Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes the return of captain Nemanja Vidic provides a significant boost to his team's title prospects.
The Serbia defender, 31, underwent knee surgery in September after missing the final six months of last season after suffering a serious knee injury.
Ferguson has confirmed Vidic will return to his squad for Saturday's game against Sunderland at Old Trafford.
United have struggled with defensive injuries for the past couple of seasons and Ferguson believes having back Vidic, who has been the club's captain since 2010, will make a big difference.
The United manager insists nothing has been left to chance with the centre-back's rehabilitation.
He said: "having Vida back in the squad is a big one for us. He's got experience, the ability to head the ball, his defensive qualities are renowned now and he's the captain.
"Whether I start him is another issue but it will be great to have him back.
"Obviously we hope we've given himthe proper rehabilitation. I think that coming back from the last injury we gave him a long rehabilitation and it was a good one.
"But unfortunately he tweaked another injury and in the last year and four months or so he's only played 10 games or something like that and that's not enough football for someone who is 30 or 31 so it's an issue but we hope it sails through it.
"We'll give him the chance and there will be opportunities for him because he brings great experience and he brings that warrior-type of defending that he's been renowned for.
"Given the number of injuries we've had to defenders over the last two or three years it's a bonus for us."
United have a six-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table after Sunday's 3-2 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
After Saturday's visit of Sunderland, they come up against Swansea, Newcastle, West Brom and Wigan over the busy festive period.
Ferguson maintains there is no prospect of his players taking their lead for granted and feels they will take a big step towards regaining the title if they are in the same position at the turn of the year.
He added: "I'm happy with six points and it's their challenge to try to catch us. There are a lot of big games to come and six points isn't such a healthy lead.
"We threw away a lead against Arsenal in 98 and we had a catalogue of injuries and that is the key. If we can keep all our players fit it gives us a chance.
"There are a lot of key issues in the second half of the season anyway plus the fact we've got to get through this Christmas programme, quite a heavy programme, and we hope we can navigate that and if we're still top of the league we'll be delighted."
After Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin as he celebrated Robin van Persie's decisive goal in the win at City, the Players Footballers Assocation called for the introduction of safety nets to protect players.
But Ferguson feels that despite a similar incident at Chelsea earlier in the season, that would be a step too far.
He added: "I know you see netting behind the goal in some grounds.
Dortmund have that and there have been a couple of occasions where it's happened.
"It happened at Chelsea and then here (at City) but it's not a consistent thing. Stewarding is a better policy I think."
Defender Jonny Evans is absent from the game against Sunderland due to a hamstring problem he picked up at City but Japan international Shinji Kagawa is set to return to training on Monday after a knee injury.