Manchester: Sir Alex Ferguson believes Tottenham Hotspur pose a real threat to Manchester United's hopes of retaining the Premier League title as they are "playing the best football in the country".
Both Manchester City and Manchester United are seven points clear of third-placed Spurs at the top of the table but Harry Redknapp's men have a game in hand.
When it comes to a London challenge for the Premier League trophy, Ferguson has usually had to look no further than Arsenal and Chelsea rather than to Tottenham, last crowned champions of England 50 years ago.
But with Spurs, for whom Wales winger Gareth Bale has been outstanding, playing both attractive and winning football, Ferguson would not be surprised if the English title returned to White Hart Lane for the first time since the celebrated League and FA Cup 'double' season of 1960/61.
"The difficulty for Arsenal and Chelsea is they have to overtake three teams so, unless the top three teams collapse, that would be the opportunity for Arsenal and Chelsea to take advantage," Ferguson said on Friday.
"I think Tottenham are playing the best football in the country, their current team and form are the best in country. They can definitely win it."
Meanwhile, United manager Ferguson confirmed he wanted to hang on to Spurs old boy Dimitar Berbatov and keep the striker at Old Trafford until 2013.
The 30-year-old's future has been the subject of speculation as he has struggled for regular first team football this season.
Several Premier League clubs, plus his former German team Bayer Leverkusen, have been linked with moves for Berbatov in the January transfer window.
The uncertainty has been fuelled by the fact that Berbatov's original contract, signed when he joined the club for £30.75 million ($47.47 million) from Tottenham in 2008, is due to expire at the end of the current campaign.
However, United have a one-year option on the player which would automatically extend his deal until after the end of the 2012/13 season.
And, on the eve of his 70th birthday, Ferguson confirmed United will exercise that option over Berbatov, who scored a hat-trick in just his second league start of the season in the 5-0 Boxing Day win over Wigan.
"We will be exercising it," Ferguson said. "I think it kicks in in March."
"You can't be surprised by a player of that ability. It's what you expect from the player."
Ferguson will mark his birthday with a home match against basement club Blackburn Rovers on Saturday that offers United, behind City on goal difference alone, the chance to end 2011 in first place in the Premier League table.
Despite the looming fixture, Ferguson telephoned beleaguered Blackburn manager Steve Kean to offer him support.
Kean has faced repeated public calls from Rovers fans, often during matches, demanding he be sacked and Ferguson had sympathy for his fellow Scot.
"It shocks you, really," Ferguson said. "The pressure that is on managers in the game today is enormous."
"They are singled out through the media. It humiliates managers, just humiliates them. In the case of Steve Kean, when you see the supporters react that way, then you say to yourself there is something wrong with society."
"Every manager knows it is a result industry, therefore he lives by that part. Or if he gets bad results, he knows he could lose his job. But there has to be a better way of doing it."
"The strength of Steve Kean has come through, he has kept his dignity very well. His press conferences have been good, he has not shown any sense of giving in and has been positive in everything he has said."
"That is a quality all managers should have."
At the other end of the table, City manager Roberto Mancini has claimed the league will be won with a total of 90 points this season and Ferguson joked: "I'd better go for 91 then - it seems obvious, doesn't it?
"But I think there will be points dropped, it gets harder in March and April when the games catch up so it's difficult to say."