Fergie says Manchester derby is for 'masochists'

Sir Alex Ferguson said Thursday you would have to be "a confirmed masochist" to enjoy Monday's Manchester derby -- a match that could decide the Premier League title.

Manchester United manager Ferguson's reigning champions go into the game three points clear at the top of the table.

But victory for Manchester City at their Eastlands ground would put them into first place on goal difference with just two games of the season left as they bid to become champions of England for the first time since 1968.

"You would have to be a confirmed masochist to enjoy it," said Ferguson. "But we are looking forward to it and the players will be fully prepared for it."

Ferguson, whose side were a seemingly unbeatable eight points in front only a few weeks ago, reported no new injury concerns ahead of a cross-town clash which was tipped to be of huge significance when the fixture list was published.

"It was inevitable I suppose," he said. "It is all down to this game. There will be a considerable number of countries watching it, so I hope it lives up to the billing."

City beat United 6-1 in an extraordinary league match at Old Trafford in October only for United to knock City out of the FA Cup at Eastlands in January.

When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford back in 1986, the key match for the club's fans was against north-west rivals Liverpool, then the dominant force in English football.

But with City, backed by Abu Dhabi-based Sheikh Mansour, on the rise and Liverpool, the last of whose English titles came in 1990, struggling to compete for the Premier League, Ferguson reckons the Manchester derby is set for a status it has not enjoyed since the late 1960s.

"We have to get used to playing Manchester City in important games," Ferguson said. "They are not going away.

"The support they have means we are going to be playing them in a lot of big games," the veteran Scottish manager added. "Finals maybe, we already have done in semi-finals, an important cup tie this season.

"If we are going to be contesting for league titles regularly -- and I think we will be doing -- it will become just as important as the Liverpool game.

"Maybe not in terms of emotion because the Liverpool-United games are emotional. But there is certainly an importance which, at this moment in time, supercedes the Liverpool games.

"They are our direct opponents now. Manchester City are up against us to win titles. That is what our focus is on, the team who can stop us winning."

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