As this Premier League season ploughs into March, and with nearly three quarters of the campaign done and dusted, we are fast approaching the ‘business end’ of term.
With spring nearly sprung and just 11 fixtures left to be played in just over two months, talk of the title destination seems just about ripe.
This weekend confirmed that Tottenham Hotspur are not genuine contenders after they lost 3-1 at home, but it did reiterate that the league trophy will be heading to Manchester come May.
And it will be arriving into Old Trafford. Manchester City may have overcome Bolton on Saturday with a routine 2-0 win and stand two points clear of their Red Devil rivals in the table, but the smart money remains on Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
City have resembled a juggernaut at times this year, racking up wins with attacking play that often excites and enthrals their fans. For their part, United have been slightly off-colour compared with their normal selves. That is until now.
A clinical display of finishing at White Hart Lane on Sunday ended the threat of third place Spurs and emphasised the ‘momentum’ that United possess at this current time.
It seems erroneous to dismiss City considering their form and finesse, but the argument offers sensible realism when you consider the two clubs’ contrasting fixtures ahead of the mouth-watering Manchester derby at the end of April.
Before that stupendously important clash City face Swansea (a), Chelsea (h), Stoke (a), Sunderland (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h) Norwich and Wolves (both away).
On the other hand United are looking at a fixture list of West Brom (h), Wolves (a) Fulham (h), Blackburn (a), QPR (h), Wigan (a), Aston Villa and Everton (both home).
It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that these differing schedules will have Mancini edgy and Ferguson excited.
United avoid the entire top seven in the run up to the big derby, whilst City encounter four of the top 10 and face slick Swansea, sharpened Sunderland and nuggety Norwich too.
City haven’t topped England’s league system since 1968, when it was the old first division, and considering their upcoming games, they won’t do so in 2012.
United hold all the cards when it comes to experience, having won the league a staggering 12 times under Fergie’s control, and in Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs they contain three veterans who can guide the younger players on the pitch.
Mancini has showed signs of frailty so far during his short but fairly distinguished managerial career. European failings with Inter Milan and leaving Fiorentina financially bankrupt are black marks on the Italian tactician’s C.V. whilst the former Leicester striker has looked under pressure at points this campaign.
Does he have the bottle to edge out a club that have won the most domestic titles in the English game and with a tradition of recent success unparalleled in this country?
That is the question Mancini will need to answer if he is to become the first City manager to secure Premier League success.
Fergie has seen his best offensive players return to form at the most pleasing of points, with Wayne Rooney rampant and Ashley Young superb against Spurs.
He will also welcome back injured trio Anderson, Tom Cleverly and Chris Smalling in the coming days, and is exuding confidence in his team’s chances of coming top.
It is always a gamble to back a team for the title when there is still 11 games to be played, but when that team’s manager announces: "We know exactly what we've got to do, we won't be nervous," just after they have seen off the challenge of a rival, you know they are the real deal.
City may be pretenders to the throne, but United are the safe bet.
Follow Jamie Dickenson @jdickenson2010