| 11.4°C Dublin

Spurs the only threat to Manchester duo in title race -- Fergie

Alex Ferguson claims Arsenal and Chelsea will begin 2012 as title-race also-rans and insists Tottenham are the only team capable of taking the Premier League trophy away from Manchester.

Ferguson can toast his 70th birthday today by taking United above Manchester City at the top of the table with at least a point against bottom club Blackburn at Old Trafford this lunchtime.

But while United and City hold a seven-point lead over third-placed Spurs, who have a game in hand, Ferguson insists Harry Redknapp's team have emerged as a genuine threat to the Mancunian duopoly.

With Chelsea and Arsenal 11 and 12 points adrift of the Manchester clubs, however, Ferguson claims his team are now in a three-way race for the title.

"The difficulty for Arsenal and Chelsea is that they have to overtake three teams and, unless three teams collapse, there won't be an opportunity," Ferguson said.

"Tottenham at the moment are the best team in the country. Their form is the best anywhere and they are definitely title contenders.

"We've had the stats which say we are five or six points ahead of previous years' form at this time of the year. But you have to say that City's form is equal to that. To have 45 points is an enormous total at this point of the year.


"It will be nip and tuck between the two clubs, but Tottenham are the best team in the country at the moment."

Despite having the opportunity to move three points clear of City ahead of their trip to Sunderland tomorrow, Ferguson claims the title race will not be influenced by such movements until the spring.

"The crucial period always is the end of March," he said. "If you drop points then, that can impact on your opponents and give them a boost. There will be points dropped when it gets harder in March and April and more difficult to catch up.

"A lot of things come into it. When they announce what the televised games are, when you're playing, that can make a difference, if you're playing first or second.

"Also, we're possibly playing Thursday-Sunday through the spring in terms of European football. City have that as well and Tottenham are not involved in that."

Ferguson, who is without Chris Smalling because of tonsillitis, confirmed David de Gea would return in goal ahead of the rested Anders Lindegaard.

And with Dimitar Berbatov scoring the fourth hat-trick of his United career against Wigan on St Stephen's Day, Ferguson said that the Bulgarian would be given a one-year extension to his contract. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Manchester United v Blackburn,

Live, ESPN, 12.45

Irish Independent