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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Rio Ferdinand interview: 'Man United will have chances but City are favourites for the title'

Ferdinand says United "are a well-oiled machine"

Rio Ferdinand , former English professional footballer after the interview about the Football Escapes academy at the Four Seasons Resort in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Rio Ferdinand , former English professional footballer after the interview about the Football Escapes academy at the Four Seasons Resort in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United and England defender, says Manchester City are “favourites” to win the Premier League title this season.

Pep Guardiola’s City have made a scintillating start to the season, winning seven and drawing one of their first eight league games, scoring 29 goals in the process.

United have been almost as impressive, although one more drawn game means they trail their city rivals by two points.

Such has been the fast starts by City and United, the Manchester clubs are widely expected to be the teams to beat, and Ferdinand agrees.

“Manchester United will have their chances but City are favourites,” he said during a kids coaching session at the Summer Football Academy at the Four Seasons Resort Dubai on Friday.

“They are a really good and exciting team to watch this season.”

Jose Mourinho’s debut season at United yielded two trophies - the League Cup and Europa League - but a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, 24 points behind champions Chelsea, meant for a fourth successive year since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, United failed to feature in the title race.

However, Ferdinand sees significant enough improvement in United that will see them return to their status as consistent title challengers.

“United have definitely improved this season,” said Ferdinand, who won six Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League during his 12-year career at Old Trafford.

“They are a well-oiled machine, they are strong and powerful. They seem to be scoring goals when they need to. It is a real Jose (Mourinho) team.”

One of the hallmarks of a successful Mourinho team is defensive solidity, best exemplified by his first Chelsea team that conceded just 15 league goals en route to the title in 2003/04, a record that still stands.

This season, United have conceded just two goals - a league low - with the central defensive pairing of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones receiving plenty of praise for their performances.

Ferdinand formed a formidable partnership with Serbian Nemanja Vidic over an eight-year period at United, and he believes Bailly and Jones can reach similar heights if they are afforded the time.

“They need time together to fill in that relationship, like the strikers, defenders and the central midfielders,” said Ferdinand, who started his career at West Ham United before spending two years at Leeds United prior to his time at United.

“Vidic and me played for around seven or eight years and with that kind of time we had a good partnership going. I hope Eric and Phil can form a partnership, only time can say.”

Ferdinand, 38, retired from professional football in 2015 and has been working as a television pundit in the UK for BT Sport. He also announced in September his decision to pursue a professional boxing career.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand is maintaining close ties to football at grassroots level, hence the reason for his visit to Dubai, and plans to open his own academy in the UAE.

“That’s the aim,” he said after leading a coaching clinic at the Four Seasons Dubai. “This is the second time in Dubai. We have done in various places in China, Portugal, Cyprus, Maldives and many different areas.

“I love Dubai. I have come here many, many times. Everything is first class here.”

Ferdinand’s interest in the UAE also extends to the local football scene, and as he continues working towards his coaching badges, he opened up the possibility of taking a role in the Emirates.

“I followed local football when Asamoah Gyan (the Ghanaian forward who played for Al Ain and Al Ahli - now Shabab Al Ahli) was here,” he said.

“Never say no if I’m asked for a coaching role in the (UAE) national team. Football is a funny game. You never know what can happen around the corner. Right now at the moment my time is elsewhere, one two years maybe.”

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