Alex Ferguson believes Manchester City should worry if Manchester United are still top of the Barclays Premier League on New Year’s Day.
United have four games to preserve their present six-point advantage, starting at Swansea tomorrow.
But Ferguson is convinced if his side achieve their objective, it will take something special to deny them a record 20th league title.
“I look at December as an opportunity to gather points,” said Ferguson. “If we are top of the league on New Year’s Day we know fine well, and so does everyone else, that we are going to be in the ball park at the end of the season.”
A week after United beat City at the Etihad Stadium, Roberto Mancini’s men served notice they are not going away with their best performance of the season at Newcastle.
While Ferguson thinks his players should take note, he is expecting a tough challenge for the title from City.
“It was a wake-up call for us,” said the Red Devils chief. “City and ourselves will be battling it out and they played really well for the first 20 minutes. But we expect a challenge. It is what we are good at.”
Ferguson clearly does not want any distractions.
And that includes speculation about the futures of his three longest-serving players, which he quashed immediately despite the validity of suggestions Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand could all be leaving in the summer.
“I would be surprised if Paul had spoken to some pal without speaking to me - and he hasn’t – so we can dismiss that,” said Ferguson.
“Ryan could play for another year or two and Rio’s form this year has been terrific. It is the kind of speculation you expect and comes from our policy of only giving older players one year contracts but I wouldn’t pay it too much credence.”
It is not entirely unknown for Ferguson to cloud such issues in a smokescreen, although such is Scholes’ no-nonsense attitude there seems to be little point.
No matter what their long-term futures hold, over the coming festive programme they are bound to be required.
Five fixtures in 22 days is a test of every side’s stamina, so, after a glut of injuries, Ferguson is delighted to have only Rafael, Nani and Shinji Kagawa on the sidelines.
And he is particularly pleased that skipper Nemanja Vidic is back in the fold after virtually a year on the sidelines.
“Nemanja is one of the best, a penalty box defender, there is no doubt about that,” added Ferguson.
“People have spoken about us losing goals. I would hope that stops, or reduces it a good bit anyway.”