Of all the advantages Manchester United possess in what will be a frantic race for the title, the most commonly cited is that of experience. Of the starting line-up Sir Alex Ferguson employed against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, onlyfour players, Danny Welbeck, David de Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, had not won a Premier League title – and they are all in their first full season at Old Trafford.
Kolo Touré is the only member of the side that finished Manchester City's 2-0 win over Bolton who knows the peculiar stresses that come with winning a championship in England. His brother, Yaya, has won La Liga with Barcelona while Edin Dzeko celebrated the Bundesliga title with a vast cigar on the pitch at Wolfsburg. However, the Premier League is subtly different and the key to winning it, in Kolo Touré's eyes, is to keep calm and carry on.
"It is going to get tougher and tougher because it will get more intense, but we need to keep our heads cool," he said, acknowledging that most of the stresses would be mental rather than physical at end of a nine-month season with no winter break. "Definitely, because you do feel the pressure from other teams," added Touré, part of the Arsenal side that marched through an entire season unbeaten. "You want to deliver but, at the same time, you have to keep calm and play as you usually do.
"We are taking every game so seriously. Against Bolton, there was 100 per cent concentration from us for 95 minutes and, if we keep going like that, we will win the league."
Sir Alex Ferguson's side have another advantage, a considerably easier run-in. Putting aside what is likely to be the biggest Manchester derby anyone can remember, the average position of United's remaining opponents is 14th. For Roberto Mancini's men it is 10th and, United apart, they will face five teams now in the top 10.
United will face only two other opponents who are currently in their half of the table; at home to Fulham, who since 1963 have lost 15 of their 16 league games at Old Trafford, and West Bromwich Albion, whose last victory in the red part of Manchester came in 1978.
Mancini will hope to be free of off-field distractions that have revolved continually around Carlos Tevez – who tonight will make his first appearance in front of City supporters for six months, when he plays for the reserves in the Manchester Senior Cup against Bolton Wanderers – and Mario Balotelli.
Raffaella Fico, the Italian model whom Balotelli's family credit with introducing some stability into his life since becoming his girlfriend, yesterday accused the British tabloid press of being "totally bitter" about his private life. "When you're young, you do certain things without stopping to think whether they are right or wrong," said Ms Fico, a frequent visitor to Manchester from her home in Milan. "The goals he scores are more important than his private life. For me, he can also go to a strip club if he does nothing wrong."
Title race the run-in
West Bromwich (h)
Man United (h)
West Bromwich (h)
Aston Villa (h)
Man City (a)