Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed the Premier League title credentials of Arsenal and Tottenham, insisting this year's title is a three-horse race between Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.
In a bid to emphasise the importance of United's clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Ferguson warned his team that they need to maintain pace with the league leaders to avoid playing catch-up all season.
The Red Devils boss believes that the standard set by the top three early on is so high that it is unlikely Everton, Arsenal and Spurs could make a surge for the title.
"I think Chelsea, Manchester City and ourselves seem to be creating that little gap from the rest," Ferguson said. "It's difficult to be dead certain but I would be surprised if one of us didn't win it."
Chelsea have already created a four-point advantage over second-placed United and with another tough fixture against Arsenal next weekend, Ferguson is wary that the gap could widen if his players do not step up.
"It could be a league in which you will suffer if you lose bad ones," Ferguson said. "We couldn't afford to lose to Tottenham the way we did. We gave two goals away and you cannot do that at this level. If we get any more of that we'll be in trouble.
"Chelsea are undefeated and that gives you an idea of the level of consistency they have produced. There are a lot of big games to come, of course, but I think it will be close. The game will be important to us, there is no doubt about that."
While United have not recorded a Premier League win at Stamford Bridge since a 3-0 rout over the Blues in 2002, Ferguson believes the history of the clubs and their respective summer signings will make the match unpredictable.
"Our record down there is amazing," Ferguson said. "It will change sometime - hopefully Sunday. We've had a couple of horrible refereeing decisions that have cost us points down there. Apart from last season, the previous six or seven seasons have been us and Chelsea for the League, so that gives you an idea of how we approach this game. It's going to be a hard one.
"[Robin] Van Persie's performances are getting better all the time now. Hopefully it does make a difference. We bought him for that reason - to make a difference. When we realised he wasn't going to sign for Arsenal, we really did our very best to get him and we succeeded.
"The signs have been terrific and he has made an impact immediately. It's very difficult bedding in new players but the thing at any big club is that you don't stand still.
"Chelsea have brought in Oscar and Hazard, two similar type players, I think. They're adapting to having these players with [Juan] Mata also. They're in behind the front player all the time and it's not an easy system to deal with. It's an interesting formation and we just have to find a way.
"Strong squads, particularly Chelsea and ourselves in terms of recent history, will always guarantee we will be able to handle the number of games you have to play."