Manchester United are now a hefty twelve points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table, with both teams having played twenty-six matches. That’s a huge deficit for the champions to make up if they’re to have a hope of stopping the trophy making an embarrassing trip across town in May. It’s still very much in the realms of mathematical possibility, but looking at the form and fixtures of the two Manchester clubs shows clearly that City are going to need to play almost flawlessly and receive a sizeable amount of goodwill from the footballing gods.
The run-in for United is made up largely of bottom-half opposition, with the exception of Chelsea, Arsenal and City themselves on the 8th of April. A possibly tricky game for them comes in the form of a visit to Stoke a week after their match with City, but Stoke’s form has been faltering of late with four losses in the last six. They may well be in a full-on decline by the time the Red Devils meet them at the Britannia.
Although Chelsea will fight at Old Trafford, and visiting the Emirates is never an easy task, Manchester United’s results against the “big” clubs have been exemplary this season, taking seventeen points from the meetings they’ve had so far with Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, City and Chelsea. High-profile fixtures for City in their last twelve matches include away games against United and Spurs and a visit to the Etihad from Chelsea.
City, meanwhile, have been far more sketchy in their form against bigger sides than United, with just ten points from an equivalent number of matches played. Regardless of City’s last few matches, however, United’s fixture list simply does not look threatening enough for them to drop twelve points between now and May. Perhaps the only hope for City is that United’s continuing European involvement tires them out sufficiently to force a slip.
If City should end up capitalising on a dip in form for United and have their name on the Premier League trophy come the end of the season, it will be a fairly searing injustice against the Premiership’s most successful club. United have played this season in brilliant league-winning form, not because they’ve dominated every match – they haven’t. What they have done is display a remarkable ability to win games even when playing below their best. They’ve won several matches through goals scored in the last ten minutes, including Robin Van Persie’s double against Southampton in September that secured a remarkable comeback victory for the Red Devils.
Such mental resilience and confidence that the team can score even as the minutes begin to die has been the difference this season. Or perhaps the difference has been Robin Van Persie, who could have gone to either club this summer and whose imperious goalscoring has made the difference to United on occasion after occasion, not least in United’s 3-2 victory over City in December.
The demonstration of a champion isn’t how they cope when playing well; it’s how they respond when playing badly, and United have provided the right response time and again.
PHOTO/Doha Stadium Plus Qatar