Last term Alan Pardew's side finished fifth to qualify for the Europa League, with the 51-year-old winning the LMA and Premier League manager of the year awards.
But this season Newcastle stand 14th after Saturday's much needed win over Queens Park Rangers as United host them at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, having lost five of their past seven league games.
Of Newcastle's impressive performance last term Ferguson said: "The new players they brought in caught us all by surprise. We didn't really know a lot about them. I knew about [Demba] Ba, of course, but I didn't know anything about [Yohan] Cabaye or [Papiss] Cissé, to be honest with you. They had fantastic seasons. Second time round, clubs are starting to analyse them a bit different, plus, more importantly, he's [Pardew] had some injuries.
"Cabaye's out till next year, [Cheik] Tiote is out to next year, he's had one or two important players injured and that does make a difference when you've not got a squad as strong as the likes of ourselves or [Manchester] City or Chelsea. I'm not entirely surprised [by their form], although I am surprised they are so low down the table."
Ferguson is happy that Nemanja Vidic, his captain, is now fit again after two serious knee injuries in the past year, as the manager looks to shore up a defence that has struggled to keep clean sheets this season.
"He's a penalty-box defender, there's no doubt about that. He's one of the best. We all talk about us losing goals and I would hope that would stop when he returns, or reduce a good bit," Ferguson said.
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