United boss hails Premier League quality

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Sir Alex Ferguson insists the quality of the Premier League is still getting better.

One win from five for Chelsea, too many draws for Manchester United and three home defeats already at Arsenal have led to a more open top flight this term. Ferguson's immediate task is to find a way for United to beat Valencia in the Champions League on Tuesday night, but - with Arsenal and Chelsea his side's next two league opponents - domestic matters occupy a place in his thoughts.

"It is a strange Premier League this season," he said. "It is difficult to assess whether it is the teams at the top who are failing or the ones below them getting better. I think it is the lower teams getting better because the standard has improved."

He added: "We have to give credit to the lower parts of the league who are now catching up and condensing it into a much tighter competition.

"The table is like we are used to seeing in the Championship every year where you win two games and you are challenging for the play-off spots.

"Only a few weeks ago Sunderland were down the bottom. Now they are challenging for a European place.

"That is the kind of league we are in at the moment."

The immediate priority though is avoiding a defeat against Valencia. In addition to potentially allowing United to become the first team to go through an entire group phase programme without conceding a goal, anything other than a loss would confirm top spot in Group C.

And that would allow United to side-step Real Madrid and Madrid's five-goal conquerors Barcelona in next week's knock-out phase draw.

"If you get Barcelona on one of their good days they can do that to anyone," said Ferguson. "Like everyone else, they have days when they can be beaten but the sensible approach is to avoid the bigger hitters and we can only do that if we do finish first in our group."

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