We need to get used to playing noisy neighbours in big games says Alex Ferguson ahead of Monday’s title-race defining derby

Fergie's warning: Manchester City aren't going to go away admits United manager

Sir Alex Ferguson has paid Manchester City the ultimate compliment in the build-up to Monday’s derby showdown.

For years, Ferguson has viewed Liverpool as his Manchester United side’s arch-rivals – the epic and passionate encounters between them the high point of the season for both clubs.

But ahead of this potential title decider at Eastlands, he has conceded for the first time that City have usurped ­the men from Anfield as his main opponents.

City’s uniquely deep pockets and rapid rise through the status of credible contenders to would-be ­champions have forced Ferguson to accept a changing of the guard in terms of English football’s greatest rivalry.

“We have to get used to playing Manchester City in important games,” said the Scot.

“They’re not going away.

“The financial support they have means we’re going to be playing them in a lot of big games. Finals maybe – we already have done in semi-finals – and an important FA Cup tie this season.

“If we’re going to be contesting for league titles regularly, and I think we will, it [the Manchester derby] will become just as important as the ­Liverpool game.

“Maybe not in terms of emotion, because the Liverpool and United games are emotional, but there is certainly an importance which, at this moment in time, supersedes the Liverpool games.

“City are our direct opponents now, without question. They’re up against us to win titles. That is what I focus on.

“I only focus on the team that can ­actually affect our progress in terms of winning – and that’s City.”

Ferguson feels United hold the advantage going into Monday’s game, given they can afford to draw it while City need to win to have any ­realistic chance of pipping their neighbours to the title.

Despite United’s lead being down to three points and City having a plus-six goal difference edge, Blues boss Roberto Mancini has continued to state publicly that the title is United’s – a pre-match tactic Fergie claims to see right through.

Maybe he’s trying to take ­pressure off his own players,” said the United boss. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to affect our approach or attitude to the game. We know the exact situation we’re in.

“We’re in a better position than City, because we can get two results, they can only get one – they have to win. We can draw or we can win, which is what we’ll be trying to do.”

Ferguson said he always felt the title would come down to this match once the fixture list had pitted the two Manchester clubs against each other with three games to go.

“It was inevitable, I suppose,” he said. “It’s all down to this game.

“There will be a considerable number of countries watching it, so I hope it lives up to the billing.”

Ferguson admitted he and his players are still reeling from twice blowing a two-goal lead to draw 4-4 with Everton last weekend and provide City with a way back into the title race.

United’s failure to win, coupled with City’s victory at Wolves, has ensured a nerve-shredding end to the season for both sets of fans – something Ferguson said his own supporters were used to by now.

“We’re smarting from throwing that game away,” he said. “But in the context of our history, we almost expected it.

“We make it hard for ourselves, and our poor supporters have been subjected to that drama for years and years.

“God knows what they’re like just now, but hopefully we will make amends on Monday.

“It’s not a cup final because there are three games left, but it’s still an important game that could decide the title.”