Top-four race will be 'dogfight' this season, says Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson is anticipating a "dogfight" in the battle just to finish in the Premier League's top four this season. Tottenham's fourth-place Champions League qualification, combined with Manchester City's seemingly bottomless pit of money, has put increased pressure on the so-called "big four". One of those clubs, Liverpool, have already discovered what happens if you drop off the pace just a fraction as they slipped to seventh last season.

Ferguson, who is aiming finally to go past their Merseyside rivals in terms of championships won – they are both on 18 – expects the competition to be even fiercer this time around.

"Things definitely changed last season – it was a different league altogether compared to what we'd seen before," said the Manchester United manager. "The top four found it difficult and dropped points in games they wouldn't have expected to. That's an indication of the improvement made by other teams, and I think there'll be a bit of a dogfight for the top four places this season."

Ferguson added: "We all have to be aware of the threats from the likes of Villa, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City – they'll all be challenging to get into that top four."

Away from title talk, the midfielder Darren Fletcher admits he wants to follow the example of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville in having a long and distinguished career at Old Trafford.

There were times earlier in his career when it seemed Fletcher would be forced to move away from Manchester United in order to get regular first-team action, but the Scotland captain is now firmly established in Ferguson's squad.

Fletcher's absence was cited as one of the main reasons for United's dismal Champions League final performance against Barcelona in 2009, and his performances last season mean he is now regarded as one of the most influential midfielders in the Premier League.

It is just what the 26-year-old hoped for when he first headed south from Scotland as a raw teenager. With over 250 appearances under his belt and a contract that runs until 2012, it does not seem Fletcher will be going anywhere soon.

And, having shared a dressing room with legendary United stalwarts for so long, the Dalkeith-born star fancies a career-long stay. "I can't ever imagine being anywhere else," he said. "There is nowhere better than Manchester United and if I can play my whole career at this club I will be a very happy man.

"Everything about the club – the fans, the facilities and the structure – is fantastic and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"There is something very special about staying at one club for your whole career – the likes of Gary, Ryan and Paul are all legends at Manchester United and to get anywhere close to that would be a real achievement."

The Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, meanwhile, expects to have to prove himself all over again when the new season kicks off. The 32-year-old had a poor start to the previous campaign, mirroring the club's early problems, and looked a shadow of his former self.

However, as the season progressed he rediscovered the form which has made him one of the most consistent defenders of his generation. But with the arrival of new manager Roy Hodgson – and teenage centre-back Danny Wilson from Rangers – the former England international knows his reputation will count for little if he cannot back it up with performances.

"You never know what might happen," said Carragher as he prepared to enter his 15th season in the Liverpool first team. "Last year, after a few games, the whole world had written me off and said I was finished.

"But in the second half of the season, along with Javier Mascherano and Pepe [Reina], I was probably one of the most consistent players and when you look at how the defence played, we managed to keep 18 clean sheets.

"That's gone now and you have to do it all again. There is going to be a challenge and it has always been the case that players will want to take your place but you just have to be ready. I played every week for Rafa for six years but I've got to prove myself again.

"Even if Rafa had still been here that would have been the case. There will be a time when I don't play 50 games a season, but I've no intention of it happening this year."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence