Two routine wins and back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time this season.
United don't have too much to crow about after beating a West Brom team missing five key players (Claudio Yacob, Youssuf Mulumbu, James Morrison, Zoltan Gera and Jonas Olsson) and a Wigan side that have lost 15 of 16 top-flight fixtures to the Reds, but the minimum amount of fuss with which both victories were secured will have been a relief to Sir Alex Ferguson.
United conceded only one shot on target in the 180 minutes over the two New Year games, earning a first clean sheet since November and only the fourth and fifth of the campaign thus far. Jonny Evans can be pleased with his contribution after playing in both matches, while Nemanja Vidic's performance at home to West Brom hinted that the captain is not far from a full re-instatement to the first XI. The Reds might finally be shaking off their previous cadavre exquis appearance.
All this bodes well after a defensively inconsistent first half of the season and only two teams have had more points after 21 games in Premier League history - United in 2006/07 and Chelsea in 2005/06. That Ferguson's team still have the poorest 'goals against' record in the top half is a concern, but overall the manager will be delighted with the way his side are performing.
There is plenty of room for improvement from this United team, though, and we will learn more about their mettle in the next two matches against Liverpool and Spurs.
Robin van Persie
For all the praise of United's attack in recent weeks, they have only scored two more goals than at this stage last season, when they had scored just a single goal or less on nine occasions. But on Tuesday Roberto Mancini claimed that Van Persie was "the difference" between the two teams at the top of the table.
Having a match-winner who has scored a phenomenal 64 strikes in his last 76 Premier League appearances is a huge psychological boost for the leaders and, conversely, a psychological disadvantage for a team with a manager still ruing his club's failure to entice such a player in the summer.
"He has changed their situation," said Mancini. Perhaps not emphatically in terms of the number of goals being score, but in the enhancement of a winning spirit, he is undoubtedly paramount.
Spurs currently look good for fourth at least, but they will need to match Arsenal in the transfer window should Arsene Wenger spend to bolster the Gunners' challenge.
"The team was the star," claimed Brendan Rodgers after Liverpool's convincing win over Sunderland, while dismissing suggestions that the Reds are a one-man side by saying Luis Suarez is only 'doing his job'.
It was already clear how important Suarez is to Liverpool before the forward's contribution to five of the team's six goals over the New Year, and Rodgers is right in his assessment that the Reds demonstrated improvement as a whole against QPR and Sunderland. The team were much quicker in the transition to attack and, even though the standard of opposition was rather limited, the defence looked far less frail than it did against Stoke on Boxing Day.
The fact remains that Liverpool have still failed to win against a team currently in the top half, however, and another observation is that they don't often score through the short sharp passing that Rodgers' philosophy is founded upon. Indeed, Suarez is the antithesis of the manager's favoured style of play, as evidenced by the nature of his goals on Sunday and Wednesday.
Similarly, new £12million recruit Daniel Sturridge is unlikely to provide more zip to Liverpool's interchanges in the final third, but there is potential for a formidable front three to be moulded. Sturridge's arrival should grant Raheem Sterling a much-needed rest, while summer signings Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi are rapidly becoming forgotten men.
It's difficult to tell where to apportion the most credit for Liverpool's back-to-back wins, with Rodgers surely demanding a fair share for himself, Suarez and the supposedly past-it Steven Gerrard (who provided two excellent assists against Sunderland and one at QPR to lead this season's standings with eight in total) both superb and Clint Hill also deserving a tip of the hat. It seems that the Reds are performing in spite of Rodgers' instructions - not because of them - and there is a long way to go in the manager's plans for a Nou Anfield.
Whether Sturridge truly aids those plans or simply adds another familiar face to make the manager feel at home ("He is a player that I've know since he was about 12 years of age") will only be revealed in the fullness of time. But, with Joe Cole also being paid to leave for West Ham, the Reds are gradually improving their squad for the long haul.
With Suarez in superb form, it's worth noting that Liverpool have scored ten goals more than at this stage last season and are only 13 shy of their total ahead of the trip to Old Trafford on the 13th. That fixture, plus away matches at City and Arsenal in the next four games, will provide a true indication of where Rodgers' team stand in the battle for fourth. It's likely that they'll be further back than the current seven-point gap in a month's time.
