Tottenham are title rivals admits Alex Ferguson


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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson believes Tottenham are currently playing the best football in the Premier League.

Heading into the New Year programme, Spurs are seven points adrift of pacesetters Manchester City and Manchester United.

Harry Redknapp's men do have a game in hand though and with both City and United to play within a six week spell from the end of January to the beginning of March, the Londoners cannot be written out of the battle just yet.

"Tottenham can definitely win it," said Ferguson.

"They play the best football in the country and their current form is the best in the country."

By the time United visit White Hart Lane, Ferguson will hope to have some of his defenders back.

Unless Phil Jones or Rio Ferdinand make a rapid recovery from an illness and a back injury respectively, the Red Devils will be forced to field a central defensive partnership of Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra against Blackburn at Old Trafford tomorrow, with Antonio Valencia at right-back.

"We can cope," said Ferguson, "especially in home games.

"Michael Carrick's form has been one of the key points in recent wins. He can pass the ball and has the height, pace and experience.

"It wasn't a problem for him against Wigan. He was flawless.

"Patrice also has the experience and the spring to head the ball.

"If that is the case then fine. We will get on with it.

"We are at home. We will have the majority of the ball. We have to make sure we are positive when we have it and do enough to win."

The one piece of good news for Ferguson is that Chris Smalling should be fit, either for Wednesday's trip to Newcastle or the FA Cup third round trip to Manchester City next Sunday after reports claiming the England man was set for an extended absence due to glandular fever were rejected by the United boss.

"Chris has tonsillitis," said Ferguson.

"These reports about glandular fever are well off the mark. He had glandular fever when he was a kid. That is not the case here."

Ferguson also confirmed United intend to exercise their option to extend Dimitar Berbatov's contract by an additional 12 months, even though the Bulgarian, whose present deal expires in the summer, could in theory talk to interested third parties from January.

Berbatov has been an infrequent member of Ferguson's matchday squad this season but responded to his second Premier League start on Boxing Day by bagging a hat-trick in the five-goal hammering of Wigan.

Not that his manager was shocked by such a contribution from last season's joint Golden Boot winner.

"You can't be surprised at the performances of a player with that ability," said Ferguson.

"It is what you expect."

If United's defensive options are stretched as far as Ferguson fears, Wayne Rooney could be required to fill a midfield berth, which may give Berbatov yet another chance to impress.

Alternatively, the Scot, who celebrates his 70th birthday tomorrow, could use Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck in the one area of the field where he has a choice to make.

Ferguson can expect Blackburn to offer more resistance than Wigan, purely due to the manner Steve Kean prefers his team to play.

Whether they have the ability to follow up that impressive draw at Anfield by claiming points at Old Trafford is a different matter, particularly as they have lost Jones since being hammered 7-1 on their last visit.

A repeat of that showing would bring even more pressure on Kean, who revealed yesterday he has spoken to Ferguson in the wake of abuse he received after the home defeat by Bolton just over a week ago.

"It shocks you in a way," said Ferguson.

"The pressure on managers in the game today is enormous. In the case of Steve Kean, when the supporters react in that way, you say there is something wrong with society.

"Every manager knows it is a results industry. You live by that part.

"If he gets poor results, he knows he can lose his job. There has to be a better way of doing it."