However, Roberto Mancini quickly asserted that United were still favourites and stated that their ‘superior team spirit’ would see them through and his team had ‘no chance’ of winning a maiden Premier League trophy. Whether Mancini was playing mind games or not, it was still a sensible statement to make. The title was still United’s to lose. Mancini and City clearly relish the status of underdogs much more than they ever liked the position of being overwhelming favourites after that famous victory at Old Trafford. City are still relatively inexperienced despite boasting former league and champions league winners such as Tevez and Yaya Toure. The pressure of colossal expectations got to them, resulting in them nearly dropping out of title race after losing at Arsenal, and dropping points against Sunderland at home for the first time in the league this season.
After, the defeat at Wigan, United were still five points ahead. In his interview after the match against the Baggies, Mancini said that they didn’t expect the Red Devils to drop five more points. Next week, when Aston Villa were being bulldozed at Old Trafford, his words seemed to ring with the truth. Manchester United simply looked too good, efficient and clinical to lose or even drop points again to a weaker side.
Approaching the forthcoming match against Everton, the money was again on the defending champions despite Everton’s status as a tricky team to get past. With star player and former Everton youth product, Wayne Rooney having scored a double against his old club which took him past George Best as the Red Devils fourth highest goal scorer of all time with 179 goals and United sailing smoothly with a comfortable 4-2 lead with seven minutes left in the game, it looked more likely than ever before that the title had only one destination. But true to the magic of the beautiful game, Everton remarkably turned the game around (albeit aided by hapless United defending) and went on to seal a 4-4 draw, bringing end to an extraordinary game at the Theatre of Dreams. The Sky Blues smelled blood and gave a clinical performance worthy of champions against a courageous Wolves, sealing a 2-0 win at the Molineux and condemning their hosts to relegation in the process. The title race was well and truly alive again, with just three points separating the two rivals.
So now, the stage has been setup splendidly for the most important Manchester derby in history, this Monday at the Etihad stadium. Anything is possible in this freakishly sensational season that has seen some of the most remarkable games in the league’s history and will go down as one of the best seasons ever in English football. Revenge will be on United’s minds. Their pride was hurt and the whole team was disgraced, humiliated and humbled by a rampant City at Old Trafford in the famous 6-1 defeat. Sir Alex Ferguson himself admitted that it was his worst defeat in his legendary 25 year spell as manager. At their own ground, City’s fans will viciously remind United of the defeat which would never be forgotten in the minds of the United players. Although United, inspired by the comeback of the legendary Paul Scholes claimed a classic FA Cup victory at the Etihad in January, Man City nearly pulled of an shocker with an incredible second half display despite being down to 10 men.
The importance of this match has been blown to biblical proportions and is being hyped up to the moon. The resurgent Sky Blues will place their fortunes on the Spanish wing wizard, David Silva, top scorer Sergio Aguero and former United player Carlos Tevez. Tevez has been like a new signing and has revived City’s flagging campaign with some crucial goals. City’s inspirational captain Vincent Kompany would have learnt from the experience of their previous meeting when he foolishly got himself sent off and will lead from the back. He’s been the best defender in the Premier League this season and will battle the brilliant Wayne Rooney in a clash of the titans. The goalkeepers Joe Hart and David De Gea will have their hands full due to the exceptional attacking qualities of both the sides. Hart will want to establish his status as the league’s best goalie and De Gea will look to prove that his early season jitters are well and truly behind him. City bullied him last time around and the former Atletico Madrid number one will be looking for retribution. Wayne Rooney will look to inspire United to another victory like he did in January and will be aided by the likes of the dangerous Nani, the speedy Valencia and Danny Welbeck. Most of all, the man who turned the Red Devils’ season around by coming out of retirement, Paul Scholes will look to win the midfield battle again. The 37-year old stalwart was surprisingly placed 3rd in the FWA player of the year award after playing in just 13 games but given his impact and astounding quality, it is not all that surprising. If Scholes had played in that 6-1 loss to City, he would’ve surely helped reduce the deficit of that incredible defeat.
Now, Roberto Mancini and Manchester City have the ability to decide their own fate. Can they finally claim a league title for the blue half of Manchester for the first time since 1968? Can they end United’s long era of dominance? Can the noisy neighbors finally get their money’s worth (both literally and figuratively)?