Will anything stand in the way of Man United and a record 20th title As Fergie's side sit seven points clear, Sportsmail's experts deliver their verdicts…
11:14 GMT, 27 December 2012
11:56 GMT, 27 December 2012
Will Man United hold their lead to win the title
Click to view yesterday's poll results
Manchester United are now seven points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League going into the final game of 2012.
The Boxing Day comeback victory over Newcastle – coupled with Man City’s loss at Sunderland – tightened their grip on top spot.
So, just what can stop Sir Alex Ferguson’s side snatching the crown back from City Here, we ask Sportsmail’s team of expert reporters whether they think United can be stopped – and if so, by what…
Late show: Javier Hernandez is mobbed by his United team-mates after his winner against Newcastle
The only team that can stop United winning this title is United. Manchester City’s challenge lacks the conviction of last season and that makes United clear favourites at this stage.
However, United are so unpredictable that I can envisage them dropping enough points to give their rivals a chance between now and the end of the season.
Yesterday’s performance – as thrilling as it was – was riddled with holes. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team once again defended poorly and failed to keep hold of the ball for long periods of time. These are the two issues that threaten United more than any other.
Great United teams smother teams by refusing them the ball. This one struggles to do that which means that their opponents will always have a chance. United are great to watch and have been involved in some breath taking games this season. This, however, only points to vulnerability.
This race is not run yet.
Follow Ian Ladyman on Twitter @ian_ladyman_dm
Leaky: Papiss Cisse scored Newcastle's third goal at Old Trafford on Boxing Day
After throwing it away last season, there is no way Manchester United will allow the title to slip through their grasp this time around.
As Manchester City’s form begins to disintegrate, the main threat will come from Chelsea, but they have too much to do.
Despite their re-remergence under Rafa Benitez, United have matchwinners across every area of their forward line, which is why they will be crowned champions at the end of the season.
It barely feels like Robin van Persie has properly got going in a United, but he has still scored 13 times in the Premier League. Crucially, it is only 27 per cent of United’s goals and they can rely on Wayne Rooney (7) and Javier Hernandez (6), among others, to add to their attacking threat.
United have had 15 different goalscorers this season in the Premier League, another illustration of their firepower. Their biggest problem is at the back, but they are good enough to get away with it this season.
When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are in the Premier League next season it will be a different story.
Follow Neil Ashton on Twitter @neilashton_
Deadly: Robin van Persie struck again for United against Newcastle
Manchester United have a magnificent spirit. The will to win they displayed (yet again) against Newcastle will have a psychological impact on the chasers. Their manager has incredible instinct and unrivalled experience in a title race. With Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones fit again they will get stronger at the back, Robin van Persie will supply a steady stream goals and a seven-point gap will be difficult to close.
Yet not impossible.
Last season, United crumbled, perhaps a hint of inexperience from their younger players. Will this haunt them when it gets squeaky City are not as smooth as they were (won three of nine) but will feel the benefit when European competition starts again, while the real threat may develop from Chelsea, fast-improving under Rafa Benitez.
Chelsea would be eight behind if they won the game in hand (at home to Southampton). They have the Europa League to contend with and face some tough away fixtures, starting at Everton on Sunday. It will not be easy but they are likely to recruit next month.
A quiet confidence is growing at Stamford Bridge (won six of seven) that some of their long-standing problems are being ironed out. Rafa is relishing the prospect of a title duel with Fergie. This one is not quite over yet.
Follow Matt Barlow on Twitter @matt_barlow_dm
On the rise: Juna Mata is inspiring Chelsea's charge up the table
Alan Shearer, his wages paid by the taxpayer, told the BBC’s Match of the Day programme: ‘Manchester United will be happy’.
Seven points clear and happy. That’s some revelation.
They can’t defend, the goalkeeper looks less than happy, they’ve had to win 24 points from losing positions… and they’re STILL seven points clear. But surely it can’t be over on Boxing Day.
City are better than that. They have to start scoring soon and Chelsea’s record since losing at West Ham is 26-4 in all competitions and three straight wins in the league. Us neutrals need it to be more exciting, closer, tighter than that.
