The Ides of March

Posted by Mark Payne

Robin van Persie receives treatment on an injury against QPRGettyImagesThe outcome of Robin van Persie's injury could heavily influence United's title hopes

Far too many people are accepting the Premier League title race to be a done deal. Whilst United are indeed in as good a position as possible, there are a number of reasons to be prudent when assessing the club's chances of domestic glory this season. Prominent among those are the upcoming fixtures and the recent past. The fat lady has not even cleared her throat yet.

Momentum is key in any long distance battle and at present United are hurtling along at a grand old pace. They have won eight of their last ten games and that run has famously brought them twelve points clear. However, after an indifferent set of results, City have just beaten European champions Chelsea, and in rather impressive fashion too.

The match on Sunday was the kind that reminds players how good they are. Many of City's players will look at that performance and wonder why they languish so far behind United. Good runs don't last forever, and if, for example, United drew with Norwich at the weekend and then lost to Madrid, their confidence could dip - just as City's perks up.

Whilst most would concede that Ferguson is too experienced a manager to let them squander the current lead, many will remember that he has done it before. In fact, he has done it three times before, and United surrendered an unassailable lead as recently as last May.

On another occasion in the recent past, United held a twelve point lead as late as March 1. That was in 1998 and an Arsenal win at Old Trafford sent them on a record-breaking run that ended with the title. City goalkeeper Joe Hart said yesterday, "we're going to have a damn good go" at reclaiming the trophy. After United's accomplished but slightly lacklustre win at QPR, it pays to remain wary of the Citizens.

Besides, City more than most have a vested interest in United not winning the championship. Similarly, Leeds United in 1992 took great pleasure in watching the Red Devils snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Leeds were relentless in clocking up wins towards the end of the campaign and, in a clustered April, United horribly botched it at Anfield.

United have already travelled to Anfield this season and emerged victorious after van Persie scored a late winner. The Dutchman is rightfully considered to be the missing piece of United's puzzle and the reason their fortunes are different, so far, this time out. But there has been no word out of Old Trafford yet about the bruised hip he suffered at QPR on Saturday. An injury to him would be a serious setback.

The sport is littered with examples of those who celebrate early ending up in embarrassing predicaments. The correct time to celebrate is when it is mathematically certain nobody else can win. Then check. Then celebrate. In the meantime, it pays to respect the opponents and the battle ahead. Nobody needs reminding of what happened last May. And nobody wants a repeat.

It ain't over yet.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

ESPN Conversations