Ferguson hails Newcastle's instant elevation

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admits he is surprised that Newcastle have bounced back to the Barclays Premier League so quickly.

Club owner Mike Ashley tried and failed to sell the club which had a collection of underperforming players with plummeting values, and the talk was of Newcastle falling even further than the Championship.

But, on Monday, they will arrive at Old Trafford as a top-flight force once more, to open their season with the same fixture as they did two years ago.

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"I didn't expect Newcastle to come back so quickly," said Ferguson. "You could sense there was going to be an upheaval in terms of players leaving and they did sell quite a few.

"It is not easy to go down and come back at the first go. Very few teams have done that over the years.

"But you have to give Chris Hughton credit. He wasn't everyone's choice as manager but he dealt with all the financial constraints Newcastle had last season and still got all his players playing for him.

"And with their fanatical support, they had a big advantage."

It may be a while before Newcastle are being talked of as title contenders again, or even challengers for a top-four slot. But Ferguson feels those particular battles could turn out to be very tightly fought.

Tottenham gate-crashed the party last season, so Liverpool will be desperate to get back in. Manchester City have once again flexed their financial muscle while, with Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta free from injury, Ferguson expects major improvement from Everton.

"Everyone is optimistic at the start of the season and I am no different," said Ferguson.

"I would expect Liverpool to improve with Roy Hodgson. Tottenham are on the upswing given their fortunes last season and Harry Redknapp's experience.

"The interesting one is Everton because they have got all their players back.

"It is going to be a competitive league and we are all aiming to be in the Champions League. That is the priority at all these clubs."

Qualifying for the Champions League would be regarded as a minimum – and a conservative – target at Old Trafford, where the major aim will be to reclaim a title surrendered to Chelsea by just a single point last term.

Although there were a number of matches where United might have bridged the gap, the most glaring one was that defeat to Burnley in the second game of the season.

Yet the Burnley that came up had far more confidence and belief than the one that returned, which is why Ferguson knows United will need to be fully focused to get their campaign off to a winning start.

"You are always wary of a team that has been promoted because their motivation is obvious," he said.