United have been in impressive form after an uncertain start to their Premier League campaign, having won five successive games in the top flight after losing two of their opening six.
The Reds are currently two points ahead of neighbours Manchester City after important victories aganst Arsenal and Chelsea, and they also blew away Alan Pardew's Newcastle 3-0 at St James' Park.
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But Ferdinand revealed that without a timely intervention from boss Sir Alex Ferguson, United's title aspirations could have been left in tatters on Tyneside.
“Before kick-off, the manager showed us the league table to emphasise that point and it didn’t make pretty reading,” the former United skipper told The Mirror.
“I don’t really look at the league table until Christmas normally. When we all saw it that day, it hit home. We thought, ‘Wow, we need to shake ourselves up.’
“Thankfully, it turned out to be a good day for us.
“Sometimes things just click into place and we just felt very secure in that game and it felt very much like the Manchester United of old, from a couple of years ago.
“I think we’d got into a position this season, a bit like we did at the start of last season, where we were just playing open, expansive football and expecting to score three or four goals and not really concentrating as we should on our defending.”
Ferdinand believes that a combination of resolute defending and a never-say-die attitude has been the recipe for United's recent success.
“Up until the game against Newcastle, we’d been a bit open and playing in that way of ‘We attack, then you attack’," he added.
“This league is unforgiving in that sense. If you’re not on your game in all areas you’ll get punished.
“It shows the character in the squad when we’ve gone behind and still found a way back into a game.
“But the more times you go behind, at some point you’re going to get beaten and that’s happened a couple of times already this season."