With 2012 now drawing to a close and everyone somehow surviving the Mayan-predicted apocalypse, thoughts in the Barclays Premier League start to turn towards the coming year.
Currently, Manchester United sit seven points clear of nearest rivals Man City at the top of the heap with just one left to play during the calendar year.
Whatever happens in those fixtures, the Red Devils will definitely find themselves with a healthy margin of advantage going into 2013, something that they should look to capitalise on immediately.
United's fixture list for the first six league games after New Years are as follows:
- Wigan (A) - January 1
- Liverpool (H) - January 13
- Tottenham (A) - January 20
- Southampton (H) - January 30
- Fulham (A) - February 2
- Everton (H) - February 10
In truth, despite facing none of the teams that one would consider making up the "top four" of the league (those being Chelsea, City and Arsenal) to play against, this is still a relatively tricky crop of games for the tablecloth army.
Wigan away have generally been kind to United over the years, but last season, a shocking defeat at the DW Stadium was arguably the driving factor in the collapse of United's title bid. Still, with the form that the Red Devils have exhibited going forward this year, one would be relatively surprised if they could not do what they always seem to do this season, which is at least one more goal than their opponents.
RVP and company beat the Reds at Anfield this season, and if their league form is anything to go by, then it would probably be expected for United to walk this one. However, as any good follower of football knows, when United and Liverpool meet the form books go completely out the window.
It would be foolish to predict any sort of result for this match, because there really isn't anything to determine how the game will go until the first ball is kicked. The home advantage may just swing it for United, but nothing is for certain.
Similarly to the Wigan fixture, in recent years, White Harte Lane has been a place of great joy for United, with a host of victories secured by the men in red. However, Spurs shocked the footballing world at the start of this season by pulling off a miraculous 3-2 victory away at Old Trafford.
Due to that result alone, this is another game that suddenly looks a lot tougher for United than one might expect it to be. Spur's shaky defence has been tightened, and their extreme pace against an ageing United back four make them one of the deadliest teams for Vidic and company to face in the league this year.
There are only so many times the United forwards can save their side, and I can't help but think they wont be able to do it again here.
The home tie against Southampton is—worryingly from a United perspective—the only matchup that Sir Alex can probably 100 percent rely on taking all three points from before kickoff. Despite showing a hearty resistance and nearly causing an upset at St Mary's earlier in the campaign, it would be some sort of miracle for the Saints (see what I did there?) to walk away with so much as a point from the Red Devil's lair.
Yet another tricky away tie follows this, with a trip to Craven . Away to Fulham has, for the most part, been one of United's least successful fixtures since the Cottagers were promoted to the Premier League way back in 2001. Despite doing the business there last season, Fergie will definitely take nothing for granted and is almost certainly aware of just how hard a fixture this is for any side.
Finally, a home tie with Everton follows. Generally United have been strong against the Toffees when it comes to matches at Old Trafford, but much like the Wigan game last season, this very fixture was hugely costly in regards to United throwing away the Premier League crown.
If that weren't already enough pressure, then Sir Alex's woes are only deepened further by the amazing form that Everton have been showing this year. Having beaten United on the opening day of the season, David Moyes' men have gone on to mount a genuine challenge for fourth spot this year—a reward that this writer believes will go to the Merseyside blues come the end of the season.
All in all there couldn't really have been a more sticky set of fixtures drawn up for England's most successful club side at the start of this new calendar year. With a home tie against the high-flying West Brom also to come this Saturday (29 December), it leaves me thinking that United are going to pick up points in the following manner:
- West Brom - W (3 points)
- Wigan - W (3 points)
- Liverpool - D (1 point)
- Tottenham - D (1 point)
- Southampton - W (3 points)
- Fulham - L (No points)
- Everton - W (3 points)
If those results do play as out predicted, then United will find themselves on a total of 60 points from 26 games, dropping seven points over the course of the matches listed above. Encouragingly then for United fans, it would require City to take full points from their next seven matches to even draw level with the current league leaders should these results play out.
That seems somewhat unlikely, with a trip to Arsenal as well as tricky home ties against Liverpool and Chelsea for the Sky Blues to contend with—not to mention a journey to Carrow Road to face Norwich.
Of course we have to remember that this is football; nothing can be taken for granted. But if the form guide plays out and United do manage to keep ahead—or perhaps even pull further away—from their nearest rivals over the next seven games, then the future looks bright for Sir Alex and his red army.