Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United’s Barclays Premier League clash with Wigan tonight will be more difficult than their win over Chelsea.
United can close the gap on leaders Liverpool to just two points with victory over Steve Bruce’s side, the first of two games in hand created by the spin-offs of last season’s Champions League triumph.
After United’s easy win against Chelsea on Sunday, few expect Wigan to pose a problem - even though the Latics have won five out of their last six games.
But Ferguson is adopting a cautious approach, realising this is a match that must be won.
"The hard work has not been done just because we have beaten Chelsea," he said.
"This is a harder one for us. It is one of our games in hand, and we have to win.
"People will expect us to reach the same level of performance as Sunday again.
"But I have looked at all the statistics, and Chelsea worked amazingly hard - which just shows the level we got to."
Ferguson’s assessment should at least bring some comfort for Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is preparing for a different type of must-win clash at Southend.
For United, though, Wigan do represent the kind of opponents they like.
Seven meetings with their north-west neighbours have brought seven wins for the Red Devils, including the 2006 Carling Cup final and the last-day triumph at the JJB Stadium that earned a 10th Premier League title.
United are also averaging more than three goals a game against Wigan, and if they win this evening and against Bolton on Saturday they will be bop of the table.
"We certainly hope to be top by Saturday night. That is our aim," Ferguson confirmed.
"But it will not be easy, because Wigan are on a fantastic run.
"They are a powerful team with a good balance of ages."
If there is one cloud on United’s horizon it is injury problems in defence.
Although scans have revealed nothing serious, Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out for another two games with a back problem that is proving difficult to shift.
Patrice Evra will be missing for a minimum three weeks after damaging his foot as he began to celebrate Wayne Rooney’s goal at Old Trafford on Sunday.
"Patrice will be out for three weeks minimum, maybe four," said Ferguson.
"We are trying to get the swelling down because there is a lot of blood that has to be cleared up. But it will take a week to 10 days before we can get him back training."
It means Jonny Evans and John O’Shea will remain in a United defence that will have little cover until Wes Brown makes his comeback from ankle surgery in a fortnight.
"Wes Brown should be back in two weeks at the very most - and once we get him back, we will be okay," the manager reports.
"You would want to have all your players available, particularly given the programme we have in January.”