thumbnail Hello,

According to results since January 1, David Moyes' Toffees are the top two's closest challengers while Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas face difficult jobs at their new clubs

ANALYSIS
By Oliver Platt

Sir Alex Ferguson will have endured few more dispiriting moments in his long career than the one in which he learned of Sergio Aguero's famous swing of his right boot but beyond that crushing blow he may have reason to be cheerful about his club's prospects of toppling their mega-rich rivals.

The 2011-12 title race, after all of its twists and turns, came down to just six matches. Six matches in which Manchester City recorded six victories while Manchester United managed just three, losing to Roberto Mancini's eventual champions as well as Wigan Athletic and drawing against Everton.

If there is any truth to the cliché that dictates that the Premier League season is a marathon, and not a sprint, however, United may just have the edge this time around.

The 2012 Premier League table - compiled by Infostrada Sports - reveals that Ferguson's team hold a three point gap over City in top flight matches played since January 1 with a game in hand.

THE 2012 PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE
Team

1. Man United
2. Man City
3. Everton
4. Arsenal
...............
5. Chelsea
6. Newcastle
7. Fulham
8. Tottenham
9. West Brom
10. Swansea
11. Wigan
12. Sun'land
13. Norwich
14. Stoke
15. QPR
16. Liverpool
17. Aston Villa
18. West Ham*
19. So'ton*
20. Reading*

P


24
25
26
24
...
24
24
24
25
25
24
24
24
24
24
24
24
24
5
5
4

W

18
16
12
12
...
12
13
13
10
10
10
9
7
7
4
6
5
3
2
1
0
D

2
5
9
7
...
7
4
2
8
5
4
5
10
7
11
4
5
10
2
0
1
L

4
4
5
5
...
5
7
9
7
10
10
10
7
10
9
14
14
11
1
4
3

Pts

56
53
45
43
.....
43
43
41
38
35
34
32
31
28
23
22
20
19
8
3
1

That comes down to United's impressive form in the second half of last season following the return of Paul Scholes from retirement. After losing their first game of 2012 against Newcastle United, the Red Devils proceeded to win 11 of their next 12 and only dropped points when they drew at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

City finished the season in style but lost to Sunderland, Everton, Swansea City and Arsenal from New Year's Day onwards and have opened this season with three points less than United from their first five fixtures.

Over nearly ten months - the Premier League season itself is nine months long - United have been the better side and that indicates that Mancini might have some thinking to do following the arrivals of the likes of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa at Old Trafford.

Perhaps of even more interest, though, is the identity of the club closest to the two that proved immovable at the summit of the table last season. The 2012 standings illustrate that Everton, who currently sit third after an impressive start to the new campaign, are genuine contenders for a top four berth this time around.

Another superb victory, this time by three goals away to Swansea, has propelled David Moyes' team above Arsenal into third place since the turn of the year. The Gunners have two games in hand over the Toffees but their record of just five defeats in 26 matches is remarkable.

Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle are clustered behind the top two but despite the positive early impressions made by the first three of those clubs this season, a significant improvement will be needed if they are to displace either of the Manchester sides.

There is work to do for Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham, who find themselves behind not only those four teams but also former manager Martin Jol and Fulham. Spurs have failed to win 15 of their last 25 matches - 12 of 20 under previous boss Harry Redknapp - and when that is taken into consideration their start to 2012-13 suddenly looks all the more reasonable, with back-to-back wins now racked up against Reading and QPR.

On their tails are West Brom and Swansea, whose new managers Steve Clarke and Michael Laudrup have so far indicated that they will carry on the good work done by Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers respectively. Roberto Martinez and Martin O'Neill, meanwhile, pulled Wigan and Sunderland out of trouble with improved form in the second half of the 2011-12 season.

Norwich City, Stoke City and QPR face challenging campaigns ahead. Tony Pulis' team have won just four times since January and are yet to collect three points from a match this season, while Chris Hughton has considerable shoes to fill following the departure of Paul Lambert from the Carrow Road hot seat.

Rodgers, though, is perhaps up against it more than any other. Staggeringly, Liverpool have won just five of their past 24 games and collected less points after January 1 than Bolton Wanderers, who were relegated, last season. The Reds have less than half as many points as Everton, their Merseyside rivals who have for so long lived in their shadow.

Only Aston Villa - who were without key players such as Stiliyan Petrov and Darren Bent for long periods - have been worse. Rodgers faces the unenviable job of not only educating his players in his distinctive brand of football but of reviving the fortunes of an ailing side that, on the evidence of almost ten months, is worse than the one he left.

*Teams promoted from the Championship in 2011-12 season

Follow Oliver Platt on

Related

From the web