They will definitely have to overturn a seven-point lead to retain the title. They will probably have to accumulate more than 90 points to do it. However, as the race at the top of the Premier League pauses briefly for the FA Cup, there is a quiet confidence at Manchester City that they can do it.
Vincent Kompany, the man who lifted the trophy last May, is not ready to let go just yet. "If a couple of years ago we had fallen seven points behind, we would all have said to ourselves that it would be very difficult," he said.
"But now we have done it and won the championship, nobody panics. Everything is still possible. We have proved what we can do and everybody is very calm. That's the advantage you get when you win it once. You have that inner confidence and, although the media and the fans can get excited, we don't."
Nevertheless, the City captain recognises that it will need an enormous effort to overcome a Manchester United side on course to rack up 94 points – more than any other club in Premier League history bar Chelsea in 2005. Alex Ferguson's team has exactly the same number of points as Jose Mourinho's did at the same stage of that 2004-05 season – and a bigger lead.
"The reason we are not closer to United is not that we have been playing badly," said Kompany, whose side have collected six fewer points than at the corresponding stage of last season.
"We have only lost two games, which is not a bad record at this stage. But United are doing extremely well and, if they continue to play like they have been doing, it will be difficult. But we are perfectly capable of having a long winning streak that will bring us very close.
"It is a big challenge but that doesn't make it any less interesting," he added. "We have set our standards high and have worked hard for a long time to bring ourselves into this position. We are not going to let it slip now. When you have won the title, you aim for another one. That is not just the ambition for 2013 but for the future of the club."
The loss of Yaya Toure to the Africa Cup of Nations is a serious blow to the champions. Should Ivory Coast reach the final in Johannesburg, Yaya and his brother, Kolo, will not return to action until the FA Cup fifth round on February 16, assuming City get that far.
Nevertheless, City coped well enough without them last season and Kompany argued that they possess enough firepower to deal with the loss of Sergio Aguero, who dazzled in the 3-0 home win over Stoke on New Year's Day but will be missing for at least two weeks with a hamstring injury.
"Yaya has played every game; that shows you how important he is for the team but that is something we will have to deal with," said Kompany. "It is like having an injury, it happens. We believe we have enough players to step up and make the difference.
"When you look at the strikers we have, not scoring should never be a problem. We are back on target and defending well. When you start a new year, it allows you to start a clean sheet and forget what has gone before. We have done it in every way against Stoke – a clean sheet at the back and three goals."