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Manchester United’s 4-4 draw against Everton may have cost them dearly in the race for the Premier League this season.
Following Manchester City’s 2-0 win at Wolves, Mancini’s side are now perfectly poised to overtake their city rivals in next Monday evening’s derby.
The title is now seemingly in City’s hands. Now, just three points behind United in second place and with a superior goal difference, wins in the final 3 games would secure City the Premier League title for the first time in their history. This is clearly a massively different picture compared to two weeks ago, when, after City’s defeat to Arsenal had given United an 8 point advantage. Since this game Roberto Mancini’s side have strung three wins together, scoring 12 goals in the process.
Acknowledging that the game a week tomorrow will be “definitely” the biggest derby of his long United career, Sir Alex Ferguson said:
“We have to go there knowing we are capable of getting a result.”
“We need to get a result now at the Etihad and there’s no reason we can’t do that. There’s been the expectancy from City that it could be their decider – it’s our decider too.
“It’s a big game. It’s always a derby of the highest proportions and next week will be no different.”
However, Roberto Mancini is continuing to play down ManchesterCity’s title hopes despite closing the gap with the win against Wolves.
“Only one team can win this title. It’s not in our hands. We have three points less.”
“You all wrote the title race was finished. Seven days ago, the race was finished. You wrote it. I congratulate Sir Alex Ferguson on a good season.”
United have only lost one and drawn 2 of their last 15 games, even though many of their recent victories have come against teams in the bottom half of the table.
The recent defeat at Wigan was followed up by victory over Aston Villa but United will have to respond once again after Everton exposed defensive frailties reminiscent of their early-season form.
By contrast, Nani looked fresh on his return to the side by setting up two goals and scoring another, and the way Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck linked up will give United added vibrancy.
For City, the re-emergence of Carlos Tevez has coincided with City’s upturn in fortunes and his combinations with Sergio Aguero have caught the eye despite Mancini still asking for the team to be more clinical in front of goal.
Their blip of no wins in three games around the end of March appeared to be more psychological and borne from a lack of title-race experience. But that seems to have lifted as they now chase first place.
Despite his continued insistence that United are favourites to win the Premier League, Mancini admitted after the recent Norwich victory that he hoped his stance would inspire his players to prove him wrong. As ludicrous as it now sounds with only a three-point gap, it seems to be doing the trick as Manchester United begin to drop points.
Ferguson accepted the defeat by Wigan, but was less charitable after the Everton game. And by highlighting the problem in defence he has automatically shifted the focus onto the likes of Rafael and Rio Ferdinand, who were at fault for at least two goals against David Moyes’ side.
Still, Ferguson holds the upper hand, with experience, in inspiring teams to the title from a variety of situations. The question remains if he has the team to do it.
It’s important to remember that United don’t necessarily need a win at the Etihad next week. 1 point would be sufficient to keep them ahead of City going into the final two games of the season. But Fergusonwill look back to the reverse fixture last year, when City destroyed the Red Devils 6-1. Plus, in reviewing the opposition’s performance against Everton last weekend, Mancini will look to exploit United’s weaknesses, as the Toffees five man midfield easily found spaces between Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick.
Now that Ferguson has described this as the biggest derby of his time at Manchester United, it will only add to the intensity of the occasion. But whatever happens at Etihad Stadium, there are some tricky games looming which could play a telling part in which side of Manchester the Premier League trophy travels to.
United appear to have the easier games, as Mancini has suggested, with a home fixture against Swansea followed by a trip to Sunderland. As good as Brendan Rodgers’s side have been this season, their away record is poor, while the Black Cats have not scored in their last four games.
After the derby, City will travel to face the form team in the division -Newcastle- before hosting a QPR team who are fighting for their survival and have beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool over the last month.
It’s bound to be a very exciting week leading up to the match next Monday. I just hope that the football during the game lives up to all the hype and speculation. All in all, it’s bound to be a very exciting fixture.