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Stoppage Time: Let the two-horse race begin
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
(Sports Network) - There may still be 23 games to play in the English Premiership season, but after this past weekend, it's safe to say that the title will remain in Manchester.
The only question now is whether the ribbons on the cup itself will be blue or red.
A lot can still happen between now and the final weekend in May. However, it is most likely that this season's last few weeks will play out in a similar fashion to last term, with City and United sitting a notch above the rest of the league.
It's not a surprise to see the two Manchester clubs occupying the top two places in the table, but what is a bit of a stunner is the fact that there already appears to be no viable contender to crash their little party.
The Red Devils ended the weekend three points clear of City with the two sides set for a showdown at the Etihad Stadium next Sunday.
After that, the picture becomes very muddled.
As defending European champions, Chelsea looked the part early in the season with seven wins and a draw in its first eight games.
Yet since that positive start, the club has failed to win any of its last seven games in the league, including a 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday.
The fact that Chelsea has still managed to maintain third place says a lot about the rest of the league as well.
Popular manager Roberto Di Matteo was fired a few weeks ago and replaced by the very unpopular Rafael Benitez, who has seen his new team score one goal in three games and collect only two points.
The team is clearly in a state of flux with striker Fernando Torres once again off the pace, while there appears to be a lack of leadership with Frank Lampard and John Terry watching from the bench, and last season's hero, Didier Drogba, plying his trade in China.
Chelsea has talent, but at this point the club would be wise to invest in a striker come January and hope that Benitez can manage to turn things around quickly.
The Blues needed to win the Champions League just to get back into the competition this season after finishing fifth in the league last year.
A top-four finish will be required this time, and based on results over the past month, it would be an accomplishment.
Arsenal has been a side that has always managed to finish in the top four under Arsene Wenger, with the Gunners occasionally hanging around the top two places.
But this season has been a disaster for the Frenchman as his team sits in 10th place after a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea City over the weekend.
The Gunners have won once in their last six league games, and the departure of star striker Robin van Persie is becoming more glaring as the season goes on with Wenger unable to find a consistent threat up top.
Arsenal may not have been a serious title threat in each of the past 15 seasons under Wenger, but they have always managed to reach the Champions League.
That streak will be severely tested this time around.
The team that has shown the most promise recently has been Tottenham as manager Andre Villas-Boas appears to have steadied the ship after a rocky start to the campaign.
Tottenham failed to win any of its first three games but has rattled off three successive victories to move level with Chelsea on 26 points.
The gap between themselves and second-place City is still seven points, and after challenging the top two for a large part of the season last year, Spurs fell short down the stretch.
Villas-Boas has put together a talented roster, but like last season, it's hard to see the club having enough depth to run with the lead pack through May.
The most worrying thing for the rest of the league isn't the fact that United and City have built up an early lead.
It's the fact that Manchester's teams have jumped out to an early lead while playing well below their best.
City is the only unbeaten team in the league, but the club has looked vulnerable on more than a few occasions having been held to six draws in 15 games.
The club didn't keep its first clean sheet this season until the seventh game of the campaign, and although the back line has been much better over the past month, the high number of draws indicates a lack of the killer instinct that defined City last term.
United may sit three points clear at the top of the league having won 12 of its first 15 games, but things have been far from straightforward for Sir Alex Ferguson's side.
With 37 goals in 15 games the Red Devils have the most prolific offense in the league, but it has been needed to mask a defense that has been nothing short of shocking at times.
United has already conceded the first goal in 10 of its 15 games, yet the dynamic attack turned things around to win seven of those matches.
Saturday's 4-3 win over Reading has epitomized the season so far as the Royals netted three goals in the game's first 23 minutes against a hopeless United defense.
But once again the offense bailed the team out and the win moved the club three points clear.
Both teams have plenty of room for improvement but both are still far and away better than the rest, and the gap only figures to get wider.
City will actually benefit from being eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage, while United has plenty of depth and enough experience to fight battles on multiple fronts.
Sunday's Manchester derby will not be decisive in the race for the league title.
But it will feature the only two contenders.
12/03 13:52:39 ET
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