Rio Ferdinand claims Manchester United's title ambitions rest on Alex Ferguson's squad ignoring the neighbours and "keeping our own house in order" after conceding there was too much focus on Mancunian rivalry last season.
With United and champions Manchester City maintaining their grip on the top two positions in the Premier League table throughout the festive programme, only Chelsea appear capable of preventing a repeat of last season's north-west stranglehold on the title race.
United's seven-point lead at the top has increased the pressure on Roberto Mancini's team to overcome the month-long loss of midfielder Yaya Toure to Africa Cup of Nations duty to stay in touch with their city rivals.
But if the title race does become a two-horse race between United and City, Ferdinand insists United will learn from last season after allowing the novelty factor to become a distraction.
He said that last year the title race with City "was new because it was the first time they had challenged properly and there was a lot of focus on Manchester".
He continued: "This time, we have to make sure we keep our own house in order and make sure we keep ticking off the games. We don't have to focus on anyone else, just ourselves.
"Last season, we made it difficult for ourselves. We saw the problems that we had last time but we have rectified them and put them to the sword."
City's league double over United last season ultimately proved decisive in the outcome of the title race, but United's 3-2 victory at the Etihad Stadium last month has enabled them to move clear of their neighbours.
Van Persie's impact at United has already been cited by Mancini as potentially decisive. Mancini admitted last week that he believed City were close to securing the Dutch forward's signature early last summer prior to his decision to move to United.
But despite the goals he has scored at Old Trafford, Ferdinand insisted that Van Persie was only one element of the team at United.
"No matter how you win the league, it is always mainly down to a group of players rather than one individual," Ferdinand said. "At the moment, he is scoring the goals, but Javier Hernandez has chipped in the last couple of games too. But Robin is an important player and the manager saw something in him and made it his mission to buy him this summer.
"At the moment, thankfully, he is doing what he came here to do. He is not only scoring goals. He holds the ball up well and brings others into play. He does a fantastic job.
"It is a great place for players to come to if you are willing to come in, work hard and be a member of the team. But we are not at the end of the season yet. No medals have been handed out and we don't want to jump about too much. Up to now he has done fantastically well, but the job is still there to be done."
Meanwhile, Ferdinand has revealed that he was confronted by a gang of hooded fans during his contract talks with the club eight years ago.
The group calling themselves the 'United boys' turned up outside the player's house to demand that he signed a new deal.
Ferdinand's future had been the subject of speculation at the time after he had been photographed with then Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon in a restaurant, but that had been a chance encounter.
Ferdinand was asked to come to the door but could not see anyone on his security monitors.
The 34-year-old said in a magazine interview: "So I go to the side door and grab a big bit of wood, jump on the side of the wall and I'm just about to scream 'raaaah!' when I see there's a massive group of people, with hoodies and caps covering their faces. I just thought, 'I'm going to get served up in a moment, so go bananas and they'll think you're a nutter!'
"Then one of them said, 'We're the United boys, f***ing sign your contract,' and I was like, 'What you talking about? I've only just started negotiating two months ago, what you worrying about?' One of the neighbours had called the police by then and they got off when they heard the sirens." (© Daily Telegraph, London)