An examination of the February fixture lists for the Premier League title contenders

After 23 Premier League matches, the two Manchester clubs are level on points at the top of the table

February's arrival sees the Premier League's two clubs from Manchester level on points at the top of the table after 23 matches. Trailing them by 5 points is North London side Totthenham Hotspur. Further in the wake are Chelsea FC, Newcastle United, Liverpool FC, and Arsenal FC -- each are likely out of the title race but they are in a frantic fight for fourth.

Just like Manchester United, Manchester City have been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions and the UEFA Champions League. Therefore, the main aim for both clubs is to lift the Premier League trophy come the end of May. The involvement in the Europa League for both clubs is undoubtedly a competition that has secondary priority. For Spurs, there is no more European involvement for the remainder of this season and the only other competition they are involved in still -- besides league play -- is the FA Cup.

Because of United's relative early exits from their domestic cup competitions and in Champions League, their February fixture isn't as congested as it typically is. Neither is City's nor Spurs' due to their similar elimination from numerous competitions. Therefore, each club will essentially be playing one match a week during the upcoming month and the need for squad rotation will be minimal at this time.

The chart below shows the fixture lists in all competitions for the three title contending clubs in February. I've extended the list to March 4 because that is the date of an important league clash between United and Spurs.

The Busby Babe

Date

Manchester City

Manchester United

Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24

2/4, 2/5, 2/6

Fulham

(a) Chelsea

(a) Liverpool

Week 25

2/12, 2/11, 2/11

(a) Aston Villa

Liverpool

Newcastle

Europa

2/16, 2/16, ---

(a) Porto

(a) Ajax

------------------

FA Cup

---, ---, 2/19

-------------------

-------------------

(a) Stevenage

Europa

2/22, 2/23, ---

Porto

Ajax

------------------

Week 26

2/25, 2/26, 2/26

Blackburn

(a) Norwich

(a) Arsenal

Week 27

3/3, 3/4, 3/4

Bolton

(a) Tottenham

United

* For each date listed, the 1st one is for City, the 2nd is for United, the 3rd is for Spurs.

Manchester City

Quite simply, an extremely favorable fixture list awaits City in the near future. Roberto Mancini's side should be heavy favorites in each of their home league matches versus Fulham, Blackburn, and Bolton. In addition, they will be favorites as well when they travel to Villa Park for an away tie with Aston Villa. Soon enough, the 'noisy neighbours' will see the return of Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure from the African Cup of Nations while captain Vincent Kompany has recently returned from a four-match ban. Mario Balotelli has been troubled by a knee injury but his return is expected soon. These next four weeks or so presents a great opportunity for City to take control of the title race prior to the run-in.

Manchester United

In contrast to City, United's fixture list in the upcoming weeks looks quite challenging. This upcoming weekend sees Sir Alex Ferguson's side travel to Stamford Bridge for a league tie with Chelsea -- a match that the bookmakers see the odds of victory, defeat, or draw essentially as even. Following that is a clash with rival Livepool at Old Trafford.

In mid-February, United travel to Amsterdam to face Ajax for the first part of a two-legged Europa League knockout stage tie. The return fixture at Old Trafford is the following week. Because no other matches are sandwiched in between these Ajax fixtures, Fergie may use a strong side in order to keep his regulars sharp and fit. Perhaps though, Fergie instead uses these matches as an opportunity to give his many returning players from injury -- potentially Ashley Young, Nani, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Michael Owen, and Phil Jones -- a run. These matches could also be used to give squad players like Rafael, Fabio, and Dimitar Berbatov more playing time than they've recently been given. It also could present an opportunity to give more first-team playing time for youngsters Paul Pogba, Zeki Fryers, Will Keane, and Michael Keane, and Ben Amos.

Following the Ajax matches is an away trip to Norwich City. Paul Lambert's side is a promoted one but they've impressed as their 11th in the table standing indicates. Three points is far from a given at Carrow Road. United should be thrilled if they are somehow top of the table or level on points with City after their trip to White Hart Lane on March 4 comes to an end. If they they trail City by three points or less at that time, Fergie likely will still be content as his side will be still be well-positioned for the run-in after enduring a difficult run of fixtures. Closing the gap on City during the past midweek was massive.

Tottenham Hotspur

The two Manchester clubs are the definite favorites at this time for the title but Harry Redknapp's side appears to be formidable contenders as well. Just as United though, Spurs face some difficult league fixtures during this time and it's possible that when March arrives, their realistic hopes for the title could be over. However, a victory over United on March 4 could be massive for their title-contending credentials. Prior to that match though, the North Londoners face challenging league ties: away to Liverpool, 5th in the table Newcastle, and a North London derby with Arsenal at the Emirates.

Where do you think United will sit in the league table after March 4? Who do you think the leaders at that time will be? How many teams will be legitimate contenders then? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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