Winning ugly still holds title key

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This weekend's FA Cup fifth round ties have taken some of the focus away from one of the most exciting Premier League title races in years.

Manchester City and Manchester United are currently going head-to-head in the race for the title, with Harry Redknapp's free-flowing Tottenham Hotspur still in with a shout of springing a surprise.

And, whilst Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson will not admit it, it's clear that the challenge ends there. Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Liverpool are fighting for fourth, but they won't be in the title shake-up in May.

It's the Red Devils who are favourites, given their track-record in the race for the title. Under Ferguson, United have perfected the end-of-season run-in since the league's inception 20 years ago.

Victory in the title race doesn't come from emphatic 5-0 wins, but the scrappy results that can make the difference after 38 games of the domestic season.

City know all too well that winning ugly holds the key to the title, with Nigel De Jong believing Roberto Mancini's side have worked out the key to success this season.

"There will be times when you aren't playing well and that is when you have to show that you have good character. Earlier in the season, we weren't just winning games we were playing some beautiful football," said the Dutchman.

"Other teams have learnt from that and now they know they have to stop us from playing. In the last few games we have proved that we now have another way of winning, by grinding out results.

"If we win 1-0 until the end of the season we'll finish top."

With players like Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure also within the ranks at the Etihad Stadium, the Citizens certainly don't lack 'grafters' who are happy to fight for victory.

In many ways, they are more equipped than United for the battle this season, with injuries taking their toll.

As for Spurs, they certainly have a player capable of making the key defensive plays in midfield, with Scott Parker shining at White Hart Lane this season.

But, their free-flowing style of play does enable teams to score goals against them, and is a trait that will ultimately cost them their chance at the title. True, they play the best football in the league, but it won't win them the crown they so crave.

With that in mind, it's a two-horse race. And, if it's horses for courses, then United have been on this path before and know exactly what is needed, when it's needed.

But, with the type of players Mancini has within his camp, plus the style of play he's used to operating from his time in Italy, City won't be a roll over this time around.

Expect this title race to go to the wire, and in a season with so many high-scoring games, 1-0 will be the result for the top two to remember from here until the end.

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