They will definitely have to overturn a seven-point lead to retain the title. They will probably have to accumulate more than 90 points to do it. However, as the race at the top of the Premier League pauses briefly for the FA Cup, there is a quiet confidence at Manchester City that they can do it.
Vincent Kompany, the man who lifted the trophy last May, is not ready to let go just yet. "What I would say is that if a couple of years ago we had fallen seven points behind we would all have said to ourselves that it would be very difficult.
"But now we have done it and won the championship, nobody panics. Everything is still possible. We have proved what we can do and everybody is very calm. That's the advantage you get when you win it once. You have that inner confidence and, although the media and the fans can get excited, we don't."
Nevertheless, the City captain recognises that it will need an enormous, effort to overcome a Manchester United side on course to rack up 94 points – more than any other club in Premier League history bar Chelsea in 2005. Sir Alex Ferguson's team has exactly the same number of points as Jose Mourinho's did at the same stage of that 2004-05 season – and a bigger lead.
"The reason we are not closer to United is not that we have been playing badly," said Kompany, whose side has collected six fewer points than at the corresponding stage of last season.
"We have only lost two games, which is not a bad record at this stage. But United are doing extremely well and, if they continue to play like they have been doing, it will be difficult. But we are perfectly capable of having a long winning streak that will bring us very close.
"It is a big challenge but that doesn't make it any less interesting," he added. "We have set our standards high and have worked hard for a long time to bring ourselves into this position. We are not going to let it slip now. When you have won the title, you aim for another one. That is not just the ambition for 2013 but for the future of the club."
The loss of Yaya Touré to the African Cup of Nations is a serious blow to the champions. Should Ivory Coast reach the final in Johannesburg, Yaya and his brother, Kolo, will not return to action until the FA Cup fifth round on February 16 – assuming City make it that far.
Nevertheless, City coped well enough without them last season and Kompany argued that they possess enough firepower to deal with the loss of Sergio Aguero, who dazzled in the 3-0 home win over Stoke on New Year's Day but will be missing for at least two weeks with a hamstring injury.
"Yaya has played every game; that shows you how important he is for the team but that is something we will have to deal with," said Kompany. "It is like having an injury, it happens. We believe we have enough players to step up and make the difference.
"When you look at the strikers we have, not scoring goals should never be a problem in your season. We are back on target and defending well. When you start a new year, it allows you to start a clean sheet and forget what has gone before. We have done it in every way possible against Stoke – a clean sheet at the back and three goals."
The one advantage they have over United – that City are no longer involved in European football – is not one they would want. The second successive failure to qualify from the Champions League group stages has left a stain at the Etihad Stadium.
"There was a real willingness for the team to go into that competition and come back with some great results," said Kompany. "It is not as easy as people might imagine but by the end of this season we will be back in the Champions League and by the end of 2013 the challenge will be to show we are a lot better than what we have done so far.
"You should not dwell on the drama that we have not gone past the Champions League group stages because the future here is much brighter than that."
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