MANCHESTER, United Kingdom - Manchester United won the Premier League title race on Monday, cantering to the finish line with four games still to play.
Here, AFP Sports looks at the twists and turns in the battle for the English crown over the last nine months of the 2012-13 campaign:
United's bid to wrestle the title back from Manchester City starts in tame fashion with a lackluster display in a 1-0 defeat at Everton, 24 hours after the champions kick off with a 3-2 home win over newly promoted Southampton.
But Robin van Persie, who made his United debut as a substitute in that loss, gets Alex Ferguson's men up and running with a goal on his Old Trafford debut in a 3-2 win over Fulham, while City are held to a 2-2 draw at Liverpool.
Van Persie underlines why Ferguson was willing to spend £24 million ($37 million, 28 million euros) to lure him from Arsenal as the Dutch forward scores twice in the last three minutes to complete a hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Southampton. Van Persie makes the decisive intervention at Liverpool as well, his late penalty earning a 2-1 victory, but United's run of four successive wins is ended by Tottenham Hotspur, whose 3-2 victory at Old Trafford is their first there since 1989.
Fortunately for United, City's draws with Stoke City and Arsenal hint at an unconvincing title defense.
There is an ominous look to United as they thrash Newcastle United 3-0 at St James' Park and then hit four against Stoke, before Javier Hernandez's late strike snatches a dramatic 3-2 win at nine-man Chelsea.
That result leaves United one point behind early leaders Chelsea and one place ahead of City, who reel off three wins against Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City.
Van Persie takes just three minutes to score against his old club as Arsenal are beaten 2-1 at Old Trafford and the following weekend, Hernandez steals the spotlight with a double as United come from two goals down to win 3-2 at Aston Villa.
A shock 1-0 defeat at Norwich City raises questions about United's ability to retain top spot, but City cannot take advantage as a 0-0 draw at Chelsea in Rafael Benitez's first match as Blues manager leaves Roberto Mancini's men off the top heading into the busy festive program.
United's leaky defense gives out plenty of gifts in the run up to Christmas, but a glut of goals from van Persie and Wayne Rooney secure five wins from six matches.
A 4-3 victory at Reading is followed by an explosive Manchester derby, which United win 3-2 when van Persie curls in a deflected injury-time free-kick just moments after Pablo Zabaleta's equalizer for City.
City suffer another significant blow on December 23 as United fight back to beat Newcastle 4-3, while the champions crash 1-0 at Sunderland and fall seven points behind their title rivals.
Only Clint Dempsey's last-gasp equalizer for Tottenham in a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane robs United of five successive wins to start the new year.
A 2-1 home victory against Liverpool is the pick of the bunch for United, while City win three of their four matches, including a 2-0 success at Arsenal, but they remain seven points behind.
With third-place Chelsea already 13 points adrift, the title battle is reduced to a two-horse race.
United brush Fulham, Everton and Queens Park Rangers aside without conceding a goal to turn the screw on erratic City.
Mancini's team are held to a 2-2 draw by Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium and even more damaging is the 3-1 defeat that follows at Southampton.
City bounce back to beat Chelsea 2-0, but the gap to United is now 13 points.
Japan's Shinji Kagawa scores a hat-trick in United's 4-0 rout of Norwich and although narrow 1-0 wins over Reading and Sunderland do not win many style points, they ensure City have no chance to get back in the hunt.
City's lack of hunger to retain the title is clear for all to see as they slip to a damaging 2-0 defeat at Everton, leaving United a massive 15 points clear with the finish line in sight.
City restore some pride with an impressive 2-1 victory at Old Trafford as Sergio Aguero bags a fine individual winner in the 78th minute after James Milner's opener is cancelled out by a Vincent Kompany own goal.
However, with one hand on the trophy, United have no need to fret and they can even afford a 2-2 draw at West Ham as City then crash to a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham -- a result that allows Ferguson's team to get the title celebrations started with victory at home to Aston Villa.
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