Man Utd V Bolton at Old Trafford : Match Preview
Manchester United must prepare themselves to reach a points total in the high 80s if they want to retain their Barclays Premier League title.
United required only 80 to claim a record 19th championship last term, by an impressive nine-point margin from Chelsea and Manchester City.
They have already reached 45 from their first 20 games this season, yet, after successive defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle, still find themselves three adrift of City, with Tottenham now trailing the Red Devils only on goal difference.
Sir Alex Ferguson is not convinced any club will be able to maintain that momentum over the arduous second half of the campaign, but acknowledges the demands this term are going to be much greater.
"It could be the high 80s the rate it is going, which is surprising," said Ferguson.
"Two or three years back there was definitely a tightening up of the league. "It became a bit harder and instead of four teams battling for the top positions, you had six, with Manchester City and Tottenham coming into the reckoning as well.
"That makes it far more interesting for the spectators and neutrals." Ahead of Saturday's Old Trafford encounter with relegation-threatened Bolton, Ferguson conceded United's tricky programme over the remainder of the campaign, including a succession of away matches against nearly all their rivals, makes life especially difficult.
"I don't think it is impossible for the final totals to be double the number of points we have now but it is unlikely," he said. "It would be a hard task for the three of us to maintain that kind of consistency and get another 45 points.
"We have very difficult games away from home; Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. That is four massive games. "Points will be dropped on the run-in. That is the nature of the league and how competitive it is.
"You just hope you don't drop as many as the rest." Ferguson will take a check on a trio of minor knocks for Saturday's clash. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have taken time to get over problems they sustained in a collision during last Sunday's FA Cup win over Manchester City, while Anderson took a blow in training this week.
Ferguson must also decide whether Paul Scholes is fit enough to take a starting berth after his shock retirement U-turn last weekend.
Bolton manager Owen Coyle is still counting the cost of several injury problems.
At one point, the Bolton chief counted 10 major injuries, including leg breaks and cruciate ligament problems, that shattered his squad.
"There is no getting away from it. We know where our problem has been," he said. "We have had so many top players out injured it is incredible. People talk about Manchester City and the personnel problems they are having. We have been coping with that since the start of the season.
"Not a word is said about us though because we are not as big a story. But if anything, it hits us harder because at our level we simply just cannot pluck out another Stuart Holden like the bigger clubs might be able to do."
Coyle is ready to play Gary Cahill against United if his proposed move to Chelsea does not go through As the Blues expect to sign Cahill before the weekend, Zat Knight is likely to partner David Wheater in central defence.
Coyle will make a late check on goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, who is nearing full fitness after a thigh strain.
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