Sir Alex Ferguson enters his 25th year as Manchester United manager this weekend anticipating the tightest title battle of his long and illustrious career. Ferguson ends 2010 where he has spent so much of his reign at United, sitting in first place in the top division of English football.
However, where this season appears to differ from so many of the others that have brought him 11 Premier League titles is in the depth of the field challenging United for top spot. Ferguson believes defending champions Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham all have realistic chances of being involved when the title race reaches its climax in May and it is a challenge which the Scot relishes.
"I think the title is there for everyone to win or lose it," said Ferguson, who celebrates his 69th birthday today. "It is the nature of this league, every game or set of games you see a surprise result. We were disappointed we lost that late goal (in the 1-1 draw) against Birmingham but then the next day Arsenal dropped two points against a ten-man team (Wigan) and Wolves went to Liverpool and won 1-0.
"I think you are going to see a lot of these results, it is a tough league. There are five or six teams challenging at the top at the moment. I've said this so many times at this time of the year, when the top four have been within a few points of each other, that it could be an exciting league. If there were five or six teams involved until the end it would be fantastic, the kind of league you dream of."
United end the year level on points at the top of the table with neighbours Manchester City. But Ferguson knows United could have been further ahead considering they are unbeaten in the league this season, while every other team in the division has lost at least four times.
The reason behind their lack of a lead at the top is easily identifiable, however, with United having won just once on their travels in the league to date this season; an issue which does not yet concern their manager.
"You don't expect to go through a season undefeated," said Ferguson when asked of United's prospects of doing just that. With three games to go, I might address it. But you have to handle defeats if you get one - it doesn't put you out of contention if you do get one.
"The one criticism of us, which I think is a bit unfair, is our away record because, when you analyse it, the performance level has been pretty good. Late goals against Everton, Fulham and Birmingham have cost us six points."
Ferguson's birthday celebrations were tempered somewhat on Friday with the news, 24 hours earlier, that son Darren had been dismissed as manager of Championship club Preston after an unsuccessful spell at Deepdale.
"This always happens around Christmas," added Ferguson. "You can bet your life a lot of managers will lose their jobs at this time of year. Darren will be alright, he'll get over it. It's not the first time it's happened and the experience will have done him well."