Manchester City manager Mark Hughes believes derby rivals United have a weaker squad than last season.

In an on-going spat between the bosses ahead of Sunday’s clash, boss Sir Alex Ferguson said City’s banned Emmanuel Adebayor was their “best player”.

Hughes has hit back, saying United miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

“They’ve lost two significant players. You can’t afford to lose players of that standard and not replace them and I don’t think they have,” Hughes said.

With Adebayor suspended for the Old Trafford visit and former United striker Tevez doubtful with a knee injury, Ferguson said: “I am not bothered whether Tevez plays or not. City’s best player won’t be playing.”

Tevez has yet to score a league goal for City – his only strike so far coming in the Carling Cup second-round tie at Crystal Palace – while fellow striker Adebayor has scored in every Premier League game since his £25m summer move from Arsenal.

Ferguson repeated his claim that City behaved in an “arrogant and cocky” manner when they displayed a giant banner bearing Tevez’s image and the words “Welcome to Manchester” in the city’s main shopping area this summer, following the 25-year-old’s move to Eastlands.

The United manager also hit back at suggestions that his side would ever go into a Manchester derby as underdogs.

“Not in my lifetime,” said Ferguson.

Responding to the Scot, who managed him at United, Hughes said: “We just take it as a bit of flattery. In recent years City haven’t really affected the thinking of United – possibly that’s changed now.”

The Welshman continued the pair’s war of words by suggesting that United were struggling this season after off-loading Ronaldo to Real Madrid in the summer and losing Argentine striker Tevez.

“I have watched a number of their games this season and I don’t think they are playing as well as they did last year,” Hughes added.

“They played well against Tottenham [winning 3-1 after being a goal down]. That was their stand-out performance but prior to that they have been below par.”

The Blues go into Sunday’s highly-anticipated match with just one fit striker out of six available.

Togo international Adebayor begins his three-match ban for stamping on Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz is recovering from knee surgery and Robinho injured his ankle playing for Brazil in the game that saw Tevez damage his knee.
Carlos Tevez
Tevez has yet to score a league goal for City this season

City head to the home of their local rivals looking to preserve their 100% start to the season and Hughes cannot wait for kick-off.

“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a derby that has captured everybody’s imagination. The interest that surrounds the game is greater than it has been in many, many years.

“It’s a challenge for us and it’s about giving a good account of ourselves. We’re here to make a challenge and we’re not going away any time soon. We played well last week and we’ll have to hit the same levels again but we can cause any team a problem.”

Ferguson is aware the derby clash has far more interest and significance now City are pushing for a top-four place, having spent in excess of £120m this summer.

However, he stated that he continues to view Liverpool as the club’s main rival.

“To me, Liverpool has always been the derby,” he said. “It is because of the history. My aim was always to do well against them. It is hard for me to think any other way.”

Meanwhile, Hughes also revealed on Friday that he was close to quitting the club before it was bought by Sheikh Mansour a year ago.

After joining from Blackburn in 2008, he became frustrated by problems when working under the club’s former owner Thaksin Shinawatra.

Hughes told the Guardian: “If you get to a point where it is untenable and not manageable, then you make the decision to walk away.

“The reality wasn’t exactly what was described and sold to me. We were able to go into the transfer market, but there seemed a focus that players had to be sold, and I realised that maybe the resources weren’t in place that I thought.”

Source: BBC