LONDON, December 31 – Manchester United's Darren Fletcher has insisted talk from title challengers Manchester City that the Premier League is the Red Devils to lose as nothing more than "kidology".
Appropriately enough, the comment was made by Manchester City assistant manager Brian Kidd, once deputy to United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who as a striker made his name at Old Trafford before also playing for City.
United, chasing a record-breaking 19th English title, head into the New Year on top of the Premier League table but on goal difference alone, although they do have two games in hand over City.
"It is just a bit of kidology," said Scotland captain Fletcher ahead of United’s trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
"It is still early stages and a lot of teams will feel they are capable of winning the league. We are one of them.
"We are in a good position. We are top of the league with games in hand.
"But it is easy counting the points. You have to win your matches and your games in hand."
London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are all close behind, with even fifth-placed Spurs, five points behind the Manchester duo, still in title contention.
City were last crowned champions of England in 1968 — the same year a young Kidd scored for United as they beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to become the first English club to lift the European Cup.
But backed by the vast wealth of Sheikh Mansour, their Abu Dhabi-based owner, the Eastlands club enter 2011 with a real shot at Premier League glory.
"Manchester City are realistic title challengers," Fletcher said. "They are winning games and look solid defensively."
United, who yet again this term dropped points late on in a 1-1 draw away to Birmingham in midweek, will look to return to winning ways against a Baggies side beaten 3-1 by Blackburn last time out.
City face a promoted Blackpool team who have provided one of the more heartwarming stories in English football this year by rising to eighth in the top-flight despite a budget that would barely cover a week’s wages for City’s expensively assembled squad.
Not that Blackpool boss Ian Holloway was envious of the riches at the disposal of his City counterpart Roberto Mancini.
"I wouldn’t want it. It’s quite obscene at times and to keep all them (players) happy… I wouldn’t want it. I’d rather do what we’re doing."
Champions Chelsea will look to build on a 1-0 win over Bolton that ended a six-game winless streak in the league when they welcome struggling Aston Villa to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti believes such is the competitive nature of the title race there will be more twists and turns yet and the Italian has urged his side not to become too concerned by the four-point advantage United have over his men.
"We don’t have to look at United," he said. "This is a very difficult championship because every game can have a difficulty.
"It’s a Premier League with a lot of balance, so nothing is decided now."
Arsenal, who dropped points in a 2-2 draw with Wigan, are away to Birmingham while Tottenham face Fulham in a London derby.
Bolton will look to heap fresh embarrassment upon a Liverpool side beaten 1-0 by relegation-threatened Wolves when they make the short journey to Anfield on Saturday.
Wolves, who swapped places with basement club West Ham in midweek, travel to Upton Park to face the Hammers in a potential relegation ‘six-pointer’.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated):
Saturday: Birmingham v Arsenal (1730GMT), Liverpool v Bolton, Man City v Blackpool, Stoke v Everton, Sunderland v Blackburn, Tottenham v Fulham, West Brom v Man Utd (1245GMT), West Ham v Wolves
Sunday: Chelsea v Aston Villa (1330GMT), Wigan v Newcastle (1600GMT)