those occasions as evidence that this is not one of the very best United teams, even if the manager can claim after a top-flight record 25 wins from 30 League games: "That's a fantastic performance."

For Mancini, the key factors are the 20 goals fewer that City have scored compared to the same stage last season, and the 20-odd years in which their rivals have never finished outside the top three, building up experience, a winning mentality and financial resources. The latter is a familiar theme but one that bears repetition.

"We are not like United. They have a big history and we need a lot of years to compete with this," Mancini said. "We need to improve our team every year, and in the summer we need to buy the players who can make the difference. I don't know how much money we can spend, but United in the past did spend a lot of money to buy important players."

A question remains about whether Mancini will still be the man recommending who is bought. The feeling at present seems to be that he will survive, but bad results tomorrow and in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea next Sunday could change that at the end of the campaign.

The League title has gone and a confirmatory handshake across the Manchester divide will come sooner or later: "If they beat us [tomorrow], yes I will congratulate him," Mancini said of his opposite number. "If not, I will do it when they win the title."

Man United v Man City is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pm

world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice