The current season can be branded as a comeback one for Manchester United.
The events that unfolded on that ludicrous final day of the previous season forced Sir Alex Ferguson to rejig his forward line and bring in Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa to avoid another final minute drama.
The new recruits have turned in fine performances to help United pull clear of the pack at the halfway stage. Ferguson will also be heartened by the fact that table-toppers on Christmas day have gone on to win the title four times since 2005-06.
The Red Devils’ goal-scoring ability and knack of winning games after trailing initially is likely to keep them in front all the way through to a record 20th Premier League title.
The title-chaser and defending champion Manchester City may have to perform a miracle to keep its crown. Coach Roberto Mancini is learning the hard way that retaining a prize is far more difficult than winning it for the first time. He failed to strengthen the squad in the summer, resulting in the side looking woefully short of ideas and confidence.
United (49 points)
There is something phenomenally good about the way Ferguson reorganises his teams when chasing games. The Red Devils have turned defeats into astonishing victories on eight occasions. In terms of the starting XI and depth, United has a quality possibly unmatched by any other side in the league. The Valencia-Rafael combine, which has brought down big clubs like Chelsea and City, is blossoming into another successful partnership in United history.
The team has entered a phase where playing catch-up is probably the only thing that would make the players spring into action, given the team’s comfortable cushion.
Opponents with real hunger and imagination have milked United’s chronically leaky defence. Everton’s route-one tactics, Tottenham’s persistent pressing and Norwich’s well-drilled defence have indeed proved tricky for the league leader.
Moreover, David de Gea’s and Anders Lindegaard’s weakness in dealing with aerial balls has been a concern (the team has conceded 28 goals so far). Stoke’s Asmir Begovic could be the ideal solution to the aerial problem, but will Ferguson sign in?
City (42 points)
Going by the second half of last season, City is far more comfortable chasing the leader than setting the pace. With the Champions League out of its way, Mancini’s boys can focus on the Premier League.
After initial setbacks, the midfield quartet of Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva has started to explode.
Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko have started to find the back of the net more frequently and this is an encouraging sign.
The lack of quality options in defence and midfield has been worrying City.
This has been compounded by the inability of the strikers to fire on all cylinders the way they did last season (Aguero and Dzeko have scored only half the goals compared to their tally at the same point in 2011-12).
Yaya Toure, easily City’s best player so far, will leave for the African Cup of Nations in January, and his absence for four to five weeks could affect the team’s rhythm.
Neither Jack Rodwell nor Javi Garcia looks good enough to partner Gareth Barry in midfield.
Mancini should bring in proper reinforcements in defence and midfield during this crucial period if he entertains any thoughts of catching up with United.