He challenged them to demonstrate that they do ahead of thisencounter, and they responded by teasing him with a perfectlycompetent, yet strangely tentative display.
Sure, they were terrific at times, performing with fluency and finesse and proving far too strong for a Sunderland team that struggled in the absence of seven players.
But that finesse too often lacked a finishing touch and Ferguson is sure to demand more.
The manager wants to see that they have 'balls', and yesterday at Old Trafford they seemed a little reluctant to show him. 'They put the tools away in the second half,' said Ferguson. 'They were very economical, playing in third gear.'
It would help, of course, if Wayne Rooney could just remember how to score in open play.
Heading for a win: Bulgarian striker Berbatov gives United the perfect start with an early opener at Old Trafford
Dimitar Berbatov has now struck 13times in 13 Barclays Premier League starts this season after two morehere. But Rooney still has to think back to March since scoring fromanywhere other than the penalty spot for Manchester United and thiswould have been a source of yet more frustration.
As Ferguson quite rightly pointedout, Rooney is at least playing well and the manner in which hecombined with Berbatov is becoming a joy to watch.
His lofted delivery for Berbatov'sopening goal was fantastic and it was almost touching to see theBulgarian doing his hardest to repay the favour. There is a mutualrespect there that Ferguson could certainly liken to Dwight Yorke andAndy Cole.
Happy kissmas: Fergie gets a hug from United's mascot
Steve bruised: The Sunderland boss failed to get the better of Fergie for the 17th time as a manager
BERBATOV'S BEST? The best striker in the Premier League? Well, certainly the most efficient. Dimitar Berbatov has scored more goals per minute than any other player with five or more goals this season.
Player Goals Mins per goalD Berbatov 13 87.2M Harewood 5 101.8R van der Vaart 8 118.9C Tevez 12 120.6S Kalou 6 124.8R Pavlyuchenko 5 134A Carroll 11 139.5
For Ferguson, it was a day for suchmemories and he should at least thank his players for marking hisrecord as the club's longest serving manager with a performance thatremained extremely easy on the eye. Certainly good enough to havetroubled Chelsea, had that game actually been staged a week earlier.
He would have appreciated thestylish manner in which they strengthened their position at the summitof the Premier League. Just as he would have enjoyed seeing Ryan Giggs,the player who has managed to set a new appearance record during Ferguson's remarkable tenure, central to yet another victory.
The fact that Berbatov is continuingto demonstrate why he was worth that £30million price tag would havepleased him. As would the fact that one of his greatest captains was incharge of the opposition.
Not this time: United midfielder Anderson tries his luck with a shot from the edge of the penalty area
Steve Bruce probably didn't see itthat way. Especially when he has now failed to beat his old boss in 17attempts and two players with strong Old Trafford connections performedkey roles in his team's failure.
While it was Anton Ferdinand'sbackside that provided the deflection for Berbatov's second, PhilBardsley will have to concede that it was probably performances likethis that convinced Ferguson he was not good enough to remain a Unitedplayer. Sensing his weakness at left back, United took full advantage.
Double trouble: Berbatov scores his and United's second goal against the Black Cats
Not least after little more thanfour minutes when Berbatov secured the lead. In a move sparked by asurging diagonal run from left to right by Giggs, Rooney exploited thespace provided by Bardsley by delivering an inch-perfect ball to thehead of Berbatov, who squeezed an excellent header between Craig Gordonand his right-hand post.
Rooney went closest to ending hisparticular run with a chip he delivered minutes later a fine effortthat drifted just wide. Berbatov and Anderson went closer still whenthey struck post and crossbar respectively. Rooney then forced a decentsave from Gordon, while Berbatov shot into the side-netting.
But, although it was pretty, much asFerguson said, they not only failed to convert the chances they hadinto a comfortable lead but they eased off as well.
A second goal still came, Berbatovbeating Gordon via Anton Ferdinand's behind in the 57th minute. Butthey were rather too relaxed, even if Ferguson set the tone bybeginning preparations for tomorrow night's visit to Birmingham afterjust 64 minutes.
That, after all, was when he tookoff both Giggs and Anderson who did not look best pleased untilFerguson obviously reminded him of the fact that Birmingham did notplay yesterday.
'With the Birmingham game off we hadto think about that,' explained Ferguson. 'But it was a comfortableperformance for us and, again, our defending was very solid.'
Bruce could only watch inadmiration. 'We've had six or seven missing today but sometimes you'vegot to hold your hands up,' he said.
'Maybe I was a bit naive. With Zenden and Malbranque we were set up to attack and we were probably too open.
'But they were excellent today.People keep saying they haven't played that well this season and yetthey are unbeaten in six months. Not only that, history tells you theyget better in the second half of the season. They have some tough awaygames coming up but you would have to be brave to bet against them.'
Maybe so, but Ferguson would like them to be braver still.
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