Gary Neville last night revved up the title war of nerves by claiming Manchester United are already home and dry.
The veteran full-back reckons a kinder fixture list in the second half of the season, with the other members of the top six all still to visit Old Trafford, makes United red-hot favourites to retain their crown.
United are seven points behind leaders Liverpool but they have two games in hand, both at home. And their next three Premier League fixtures are all at fortress Old Trafford, where United have dropped only two points this season. That, said Neville, has shifted the balance of power firmly in United's favour.
"The first half of the season was always going to be difficult for us because we were involved in the Super Cup and the World Club Cup," said Neville.
"We have got through that now and are no worse off. If we can get those two home matches in hand won and win the games in between, we will be in a great position.
"The manager made the point in his team talk at Stoke that we are starting the league from today.
"We would have taken this position at the start of the season with all the difficulties we have had."
Of 17 Premier League fixtures United have completed this season, only seven have been at home.
And with Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Aston Villa all still to travel to Manchester for title showdowns, it's no wonder bookies still rate United likelier title winners than the Merseyside pacesetters.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is delighted to be breathing down the necks of the leaders given the club's fixture problems.
"We have a long programme of home games in the run-in against the top teams," said Fergie.
"If we get to New Year's Day on the tails of the leaders, I think we will have a massive chance."
United's two games in hand are at home to Wigan, scheduled for January 14, and at home to Fulham (February 17).
Yet though Neville believes it's United's home run that will win them the title, he pointed to the away victory at Stoke on Boxing Day as a hugely significant win.
"It was a massive result for us because it meant teams at the top haven't pulled away from us," he said.
"They have dropped points and they won't want us chasing them."
Fergie must prepare for tomorrow's visit of Middlesbrough without Rio Ferdinand, who is out for a fortnight with a back problem. He will again turn to Jonny Evans at centre-back.
Source: The People