RYAN GIGGS believes Manchester United's vast experience can be a decisive factor in this season's Premier League title race.
United have moved level on points with Manchester City and now trail their rivals only on goal difference.
However, the Blues still appear to have an edge having played most of the top six contenders away from home, unlike the Red Devils, who have taken them all on at Old Trafford, apart from Liverpool, including that 6-1 massacre by City in October.
Yet Giggs feels his chances of securing a record 13th championship medal in May depend upon which side keeps their nerve best on the run-in.
And, having embarked on that journey so many times before, the veteran Welshman is confident United will come through the test.
“The experience that the manager, the players and the coaching staff have of what's required in the second half of the season, as well as the overall hunger and desire to win competitions will help us,” Giggs said.
“Big players can't wait for big games and towards the end of the season the games just get bigger and bigger.
“You want that in the run-in - you want to be involved in big games and going for the title. That's why you become a footballer.”
Barring an unexpected disaster against basement boys Blackburn at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve, United will end 2011 on top of the table because City are not in action at Sunderland until 24 hours later.
It is an amazing achievement in a season scarred by that City defeat, in addition to a calamitous exit from the Champions League group phase.
Those setbacks heaped enormous pressure onto the Red Devils, although Giggs was not surprised by that.
“You're always going to get criticism here,” he said. “If you're not top of the league there's something wrong and if you get knocked out of competitions you're always going to get criticised,” he continued.
“That's something you just have to get used to. You can't sulk or moan about it. We've had setbacks throughout the years and you learn from them and they can help in a way.”
Manager Alex Ferguson is crossing his fingers former Blackburn defender Phil Jones and Chris Smalling recover from illness in time for this weekend's clash.
If not, United will once again be playing patch up in central defence, with Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra likely to be paired together in a rather unorthodox formation.