LONDON — Rather than bemoaning Manchester United's Premier League recent struggles, Rio Ferdinand is upbeat about the champions' prospects of overhauling Manchester City from the summit.
Amid an injury crisis that has prompted Paul Scholes to come out of retirement, United lost its past two league matches before rebounding with an FA Cup victory over City.
"You always know there will be ups and downs during the season," Ferdinand said Friday. "We had a bad week the one before, losing two games ... but I don't think we have the advantage now because of one result (against City). It is too early to say.
"We are all round the same area and fighting for the same thing. You all have your peaks and troughs, hopefully Manchester City and Tottenham will experience lows that go on a lot longer, we can get a few players back from injury and push on."
City has a three-point lead over United and Tottenham despite its own recent slump. But that advantage could be wiped out by the time City goes to Wigan on Monday if United beats Bolton or Tottenham overcomes Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
City's first back-to-back home losses since the petrodollars began to pour in during 2008 have started to erode the club's air of invincibility.
Both setbacks came in cup competitions — to United in the FA Cup last weekend then to Liverpool in the League Cup semifinals on Wednesday — but City had won only one of its previous three league matches before those games.
"No one expected us to continue winning games without having a difficult moment," City assistant manager David Platt said. "We can't accelerate the season by four months to see how it is going to turn out."
Despite the FA Cup defense being ended by United, City is still in the hunt for the League Cup, with the second leg to come against Liverpool at Anfield.
"We are still in the Carling Cup semifinal (with the second leg on Jan. 25) and our players are quite capable of turning the situation around, and 19 clubs would like to be where we are in the championship," Platt said at the weekly media briefly usually attended by manager Roberto Mancini. "It is not a bad position to be in — some crisis."
Tottenham is the form team, having picked up more points than both City and United since beginning the season by losing to the Manchester rivals.
"Spurs are not third in the Premier League because someone has walked through the door at White Hart Lane and slapped a bundle of money on my desk," Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. "City can pay players 200,000 pounds ($307,000) a week, it's unbelievable."
United, City and Tottenham look the only title contenders, with Chelsea now eight points adrift in fourth and Arsenal a further point behind.
Chelsea hosts Sunderland on Saturday and Arsenal is at Swansea the following day when Thierry Henry will be hoping to get a chance to repeat his goal-scoring exploits on Monday when he clinched a 1-0 victory over Leeds in the FA Cup.
Arsenal's 34-year-old all-time top scorer has returned to north London on a loan deal from the New York Red Bulls during the Major League Soccer offseason.
"If you asked 10 legends whether they would come back, I am not sure they would have been brave enough," said Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, who was rested against Leeds. "I am sure he will get loads of games because I have seen him in training and I don't want too put too much pressure on, but he is looking really good."
Things are not looking quite so good for Blackburn, which is last going into Saturday's match against Fulham. But Blackburn's Indian owners are backing manager Steve Kean despite fan protests.
"Most of the time the club, the board and the owners will give in after a couple of weeks and we, the managers, are gone," Fulham manager Martin Jol said. "But they have stuck with him and you get a different situation. This could be the first time probably in the history of the Premier League that a board stuck with their manager (under such pressure)."
Blackburn is a point behind Wigan and two behind Bolton in the relegation zone.
With Queens Park Rangers just a point and a place from danger, manager Neil Warnock was fired and replaced by Mark Hughes this week to stop the promoted club's decline, starting Sunday at Newcastle.
Also Saturday, Aston Villa hosts Everton, Liverpool takes on Stoke and West Bromwich Albion faces Norwich.