Manchester United striker Michael Owen has raised doubts over Manchester City's title credentials this season.
The former England striker, who is set to miss six weeks with a thigh injury sustained in the 2-0 victory over Otelul Galati in the Champions League, admits that the 'noisy neighbours' are a force to be reckoned with this season.
However, Owen is confident the current Barclays Premier League leaders will suffer a 'blip' at some stage in the race for the title, and when they do United will be ready to pounce.
"They are top of the league, playing great - as well as they've performed in years," said Owen at an Umbro boot launch.
"They obviously beat us quite well in the league and deserved to win that game but it was only a few weeks earlier that we played really well and beat them in the Community Shield - everyone was taking a step back then and saying 'it might be a year too soon for Man City' and it just shows how quickly things can change.
"They're on a crest of a wave at the minute - but every team will go through a sticky patch at some point and we're still early on in the season. We'll see what happens after Christmas and start forming opinions then, but there's no doubt about it, they're a force to be reckoned with."
Owen pointed to United's historical past, with Sir Alex Ferguson's side renowned for putting together a great run of form in the closing stages of the season.
And, with the current gap between the top two sitting at only five points, it's still well and truly in the balance.
"United, over the years, have always gone on great runs towards the end of the season and have pulled it out of the fire many times. There's only five points difference at the moment, there's a lot of football to be played - we've got a manager who has been there, seen it and done it, as have a number of the lads too.
"We've got a big squad to cope with playing in a number of competitions and we're confident. It'll be a tough challenge with Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and Tottenham all in there as well but I think Man City will be the biggest challengers."
On his own injury, a club spokesman broke the bad news last night, revealing that Owen will be out of action until late December.
"Michael has a thigh muscle injury and will be out for six weeks or so."
That is expected to force the forward to miss the next nine matches in all competitions, with a possible return penciled in against Wigan n Boxing Day.
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