Winning is a terrible habit, Fergie jokes
Sir Alex Ferguson has laughed off a recent suggestion from Roberto Mancini that Manchester United have been lucky this season.
The Manchester City boss, whose side are 12 points off the pace in the Premier League, said United had been "lucky with everything" due to their repeated late comebacks.
Asked about the remarks, Ferguson sarcastically replied: "We're dead lucky. We have only been doing it for 25 years. It is a terrible habit. Maybe he (Mancini) is lucky they are only 12 points behind."
Meanwhile, in an interview with L'Equipe Magazine, Ferguson confirmed that the rivalry between the two Manchester clubs had intensified in light of City's dramatic Premier League title triumph last season.
After winning at Sunderland and hearing City were only drawing at Queens Park Rangers, United were champions "for 20 seconds", as Ferguson put it, before Sergio Aguero's strike at Eastlands gave the blue half of Manchester a long-awaited opportunity to crow.
"With what happened last year, with City winning the title in the dying seconds, the rivalry went up a few notches," Ferguson told the French magazine. "For us, it created a feeling of emptiness, of frustration. I hadn't felt that for a long time, since Liverpool dominated in the 1980s. We had to re-learn to live with that frustration, and we weren't used to it.
"You have to accept it. At United, we like to meet challenges. Arsenal set us a challenge, we met it. Then it was Chelsea. We matched them. That lasted six or seven years. Now it's City's turn. We're ready."
He added: "Losing the title gave us added strength. We now know that our neighbour is a serious rival."
City remain United's closest challengers this season, but the gulf between the two atop the table adds credence to Ferguson's claim that his current side are an improvement on last season, particularly in terms of the squad's strength-in-depth, a consequence of losing the title in such painful circumstances.
"We needed to improve. To be more clinical. We're picking up more points and scoring more goals," Ferguson said.
However, he said his team's fragile rearguard remains a 'work in progress'.
"It's a mystery. Each goal is different. Our supporters are going to end up having heart attacks. We've watched videos with each one of [the players] to try and find a link, to see where we can improve, but I haven't managed to be able to get a team that is defensively stable. I note only that we attack a lot and our full-backs give a lot going forward. Too much perhaps. Logically, our opponents have space to play in."
He added: "I've made ten changes from one game to the next without the team's performance being affected. That's unique. Against West Ham in the cup, I brought in ten internationals. Last year, I made the mistake in the Champions League of bringing in youngsters and rotating the squad too much. We went out in the group stage. This year, I won't risk the same collapse."
With United locked at 1-1 with Real Madrid ahead of the second leg of their last-16 tie at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Ferguson can ill afford to tinker, particularly with former United star Cristiano Ronaldo in the opposition ranks.
"He'll get an exceptional welcome. Man United is a club where we have a memory. Former players are always celebrated. But once the game starts, it'll be finished. He'll get whistled just as much as the others. He gave his heart to United. There's no doubt about that. He loved this club," Ferguson said, adding that Ronaldo's dream of playing for Real Madrid led to him leaving Old Trafford in 2009.
"I went to see him in Portugal and made him a promise: give me one more season and then you can go to Real. He had an exceptional season. He never sulked, he was on fire. I went to see my president, David Gill, and told him we should have sold him for €150 million to Real."