Sir Alex Ferguson always expected veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar to retire at the end of the season.
The Manchester United boss confirmed yesterday that he was planning for the 40-year-old Dutchman's exit in the summer.
Denmark international Anders Lindegaard has already been brought in from Aalesunds and is now training with the Old Trafford outfit, even though he will not be eligible to play until the FA Cup tie with Liverpool on January 9.
And the chances are a bigger name will be recruited for the start of next season too as Ferguson bids to ensure his side do not suffer in the same way they did when he failed to secure Van der Sar's services to replace Peter Schmeichel in 1999.
"I did expect this to be Edwin's final season," said Ferguson.
"To still be playing at this level at 40 is amazing.
"You can only do it if you have the structure and the mind to be able to programme yourself and train the way he does. It is phenomenal.
"I am very lucky to have had both Van der Sar and Schmeichel.
"But we have learnt from when we tried to replace Peter. I should have signed Van der Sar after Schmeichel but I made a mistake. Now we know where we are going."
Van der Sar will take his customary place in goal on Boxing Day against Sunderland, who have taken points off all the title contenders this term.
A home win would continue a decent period of results for United, who retained top spot over Christmas thanks to Manchester City's failure to overcome Everton on Monday and could open a two-point lead still further given Arsenal and Chelsea are not in action until Monday.
Ferguson will wait until after the January 4 meeting with Stoke before assessing the title race.
However, he does feel the number of realistic candidates is reducing.
"I don't think there will be anyone outside ourselves, Chelsea or
Arsenal," he said. "Those three will certainly be there.
"I know Harry (Redknapp) is talking up his chances at Tottenham but they are involved in the Champions League, which is a new thing for them.
"If they get through the next stage it is not easy to manage European competition at that level and doing your league programme, plus FA Cup ties. Usually experience gets you through.
"Manchester City have got a chance of course. But they will also have the Europa League that will make it difficult.
"Maybe they, and Harry too, could buy in January because it is very difficult to manage both."