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By ESPN Staff

Fergie lauds Rio for Man Utd's lead at the top

Sir Alex Ferguson has singled out Rio Ferdinand as one of the major reasons why Manchester United head into February with a six-point Premiership cushion over reigning champions Chelsea.

Ferguson believes the 28-year-old defender is performing better than ever this season having developed a strong partnership with Serb Nemanja Vidic and made great strides with the mental aspect of his game.

'I don't think there is any doubt he has always had a fantastic talent with balance and use of the ball, and his technique for a centre-back is probably the best in the game. The area in which he has improved in is his concentration,' Ferguson said.

'He and Vidic have formed a good partnership and it will get better because they are young.

'I think I rested him for one game and I don't think the number of games will affect him. He is a strong athlete and I have been delighted with him.'

Unusually United's clean sheet in their victory over Watford on Wednesday night was their first in eight matches and Ferguson knows Ferdinand and Vidic will have to keep contributing to shut-outs in the tricky period ahead.

The United boss has acknowledged his side face a harder run-in than their closest rivals, starting with tomorrow's trip to Tottenham and with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City all still to play away.

But Ferguson will be boosted by taking a full squad to White Hart Lane with Louis Saha returning from a knee injury to add to the competition for places up front alongside the resurgent Wayne Rooney.

The attacking options are another foundation for Ferguson's title charge and he admitted: 'I am glad he (Louis) is back. He is a fantastic striker. If we improve our goal threat we improve our chances and I think Louis does that.'

Ferguson has seen enough during his tenure at Old Trafford to appreciate this title race is far from over and he admits he is relishing the prospect of taking his battle with Jose Mourinho's men down to the wire.

He added: 'We probably have harder away games than Chelsea and we have to acquit ourselves properly in these matches. We should expect every game we play to be a hard one now.

'We have got to be ready for the difficult tasks because challenges are what winning a championship are all about. We go into it knowing we have to perform to the highest level and if we can continue as we are at the moment it improves our chances.

'In my experience we have never been handed titles, we have had to go and win them, and we have to do that again. Analysing all the games is pointless really. We have got a tough game on Sunday and if we get through that it is one more up the road.'