In mid-November 2012, the prospect of a second consecutive Premier League title was looking good for Manchester City.
With 12 games played, the Citizens were undefeated and a point clear of Manchester Utd, who had already lost three times.
In the past three months, however, the tables have turned and the red side of Manchester finds itself in pole position. Sir Alex Ferguson's men have only dropped four points since losing to Norwich on November 17th (in draws at Swansea and Tottenham), while Mancini's charges have lost three and drawn four.
With 11 games to go, Manchester Utd are now 12 points ahead of their nouveau riche neighbours, with most Premier League fans believing their 20th league title is all but secured.
And they may be right. Utd are traditionally strong in the final run-in (or "squeaky bum time," to use Ferguson parlance), and the City side that capitulated at Southampton three weeks ago did not look like a side who were laying everything on the line to defend their title.
Yet Roberto Mancini—the man who consistently wrote off his side's title chances last season—believes the race is still alive. "We can't think it is finished with 11 games to go," the Italian told journalists after City beat Chelsea at Eastlands for the fourth consecutive season.
Mancini isn't just being optimistic out of duty—there are several glimmers of hope for the defending champions.
United fans will need no reminder that this City team have form for overturning points deficits: last season, the Blues were eight points behind with six games to go, and we all know how that ended up.
Manchester Utd also have a lot more on their plate at the moment. If they overcome Real Madrid in next week's Champions League Round of 16 second leg tie, Ferguson will need to be careful with squad selection during the run-in.
A few days after their big European night, Utd also face an FA Cup quarterfinal tie with the winner of Wednesday's bout between Middlesbrough and Chelsea.
City started to lose their grip in last season's title race during a fixture list packed with Europa League matches. In this campaign, the only non-Premier League match on the docket is an FA Cup tie with Barnsley.
Furthermore, after drawing with Liverpool in their 25th league game, Mancini said he believed they only needed to win 11 of their final 13 games. Using that logic, Tevez and co can afford to lose one more of their final 11 and still be in with a chance.
In all likelihood, City will need to win all of their remaining games, but this is still achievable. The only remaining opponent to have beaten them this season are Manchester Utd, who were on the receiving end of a famous 6-1 humiliation the last time the two teams met at Old Trafford.
Of course, City getting maximum points is not enough, as they need to rely on their red rivals faltering.
Fortunately for Mancini, United do have a few potential stumbling blocks coming up: their next game is a visit from Norwich, who already beat them earlier in the season.
After their Champions League tie, they head to West Ham, where they have only won in three of their last seven attempts. Mid-March opponents Reading put three past Anders Lindegaard in December and pushed hard in their recent FA Cup tie.
Most people believe Manchester Utd have infallible resolve at this time of the season. It's worth noting, however, that a few United sides have come unstuck in squeaky bum time.
In 1997/98, Sir Alex Ferguson's side were twelve points clear at the beginning of March and on the verge of their fifth title in six seasons. Second-place Arsenal ended up winning the league with two games to go.
In 1991/92, the final First Division season before the creation of the Premier League, the Red Devils were streets ahead of rivals Leeds United but could only muster three wins in their final twelve games, handing the title to the Yorkshire side.
There is also evidence to suggest a 12-point deficit can go right down to the wire. In 1988/89—during what is probably the second most exciting English top flight title battle behind last season—Arsenal were 15 points ahead of Liverpool. The Merseyside team pulled it back and Arsenal needed a two-goal win at Anfield to claim the title on the final day. They only managed it thanks to a thrilling Micky Thomas strike in the dying minutes.
To conclude, the title is Manchester United's to lose, and it is more than likely that Sir Alex will be toasting his twentieth English league title in May. But if Man City find the resolve to win all their remaining games, an upset is feasible. Most will concur it is now a long-shot for the Citizens, but we should all know better than to write this team off.
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