Key to Old Trafford success lay in vastly improved showings against their north-west neighbours
Manchester United did not have to look too far from home to find the key to usurping Chelsea and reclaiming the Premiership crown. What Sir Alex Ferguson's team needed, above all, was to increase their rate of return from matches against their north-west neighbours, and they have delivered in spectacular fashion this season.
United have won all 10 of their regional derbies against the five smaller north-west teams - Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Manchester City and Wigan. That gave them 30 points, a 13-point improvement on last season, and proved the crucial factor in enabling them to overtake Chelsea.
United's matches each season can be broken down into three categories. In the current Premiership, they play six games against the other members of the Big Four (Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool), 10 against the north-west clubs (excluding Liverpool), and 22 against the rest.
The table makes it plain that United's main area of deficit, especially in the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons, came against north-west teams.
Last season United took a disappointing 17 points from a possible 30 in this category.
The link between United's improvement in that area and their title success is undeniable. Last season they accumulated 83 points (eight behind Chelsea) but they could reach 91 points this season - those vital extra points more than accounted for by their improvement against north-west teams.
In games against the Big Four, United have fallen three points short of last season.