Manchester United could be involved in a classic Premier League title race which goes all the way to the last game of the season, according to Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Red Devils' manager is looking to win a record 19th league title for his side and saw United open a gap over Chelsea on a weekend where they beat Liverpool and their West London rivals could only draw against Blackburn.
As a result, the two sides who have been in a ding-dong battle at the top of the Premier League next season are now separated by four points, while Arsenal are now in second place and two points behind United. Furthermore, the Champions League betting odds now make United second favourites to win that competition.
The Gunners are believed to have the easiest run-in of all the Premier League title contenders, while United and Chelsea still have to clash at Old Trafford in April. Ferguson identified his defence as one area that gives him optimism that United could win a fourth successive Premier League crown.
"We have a very experienced back four and a very experienced goalkeeper. That gives us a real outstanding chance," said the Scot.
"There are seven difficult matches - but we have all got difficult matches. No-one is going away. We are all knocking on doors. If you look at the run-ins for the teams, it could very well go to the wire."
Owen Hargreaves could come back into contention for United's run-in after the England midfielder made his comeback in a reserve game against Burnley last week after 18 months out through injury.
Hargreaves will be hoping to prove his fitness ahead of this year's World Cup. England are currently third favourites in the World Cup 2010 betting and manager Fabio Capello has said he will only pick fully fit players to maximise England's chances in the tournament.
Unlike the Grand National which has thrown up many surprise winners such as the 2009 hero Mon Mome who romped home at 100/1, The Derby tends to be a race that favours the first three or four in the betting list, writes Elliot Slater.
Although the Grand National 2010 could well produce another long-priced winner, the last 11 Epsom Derbies have all been won by horses figuring prominently in the betting, with the longest odds winner during that period being the 7/1 chance Sinndar in 2000. Four of the last eleven victors were sent off favourite, and last year the mighty Sea The Stars was surprisingly allowed to go off as second favourite at 11/4 but comfortably disposed of the 9/4 market leader Fame And Glory by nearly two lengths.
Although Epsom is a completely unique course and there are many horses who fail to produce their best on the undulating track with the steep camber in the home straight, it clearly brings out the best in top horses as very few subsequent middle-distance champions have failed to figure prominently on the big day.
In the last 35 years the biggest surprise winner was the Luca Cumani-trained High Rise, who raced to victory in 1998 at odds of 20/1. His famous win followed other mild surprises during a four year period during which Benny The Dip (11/1), Shaamit (12/1) and Lammtarra (14/1) all won.
Prior to this period the longest priced winner in the modern era was in 1974 when Snow Knight, ridden by Brian Taylor, stunned the betting public with a rare 50/1 success.
On all the evidence of the Epsom Derby statistics over the last 30 years it seems clear that when looking for a potential winner you need not look much further than the first four in that year's Derby odds.
Although anything can happen in racing, the records suggest that the bookmakers and the betting public normally have their finger pretty much on the pulse of the market and narrow down their search to the horses who statistically take plenty of beating.
Henry Daly went to Doncaster at the weekend with a live John Smith's Grand National contender in the talented Possol and his charge was duly backed down to favouritism for the Grimthorpe Chase. What followed left the Shropshire-based handler perplexed and doubtless wondering whether or not to allow Possol to take his chance at Aintree, writes Elliot Slater.
Last year's Racing Post Chase runner-up had been deliberately campaigned over hurdles this term in order to protect his chasing handicap mark, and the results were tremendously encouraging with Possol scoring impressively at both Doncaster and Ascot. Having been allotted a good racing weight of 11st 3lbs for the Aintree marathon, Daly then switched Possol back to the larger obstacles in the Grimthorpe Chase and must have fully expected the seven-year-old to continue where he had left off last year, where he concluded his season winning the Kilmany Cup at Perth.
From the outset however, the horse quoted as low as just 16/1 for the Grand National jumped poorly, blundering at both of the first two fences under regular pilot Richard Johnson, and was a long way behind when Johnson decided to pull his charge up before the 11th fence in the three-mile contest eventually won by Nicky Henderson's rejuvenated Wogan.
Bookmakers reacted swiftly to the below-par effort of the Daly-trained French bred gelding who was taken out of the betting by a number of firms, whilst others pushed him out from 16/1 or 20/1 to a general offer of 33/1, (although some aintree grand national 2010 runners and prices now even offer 40/s).
Judging by this latest effort it must be far less likely now that Possol will take his chance at Aintree with little more than a month before such a stern test of jumping to iron out what appeared considerable problems in the fencing department for Daly's charge.
Rio Ferdinand believes Manchester United are capable of winning the title even without Wayne Rooney as they boast Dimitar Berbatov in their ranks.
The new England captain played the full 90 minutes at the weekend as United beat relegation candidates Hull City 1-0 thanks to Paul Scholes' 100th Premier League goal.
United were forced to play the game without star striker Wayne Rooney, who aggravated a knee injury in England's game against Egypt.
As a result, Bulgarian Berbatov was forced to play as a lone striker at Molineux. He impressed in the victory that propelled United to the top of the Premier League, where they now sit two points clear of both Chelsea and Arsenal, although the Blues have a game in hand.
Ferdinand told MUTV after the game that Berbatov was "fantastic" and can bring skill and flair to the United attack, as well as holding the ball up well to bring others into the game.
"He occupied their whole back four, which is all you can ask of a centre forward, especially one playing on his own," said the centre back.
"I think he proved he can be the lone striker if we need him to be."
United's run-in for the Premier League title could be buoyed by the return of England midfielder Owen Hargreaves from long-term injury.
He has not played since September 2008 but is set to play for United's reserves this week as he tries to regain fitness and return to the first-team picture.
Meanwhile, United are preparing to face Milan in the second leg of their Champions League clash.
The Red Devils lead 3-2 after the first game and the Champions League odds suggest they should progress.
Wayne Rooney faces a battle to be fit for the game, although his current injury shouldn't keep him out of this year's Football World Cup.
Owner/trainer Robert Waley-Cohen has been tremendously successful over the years in particular with horses he has first acquired and campaigned in France. His talented youngster Roulez Cool has yet to be seen this term but could be the most notable dark horse amongst the whole Aintree Grand National entries, writes Elliot Slater.
Campaigned in his native France as a three and four-year-old, Roulez Cool had his first British outing in a novices' hurdle at Newbury in November 2008 where he ran well for a long way before blundering and unseating his rider at the last. Given a six months break he then returned to action to win a three-mile Bangor handicap chase as he pleased at odds of 33/1, off a mark of 130 with Grand National Betting.
Raised 12lbs for that success, the gelded son of Classic Cliché then stepped up in grade to run an absolute blinder when beaten just half a length by Russian Around in a valuable Uttoxeter handicap chase, with decent sorts Pretty Star, Pablo Du Charmil and Exmoor Ranger all behind him.
Waley-Cohen has had big winners before and has a lively Cheltenham Festival RSA Chase candidate Long Run. Not so long ago he saw his Katarino win the Aintree Foxhunters Chase when ridden by his son Sam, and Waley-Cohen jnr could well be in the saddle should Roulez Cool be given the nod to take his National chance, even though he has yet to set foot on a racecourse this term.
At the unveiling of the Grand National weights it was no surprise to see Roulez Cool being allotted a mark of 11 stones, meaning that BHA handicapper Phil Smith had assessed his Uttoxeter effort as having been a further 6b improvement on his win at Bangor.
At the age of just seven Roulez Cool has all the statistics against him as no horse of that age has won the race since 1940, but the Waley-Cohen's have defied the odds before and at up to 50/1 Roulez Cool could give supporters a very good run for their money.