Carrick: City are not the only threat
Michael Carrick has dismissed the notion that the Premier League is already a two-horse race.
With the two Manchester clubs both recording 100% starts from their opening four games, scoring 33 goals between them in the process, some pundits have already written off the chasing pack.
Ahead of Sunday's Old Trafford showdown with Chelsea, Carrick does not believe that is the smartest move.
Under new coach Andre Villas-Boas, the Blues are only two points behind, recording three straight wins since drawing their opening match at Stoke.
And Carrick feels it would be folly to dismiss the Stamford Bridge outfit.
"I don't think it is a two-horse race by any means," the 30-year-old said.
"We can't get carried away with it just being us and City.
"If you remember the start Chelsea had last season, everyone said they were going to win it. Obviously that didn't happen.
"We are playing well and we are top of the league. But we still respect the other teams for the threat they pose to us."
Chelsea are not lacking in motivation.
They had tended to have the better of their meetings with United, including scoring a controversial victory over their old rivals at Stamford Bridge in March after which Sir Alex Ferguson ended up with a five-match touchline ban for criticising the performance of referee Martin Atkinson.
With none of his injured stars ready to return other than Rio Ferdinand, who was rested for the midweek draw with Benfica, Ferguson will give careful consideration to his starting line-up.
With Chris Smalling seemingly certain to start at right-back, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are scrapping it out for the right to partner Ferdinand.
Anderson will return in central midfield, where he will be paired with either Carrick, Darren Fletcher or this week's goalscoring hero Ryan Giggs, who tends not to play two games in a row but was instrumental in those previous Chelsea triumphs.
Park Ji-sung is another big-game player, although it is hard to see how Nani or Ashley Young could be excluded and Ferguson revealed yesterday that Javier Hernandez will be named in attack alongside Wayne Rooney.
Andre Villas-Boas has insisted Chelsea are as determined to blood youngsters as Manchester United but admitted his Blues Babes would have to wait to take on the latest batch of Fergie Fledglings.
Villas-Boas takes his side to Old Trafford tomorrow to face a United team that has made a record-breaking start to the Barclays Premier League.
Their achievement is all the more remarkable considering most of their starting XI are in their early 20s, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson once again putting his faith in the next generation.
Last year saw Chelsea attempt to do the same but their decision to jettison a raft of experienced players ultimately backfired when injuries struck.
The summer departure of several youngsters suggested that experiment might have been abandoned but most of the signings made by new boss Villas-Boas have been teenagers, even if they have been used sparingly.
"They will come eventually," said the Portuguese, who has given minutes to Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu this season but not yet Josh McEachran.
"Josh will find a place in a competitive midfield eventually, and Josh understands that.
"Oriol played well for 10 minutes against Sunderland, Lukaku against Norwich.
"I don't think it's harder for them. It's just the way our squad is built at the moment."
Villas-Boas, who has repeatedly been forced to defend players at the opposite end of the age spectrum, added: "I have no problem, and I cannot have problems, with age. Because it's just competence that I'm looking for."
The one Chelsea youngster who really has made the breakthrough this season is Daniel Sturridge.
After missing the Blues' first three games through suspension, the 22-year-old has been hugely impressive in back-to-back starts and looks certain to keep his place tomorrow.
Villas-Boas said: "He's been doing tremendously well, scoring and assisting people.
"He's a player who is able to express himself freely in the game, and exploit the full potential that he has.
"If you asked him, he'd feel more comfortable as a striker, but I think he has potential playing in a wide position.
"That's what we're trying to find in him the freedom to play in the channels."
Juan Mata, who is only 23, has been just as impressive on the opposite flank.
Villas-Boas said of the #23million signing from Valencia: "When you find a player who comes from such a different league as Spain to this one - this one is more frenetic and faster - and see him express his talent, as well as he did in the Spanish league, it's something surprising."