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That Manchester United could play so poorly against Newcastle and still extend their lead at the top of the table highlights just how lamentable the standard has been in the Premier League this season as we reach the half-way mark.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team have now conceded 11 more goals than this stage last year and really should have been punished for a lacklustre first 70 minutes at Old Trafford as Newcastle took the lead three times but failed to hold onto their advantage.
But while United made a Newcastle team that have won just twice in their last 13 matches (in all competitions) look far more difficult an opponent than results and recent displays suggest, City suffered a repeat of last season's embarrassing stumble at Sunderland to allow their rivals to move seven points clear. The entertainment of the title race may be enjoyable, but it doesn't hide the fact that both of the top two are underperforming.
For United, Ferguson's stubborn refusal to accept that Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs can no longer dictate matches in the old manner is hugely concerning. Fans winced on Twitter as the teamsheet revealed that the 38-and-39-year-old pair were to start Wednesday's match and it was unsurprising that the Reds again struggled to gain control of the midfield in an open first half which saw Newcastle play the better attacking football.
While Scholes reprised his poor performance from United's sluggish 3-1 home win against QPR in November, Giggs continued his desperate form with an average pass completion rate of just 68% before the interval - the worst of any outfield player for the hosts. He simply shouldn't be starting matches for a team at the top of the table.
However, ongoing midfield problems are far from United's only concern. Ferguson's team have kept just one clean sheet in their last 17 matches and only four all season, with David De Gea looking shaky on Boxing Day and the back four allowing Newcastle to stroll through on several occasions. So consistent and severe are the defensive worries that the return of Nemanja Vidic is unlikely to provide an immediate cure, while Ferguson continues to divert attention elsewhere - to murderous Ashley Williams, for example - instead of addressing his team's evident weaknesses.
For all United's problems, though, City are now closer to West Brom in fifth than their rivals who enjoyed a 3-2 victory at the Etihad at the start of December. Roberto Mancini's team have already dropped out of Europe following their disastrous Champions League campaign and rather than close the gap at the top through their own means, it seems they are hoping for an inconsistent United side to slip up.
There is surely no way Mancini can survive this season unless City repeat their title triumph, but the manager has thus far failed to build on his team's success, with the champions six points and 19 goals worse off than at this stage last season. Mancini may blame the club's costly failure to secure a deal for Robin van Persie as a key factor in the current standings, but some of his tactical decisions in this campaign - notably starting Mario Balotelli against United - have been ill-thought-out at best.
The failings on both sides of Manchester have ensured that we will witness another thrilling battle for the title this season, with even a resurgent Chelsea threatening to enter the fray. But at the moment sloppy performances suggest it's more likely that the league will be thrown away rather than won, and do we really want the Premier League to be decided in such displeasing fashion?
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.