JUST when it seemed that the champions' schedule was full to lung-bursting point, Alex Ferguson has managed to cram in another, oddly familiar fixture: Manchester United against the world. For in the wake of a 3-2 victory at Blackburn that flattered the home side, Ferguson reiterated his belief that jealousy of United was a prime factor in the Premier League's refusal to grant his European Cup contenders an extension to the season to cover a fixture backlog. Was he concerned, one scribe wondered, that by using such a pejorative term he might be making United less popular? Ferguson scoffed and snorted, as if admiration of English football's outstanding contemporary side was unknown beyond Old Trafford. 'How unpopular do you want us to get?' came the rhetorical retort. The off-the-record diatribe that followed, in highly emotive language, offered an insight into the terminology Ferguson might use behind closed doors during the build-up to tomorrow's potential Premier League decider at Anfield. He believes that Liverpool, as well as Arsenal, have hypocritically conspired against United out of self-interest. The United manager's psychological warfare is becoming, like the first cuckoo, an annual indication that spring has sprung. Although he has a just case on this occasion, one suspects his indignation over having to play four times in nine days continues to be vented less in expectation of changing anyone's opinion than with the intention of firing his players with a sense of injustice. The Glaswegian's penchant for mind games dates back to his mould-shattering spell in charge of Aberdeen. As Mark McGhee, the current Wolverhampton manager, has recalled, Ferguson unified his squad by convincing them that the Scottish Football Association, the West of Scotland media and the Old Firm were all determined to do them down. Given this background, plus the well-documented spats with Kevin Keegan a year ago while he was tussling for the title with Newcastle and with Arsenal's Arsene Wenger last week, it is tempting to read manipulative intent into Ferguson's ostensibly innocent remarks. By suggesting that Arsenal now needed to win some 'really important games', as opposed to one against leg-weary Leicester, was he seeking to sow seeds of doubt at Highbury? And when he added that Arsenal had 'the nervous games to come', it sounded more like an attempt to induce pressure than a prediction. Similarly, his claim that Liverpool remained 'the biggest threat' prompted the thought that the words were probably meant for internal consumption. United could easily be lulled into underrating Roy Evans' side after recent poor results. Yet as a sage once said, just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. The fixture pile-up facing United is absurd - although changing the rules at this stage would be a classic case of two wrongs trying to make a right - while the hostility awaiting them at Liverpool tomorrow will be anything but imaginary. After Anfield and Elland Road, Ewood Park is the venue which gives most credence to Ferguson's 'jealousy' thesis. A German flag in the crowd was a reminder both of United's unfinished business with Borussia Dortmund and the acrimony which has festered since Blackburn's title of two years ago.