Maybe it won’t be last-kick-of-the-season-close like last time – and United clearly have it all to lose, as people like Shearer might say – but let’s hope they aren’t runaway champions.
Where is the fun, the drama… and the happiness in that
Follow Lee Clayton on Twitter @leeclayton_
Friendly face: Sir Alex Ferguson shakes hands with club mascot Fred the Red
Will anything stop Manchester United now In the aftermath of the extraordinary game against Newcastle, it’s an understandable question but it is also highly presumptuous.
In word, there are plenty of factors that can halt United’s title bid. For a start, it would be wrong to dismiss Manchester City as busted flushes. They may not be playing with the same fizz as last season but they have enough class players to embark on a sustained winning run.
The same applies for Chelsea. Rafa Benitez’s side have started keeping clean sheets now and, again, they have excellent players. In this observer’s view, they are the most likely challengers to United and a win at Old Trafford when the teams meet would certainly make things interesting.
Another aspect to consider is United’s defence. They keep conceding goals, they look vulnerable at some point in every game and there will come a point when Robin van Persie doesn’t always rescue them. And what will happen if Van Persie happens to get a lengthy injury
United, unquestionably, are hot favourites for the title and their sustained presence towards the top of the table speaks volumes for their manager’s brilliance.
But are they past the post already Not by a long shot.
Follow Dominic King on Twitter @dominicking_dm
Setback: Man City suffered yet another defeat at Sunderland in a blow to their chances
The way this season has unfolded, it’s easy to see Manchester United letting slip a seven-point lead but difficult to see Manchester City overhauling one. It’s almost as if the two Manchester clubs are doing their best to lose the title race, rather than win it.
United look more vulnerable than for years. Injury problems have caught up with Nemanja Vidic, age with Rio Ferdinand. In midfield, they look distinctly limited by their normal high standards. It would be unthinkable to describe any United side under Sir Alex Ferguson as a one-man band, but where would they be without Robin Van Persie’s goals
City have scarcely been any more convincing. Remaining unbeaten for longer than any other Barclays Premier League side sounds impressive, but the performances behind it were not. The spark just doesn’t seem to be there.
With both teams misfiring, could there yet be an opportunity for Chelsea to break the Mancunian monopoly There surely must be, and if they take it, no-one should be surprised, given three of their back four are England defenders and their attacking creativity is the envy of the land.
They have an even bigger gap to make up, though, and I still expect United’s never-say-die spirit to drag them over the line, if only because Ferguson will demand nothing less.
Follow John Edwards on Twitter @JEAlty
Suspect: Nemanja Vidic (right) is recovering from a serious knee injury
The only thing that has been consistent about the top half of the Premier League this season is its inconsistency. You can lose three in a row like West Brom and still stay in the top six, concede 28 goals and be seven points clear or experience a supposed crisis a la Arsenal and still be in the mix for a Champions League spot. It's madness.
How Manchester United fare against Real Madrid in the Champions League may impact upon their domestic fortunes, but I can't see anyone putting together a sustained run to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson's side for the title.
United have won 52 per cent of their points after going behind in matches, after all. While that says a lot about their experience, determination and dodgy defending, it says even more about the quality – or not – of the opposition.
Follow Laura Williamson on Twitter @laura_mail
Danger: Much will depend on how United fare against Ronaldo and Real Madrid
History tells us that United have failed to retain the title at the first attempt only once in the Premier League era. It also shows that when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hold this kind of advantage at the halfway stage they go on to be crowned champions.
Will it be a similar story this season Probably. Are they unstoppable No.
Ferguson has often bemoaned his team’s tendency to make life difficult for themselves, and there will be a few twists and turns yet.
Manchester City’s early exit from Europe will be an advantage when the Champions League starts up again in February, and United are still conceding far too many goals. Could they afford to lose Robin van Persie to injury
If City and Chelsea are still in contention when the Old Trafford derby rolls around on April 6, it will be very interesting. Three of United’s next four games after that are against Chelsea, Arsenal and away to Stoke. They are definitely favourites but there’s still everything to play for.
Roaring success: Jonny Evans celebrates scoring against Newcastle at Old Trafford
You only have to look at last season to realise the title race is far from done and dusted. Yes, seven points is a pretty sizeable gap but Manchester City have proved they have the minerals to close it – even though it does seem unlikely.
