That result means City go top on goal difference, with two games to play
Manchester City 83
Manchester United 83
Last October, Manchester City put six past their bitter rivals, and it appeared to most commentators that only one club from that great city of football could possibly lift the Premier League Trophy.
Well, the wily old Alex Ferguson proved them all wrong – yet again.
And here we are just a week away from the most important game of the Premier League and no one – including Roberto Mancini himself – is giving City a chance.
Yet, City have Tevez and will be able to use that player called Mario Balotelli for this game – as well as a number of other great players.
United have one thing going for them – a manager who was a legend many years ago and who is continuing through the sheer force of his personality, experience, expertise – and many, many other skills – to project a very average team to ever greater heights.
Whether that will be enough on Monday, I very much doubt.
It won’t be a walkover there will be no 6-1 rout this time – but City will win this game and go on to become Champions for the first time.
That’s because Everton by putting four past the leaders over the weekend showed this United side despite being coached by Sir Alex Ferguson are not the United of old.
There may be only one English team left in the European Championships, however that has not stopped the Premier League from being a compelling spectacle last weekend.
If, as is expected, Manchester United defeat Blackburn Rovers tonight then the league title is almost certainly theirs, after City were held to a draw by Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland.
Roberto Mancini for so long the quietly assured manager of big spending City is discovering what numerous managers of the past, most famous of whom was Kevin Keegan, will testify to, that when it gets tough, at the crunch, Alex Ferguson will be there to face you off.
Are the mind games getting to Mancini – you can’t say for certain yet, though things may be more clear after tonight.
The feature of the league this year has been how any team wherever their position in the League has a chance to defeat the top placed sides, as Arsenal discovered with their defeat to QPR who despite this result still remain third from bottom.
But perhaps the most striking image of the weekend came during Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to Alan Pardew’s Newcastle, when the vastly over-rated and overpaid – £35 million – Andy Carroll stormed off after being substituted by Kenny Dalglish.
Newcastle who are in sixth position are eleven points clear of eight-placed Liverpool.
And yet, Liverpool have spent £115 million on players, whilst at the same time Newcastle £26 million.
Two games yesterday may have decided the outcome of the Premier League – one of them could also have been a turning point for the manager of a once great Arsenal team.
Arsene Wenger substituted an inexperienced but highly creative and energetic Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrey Arshavin.
That decision was greeted by disbelief by a large section of the Arsenal faithful, who have regarded Wenger for such a long time as infallible, and by his own captain, the star player that is Robin van Persie.
Unfortunately, Arshavin was unable to block a Man U surge that resulted in the winning goal.
The irony being that most of the second half, Arsenal had a number of opportunities to kill the game.
Arsenal are still stylish when attacking, however they are weak at the back – something their great manager has failed to deal with.
And with their current position of fifth – out of the reckoning for a prized Champions League spot – could we just be seeing a contemplation of the unthinkable, the end of the long reign of Arsene Wenger?
As for the first game, Manchester City managed to defeat the surprise that is Tottenham Hotspurs under Harry Redknapp in a very unconvincing fashion.
Once again they were weak in the first half, and almost managed to convert a two goal lead into defeat had Germaine Defoe managed to get a boot onto a great cross from Gareth Bayle.
Eventually, Mario Balotelli – hero or villain take your pick – coolly placed a penalty kick into the back of the net to seal the deal for Roberto Mancini’s men.
City have carved-out results, even when they were not playing well.
United have not played well, but are still at number two.
Both say Spurs are still contenders, and on the evidence of this performance they may not be wrong.
That just leaves behind Chelsea and Arsenal.
Yesterday’s FA Cup tie between the big Manchester clubs was a classic, the type of game that reminds you why football can be such a compelling sport, with echoes of that great encounter between Manchester United and Barcelona some thirteen years ago, something not lost on two of the players who played during that great Champions League semi and who were amazingly still present as players at the Etihad stadium – Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
This was not Brazil v Italy 1982, but it was stil very very good.
Seemingly finished by three goals by their bitter rivals, the last two after the referee had sent off Vincent Kompay in controversial circumstances, City retreated to the dressing room where manager Roberto Mancini showed why this team is currently sitting on the top of the Premier League.
A shift in tactics to make up for the missing player quickly saw results with a stunning free kick from Aleksander Kolarov – from now on the pressure came from City as they attempted to claw back another two goals.
That they failed to do so had more to do with bad luck than the superiority of a United side who despite this victory still looked a pale shadow of its former great self.
With more players committed to the back, the onus was on Sergio Auegro. After missing one clear chance, he did not disappoint again.
With the second in the bag, City kept on trying.
Another Kolarov freekick was struck at the goalkeeper, although United’s Anders Lindegaard did not know much about it.
In the dying seconds, even City’s keeper Costel Pantilimon who had virtually nothing to do in the second half, was attacking in one last desperate attempt to get that goal that would do for the FA Cup holders.
Had City shown the same passion in the first half – perhaps they would not have lost, but there again we would not have seen one of the great counter attacks in recent times.
United won – perhaps avenging the 6-1 League drubbing at Old Trafford – but Alex Ferguson now knows that City have gelled into a team that can no longer be regarded as a poor rival.
Some people are saying that the games between these two big Manchester Clubs are beginning the el classico encounters between Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
If that is the case, then the emergence of Mancini’s City may yet be the biggest challenge facing the United boss.