With just eleven games to go in the Premier League, pundits, fans and seemingly most of the football world believe that this year’s current league leaders, Manchester United, have the title in the bag. Yet it seems everyone has completely disregarded the miraculous comeback of the blue side of Manchester last season.
This time last year the league leaders were Mancini’s men, with 63 points, closely followed by Fergie’s men with 61. However, fast forward one month later and the top of the table had been reversed, as it was then United with the two point lead. That meant that between February and the last game of the season the two Manchester clubs were alternating between top spot and runner up position. With the sheer determination and desire Man City demonstrated in clinching the much sought after league title, an honour United have claimed 12 times since its arrival in 1992, surely no-one can count out the possibility of the citizens making a sensational comeback once again.
When reviewing last season’s last eight fixtures against this seasons remaining eleven, the two Manchester clubs face three (United) and four (City) of the clubs they faced during the countdown of last season, with United winning two of those matches and City winning all four, including over their city rivals United. However, when taking into account the remaining three matches, United face difficult opponents and current Champions of Europe Chelsea (possibly even twice considering the FA cup tie prior to the premier league fixture) and Wenger’s team Arsenal with a point to prove after a lack lustre campaign. Yet it is current Champions City who face the harder run in, with champion’s league place fighting Everton, a Newcastle side just four points clear from the drop zone desperate to remain in the “best league in the world”, Manchester United who are adamant that history will not repeat itself by seeing them relinquish their lead at the final hurdle and a Spurs side who are also vying for a top four finish. Therefore it would appear the sky blues have the more challenging encounters, but in the Premier League, as all of its fan will know, anything can happen.
Last season seemingly cannot compare to the current one, however, as City have suffered a noticeable slump in form. Not only is their win ratio (58%) seemingly incomparable with United’s 81%, it does not correlate with a team who are desperate to retain their champions’ status. Their prolific goal scorers of their title winning year are nowhere near as clinical having scored in comparison a measly 48 goals with last February’s tally at 67. Similarly the Etihad has not been the fortress of last season, as City have suffered 3 defeats and 8 draws already (three more than the whole of last season) whilst also conceding 24 goals when the total at the end of their trophy year was only 29. Whilst United have conceded 7 more goals than their city and title rivals, they have also managed to score 12 more, showing the gritty determination of winning matches when they are drawing or behind, as has been the case eleven times this season in order to ultimately win – demonstrating the resilient and resolute qualities of a title winning side.
One must not, however, forget that both teams have more than League victory in their sights. Mancini is adamant that his team, boasting such a high calibre, has to win at least one trophy a year, and seemingly the FA cup appears the most likely at this stage. Yet rival Fergie also has his sights set on the prestigious English honour, hoping to repeat the unparalleled glory in English football of winning the treble, with his men still in contention for the league, FA and the coveted European cup. The two clubs may even be on a collision course in the FA competition should City overhaul Barnsley as is expected, and United conquer Benitez’s men should they triumph over Middlesbrough. Yet, with the domestic competitions producing all kinds of shocks and surprises, nothing is ever taken for granted. The 2010 FA cup winners City may fall near the last hurdle as they have done so many times in other competitions this season, while United’s packed schedule possibly including further Champion’s League fixtures may hinder their chances. Therefore, the FA cup 2013 winners may be neither Manchester club, despite both being predicted to achieve the honours by many.
As the two clubs matched each other throughout the season last year by winning, drawing and losing the same number of matches, it is difficult to predict what may happen this year. However, with United facing their two most difficult remaining opponents in Arsenal and Chelsea, both of whom they have already beaten this season, and City facing several top four competitors, regulation threatened sides and two sides that beat them last season (Swansea and Everton) it does appear in United’s favour. But this has all been said before last season, and most were proved wrong as City snuck up on the Red Devils and tore the trophy out of their grasp. It may once again come down to the derby tie four premier league games from now, or it may depend on United’s success in their two other cup pursuits, and which trophy Fergie values more. But ultimately, despite this seasons less drama and fewer goal thrillers, these last games guarantee just as much excitement and could produce just as much upset as the spectacular end of the 2011/2012 campaign: Mancini vs Fergie, who will have the nerves of steel to drive their team towards glory in 2013?