United boss admits arch-rivals will probably go on to win the Premier League title if they beat his side at the Etihad Stadium on Monday
Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his players: “Lose to City and you have blown the title.”
The Manchester United boss has left his men in no doubt about the dire consequences that defeat in tomorrow night’s epic derby at the Etihad Stadium.
United lead City by three points, but Roberto Mancini’s men will go back to the summit courtesy of their superior goal difference if they win the 163rd meeting of the teams.
City have a tough run-in – with a trip to Champions League-chasing Newcastle followed by the visit of relegation-threatened QPR – while United entertain Swansea before finishing the campaign at Sunderland.
But Ferguson warned: “If City win they would probably go on to win it from there.
“Even though they’ve got to go to Newcastle I think they would have a great chance.
“If we won we’d be strong favourites. Even with a draw we’d be favourites. No doubt about that.
“Two games to go, one at home and one away, we’d have to be happy with that.
“One thing, though, we won’t be going to City just looking to make sure we don’t lose.”
United squandered the chance to maintain their five-point lead at the top last week when Everton fought back from 4-2 down to force a draw with two goals in the closing minutes.
Ferguson has shouldered his share of the blame in allowing City to blow the title race wide open by winning at Wolves.
UEFA president Michel Platini is planning to jet into Manchester to watch a game that has captured the imagination of the world.
Ferguson said: “Given the chances we created against Everton and the quality of our performance, we should have won comfortably.
“Maybe I should have brought on a couple of defenders just to see it off.
“I mean, there was only seven minutes to go and we were winning 4-2. Bloody hell, there you go.”
He added: “I always thought City would be our big challengers this year, particularly after the early-season programme they had.
“I mean, they didn’t really play anyone at the start of the season, and they got off to a flyer because of it.
“We had Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in the first four or five games. We had a really tough start and because City had some good results that projected them forward.
“I always expected them to be there at the end after that.”
United came from 2-0 down to beat City in the Community Shield.
But the champions were humbled 6-1 at Old Trafford in October – equalling the biggest-ever scoreline in a Manchester derby.
Ferguson exacted some revenge by knocking the Blues out of the FA Cup, winning 3-2 at the Etihad in January, but only after the home side had come back from three goals down after having skipper Vincent Kompany sent off.
Ferguson said: “It doesn’t matter what has happened for the rest of the season.
“They’re undefeated at home and we have the best away record. It doesn’t matter. This is a one-off fame.
“The City crowd will be up for it. We expect them to be. But that’s not unusual for us.
“We’ve been to Anfield, the Emirates, places like that. The atmosphere will be just the same.
“I have to trust my players. We have enough experience, enough pace and enough good footballers with determination.
“We’ll be all right in that respect. A game of this nature can be decided by anything – and you only hope it isn’t decided by a bad decision.”
He added: “There is a focus on this game so it’s important that it is good. We’re representing the city all over the world.
“There’s 203 countries going to watch it. Even Michel Platini is coming to watch.
“That creates a certain occasion and we want to represent ourselves in the right way.
“It’s difficult to know how City will approach it.
“My feeling is that he will be cautious. It doesn’t matter, all I know is that we want to do well.”