The Premier League title is coming back to Manchester, that much is clear. But for the first time in a very long time, it could be headed for Manchester City rather than Manchester United. United currently holds a three-point lead over City with three games left to play, and the two teams meet up at the Etihad Stadium, City’s home ground, Monday night in what could be a title decider.
United has won 12 of the last 20 titles, while City hasn’t won since 1968. Could City be ready to get a leg up on its cross-town rivals?
City has been in United’s shadows for 40 years, with its fans watching as the Red Devils, under the guidance of Alex Ferguson on the field and very savvy leadership off it, turned into the biggest and best club in England. When the Premier League money train came to town, Old Trafford was its first stop. And while United’s current owner, Malcolm Glazer (owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), has tightened pursestrings at the club, Ferguson still gets the players he wants.
Roberto Mancini, City’s manager, gets who he wants, too — thanks to a takeover of the club in 2008 by a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. Mancini has put together a team of high-priced superstars that harkens back to the Galacticos era at Real Madrid. But all that money has thus far only brought City an FA Cup trophy.
City started the season strongly, but has faltered for three key reasons. First, Spanish midfielder David Silva was untouchable at the start of the season, but his form has suffered significantly. Second, Mario Balotelli has done his best one-man wrecking ball impression, scoring great goals, then getting sent off and suspended. But probably the biggest effect on City’s season has come from the long-running saga between Mancini and striker Carlos Tevez. According to the club, Tevez refused to come on from the subs’ bench in a Champions League match; Tevez’ account of things was decidedly different, but the club froze him out and he returned to his native Argentina for a brief while (4 months). Tevez returned in February, and despite Mancini’s claims that he’d never play for the club again, he’s filled in recently while Balotelli served his most recent suspension.
United has taken full advantage of City’s dip in form, grinding out wins and climbing up the table with a ruthless efficiency typical of Ferguson’s teams. They had a real hiccup last weekend against Everton, letting in four goals in a draw, but remain favorites for the title. Their three-point lead is a significant cushion, so even a draw against City means the title is theirs to lose. A win and things are essentially sewn up.
The onus will be on City to attack and score goals, United has the luxury of sitting back to absorb pressure, play for a draw and try to hit on the counter. I’d expect them to take this approach, with Carrick and Scholes in midfield sitting fairly deep, then spraying balls out to Nani and Valencia on the wings, with Rooney dropping deep behind Welbeck. City can cause United problems — as they did when they beat them 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier this season — but United is playing a much more solid game than they were in October.
Bookies make City the favorites, but I think United gets the draw and they should be celebrating their 20th title soon enough. What say you?