Ferguson would love all-Manchester final
Alex Ferguson would love to set up a classic European final with Manchester City.
The Manchester United manager freely accepts he did not expect to be in the Europa League this season.
However, he feels exactly the same sentiment about United’s title rivals and current Premier League leaders City, who also finished third in their Champions League group.
Rather than turn his nose up at a competition that has been derided by so many, Ferguson has decided to embrace it.
And whilst he is aware there are plenty of hidden obstacles in the way of a final in Bucharest on May 9, the Red Devils chief knows if both Manchester clubs make it, the occasion would be one to savour, no matter what the competition.
“Ourselves and City didn’t expect to be where we are today,” he said.
“Both of us will be trying to win it and it would be a great final that.”
Although their passage into the last 16 is virtually secure already thanks to the 2-0 first-leg defeat of Ajax in Amsterdam last week, confirmation at Old Trafford tomorrow would merely set up another stiff test.
The examination would come in the form of either a draining trip to Moscow to face Lokomotiv, or a nasty one to Bilbao and a meeting with an Athletic outfit that have reached the Spanish cup final already this term and are hunting down a top-four finish in La Liga.
“I expect them to win the tie,” Ferguson said of Atletico’s encounter with Lokomotiv tomorrow, when they will start 2-1 down.
“That would be a difficult task for us. You have to recognise there are a lot of teams at a very good standard.”
Ajax must be disposed of first of course and Tom Cleverley looks certain to be handed a central role after making his comeback from major foot and ankle problems in the opening game.
The 22-year-old has a lot to live up to, having been praised so highly by Ferguson in his absence.
However, Cleverley is trying to take everything in his stride, including a possible England call-up from Stuart Pearce tomorrow.
“I don’t really listen to what people are saying,” said the Bradford-raised youngster, who was twice picked for senior squads by Fabio Capello but is yet to make his debut.
“I just go out and play my football.
“If I can find some good form from now until the end of the season, I would be more than happy to be involved in the European Championships.
“I am not sure whether it is a good time though.
“I know Stuart Pearce quite well from my time with the Under-21s. He is a good manager. Hopefully I will be involved.”
Ferguson is more effusive about Cleverley’s talents.
The United boss felt much of his side’s brilliant early season form was due to the injection of pace Cleverley brought to their ranks, which is why he was so happy to speak of him previously.
And, even though the pair were sat alongside each other this afternoon, Ferguson did not hold back.
“Tom is a very clever footballer,” said the Scot.
“He has a quick brain in terms of his appreciation of passing.
“An hour was fantastic for him last week after his long spell out. Hopefully he will play a full game tomorrow.
“It is good to have him back.”
Ferguson also confirmed striker Michael Owen was now back in training after a recent thigh problem but would not be considered for another two weeks.