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Manchester, United Kingdom – Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson says that Manchester City's European demise has given Roberto Mancini's side a clear advantage in the race for the Premier League title.
City, who host leaders United on Sunday, failed to clinch a place in the Europa League after finishing bottom of their Champions League group following defeat by German side Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.
Yet Ferguson told a news conference in Manchester on Friday that fewer games and distractions would aid their neighbours as they look to defend the title they won last season.
“I honestly think it is an advantage to City,” said the long-serving United manager.
“The less games, the less chance of injuries. It gives them a full week to prepare for games now, but on the other hand, you have to keep (players) happy.
“They have a big squad, probably a bigger squad than most teams. I think they would rather have European football. Any big team would want European football all the time, and that's the biggest disappointment to them.
United will open up a six-point lead at the top of the table if they win at the home of their neighbours.
Yet the 19-time champions of England arrive at the Etihad Stadium having lost three of their last six league and cup games and with concerns about the performances of their defence.
In addition, memories of the 6-1 thrashing his players suffered at the hands of City in October 2011 remain fresh in Ferguson's mind.
“It did (have an impact), particularly the 6-1 defeat, because of the goal difference. It turned us right round and that's what cost us (the title),” he added.
United have managed just four clean sheets in 23 league and cup games this season, and Ferguson added: “It's not as though we are ignoring it.
“City will have expected us to have worked on that this week. We have lost, I think, 10 goals from set plays this season, which is a lot.
“We hope to find a solution and if you do find a solution, it makes a difference. It will be a tight game on Sunday, there won't be a lot in it and we have enough players to make an impact.”
As for the prospect of opening up a six-point lead, Ferguson said: “It wouldn't mean a great deal because there is such a long time to go until the end of the season.”
Ferguson believes either United or City will win the title, claiming Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have fallen too far behind in the table.
“I think it's going to be close between the two sides,” he said.
“We have that gap over Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. It would be difficult to think the two of us would collapse and allow another team to get in.”
Ferguson reiterated his statement from last season that City were now United's biggest rivals in the league before questioning the number of penalties his rivals have been awarded in recent times.
“It's 21 in the last year, isn't it? Something like that. If we were to get that number of penalty kicks there would have been an inquiry in the House of Commons, and protests.”
Captain Nemanja Vidic had hoped to return to the centre of defence after three months out with a knee injury.
But Ferguson says the Serbia defender is not ready, while Nani (hamstring) is a definite absentee.
Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa (knee) is also a doubt, along with Tom Cleverley (calf). – Sapa-AFP