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Goal.com nominates the top three standout performers for Sir Alex Ferguson's Premier League champions-elect in 2012-13. Vote for your winner in our exclusive poll

After losing their crown so dramatically in 2011-12 - worse, to their "noisy neighbours" - there was no doubt Manchester United would be giving it everything in pursuit of the Premier League title this season.

Almost in spite of the flaws that remained in their squad, the Red Devils are now on the brink of confirming their landmark 20th English league trophy and would break the record for the highest-ever points total if they win all of their remaining games.

As in any title triumph, it has taken a team effort and plenty of players have impressed for Sir Alex Ferguson's side in bulldozing their way to the top of the table. Old hands like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have featured less and less but still made key contributions now and then, while the likes of Jonny Evans and David de Gea have grown in stature. Wayne Rooney's performances have not drawn his usual acclaim but still he boasts a fine statistical record.

For the latest in its series looking at all of Europe's top clubs, however, Goal.com has narrowed down the candidates for United's Player of the Season to just three names. Look them over and leave a comment if you disagree!

ROBIN VAN PERSIE | STRIKER
Competition Games
Goals Assists Booked
Sent off
League 32 20 8 5 0
FA Cup 4 1 0 0 0
Capital One Cup 0 0 0 0 0
Europe 6 3 0 2 0
Total 42 24 8 7 0

Perhaps the single standout candidate to win PFA Player of the Year before his 10-game goalless slump - which ended with a strike against Stoke City - threw the field back open, Robin van Persie has widely been regarded as the season's most game-changing signing.

Successfully prised from Arsenal and away from the clutches of Manchester City, the Dutchman immediately set about making himself a hero at Old Trafford, with a series of key goals in the first half of the campaign. His vital contributions included a match-saving hat-trick against Southampton as well as his deflected injury-time free kick that won the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium in December.

Though his form has dipped in recent matches and others have stepped up to carry the extra weight, Van Persie's devastatingly clinical finishing set United apart from the word go. It may be too simplistic to call him the difference between the top two but the argument is there to be made.

MICHAEL CARRICK | MIDFIELDER
Competition Games
Goals Assists Booked
Sent off
League 31 1 4 3 0
FA Cup 5 0 1 0 0
Capital One Cup 0 0 0 0 0
Europe 5 1 0 1 0
Total 41 2 5 4 0

At times this season, United fans have been heard repeating the refrain: "Ho, ho, ho, it's Carrick, you know, never believe it's not Scholes" for full half-hour periods. Among other things, 2012-13 may go down as the season in which the 31-year-old is finally recognised by a majority of the football-watching public as one of the best central midfielders around.

With Paul Scholes now playing less often, while no much-hyped big signing has filled the void, some had started the year concerned. But Carrick's consistent, understated excellence has rewarded Sir Alex Ferguson's faith.

United boast no destroyer in the middle of the park but the England man has refined his ability to intercept attacks this term, as well as being a reliable man to then turn that defensive move into an attacking one through impeccable passing. The likes of Van Persie have taken the headlines but Carrick's contribution should not be underestimated.

RAFAEL DA SILVA | FULL-BACK
Competition Games
Goals Assists Booked
Sent off
League 24 3 3 5
0
FA Cup 4 0 0 0 0
Capital One Cup 1 0 0 0 0
Europe 7 0 0 2 0
Total 36 3 3 7 0

An outsider choice? Perhaps. Rafael has not been an ever-present for Manchester United, nor has he got the goals or assists to match more celebrated colleagues like Wayne Rooney. But the Brazilian's maturation this season has been one of the most important for this still-developing team.

Though not yet the finished article, the young right-back has progressed from raw near-liability to consistent threat. His discipline has tightened and his thrust has grown more forceful. With the legs to make his presence felt at both ends, the 22-year-old has solidified his hold on a position that had not been fully claimed since Gary Neville's retirement.

As well as his tireless work up and down the flank, Rafael has also provided some of the most spectacular moments of United's season, with truly excellent goals against Liverpool and QPR that any Red Devils great would be proud to call their own.

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