United boast psychological City advantage

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Football News

Manchester United hold the advantage in this year's Premier League title race. That might seem like an obvious statement, particularly after this weekend's results, but the reigning champions are now perfectly positioned to claim their 20th domestic crown.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side leapfrogged Manchester City at the top of the table following yesterday's 2-0 win over West Brom at Old Trafford - the same day that the former frontrunners were condemned to a 1-0 defeat against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.

At this stage of the campaign, it's not about being the best team or having the best players. It's about having the bottle and the belief to win the title - something that only comes with experience - an attribute that money cannot buy.

Roberto Mancini's men have improved greatly since last year, but they don't have the experience of winning a title. And because the first one is so much harder to win than the fifth, sixth, or in Ferguson's case the 13th - United definitely have the edge.

Tottenham's recent slump has ended their slim hopes of claiming the title, and the Red Devils have now laid down a marker for their inner city rivals, sending out a statement of their intent. It's now down to the Citizens to respond, and rise to the challenge posed in a two-horse race for the finishing post, albeit against the odds.

There's also a different dynamic to a title race when you are vying with your closest rivals, with Liverpool and Everton the most recent neighbouring sides to challenge for England's top prize back in the 1980s. That is now but a distant memory, as the red and blue sides of Manchester look set to continue their new-found monopoly over Premier League counterparts.

Clearly the game between the two teams at the Etihad Stadium on April 30 is going to be pivotal, and potentially decisive in the eventual destination of the domestic crown this season, but there is still plenty of football to be played between now and then. There is no such thing as a guaranteed three points, particularly as the business end of the campaign approaches, as both Manchester clubs have found out to their detriment over the past few months.

United's back-to-back losses at home to basement battlers Blackburn Rovers on New Years Eve, and away at Newcastle United at the turn of the year, provides clear proof that nothing can be taken for granted. City looked leggy and struggled against Brendan Rodgers' Swans side this weekend - an unexpected turn of events.

Six weeks ago, City's players would have seen United facing games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham and expected them to find it tough going. But, after successfully coming through those ties unscathed with three victories and a draw, Ferguson's charges don't play another top-six side until their meeting with Mancini's men, who still face Chelsea at home and Arsenal away.

With just one point currently separating the two teams at the Premier League summit, one of the most closely contested rivalries looks set to go right to the wire. City's home advantage at the end of April may prove decisive, as could the mental supremacy derived from the 6-1 thrashing in the reverse fixture back in October - a result that inflicted United to their worst home defeat since February 1955.

But, Manchester United's players are conditioned in the art of winning, and more recent results will have had a psychological as well as a mathematical impact on this year's title race.

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