Not entirely unexpectedly, United and City were knocked out of the Champions League in mid-week and so both clubs will take their places at the paupers' table that is the Europa League.
As the dust settled following United's embarrassing Champions League exit, Ferguson derided the Europa League when describing United's participation in the competition as a "UEFA punishment". Predictably, much back-tracking has followed in the wake of the manager's unwise choice of words, but we know what Ferguson meant all right.
As if being knocked out of the Champions League by Basel wasn't bad enough, United are coming to terms with the news that Vidic has been ruled out for the rest of the season with knee ligament damage. According to the likes of Gary Pallister and Rio Ferdinand (among others) United will bounce back and Vidic will not be missed *that much*. As ever, many supporters will no doubt take a more realistic view, because given the problems faced by the manager and his depleted squad, United will do well to finish in the top four.
United have been really struggling since the Manchester derby, in which the champions were totally outclassed and humiliated. Ferguson appears to have lost confidence in 4-4-2 - his previously favoured formation - that and his players ability to win by playing 'the United way'. As a result, much of United's play since the derby has been boring and to a degree predictable too.
Set against what is a gloomy looking backdrop, not surprisingly, sections of the media have once again started talking about the thorny issue that is Ferguson's future.
Ferguson will be 70 years of age at the turn of the year - quite obviously, he cannot carry on for much longer, so now seems like a good time to review the leading candidates.
The men who could replace Ferguson...Guus Hiddink (born 8 November 1946) The much travelled Dutchman has recently parted company with the Turkish national team after failing to qualify for Euro 2012. The fact that Hiddink - with all his experience - is available is never a good thing for manager's who spend time looking over their shoulder. Chelsea's current manager André Villas-Boas has been under the spotlight following some indifferent performances this season, but having qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League the pressure is off, for now. Nonetheless, Hiddink's availability will only add to recent speculation should the situation take a turn for the worse.
As far as the Manchester United job is concerned, at this moment in time, the vacancy hasn't been posted. But, if Ferguson and Gill have had dialogue about the manager's future, now seems like a perfect time to open preliminary talks with Hiddink, about the possibility of becoming the new manager, possibly as soon as next season. Hiddink is one of a very small number of managers who ticks all the boxes. The former Chelsea caretaker manager knows the game inside out. He speaks English. Hiddink has won trophies at club level and he has a wealth of knowledge about the game. For all of those attributes, it appears as though Hiddink prefers the comparatively cushy number that is international football management.
Surprisingly, Hiddink is only five years younger than Ferguson, but that too could be a slight sticking point for both the Dutchman and United's decision-makers. But if Hiddink fancied one last big club challenge - potential age issues aside - then he would appear to be perfect for the United job.
Our Hiddink Verdict:
Jose Mourinho (born 26 January 1963). By common consensus, Jose Mourinho is one of the finest manager's in the world right now, certainly at club level at least anyway. Mourinho is a born winner. Wherever he's been the current Real Madrid manager has won trophies and has been hugely popular with supporters. Mourinho has the charisma, charm, knowledge and of course he speaks excellent English.
Assuming David Gill was able to convince Mourinho that he would be able to sign whoever he wanted in the transfer market, then Jose could just be the man to turn to. Manchester City are currently playing a brand of football that isn't that far removed from the Mourinho coaching manual, though it's true to state that City are currently playing with more flair than we often saw from Chelsea under Mourinho. Despite the club's success, United have undoubtedly suffered from being tactically naive under Ferguson at times, especially in Europe - Mourinho is an expert in-game tactician and this could be a massive boon for the current champions. In bringing Mourinho to Old Trafford, United would definitely have the right man to take on City at their own game when it comes to not conceding and hitting teams on the break.
The drawbacks? There are a few. Mourinho likes to get his own way, much the same as Ferguson - and that could potentially be a sticking point for David Gill and the club's owners. When Fergie eventually retires, the club's decision-makers may opt for a less autocratic manager. Like Ferguson, Mourinho is something of a control freak, but unlike Ferguson, he isn't renowned for developing youngsters and turning them into superstars.
Despite his glowing CV, MourinhoMourinho's needs when it comes to his demands in the transfer market - given the size of the City challenge, the price will be sky high.
Finally, Mourinho's ego and his propensity to up sticks and move on every two to three years. For all of those undoubted question marks, if we are to believe some expert pundits, it isn't a question of if, but more like when he will become the next United manager. For the time being and for who knows how long, Mourinho is the current manager of Real Madrid who could be about to knock Barcelona off their lofty perch.
Our Mourinho Verdict:
Mark Hughes (born 1 November 1963) Without a shadow of doubt, Hughes is WILL be among the bookies favourites to succeed Ferguson. Hughes is easily the most suitable of the British candidates and former United players who've turned their hand to management.
Hughes has done reasonably well wherever he's managed, his CV includes, Wales, Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham. The Welshman was unlucky to lose his post at Manchester City where he was doing a good job. After being sacked by City, Hughes took over at Fulham, but only lasted 11 months - he quit and later questioned the West London club's ambitions.
Hughes is of course a former United player, he is also available at this moment in time and he knows all about Manchester United. In terms of his personality and his style, Hughes has always been known as a quiet man - which somewhat contradicted his style as a player. Hughes was a formidable target man; opposing defenders always knew they were in for a battle with the Welshman.
Nothing fazed Hughes as a player and he has remained cool under pressure as a manager. Unlike, Mourinho, United could bank on Hughes to see the job through for the long term, nor would he go bleating to the press about any perceived wrong-doings inside or outside the club. Hughes also has age on his side. The downside is that Hughes hasn't won any silverware, but given his experience and taking an overall view, we firmly believe he could well turn out to be the next Manchester United manager.
Our Hughes Verdict: