Sir Alex: Don't write off Chelsea
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson feels it would be folly to write Chelsea out of the Premier League title race just yet.
The Londoners have picked up just one point from their last three games and failed to even manage a shot on target on Sunday as they slipped to defeat at Old Trafford in Avram Grant's first match in charge.
That reverse left Chelsea five points adrift of current leaders Arsenal, who also have a game in hand.
And, with the fall-out from Jose Mourinho's departure still being felt at Stamford Bridge, many pundits have already dismissed Chelsea as contenders.
Ferguson is not among them. He might be stating the obvious to some but, in his eyes, the four possible title winners have not changed.
'I don't think you can dismiss Chelsea,' he said. 'How could you with the players they have got? They played a strong team at Hull on Wednesday, probably because Avram Grant was keen to get a win under his belt.
'They got a good result and that will help him no end. You cannot exclude from the top four. As I said at the start of the season, one of those four will win it.'
Although there have been suggestions in some quarters United, and Ferguson in particular, would oppose any attempt to offer Grant special dispensation over his coaching qualifications, the Scot steered well clear of that argument as he looked ahead to tomorrow's encounter with Birmingham at St Andrews.
Instead, after delivering a firm 'no' to whether he had an opinion on the Grant issue, he claimed United had not gained enough credit for last week's win, with Chelsea added to a growing list of clubs who have encountered the Red Devils this season and not won so much as a corner.
'Can you tell me another team in the world who can boast that kind of statistic?' he said. 'We were in complete control. Chelsea had one shot at goal from Andriy Shevchenko, which was about a yard over the bar.
'There was a good flow about our game, we were the team who looked as if we were going to win and I sense a general coming together amongst the squad now.'
Nevertheless, United's scoring ratio is well below their usual high standards.
Even Ferguson admitted the current return of six goals in seven Premier League games is `unusual'.
However, with Cristiano Ronaldo back from suspension and Wayne Rooney now fully recovered from his broken foot, there is a far greater cutting edge to United's attack. And Ferguson can also detect signs Carlos Tevez is about to hit form.
After a slow start to his United career, Tevez finally found the net on Sunday, turning home Ryan Giggs' inspired cross for the crucial first-half opener.
'Carlos is very determined,' said Ferguson. 'He is exactly the same in training. He is a bit of a terrier, who gets about the pitch really well.
'When he loses the ball he tries to get it back straightaway, which is a really good quality for a front player. Getting the goal last week is important for him but it was almost a double-hit because I feel the game itself will bring him on even more.'
Ferguson is considering whether to hand Owen Hargreaves a bench slot, or hold the England midfielder back for Tuesday's Champions League showdown with AS Roma.
The pleasing thing as far as United are concerned, is that there is a decision to make given Hargreaves has been limited to just three appearances since his £18million summer move from Bayern Munich.
'Owen is a consideration,' said Ferguson. 'He has been doing some really good training and is certainly on the mend now.'