Man United briefly went 10 points clear of second-placed Man City when they beat Liverpool at Old Trafford, until the defending champions kept themselves in the race with a crucial win away to Arsenal, but the Red Devils look firm favourites to finish first.
The gap between the top two currently sits at seven points with 16 games remaining and United defender Patrice Evra says the Red Devils can forget about City. "[Last season] there was too much focus on what they were going to do in their next game," the Frenchman said. "This year it's about us. By having a good season, we will become the champions."
Last season, United blew an eight-point lead in the final six games, so anything is still possible, but this time round United are confident the fire power of Robin Van Persie will help them avoid a similar calamity.
Both teams racked up 89 points in 2011/12, a total that looks likely to be beaten as United boast seven points more at this stage than they had after 22 matches last year. All of which leaves City little room for error with their own fixtures, but is there a chance United could drop enough points to let them back in again? talkSPORT highlights the key fixtures that could seal or scupper United's hunt for title number 20…
Tottenham v Man United - 20 January 2013
City could chip away at United's lead this weekend, as the Red Devils head to White Hart Lane, while City host Fulham at the Etihad. Tottenham inflicted one of United's three league defeats earlier this season with a stunning win at Old Trafford and with Andre-Villas Boas' side having Champions League aspirations, by Sunday evening the gap at the top could conceivably be down to four or five points. United will be wary of counting their chickens should they get a good result at White Hart Lane, however. Last March they won 3-1 at Tottenham and Fergie couldn't hide his feeling that it would be crucial in the title race, claiming "It was a massive result," only to discover later that it wasn't enough.
Man United v Everton – 10 February 2013
Just three days before travelling to Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash with Real, Ferguson' side play host to Everton, United's conquerors on the opening weekend back in August. Last season, this fixture proved pivotal in the title race as Everton grabbed a 4-4 draw and severely dented United's title hopes. City take on relegation battlers Southampton the same weekend, without any European fixtures looming.
West Ham v Man United – 9 March 2013
Man United follow their Champions League second leg tie against Real Madrid with a trip to West Ham. Upton Park has been a tricky venue historically for United, with title bids in 1992 and 1995 both coming up short thanks to results at Upton Park. In 1998 West Ham again helped to prevent Fergie from winning the title, holding United to a crucial draw as Arsenal reeled them in, but in April 2011 the Red Devils fought back from 2-0 to gain three vital points en route to their last championship. As the Hammers proved in the recent FA Cup third round clash between the pair, Upton Park is still a difficult place to visit. Ferguson's team have picked up maximum points following their Champions League travails so far this season, but with Man City welcoming Wigan to the Etihad on the same weekend, it will be a big away day.
West Ham thwart Fergie in 1992
Man United v Man City – 6 April 2013
The scene of the infamous 6-1 mauling last season, the Manchester derby will likely be a key match in the title race once again. City will still be smarting following that dramatic 3-2 defeat to their neighbours in December and by the time the two sides meet in April it will either be the final nail in the blue half's championship coffin, or a chance to gain significant momentum. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this fixture is that it could be sandwiched by two Champions League quarter-final clashes for Fergie's men.
Stoke v Man United – 13 April 2013
Should Man United advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, they will have to endure a tricky trip to Stoke following the second leg tie. At home this season, Stoke have ground out draws against Arsenal and Man City, while comfortably beating Liverpool, so the potential to drop points at the Britannia is there to see. Their only home defeat thus far has come against Chelsea and, despite the 4-0 scoreline, the Potters were their own worst enemies, scoring two own goals and missing a penalty. United's trip to Stoke is contrasted with Man City's home fixture against West Brom.
Arsenal v Man United – 27 April 2013
Theoretically the make-or-break fixture in the title run-in, Arsenal v Man United has become a subdued affair in recent years, compared to its former ferocity. When the two sides clash on 27 April, it could come between two potential Champions League semi-final legs for both sides, who currently remain in the competition (although more realistically for United), while the Gunners will hope to still be in the race for the top four. Wouldn't it be sweet for Arsenal to deny RVP?
Man United v Chelsea – 4 May 2013
Chelsea is never an easy game for United and the Blues - despite having little chance of being in the title race by May - can be expected to put up a real fight at Old Trafford. Should United reach the Champions League last four, this match would follow their European exploits. Between 20 April and 1 May, United potentially face two Champions League matches, plus Arsenal and Chelsea in the league. During this period Man City host West Ham and then travel to Swansea. Squeaky bum time?
West Brom v Man United – 19 May 2013
Should this season's Premier League campaign repeat the 2011/12 race and go down to the wire, Man City will fancy their chances of retaining the crown. City host Norwich in their final fixture, while United travel to West Brom, who have currently only lost three times at home this season, boasting victories over Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea at the Hawthorns.
So far this season, Man United have been near relentless in their pursuit of a record 20th title (seven Football League, 13 Premier League), but they have been beaten three times, showing their potential vulnerability. City will have to be close to flawless in their pursuit of United and even a record of 13 wins, two draws and one defeat from their final 16 matches would 'only' see them reach the 89 points they achieved last season. Sir Alex Ferguson's side, on the other hand, could afford to lose three of their remaining 16 league fixtures, winning 11 and drawing two and still reach 90 points. City can certainly close the gap on their rivals, but they will probably need United to lose their tricky away matches against the likes of Spurs, Stoke and Arsenal, while dropping points at home against themselves. In fact, City fans might find that a United run deep into the Champions League knockout stage is a good thing for their title hopes, but if they really can't bring themselves to hope for Red Devil success on the continent, they could always cross their fingers when Pepe faces Robin van Persie.
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