Keeping Robin van Persie fit will be key for United. He’s taken to life at Old Trafford like the proverbial duck to water and his all round game, not just his goals, will be pivotal.
Follow Sami Mokbel on Twitter @samimokbel81_dm
United’s remarkable resilience and superior firepower to anyone else means they are sure to win the title. The squad deserves a collective horsewhipping if they blow it from here.
Chelsea will come second and Benitez will get the chance to blow some of his owner’s money when he gets the job permanently at the end of the season, with the hate mob (temporarily) silenced.
Mancini will be fired for coming third, while Arsenal will keep Wenger on as they edge Everton for fourth.
Follow Mike Dickson on Twitter @mike_dickson_dm
Under threat: Roberto Mancini may pay a big price if he fails to win the title again
If you were at the Stadium of Light on the final day of last season, you didn’t see Sergio Aguero’s championship winning goal. You just heard about it.
The moment that news came through, the Manchester United players on the pitch had to suffer the very public humiliation of handing the Barclays Premier League trophy to their city rivals. They were mocked by Sunderland fans, and in that moment I felt the destiny this season’s title was decided.
Revenge. That is what motivates Sir Alex Ferguson. he has signed Robin van Persie just to bring even more goals to his side when it matters. And it really matters now and, after seeing them squander so many chances at Sunderland yesterday, it’s hard to see City catching them this season.
Follow Colin Young on Twitter @cyoungdailymail
This has been a highly peculiar season, even by United’s standards, and it can be viewed in two ways. Either you imagine the multitude of goals shipped will eventually prove their undoing or you figure that, as they have consistently shown, even conceding large numbers will prove no obstacle to victory. This United side have a resilience and spirit greater than any I can remember and some attacking displays have been breath-taking.
But they remain egg-shell fragile defensively and that will worry Sir Alex Ferguson. They have allowed 92 shots on target, only four fewer than QPR, and in conceding 28 goals by halfway, they have exceeded season-long totals in title-winning campaigns from 2008/09 (24), 2007/08 (22) and 2006/07 (27).
Undoubtedly Robin Van Persie is a huge player and were he to get injured City and Chelsea would sniff a chance. But goals are coming from everywhere. Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra have six between them this term having scored just three in 10 previous seasons.
Such quirky details, alongside dazzling comeback performances, tell you United want this title back badly and will win it by sheer force of personality.
Follow Laurie Whitwell on Twitter @lauriewhitwell
Helping hand: Patrice Evra (centre) has been a surprise name on the scoresheet this season
There are plenty of reasons why Manchester United are not certainties for the title and not just because I am a bitter Newcastle United supporter!
Take their shaky defence for example, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have conceded more than any other side in the top half and twice as many as at the same stage last season. All very well when Robin van Persie is banging them in at the other end but will the Dutchman stay injury free until the end of the season
And despite seemingly having sown things up by the turn of the year, Ferguson’s men only have one more point than they head this time last year. Given the trials and tribulations of their rivals surely the gap to Manchester City should be greater than seven points. Lest we forget, City were five points back at the beginning of April last year and still did the business on the final day.
This year, Mancini’s men can concentrate fully on staying in touch with their Champions League chasing neighbours while Chelsea’s resurgence under Rafa Benitez means they are not out of it yet. Furthermore, Ferguson is adamant he will not be buying in January while City and Chelsea are sure to strengthen.
There’s still lots of life left in this title race.
Follow Simon Cass on Twitter @simon_cassdm
What can stop United Well, Fernando Torres has been reunited with a manager who knows him well and knows how to get the most out of him. He’s scored seven goals in nine games under Rafa Benitez and that was after three matches getting his confidence back so that’s seven in his last six.
Add the real goalscoring Torres who was sensational in Spain and lived up to the hype initially when he came to England to Chelsea’s team and they have a side that can catch United. Three of Juan Mata, Oscar, Eden Hazard or Victor Moses behind a striker who can actually score is frightening.
Win their game in hand and Chelsea are eight points off top spot – that’s not out of sight.
Follow Sam Cunningham on Twitter @samcunningham