Darren Fletcher believes a closing of the gap between the strong sides and the habitual also-rans in the Premier League explains Manchester United's sluggish start to the season.
United remain unbeaten in the league this season but sit third in the table as they prepare to host Wigan at Old Trafford in Manchester on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side have drawn six and won one game on their travels but have won five and drawn one of their home matches.
They will expect that fine home run to continue against a Wigan side that they have beaten in each of their 10 meetings since the Latics were promoted to the top flight in 2004.
Last season they beat Roberto Martinez's side 5-0 home and away but Fletcher thinks the division is not what it used to be.
Tottenham finished in the top four last season and Manchester City have spent heavily once again in an attempt to follow Spurs into the Champions League.
Fletcher thinks the knock-on effect means the Premier League is tougher than ever before.
"The standard in the Premier League has risen and teams are getting better," said the Scotland midfielder.
"As we experienced last season, it's a tough league and I think you'll see a lot more points dropped than in previous seasons.
"The battle for a place in the top four used to be a given, but now there are a lot more teams involved.
"We know it'll be a long hard season and we don't want to give Chelsea too much of a lead because it'll be difficult to claw back.
"There's still a long way to go and it's important we start winning games and putting a run together."
Wayne Rooney remains doubtful with an ankle problem, meaning Javier Hernandez is likely to continue in attack.
The Mexican has been a revelation since joining from Chivas in pre-season, scoring crucial goals in the Premier League and the Champions League.
Hernandez managed five goals in six matches during September and October and credits Ferguson for helping him settle into life at Old Trafford so quickly.
"I've been telling the media in Mexico about him," the striker said.
"He's like a 'sir', a gentlemen both during matches and away from the game.
"That's why I think he'll be regarded as the greatest manager in the modern era. When I first met him he just told me to enjoy myself here.
"That helped to take any pressure off me, so now I can concentrate on working hard and trying to play well."
Ferguson will still be without Rafael, Anderson, Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves due to injury.
Meanwhile, Wigan manager Martinez insists he is not worried about whether Rooney will return to action against his team, saying: "If Wayne Rooney plays or he doesn't, there's nothing we can do about that.
"We all know Manchester United have a fantastic squad and do not rely on any one player.
"Wayne had an amazing season last year, and we all know what he's capable of. But if he doesn't play, they'll be able to field another player of a similar standard.
"That's the type of challenge we face on Saturday and why we have to be at our absolute best," explained Martinez, whose side are just a point above the relegation zone.