Neville sees no shame in Chelsea's shadow

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The Independent Football

Gary Neville does not believe Manchester United need to be too hard on themselves over their Premiership form this season.

United head into the Christmas programme nine points adrift of defending champions Chelsea and with seemingly little chance of catching Jose Mourinho's side. Yet they have 37 points from their opening 17 games, a total they have bettered only three times in the past decade - a period which brought six League titles to Old Trafford.

The closest United got to matching Chelsea's current tally of 46 was two seasons ago, when they amassed 40 points in the same period yet still lost the title to Arsenal after collapsing in the second half of the season following Rio Ferdinand's lengthy ban for failing to take a drugs test.

The figures show how far standards have been raised by Chelsea's surge. "We feel as though we are doing OK," said United's captain. "Over the whole season, our form in the League has not been overly bad. If you look at our points tally, our victories and our number of losses, they would not be below par for this time of the season.

"We have lost two games so far. In some seasons we have lost far more than that and still gone on to win championships. But we must also recognise the bar has been raised and we have to raise our standard with that."

It is a source of obvious frustration for United that Chelsea have not even conceded a goal, let alone dropped a point, since Darren Fletcher's goal beat the Blues at the beginning of last month. That loss is one of only two occasions this term where Chelsea have failed to take maximum points. So, while United can be confident of maintaining their impressive recent form by beating West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day and Birmingham City at St Andrew's 48 hours later, it is difficult to see Chelsea slipping up against Fulham or Manchester City.

"Obviously, the title is out of our hands just now because Chelsea are winning every single match they play," Neville said. "All we can do is concentrate on our own job, get the victories we need and hope something happens in terms of Chelsea dropping points."

After resting a number of key men for Tuesday's Carling Cup victory at Birmingham, Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to freshen up his team for the Baggies visit by making at least six changes. Edwin van der Sar, Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney are all set to return.

"People may argue the games we have had over the last week or so were not the toughest we could have had but we have approached them in the right way and done our jobs, which is all we can do," Neville said of recent wins over Wigan and Aston Villa.

"I always believe we are a better side overall when we take a decent ratio of our chances because we tend to create so many. Unfortunately, against Everton a couple of weeks ago, and the likes of Manchester City and Blackburn before that, we haven't taken our opportunities and that cost us in terms of the overall result."