Fergie Brushes Off City Power Shift Talk
Sir Alex Ferguson has brushed off talk of a new order in English football as bitter rivals Manchester City prepare to snatch his team's Premier League crown.
Manchester United travel to Sunderland on Sunday knowing that a City victory over Queens Park Rangers at Eastlands will effectively clinch the title for Roberto Mancini's side.
City's unprecedented financial might has prompted talk of a power shift in English football after decades of domination by Ferguson's United.
However, the United manager is adamant that now is not the time for major analysis about the wider meaning of his team's failure to scoop a record 20th title after being in pole position a few weeks ago.
"I think we can think about that after the events and analyze it properly," said Ferguson.
"There's no point doing it now as nothing's been decided and it's the last game of the season, which is fantastic for the neutral and the media but agony for both clubs."
However, Ferguson denied that missing out on the title would spell the end of an era, with United having won the league four times in the previous five seasons.
"We're not looking as though it's the end of an era for us," added Ferguson. "In many ways, it's the start of one for us.
"The challenge will be really obvious to them (the players) now. If they lose the league, as we did with Chelsea a couple of years ago, we did something about it. Hopefully, we can do so again."
United captain Patrice Evra has admitted the loss of defender Chris Smalling has left him with mixed emotions ahead of Sunday's game.
Phil Jones is likely to line up alongside Rio Ferdinand at the Stadium of Light after Smalling suffered a groin injury that has also ruled him out of England's European Championship campaign.
"It's a huge blow," said United's France left-back Evra, who could have lined up against Smalling in a Group D game in Donetsk on June 11.
"Chris is one of the strongest defenders we have at United. I'm really sad for him but, to be fair, I'm happy he won't play against me and France in the Euros.
"I have to be honest. When he told me he was injured and would miss the game against Sunderland, I said 'No, Chris, we need you.'
"And then he told me he'd also miss the Euros and I just said, 'Thanks! Well done!' You always have to find a silver lining."
Meanwhile, Phil Bardsley insists there will be no divided loyalties among Sunderland's significant number of ex-Manchester United players as they bid to end their former club's title hopes.
The Scotland international is among a five-strong ex-United contingent at the Stadium of Light, along with John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson, and Fraizer Campbell.
A first Sunderland league victory over Ferguson's side for 15 years will hand the trophy to City, but Salford-born United fan Bardsley insists that will not be at the forefront of his mind as the hosts look to end an eight-game winless run in their bid to secure back-to-back top-10 finishes.
The 26-year-old said: "My head will be the same as it is in any game I've ever played in, and I have no loyalties other than to Sunderland. We're here to compete against the big teams and try to beat them.
"If it's not to be and United don't win the league, then it's their own fault. They've thrown it away."
Brown has returned to training after a three-month absence due to a knee injury, but the former England defender does not come into consideration against his old club.
Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner is likely to come in up front for South Korea international Ji Dong-Won.