While Rodgers will be mocked for comparing the Uruguayan to Lionel Messi after Wednesday's win over Sunderland, the manager has a point in terms of the forward's relentless desire to succeed.
Suarez is of course considerably more unscrupulous than Messi, playing with a similar edge to his game that Diego Maradona learned on the potreros of Buenos Aires. While Van Persie may be the most feared striker in the league for his ruthless ability to decide matches, Suarez surely tops the list of players defenders hate to face, considering the 90-minute contortion act they are forced to perform.
Three assists and three goals in two matches. Given how many times he's been written off already in his career, it's sometimes easy to forget that Walcott is still only 23.
Choosing to start Edin Dzeko - who hadn't scored in ten appearances since the start of November against Spurs - ahead of Carlos Tevez against Norwich was always going to be either a foolish or inspired decision by Roberto Mancini. Fortunately for the manager and City, the striker rediscovered his scoring touch with two neat finishes and a large say in the winning goal which hit the post before deflecting off Mark Bunn.
That thrilling end-to-end game at Carrow Road helped City to get whatever it was they needed to get out of their system and the Stoke match brought a return to normality and routine with a professional performance and another strike for each of the current front two. Mancini's team may have scored 16 goals fewer than at this stage last season, but they are still only four behind United in terms of goal difference.
The trip to Arsenal on Sunday 13th brings a return to the scene of last year's dismal 1-0 defeat, which prompted Mancini to claim the title race was over. With United still seven points clear as a return to Champions League action against Real Madrid draws closer, City would benefit from a convincing victory to send a message to their rivals.
A team of manly men (as Sarah Winterburn says here), who possess the required resilience to stay within grasp of the top four should injuries not prevail.
His sideburns and set-pieces are worth £15million alone; although perhaps not to Manchester United, who now have Van Persie to perform the latter of those duties.
New Year Sharp-Shooters
Four goals in two games for Suarez, three-and-a-half for Dzeko and three for Van Persie, Walcott and...erm...Russell Martin.
David Silva to Edin Dzeko or Adel Taarabt to Shaun Wright-Phillips; take your pick.
Can you remember a starker contrast between performances in consecutive games? After such an abject display against Liverpool, it was inconceivable that QPR could get at result at Stamford Bridge. But a distinct lack of fight, organisation and concentration on Sunday was replaced by desire and togetherness on Wednesday as the Rs finally resembled a team playing for each other.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that Esteban Granero's return to the first XI preceded a much-improved display, with the former Real Madrid man a signficant upgrade on Samba Diakite, who was desperately poor in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool. With Granero in the team, the Rs managed marginally more possession against Chelsea than they did at home to Liverpool, with Harry Redknapp's deployment of a 'false nine' system also crucial in earning three hard-fought points.
A good day was further improved by the news of Joe Cole's impending transfer to West Ham, which means 'Arry can use his purse to bring in players who might actually benefit the team in their survival battle. Eight wins in the final 18 matches is a tough ask, but not impossible.
It's unlikely that Roman Abramovich will suddenly change his mind over Lampard's contract, but the midfielder's goal-scoring exploits could earn him a bumper deal elsewhere.
Boosted by the return of Bryan Ruiz, who now has six assists in 12 appearances this season.
Should he be worried at the form and promising partnership of Van Persie and Javier Hernandez?
It's difficult to argue with the midfielder's red card after he went beyond the aggression matched by Sebastian Bassong by jerking his head towards the Norwich defender. Perhaps he didn't want to face another boo-ful return to the Emirates.
Not as good as their 7-3 victory over Newcastle suggested, but not as poor as their performance against Southampton, in which they managed only one attempt on target and six overall. Arsenal are currently at a level somewhere in between those two displays, which is reflected by their standing in the table as they battle to stay within grasp of Spurs.
Theo Walcott has been in excellent form this season, but has he finally developed to the standard required to play for Arsenal, or have Arsenal dropped to the standard of Theo Walcott? That the winger is the Gunners' most important player at the moment is reassuring and terrifying in equal measure.
