Sir Alex Ferguson has offered his English title rivals a boost by revealing he expects Manchester United to drop points between now and the end of the season.
Reigning champions United travel to bottom of the table West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday knowing a victory would turn up the pressure on Liverpool, their closest challengers. United, who lead the table on goal difference from their north-west rivals with a game in hand, have the chance to get their blow in first, with Liverpool not playing until 24 hours later when Rafael Benitez's side face a difficult trip to Wigan.
Ferguson will not be expecting anything less than three points at the Hawthorns against Tony Mowbray's strugglers. However, he does concede that even the most experienced of sides are vulnerable when a season enters its most critical stage.
The Scot's concerns are fuelled by a growing injury crisis at Old Trafford which has seen Fabio (calf) and Danny Welbeck (ankle) become the latest players to be added to a lengthening injury list. Ferguson was already without Anderson, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans, although, unfortunately for West Brom, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to shake off a nagging virus in time for Tuesday's match.
"You could do without these things," said Ferguson, whose English, European and world champions remained on course for an unprecedented trophy haul after Saturday's FA Cup fourth round victory over Tottenham. "I'm okay with the midfield and front players but it's the full-back positions that are causing us a bit of concern."
Looking ahead to the midweek fixtures, he added: "I'm not worried about the effects of that (playing before Liverpool). Maybe a few years ago I would have thought about it, but I don't think now about whenever we play, what has gone before etc. You can say that being the first to play puts you under more pressure, but also suggest that playing second gives you more pressure," said Ferguson, recently involved in a verbal spat with Benitez.
"The only important thing to answer is: 'Do you handle pressure?' We have the most experience of handling it, but it doesn't mean that we can handle it all the time. We will drop points in the run-in, there is no question about that. We just hope we don't drop as many as the rest."
Mowbray has injury problems of his own ahead of what promises to be a daunting challenge. Former United midfielder Jonathan Greening and Ryan Donk have been added to his injury list and Mowbray is now without 11 players, with defence causing him the most area of concern.
Despite Gianni Zuiverloon's return, Jonas Olsson, Abdoulaye Meite, Leon Barnett, Shelton Martis and Donk are all missing, which means Zuiverloon is likely to have to partner Pedro Pele at centre back. "Our injury problems are getting worse," said Mowbray. "Jonathan Greening has got a medial knee ligament injury and, until we get a scan, it's hard to say how long he will be missing.
"It's obviously far from ideal when you have a visit from Manchester United coming up because you need your big players to stand a chance of getting a result, but we will just have to go with what we've got and see what happens."