LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale still has a long way to go before he can be compared to Ryan Giggs, ahead of Sunday's encounter between the sides.
Bale is Giggs' heir in the Wales national side and the fleet-footed left-winger has already scored nine league goals this season, including a fine individual effort in Spurs' 3-2 win at Old Trafford in September.
Giggs, however, had already accumulated three league titles, two FA Cups and a League Cup by the time he was Bale's age, and Ferguson believes the Giggs of the early Premier League years had no equal.
"It is all opinions I suppose," Ferguson said. "The boy is a good player.
But Ryan Giggs at 23? I don't think there was anyone better." Now 39, Giggs produced another age-defying display in the mid-week FA Cup win over West Ham United, which saw Wayne Rooney mark his return from injury with a goal before blazing a second-half penalty over the crossbar.
United have now missed five penalties this season, while Rooney's personal career tally of unsuccessful attempts from 12 yards stands at 10.
Robin van Persie is expected to return to United's starting line-up at Spurs and with Ferguson refusing to back Rooney to continue taking spot-kicks, the Dutchman could step into the breach.
"I have not made a decision about that," Ferguson said.
"We don't want to be missing penalties. It is a regular opportunity. But it is not something I want to discuss." United's lead at the league summit will be whittled down to four points if second-place Manchester City defeat Fulham on Saturday, and in Tottenham they face opponents who have lost just once in 13 matches.
The two sides are the only teams in the division to have avoided defeat in their last six games, although United will take heart from the fact that they have not lost at White Hart Lane since a 3-1 reverse in May 2001.
Ferguson is expected to make several changes to the side that faced West Ham, but Jonny Evans and Ashley Young remain unavailable through injury and Darren Fletcher has been ruled out for the rest of the campaign.
Spurs, meanwhile, could hand a first league start of the season to central midfielder Scott Parker after Brazilian Sandro was ruled out for the rest of the campaign with a knee ligament injury.
And with Emmanuel Adebayor now gearing up for the Africa Cup of Nations with Togo, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has only one true striker at his disposal in the form of Jermain Defoe.
Despite the blow of losing Sandro, Villas-Boas says the club are not looking to sign a replacement in the January transfer window.
"The only thing we have done at the moment is hold on to our midfielders, the ones who are here," Villas-Boas said.
"We have put on hold the movement of Jake Livermore's possible loan to another club. It is not out of the question, I think we are still pretty happy with what we have." Tottenham go into the weekend just two points behind third-place Chelsea, who drew 2-2 at home to Southampton in mid-week.
However, despite having seen his side prevail at Old Trafford, Villas-Boas believes United will be a very different prospect on Sunday.
"A lot of time has gone by in between," he said.
"I think it was the fifth or sixth game of the season and United had already lost to Everton and lost to us at home.
"From then on they have been on a formidable run and they sit now with one more point than the league leaders last season, who were Man City.
"The run of form is amazing. It is going to be a completely different game."