Ferguson: The league starts now
Sir Alex Ferguson is adamant his side can claw back Chelsea's five-point advantage.
Manchester United suffered a major blow with their recent 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, but one thing in Ferguson's favour is this week's matches represent the end of the international season apart from one midweek match at the beginning of March. According to Ferguson, that continuity in the Premier League will benefit the Old Trafford outfit.
"Probably the league will start now," he said. "You will get some sort of consistency and we won't be worrying about which players are coming back from international duty, where they have been and arranging flights for them to come back in time. We have got them now right through until March. We are delighted with that."
As usual, Ferguson has injury problems picked up during international fixtures to contend with. John O'Shea's thigh injury seems certain to rule him out, while Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans have niggling ankle and calf knocks to get over before they can be considered to face David Moyes' men.
Also Rio Ferdinand will be missing for another two or three weeks after United confirmed his present injury stems from a lower back problem. On the plus side, Nemanja Vidic and Park Ji-Sung both featured in the midweek international between Serbia and Korea Republic after recent injuries and should be available as United begin the task of hauling Chelsea back.
"Five points is not insurmountable, that has been shown time and time again in the Premier League," said Ferguson. "You can come from behind and you can be in front and lose it, as we did in 1997. It is a challenge. But I always think if you get to New Year's Day a point in front or behind, with our experience in big game situations over the run-in, we have a great chance."
On the face of it, Ferguson could not have picked a better fixture for his side to come back to. Everton have not won at Old Trafford since 1992, since when they have managed just a couple of draws amid the mass of defeats.
Yet the Toffeemen often make life difficult for their north-west rivals and it took a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty to give them victory in a tightly-fought affair last term. But with the current situation leaving little room for manoeuvre, United cannot afford any slip-ups, even if Ferguson is expecting the usually difficult battle with Moyes' side.
"Everton have had a tremendous run of injuries and David Moyes is facing much the same situation as myself at the moment," said Ferguson. "You can understand how difficult it is to win games when you don't have your best team out.
"Once they get their full squad back they will soon come up the table again. Even so, they are still very powerful opponents. They are a determined side and we will need to perform."