Rooney issues Man United title warning as Christmas looms
Old Trafford skipper focuses on Christmas schedule as United race up the table
Amid all the excitement around Monday's draw for the Last 16 of the Champions League, one of the teams not in this year's competition, Manchester United, did their best to divert the limelight towards Old Trafford.
As Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal mulled over their European fortunes, Wayne Rooney chose to warn them that they had a fight on their hands domestically as well, stating that United could win the Premier League this season.
Such a statement would have been treated with derision a few months ago, when United languished in the bottom half of the table having won just one of their opening five league matches, but the Red Devils are on a six-match winning streak in the league and only eight points behind leaders Chelsea.
That's still a considerable gap to make up but with Chelsea, as well as second-placed Manchester City and sixth-placed Arsenal, focusing on the Champions League come February, United will be able to channel their energies solely into the league campaign.
"I think we have to believe we can win the title," Rooney said. "It is still early days and we are getting better and better, the results are coming and the gap to the top is only eight points with a lot of games to go... we won the league two years ago and we weren't great in a lot of those games, but we got the results and sometimes you have to do that.
"I have seen Chelsea a couple of times this season where they have not played great but have nicked results as well. We just need to try and get the performances right and, if we do that, we are confident we will win the games."
Rooney added that "Christmas is going to be a very important time for us", a reference to United's challenging schedule that sees them hit the road for three of their four league encounters. Starting with a trip to Aston Villa on Saturday, United then host Newcastle on Boxing Day before travelling to Tottenham and Stoke City. "We are eight points behind and coming into a busy period and, if we can win our games and the others have one bad result, then there is nothing there."
Chelsea have a similarly daunting Christmas calendar with away matches at Stoke, Southampton and Tottenham (and a home clash with West Ham), while Manchester City have a far easier schedule. The reigning champions host Crystal Palace, Burnley and Sunderland in the coming three weeks, with their only away match at struggling West Bromwich Albion.
After all the predictions of a Chelsea romp, there is now a groundswell of opinion that the title race may go down to the wire, as it did last season.
For all the new faces - and new manager - in the United squad, Rooney believes that if they are still in the hunt come the spring they could win the title. "We have been here before, but we have a lot of new players and this is where the experience of myself, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher can rub off on the other players," Rooney said.