Manchester: Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes rivals and Premier League champions Manchester City are "lucky" to be only 12 points behind the Red Devils.
Sir Alex`s comments come in response to Roberto Mancini`s recent claims that the league leaders have had the rub of the green on numerous occasions this season, a comment the 71-year-old did not take too kindly.
Both sides have 11 matches still to play this season, with City yet to travel to Old Trafford, and United could extend their lead to 15 points should they beat Norwich City on Saturday, while City travel to Aston Villa on Monday.
Speaking to reporters, Sir Alex said: “He’s lucky they are only 12 points behind. Scoring late goals isn’t lucky - we’ve only been doing it for 25 years. It’s a terrible habit.”
The Scot and his team welcome La Liga champions Real Madrid and former United favourite Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford on Tuesday, but insists that the clash against Norwich remains a `must win` affair.
“The league games are even more important because we don’t want to give our immediate opponents an advantage," he continued.
“That accentuates it more for me and that’s why I place so much importance on Norwich because it’s a game we must win. The similarities to 1999 are that our FA Cup run was a really hard one and our European ties were really hard.
“We were in a group with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, then we got a quarter-final against Inter Milan and a semi-final against Juventus. This year the group stage was okay but we got Real Madrid straight up.
“In the FA Cup we’ve had Premier League teams all the time, which we also experienced in 1999. I don’t think the difficult games will be a problem.
“I think we’re looking forward to them, knowing we have to be at our best, as we were in 1999. The big difference is we have a stronger squad now than we did back then.”
Real Madrid`s build-up to the Champions League clash will have included two meetings with Barcelona, and after watching them beat Jordi Roura`s side 3-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday in the Copa del Rey, Sir Alex is hugely impressed with Jose Mourinho`s team.
“I was shocked," he revealed. “I thought Real Madrid were magnificent, I really did. They were absolutely brilliant and won well with Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil on the counter-attack.
“But we always knew that Madrid are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe, there’s no question about that. That’s what we’ll be up against on Tuesday and that’s why our preparations are centring around making sure their counter-attack doesn’t kill us.”
It was confirmed on Friday that 39-year-old Ryan Giggs will be staying on at the club for a further season after signing a new contract, and Sir Alex suggested that Rio Ferdinand could be in line for an extension of his own.
“That’s a strong possibility," he hinted. "It would have to happen before the end of the season.
“I think Rio has had a great season. He’s managed himself the right way and we’ve contributed to that in the preparation we give him. He doesn’t play every game in the same way that Ryan doesn’t play every game.
“Two weeks ago, against Real Madrid, he was excellent. We need to get him ready for the big one on Tuesday.”