David Moyes believes Manchester United and Wayne Rooney have suffered because of last summer's World Cup, even though Sir Alex Ferguson's side remain on course for a Premier League and Champions League double.
Moyes takes his in-form Everton side – they have not lost in the Premier League since mid-February and have three wins from their last four games – to Old Trafford at lunchtime today with leaders United six points clear of Chelsea and Arsenal with five games remaining.
Ferguson's side face Schalke in the Champions League semi-final first leg in Germany on Tuesday, yet Moyes still believes United, as well as former Everton striker Rooney, have not been at their absolute best over the course of this campaign.
"The Premier League has been tough this season," suggested the Everton manager. "A lot of the players who were at the World Cup have not performed maybe to the same level.
"And if you're Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal, a lot of your players have been at the World Cup. The key England players have all struggled after the World Cup with injury or with form.
"But Wayne's form is now back. He's had a difficult year but he's certainly getting back to his best. At the end of the day United are top of the table, winning, and getting stronger. When they were having their little blip they were still grinding out results."
Moyes is a huge admirer of Ferguson's work and does not see the 69-year-old United manager retiring any time soon. The Everton manager, who has been in situ at Goodison since 2002 without lifting a trophy, admitted that with Ferguson out of the way, he might even stand a better chance of winning silverware. However, Moyes wants to see his fellow Scot continue to manage United for as long as possible.
"I think it's a great thing he doesn't retire," added Moyes. "If he went we might all have a better chance of winning something. But he's a great help to his fellow managers. He encourages the younger managers and if you want to speak to him, he's there to help."
Toffees Come Unstuck
2: The number of points David Moyes has left Old Trafford with in eight visits. Since joining Everton in March 2002, Moyes has seen his side score there only four times.