Chelsea and Rafa Benitez
Three successive Premier League away wins for the first time since 2009, four top-flight victories in a row, fans slowly warming to Benitez; it was all going so well.
After inflicting only Everton's seventh defeat in 40 Premier League matches in 2012, Chelsea embarrassed themselves by losing to a team that had picked up just seven wins over the last calendar year, leaving their title challenge and Benitez's hopes of being awarded the manager's job on a permanent basis in disarray.
Despite passing a difficult test at Goodison, Fernando Torres' poor display hinted that the manager couldn't afford to rest two-thirds of the trio playing behind the striker if he wanted an easy ride against QPR. "We can't carry on with the same players every game," Benitez said after Wednesday's defeat, but it was foolish to leave Juan Mata and Eden Hazard - as well as Ramires - out of the first XI when the next league match isn't until January 12.
The Torres conundrum (only two of his nine shots have hit the target in the last three matches) could be solved by the arrival of Demba Ba, who should slot straight into the starting line-up ahead of the misfiring Spaniard. There is no more time for patience if Chelsea are to make up ground on United and City, and the acquisition of a forward with 13 goals thus far in an underperforming team will help the Blues in that respect.
Benitez may be 'a dope' by Harry Redknapp's definition after Wednesday's defeat, but the manager has shown enough nous to suggest that silverware is possible in one of the four fronts on which Chelsea are fighting. Saturday's trip to Southampton should see progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup, while the Blues should get past Swansea in the League Cup semi-final and Sparta Prague in the Europa League.
There is a danger, though, of Benitez's lame-duck tenure being imitated by the team in the Premier League, with Chelsea unlikely to drop out of the top four but only weeks away from defeat in the title race. If the Blues win their game in hand at home to Southampton (which looks less routine after Wednesday) then the subsequent four-point gap to City is not insurmountable, considering the two teams meet at the Etihad on February 24.
With Chelsea also facing a trip to Old Trafford at the start of May they could still have a huge say in the title race, but Benitez must ensure his team recover quickly if that say is to have any consequence on their own standing.
"It's the same thing every time - it's the third time this season I've been clipped. There is nothing I can do about it - the referees have to look a bit closer. If I get contact there it is a penalty or free kick," said Bale after his third yellow card for simulation this season in the win at Sunderland and fifth since the start of the previous campaign.
"What do you expect me to do if I there is contact and I go over - hit my head on the floor? I am not going to stop going because it is a foul. People can say what they want, it doesn't bother me. It's a foul and I know it myself."
Perhaps he should be bothered, as his reputation for diving is starting to cost him and Spurs what could prove to be vital decisions.
'You rarely expect to win as a Stoke fan, but you always hope. Pulis took that hope away at the Etihad AGAIN with a complete surrender.'
This was the view of Stoke fan and Teamtalk writer Mark Holmes after Pulis continued to deploy negative tactics away to the 'big' teams. The fans clearly deserve more.
Mini-revival over. It's hard to believe they spent £25million on two players in the summer.
A new year and a smidgen of pride restored in the 2-2 draw at Swansea. The less said about the sack of coal Villa gave their supporters over Christmas the better.
The Bottom Four
Below a team that lost three of four matches over the festive period and conceded 17 goals.
Three defeats in a row, nine in the last 11 matches and the club's top scorer departing for Chelsea. It hasn't been a good Christmas on Tyneside.
The worrying thing for Newcastle fans is that Alan Pardew has struggled in similar circumstances before. The manager's rudimentary tactics (Newcaslte have played the most long balls in the Premier League this season) gained promotion, ninth place in the Premier League and an FA Cup runners-up medal in his two full seasons at West Ham, but when the team's performances started to slip, Pardew had no answer.
West Ham's defeat-heavy form at the start of the 2006/07 season - which saw Pardew lose his job on December 11 - was somewhat reminiscent of Newcastle's recent run, with matches occasionally ending in victory, usually lost and rarely drawn. Newcastle need to learn how to salvage at least a point in games such as Wednesday's defeat to Everton, when an early lead was thrown away. At the moment it seems Pardew is without a recognisable plan to overcome the slump.
Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.