Michael Carrick believes Manchester United could hit top spot in the Premier League on Saturday without being near their best yet this season.
Victory at Bolton for Sir Alex Ferguson's injury-hit troops will allow them to go a point clear of current table-toppers Liverpool for at least 48 hours before Monday's Merseyside derby at Anfield.
It is an opportunity that has come round quicker than most United fans anticipated when their team flew off to Japan for their successful Club World Cup quest in mid-December.
And Carrick feels the back-to-back champions have still to hit top form.
"I don't believe we have hit top form yet this season," said the former Tottenham man.
"Hopefully that is a positive in the sense we can play a lot better.
"If that is the case, and you consider the position we are in now, we are not too badly off."
Jonny Evans and Carlos Tevez both face fitness tests on Saturday morning to determine whether they can play.
As Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Wes Brown are definitely missing, it could be a patched-up United side that tackles the Trotters.
Nineteen-year-old James Chester has been drafted into the Red Devils squad such are Ferguson's lack of options for the usual physical test Bolton provide.
However, Carrick insists a lack of bodies will not be used as an excuse for failure.
"When you get a number of injuries in similar positions, it can start to stretch you," he admitted.
"We have coped so far but you get times throughout the season when games come along that you just have to find a way to win.
"There are no excuses. Whoever plays is good enough to be at this club and to win."
Having overtaken Chelsea, who were totally dismantled at Old Trafford last weekend, some pundits are now claiming the title is an all north-west battle between United and arch rivals Liverpool.
It is a notion Carrick dismisses.
The 28-year-old may only be in his third season at Old Trafford but he is acutely aware how quickly the championship picture can change.
"You can't knock Chelsea out of it," he said.
"Five or six points can be overturned very quickly as we found out last season when it turned out to be very tight after it seemed we had gone clear.
"There is a long way to go yet. Chelsea have proven quality within their squad and I am sure they will there at the end - hopefully behind us."