Even the most positive of football fans could be forgiven in suggesting that the English Premier League title chase has already turned into a two-horse race before 2013 has barely begun.
Manchester United sit atop of the division 13 points clear of third-placed Tottenham and the Red Devils’ last-gasp victory over bitter rivals Manchester City during December has also seen them open up a seven-point gap between themselves and Roberto Mancini’s men.
Whether Chelsea has the squad or the manager to turn the Blues from inconsistent top four hopefuls into dependable championship contenders remains to be seen. The appointment of interim boss, Rafael Benitez was particularly puzzling, considering the Spaniard is a figure of hate among the Stamford Bridge faithful after his strong comments about the Blues whilst in charge of Liverpool.
There is no denying that Benitez has an excellent managerial CV, but whether he can unite the fans and the team in time to challenge at Easter remains to be seen. Whether Benitez lasts the entirety of the campaign is also a bone of contention. Scouring the market for the best odds, specialist bookmakers bwin.com have Chelsea at a rather short price of 12/1 to overhaul United’s 13 point lead in just over half a season.
Realistically, Manchester City look like being the only team capable of chasing down Sir Alex and his side, although the manner of their recent derby defeat to the red side of Manchester, followed by a shock festive defeat to Sunderland will have hurt them deeply, although a resurgence of form against Stoke will have given them new hope
City’s surprise early exit from the Champions League and their failure to qualify for the Europa League means Mancini’s men will be able to focus firmly on their league form. Keeping the Citizens extensive first team squad happy continues to be a problem with troubled striker, Mario Balotelli coming in for further criticism from the Italian boss. Just three goals in all competitions this term is a poor return from one of City's most expensive buys as well as their recent training ground bust-up not helping matters.
Defensively City have shown signs of fragility too both in domestic and European contests. Even the usually-dependable Joe Hart has brought his A-game to the table on too few occasions.
On the other side of the city, Manchester United look the sensible choice to reclaim the Premier League trophy from their city rivals. Despite having tasted defeat three times in comparison to Manchester City’s one, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been free scoring both at home and away from Old Trafford.
Summer signing, Robin Van Persie has slotted into the Red Devils’ attack with ease and already has 16 league goals to his name, ably assisted by Wayne Rooney and arguably the division’s most effective substitute, Javier Hernandez.
Their only potential hurdle to the title is if they overstretch themselves on too many fronts. Ferguson appears keen for another Champions League bid and a deep run in the FA Cup too could mean burn-out for some of the younger players in the squad.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex has been here too many times before to let that happen and it would take a brave man or woman to bet against the trophy heading back to Old Trafford in May.