Sir Alex Ferguson has backed Mark Hughes to become a success at Fulham, but has told his former player there is no chance of a shock win over Manchester United. Ferguson will be looking to banish the painful memories of United's last two trips to Fulham when they visit Craven Cottage today.
United crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Fulham last season, when Ferguson's injury problems were so bad he had to field Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick, the midfielders, in a makeshift defence, having lost 2-0 there the season before. Now Ferguson is relishing the chance for revenge, even though he believes Hughes, a player who served him well at Old Trafford, has the ability to continue the progress Roy Hodgson made at the London club before he left to join Liverpool.
Ferguson said: "We have had a bit of a tough time at Fulham. We were down to nine men and then last season we had just gone too far with the makeshift players who had played at the back. "That is the key to it when you put out fragile teams with players out of position - when you lose a goal it becomes very difficult. We became fragmented despite starting very well. "But Mark had a small squad at Blackburn [Rovers] and his experience there should be ideal for Fulham.
"You could say they are similar clubs in terms of size. Fulham almost created a miracle with a small squad last season. They played 59 matches starting in July and ended up in May in Hamburg [in the Europa League final]. It was quite a phenomenon. "I think the thing that helped them was that the games came so thick and fast that they didn't have time to think about it. "They just pulled the jersey on and played. They couldn't have done much training because it was a small squad that needed to keep its freshness.
"It was quite a season for them and it won't happen again, I am sure of that." Hughes would love nothing more than to secure a victory over United in his first home game in charge since succeeding Hodgson last month. Fulham's preparations for the match, however, have been overshadowed by Hughes's attempts to keep Mark Schwarzer, his Australia goalkeeper, out of the clutches of Arsenal. Schwarzer is doubtful with a back problem but Hughes is desperate to keep him at Craven Cottage and said a second bid from the north London club has been rejected.
Hughes said: "Mark still has a problem with his back and he didn't train on Friday but we hope he will be available [today]. "There was an offer but it wasn't an improved offer - it was the same as the one put forward in May, so that situation has not moved on because there has been contact but no improvement. "There are plenty of things that agents and managers can do to unsettle players. "Obviously Mark is aware of the interest from Arsenal, and that's disrupting and a distraction.
"But there has been no improved offer and we would not encourage one." Hughes could target Shay Given should Schwarzer secure a move to the Emirates Stadium, but Hughes added: "He's a talented keeper who I know very well, but he's a Manchester City player and it's not in my interests to discuss other people's players." * Agency France Presse Fulham v Man United, 7pm today, ADMC Sport 3 & 5; to order: 600-2388 or www.admcsport.com