The Manchester Derby on Sunday might not decide the title race but it will put to bed any notion that there are more than two teams capable of picking up the trophy.
It took until the last seconds of the last game to separate City and United last season and already the pair are poised to pull clear of their title rivals.
Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and even Liverpool started the season full of optimism that a six-week break – or a change of manager – can bring as they restocked their squads, all of them determined to break Manchester’s stranglehold.
Just over a third of the way through the season they have all drifted like barges in Paddy Power’s online betting and are now 12/1 (13.0), 80/1 (81.0), 66/1 (67.0) and 200/1 (201.0) respectively to lift the Premier League Trophy.
Chelsea’s fall from grace has been the most spectacular. The Champions League winners and FA Cup champions under Roberto Di Matteo picked up 22 out of a possible 24 points from their opening eight Premier League matches and looked serious contenders.
Then a 3-2 defeat at home by Manchester United started a downward spiral that resulted in two points from a possible nine – and Di Matteo’s untimely exit after a poor Champions League campaign that saw them eliminated on Wednesday night.
New man Rafa Benitez’s first three games in charge yielded two points, one goal and a lot of ill will. The journey home from Sunderland on Saturday will be twice as long if Chelsea don’t win but they are still 1/4 (1.25) shots to finish in the top four this season.
Arsenal came closest to the north-west powerhouses last season finishing 19 points adrift in third place after a slow start. But the pre-season switch by Robin Van Persie to Old Trafford – robbing the Gunners of their 35-goal striker – means it looks increasingly likely that they will not win another Premier League title under Arsene Wenger’s reign.
They already trail United by 15 points ahead of the weekend visit of surprise packages West Brom and haven’t won any of their last three league games. Wenger’s proud record of never failing to qualify for the Champions League is under threat again this season and the Gunners are just even money (2.0) to finish in the top four .
For every step forward Spurs take – they seem to take two steps back. Three successive wins were preceded by three losses on the bounce but Andre Villas-Boas’ squad are well-equipped to take advantage of their rival’s slip-ups.
The 11/10 (2.10) for them to break into the top four this season looks a bet to nothing ahead of Saturday’s trip to Everton.
Of the other contenders – in name at least – Liverpool – who take on West Ham on Sunday – remain a work in progress and their thread-bare squad are just two points off Arsenal on 19 points in 11th place.
They’re 5/1 (6.0) to finish in the top four but their fortunes seem overly reliant on in-form striker Luis Suarez staying injury-free all season. This is a transition year for the Reds under Brendan Rodgers and it may be next year before they can be backed with certainty.
Merseyside rivals Everton flirted with the top four earlier in the season but strong start has been undone by seven draws in nine games. With bigger clubs reportedly sniffing around leading scorer Marouane Fellaini the Toffees are vulnerable to losing a player or two in the January transfer window.
Moyes has shown his ability to manage on small budgets but doesn’t need that type of disruption when the business end of the season starts to bite.
Spurs at 11/10 (2.10) to finish in the top four and prove there’s life after Harry looks the best bet.
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Jim Knight is Betting Editor at Goal.com and has been tipping football games since he was old enough to place a bet. He is a Leicester City fan, writer and member of the We Are Going Up Podcast
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