Sir Alex Ferguson admits he is bracing himself for a season of playing catch-up as his Manchester United side attempt to overcome the handicap of a stuttering start and close the early eight-point gap opened up by leaders Liverpool.
Wednesday night's victory over West Ham United was the Old Trafford club's fourth win in their last five games and was marked by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to something approaching his best form, prompting Ferguson to claim he could yet repeat his 42-goal haul of last season.
Yet despite the marked improvement from the opening weeks of the campaign when his side won one of their opening four league games, Ferguson acknowledges that the reigning champions are unlikely to return to the head of the table any time soon. And with United set to fall another game behind when they compete in the World Club Championships in Japan in December, the manager is resigned to spending the majority of the campaign in the chasing pack. "That's no problem," he said. "Absolutely no problem. I think we've got the squad and the ability to get back among the teams in front of us.
"There will be certain obstacles in our way this season, notably the two games we have to make up. But we have a lot of experience. We've added Dimitar Berbatov to the squad, which should give us even more opportunities to make sure we're able to change and stay fresh. And I feel that continuity and consistency of performance will be very important. If we can get to January and we're still in touch, particularly with these games we have to make up, then we have a great chance."
Ferguson, meanwhile, will hand keeper Ben Foster his second senior start for the club in next week's Champions League qualifier with Celtic. "Ben being back fit is a big bonus because he is an outstanding goalkeeper. I may play him at Celtic Park next week."