Sir Alex received the perfect early present for his 26th anniversary as manager when United went top in November’s first weekend. Prior to City and Chelsea both being held away, by West Ham and Swansea respectively, the Reds beat Arsenal 2-1 with van Persie inevitably on the scoresheet against his old club. The new league leaders then produced a classic comeback at Aston Villa (3-2 up from 2-0 down) but slipped seven days later to a turning-point defeat at Norwich. Stung, the Reds strung together five straight wins in response, starting with QPR and West Ham back-to-back at OT. Chelsea only picked up three points from four November games, including a dull goalless draw at home to City, and manager Di Matteo was sacked.
United - 1st (33 points); Man City - 2nd (32 points); Chelsea - 3rd (26 points)
The festive month featured three of United’s most thrilling victories. All the goals were scored before the break as Reading were eventually overcome 4-3, Hernandez netted in the 90th minute to beat Newcastle by the same score on Boxing Day and, sandwiched in between, there was the Manchester derby. City cancelled out Rooney’s first-half double through Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta but the dust was still settling after the latter’s late equaliser when van Persie won it with his deflected free-kick. Compared to those three games, wins over Sunderland and West Brom, and certainly a draw at Swansea, were rather more mundane but still helped extend the Reds’ lead to seven points by New Year’s Eve – Sir Alex’s 71st birthday.
United - 1st (49 points); Man City - 2nd (42 points); Chelsea - 3rd (38 points)
The same seven-point gap between United and City was in place at the end of January, although Chelsea fell further behind after losing at home to QPR and only drawing with Southampton and Reading. The Manchester rivals matched each other with three wins and a stalemate apiece, a notable day being Sunday 13 when United beat Liverpool and City replied by winning at Arsenal. The Reds also thrashed Wigan 4-0 away on New Year’s Day and scraped past Southampton 2-1.
United - 1st (59 points); Man City - 2nd (52 points); Chelsea - 3rd (46 points)
Only nine league points were up for grabs and, while City dropped five of theirs, United claimed the lot with three solid wins. Fulham’s resistance was broken by Rooney’s late winner at Craven Cottage, Everton were defeated