Sir Alex Ferguson believes that the busy Christmas period could be season defining for his Manchester United team.
Ferguson will face one of his proteges when his side host Steve Bruce’s Sunderland on Boxing Day and he will be taking the fixture very seriously after earning a hard fought draw with the Black Cats back in October.
“If we are still top on January 4 then will have done well,” Ferguson said.
“By that time the top of the league will have taken shape so being top on January 4 will be good.”
“We were lucky to get a draw in the last game we played Sunderland, we were lucky to get a point and Sunderland are a team in form.”
“People are surprised that the top teams are dropping points this season but they don’t realise how tough the league is now.”
The league will be even tougher for United next season with the news that goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar is likely to retire in the summer but he could well join the coaching staff at Old Trafford.
“We are planning for this being his last season,” Ferguson said.
“We have not discussed it (a coaching role), but Edwin is a player who would be of interest in terms of his knowledge and standing in the game.”
United will find it hard to replace the 40-year-old Dutchman but they have signed Anders Lindegaard as a potential successor.
“We can’t register him until after the Stoke game because of the Bank Holiday,” Ferguson said. “But he is training with us now and that is important.”
“It will bring him to a better level of fitness because he has not played for a few weeks. We will see how his progress goes.”