Rio Ferdinand
Rio Ferdinand has been a big part of United's title push. REUTERS

Sir Alex Ferguson believes that Manchester United stalwarts Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen will have a big impact on the side's push for the title, as the Red Devils prepare to take maximum points from their game in hand against Fulham tonight.

Ferdinand suffered from lacklustre form at the start of the season, and Ferguson admitted that he may have to change his style of play to suit his more mature age.

But as United finally showed their dominance over cross-town rivals Manchester City in the table this month, Ferguson reserved special praise for the way that Ferdinand has moved through some tough times this season to show that despite being 33, he can still dominate any attacker.

"I forget Rio's been here for nearly ten years now. I keep thinking I signed him three or four years ago!" Ferguson told the official Manchester United website.

"He has taken on that role of the influential person in the dressing room. He's great in the dressing room with the players.

"That's the advantage you have if you can keep players long enough for the influence to spread. In the modern game, as we know, it's difficult to keep players for more than five or six years. But the longer they stay here the better the influence spreads to them and they can maybe take over from the older players as they disappear."

Ferguson has always hoped to keep United a team that players will spend their entire careers with; the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville are a testament to this.

And while the Scot had admitted in the past that Ferdinand would need to make changes as he grows older, the United manager isn't surprised that he's still showing he's a top player on the pitch.

"It [Rio's form] has not surprised me in the sense that he's still young for a centre-back. In normal terms you would expect a centre-back with his athleticism to play well into their thirties anyway," he said.

"He's had the back problem which we all know about so we've had to manage that and by managing it properly he has adapted really well to it.

"If you look at the week before last for instance - I didn't want to play him in Bilbao, but with [Phil] Jones calling off with the flu, I had to and then he played on the Sunday as well [at Wolves]. So he's adapting really well to the challenge of making sure he is fit and fresh to play in the games we need him.

"What he is doing at the moment [in terms of fitness] is good. He has no issues at all. I think from time to time he gets the odd tweak in his back but we'll manage that and look after it."

Meanwhile, Michael Owen has only made four appearances for United this season, with just one of those being in a league game in September. Ongoing injuries have caused problems for the striker, but Ferguson believes he could play a big part in the Red Devils' push for a record 20<sup>th Premier League trophy.

"He's certainly making good progress," Ferguson explained. "What happened was he came back into our training a couple of weeks ago and then after one of the sessions he did some physical work with the sports science team and overdid it. So it knocked him back a few days, but he should be joining us this week.

"If you think about ever needing a player to score an important goal for you is there anyone better than Michael Owen? He will be a really welcome addition to our squad, even if it were to be for the last few games of the season."