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Fergie rues bad week

MANCHESTER, May 7 – Sir Alex Ferguson has pinpointed the week that looks set to cost Manchester United the chance of European and Premier League glory.United go into Sunday’s final round of league fixtures with only a slender chance of holding onto the English crown they have won for the past three seasons, with Ferguson clinging to the hope his side can beat Stoke while leaders Chelsea are upset at home by lowly Wigan.

That would be a remarkable turn-around and Ferguson, whose team trail the Blues by one point, knows exactly why United are in such an unpromising position.

He is still fuming about his team’s Champions League quarter-final exit to Bayern Munich at the start of April and the home loss to Chelsea, in between the two ties against the Germans, which now looks likely to cost the Reds a record fourth straight Premier League title.

"We are disappointed we haven’t won other things. But the biggest disappointment was the European Cup. It is an absolute travesty we are not in the final," said Ferguson, who led his team to League Cup success against Aston Villa earlier this year.

"It’s an absolute travesty, we were the best team, that’s the disappointment. That brought a certain disappointment for the first half against Chelsea.

"That was a bad week for us. One bad week of the season is maybe going to cost us everything.

"It’s not easy to overcome these things but the second half against Chelsea the players buckled down and got on with their job."

Ferguson, twice a Champions League winner with United, has never made any secret that European success is his driving ambition at the start of every season.

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That made the controversial exit to Bayern on away goals, after young defender Rafael da Silva was sent off in the second leg, all the more hard to stomach.

"We had a good opportunity," Ferguson said. "We should be in the final against Inter.

"It would have been a difficult game, because Inter, without question, have improved tremendously this season. It’s a pity we won’t be in the final because we would have relished that."

The period to which Ferguson refers was also significant because it featured injury to Wayne Rooney in the first meeting with Bayern.

The England forward then missed the Chelsea defeat and was clearly not fully fit for the return against Bayern, fuelling the notion that United rely too heavily on their leading scorer.

But Ferguson insists his club are well poised to bounce back if, as expected, this season sees their stranglehold on the league title come to an end.

"Apart from the older players we keep talking about – (Ryan) Giggs, (Paul) Scholes, (Gary) Neville – the rest of the squad is reasonably structured in terms of age," said Ferguson.

"There is a strong nucleus of young players and they are the future, there is no question about that. There is a good foundation there."

However, Ferguson also senses a change at the top of the English game with the dominance of the so-called ‘big Four’ now being seriously threatened by Champions League qualifiers Tottenham and big-spending Manchester City, who narrowly missed out on a top-four finish.

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"It is going to be more competitive," he said. "With Tottenham’s achievement of reaching the Champions League and with City, who have money to spend and could buy a new team if they wanted to. I think they will be strong again next season.

"It motivates you. The challenge is always there, we’ve always accepted that challenge and we have to again.

"It comes from different areas. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool are the established members but, in that gang of four, Tottenham and Manchester City are now going to be there."

Meanwhile, Ferguson confirmed young defender Jonny Evans has signed a new four-year contract with United after an impressive season.

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