Will it be City again this season?
It seems almost inevitable that one of these three super powers will take the English Premier League title this year, but at the moment, if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t have a clue where to put my money.
None of the three have been totally convincing as we approach Christmas, and yet, even though we are only just over one third of the way through the season, it is difficult to see beyond one of them picking up the trophy next May.
They have taken it in turns to lead the way, with Chelsea looking strong early on, then City taking over for a while until, in recent weeks, United have capitalised on their two rivals faltering.
It would be fair to say that none of the three have been at their best, and yet they continue to grind out results which sometimes flatter to deceive.
Take Wednesday’s matches for example.
United, who have been much-criticised (including by me) for going behind too often in games this season, seemed to answer their critics “in spades” by scoring the fastest goal in the league so far this season after just 33 seconds against West Ham.
“This is surely the catalyst for a goal fest,” we all thought.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, and the longer it stayed at 1-0, the less impressive United looked and the more confident West Ham became. Eventually, the final whistle was probably a relief for Sir Alex Ferguson and came too soon for Sam Allardyce.
Over at the DW Stadium, Man City had what, on paper, looked like a relatively straightforward fixture against the League’s perennial strugglers Wigan Athletic.
A visitor from another planet who dropped into the game may well have thought that the current league champions were the team in blue and white.
It would be fair to say that Wigan probably had the better of the game for well over an hour and, just before City scored their first goal, had their best period of the match, mesmerising the Champions with pinpoint passes and incisive breaks.
City eventually broke the deadlock from a mistake by Ali Al-Habsi, the Wigan keeper, and a twice-taken shot from Mario Balotelli, who had had a patchy game up until then.
A speculative long range shot from James Milner, who is hardly prolific in the goal scoring department, gave the scoreline a lop sided look and certainly greatly flattered City who, for the most part, had looked flat and uninspiring.
Roberto Mancini will, no doubt, be credited for making inspired substitutions just before the scoring began. However, let’s not kid ourselves: A defensive mistake by Wigan and a shot by Milner, which 99 times out of 100 would probably have gone into row Z, can hardly be put down to the Italian’s tactical genius.
As for Chelsea, the Abramovich sceptics would say they are reaping what the Russian has sown.
Against Fulham they looked disjointed, unimaginative and uninspiring and struggled to find the rhythm that had set them apart from the other two title contenders earlier in the season.
Rafael Benitez, in his press conference on Sky afterwards, suggested that his team had quite a few chances to win the game. Take “quite a” out of that statement and you would be somewhere near the truth.
As I have made clear before, I am not a Chelsea fan, but I still find it quite painful to watch the torment Fernando Torres is going through at the moment.
If only Abramovich had showed as much patience with his managers as he and the club have shown with the Spaniard.
If Chelsea don’t dip into the transfer market in January for a new striker, and it seems Radamel Falcao is the most likely target, their title chances look fairly remote.
It is also difficult to see why an owner with self-confessed aspirations to play attractive, flowing, attacking football has chosen a manager whose philosophy is so different from his own.
Still, I suppose he is running out of options as far as managers are concerned, and some of his previous choices must be thinking, “give it a couple more years and it will be my turn again.”
Summing up, none of the top three have really grasped the nettle and surged forward with purpose and desire to create a gap between them and their rivals.
At the moment, it resembles a game of cat and mouse or “after you Claude,” a phrase used by RAF pilots in the war as they queued to attack the enemy.
So where does all that leave the Premier League front-runners in terms of those teams below them?
Although the chasing pack must have been encouraged by the somewhat unconvincing recent performances of the top three, it’s difficult to see any of them being there at the death.
West Brom have almost certainly overachieved reaching the heady heights of fourth, and we can probably expect them to drop back to a mid-table position by the end of the season..
Everton will probably hang in there but possibly lack the strength in depth or the money to improve that situation and make that final, incisive push to break into the top four.
Many pundits expect Arsenal to spend big in January, and they could be the dark horses to break up the current Triopoly.
Tottenham could also figure if Andre Villas Boas picks the right side and encourages his team to kick on when they are winning rather than see games out defensively as he did against Liverpool on Wednesday.
You can probably forget the rest as far as Champions League places are concerned.
So it’s back to the big three and picking a winner from them.
It’s anybody’s guess for me, but I will reluctantly go for City who have great depth in their squad, plenty of money to spend and are the only ones certain not to have Champions League distractions.
What do you think?