Rio Ferdinand is adamant Manchester United cannot claim to have made a good start to the season unless they are still in contention at Christmas.
Chelsea's defeat at Tottenham last Sunday, 24 hours after United had demolished Portsmouth, has seen the Old Trafford outfit establish a three-point cushion at the Premiership summit.
With a superior goal difference as well, the Red Devils are almost certain to retain top spot even if they lose at Blackburn on Saturday and, providing they overcome Sheffield United a week later, will remain at the head of affairs when they host Jose Mourinho's men in a crunch showdown on November 26.
The situation is massively different to 12 months ago, when United trailed Chelsea by 13 points, a gap they were unable to close despite some excellent form in the second half of the campaign.
Yet no-one inside the United camp is getting carried away after just 11 games.
Although Chelsea have shown a fallibility missing from their previous back-to-back title-winning campaigns, everyone at Old Trafford is acutely aware of the Stamford Bridge outfit's staying power.
Ferdinand, who has collected just a single championship medal since his record £29.1million arrival from Leeds in 2002, is looking at the festive season as being the cut-off point for United to give themselves a small pat on the back.
'We are only 11 games in, it is too early to say we are going to be battling it out for the championship,' said the England defender, who is expected to win his 56th cap against Holland in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
'Once we get past the Christmas period, if we are still in the position we are in now, then I would say we have had a good start.'
Ferdinand does concede United have made giant strides in the last year and have at least achieved the first part of their aim by not allowing one of their major rivals to disappear out of sight before a third of the domestic campaign has been completed.
'It was about stepping up to the plate,' he said.
'We have been on good runs before from Christmas onwards but we have always been playing catch-up, so it has been a bit of a non-event from that kind of period onwards.
'We know the bar has been raised by Chelsea and Arsenal, so we wanted to give ourselves the best chance possible by being there or thereabouts after the first few games, then taking it from there.'
Ferdinand is one of a host of senior figures who will return to Sir Alex Ferguson's starting line-up at Ewood Park following the embarrassing Carling Cup defeat to Southend on Tuesday.
In fact, only Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo could keep their places from the Roots Hall debacle, which raised question marks over a few fledgling United careers.
Ferguson certainly will not be looking at resting anyone given the Red Devils have picked up a combined total of just three points in six league visits to Blackburn since their last away triumph over Rovers in 1998.
Meanwhile, United's squad could be bolstered by the addition of American prodigy Freddy Adu in January.
After some confusion among Old Trafford officials, who originally claimed on their own website the 17-year-old had not been invited for a two-week trial, it now transpires Adu is heading across the Atlantic after all.
With DC United's Major League Soccer season over, Adu is expected to arrive in Manchester next week provided all the required documentation can be sorted out.
Ghana-born Adu has long been touted for stardom and became the youngest player to represent the United States when he made his debut against Canada as a 16-year-old in January.
And, if time with the Red Devils proves to be a success, Ferguson may be tempted to secure the youngster on a permanent deal during the January transfer window.