City v United is fitting climax to Premier League title race
Three weeks ago it seemed the Manchester derby would be little more than a dead rubber after City’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal left champions United eight points clear at the top, in a commanding position to clinch their 20th league title and their fifth in the last six seasons.
But a rollercoaster Premier League title race produced yet another twist after United’s 1-0 loss at lowly Wigan, followed by a rip-roaring 4-4 home draw with Everton in which they threw away a two-goal lead late in the game, let City back into the title race after they had squandered a seven-point lead over United with their own dip in form.
Fans who will cram into City’s stadium on Monday and millions watching the showdown on television throughout the world could not have asked for a more thrilling finale, with local pride and bragging rights as well as the league title at stake.
United are three points clear of City with three games left. They will be almost assured of retaining their crown with a win and a draw would also leave them in the driving seat. City, on the other hand, will go top on goal difference if they win and that outcome would perhaps force their shrewd manager Roberto Mancini to concede the title race was wide open.
Since United went eight points clear, Mancini has repeatedly stated that City’s title challenge was over and refused to make a U-turn even after his team closed the gap to three points.
A master in tactics, motivation and beating his rivals to the finish line, Ferguson appears to have finally met his match in mind games as the pressure, for once, seems to have rattled his team and not the opposition.
Accustomed to seeing United brush the opposition aside in the home straight with such a clear advantage, Ferguson surely did not tell his team to slow down and it is also hard to imagine that the players took the title for granted.
Having taken all the pressure off City with his approach, Mancini piled it on his cross-town rivals who will need to dig deep into their relatively thin resources if they are to produce the kind of vintage performance Ferguson is hoping for in his hour of need.
The champions seem to be running on empty with a squad lacking depth and cover in comparison to some of Ferguson’s most heralded United sides and it was their grit and determination that helped them turn the tables on City after last October’s humiliating 6-1 home defeat by their bitter foes at Old Trafford.
With the unpredictable Mario Balotelli back after suspension and the rejuvenated Carlos Tevez also eager to face his former club, Mancini will hope that City can produce a carbon copy of that performance, if not the result, in their bid to bring the first league title in 44 years to the blue half of Manchester.