A Tale of Two Manchesters
"Can both sides maintain their form over the remainder of the season?"
March 9th, 2012
Manchester United’s impressive 3-1 win at White Hart Lane against Tottenham once again pegged back Manchester City’s lead at the top to two points, ensuring that both sides remain neck and neck as the 2011/12 Premier League title race moves towards the final ten games of the season.
Through 27 games, City have amassed 66 points whilst United are hot on their heels, themselves totalling an impressive 64 points. With Tottenham’s recent slump ending any slim hopes of they themselves being involved in the final reckoning, it is left now left to the two sides from Manchester to battle it out to be crowned as Champions. What a battle there is in prospect too; two sides that are playing with the air of confidence that suggest there will be no let up over the final stretch.
Over the past half a dozen games, the sides’ respective records show as City winning five and losing one with United winning five and drawing one – emphasising quite how keenly fought this title race is at present. During this time, City have increased their average points per game (PPG) from 2.38 to 2.44, whilst United have gone from 2.28 to 2.37 PPG, with the season progression in terms of PPG shown in this table (with the upward curve for both apparent the past six games):
What is clear is that both sides are now in the middle of a real purple patch of form. City, after a hot start in the Autumn months cooled around the Christmas and New Year period, culminating in a relatively poor return in January, whereas United struggled earlier in the season but have by and large been on an ascent since and historically they have shown the wherewithal to stand up and be counted at this point in the season.
Can both sides maintain their form over the remainder of the season though? It is interesting to look at how the past few Premier League winners have fared over the remaining eleven games (i.e. the amount both City and United have remaining) of the season.
On average then, the Premier League winners have been able to amass in the region of 25 or so points during the final stretch; a figure that could see either crowned as Champions but in all likelihood a win short of what both managers would ideally like. United have deserved the plaudits of late and have pulled out some crucial wins in difficult looking fixtures to keep pace with City, but in some ways lost in this is the fact that City have been relentless. The return of Yaya Toure has been instrumental in a rediscovery of early season form and as well as continuing to get on the scoresheet their defence has tightened even further: nine clean sheets in the past twelve games testament to this.
The past decade of final Premier League tables also shows the most points gained by a runner-up has been 87 and given the sort of performance over the final stretch during the past five seasons then it is looking very likely indeed that we could see two sides both surpass the 90 point mark.
Looking at both sides run in – on paper at least – does suggest that United have perhaps the easier set of games, facing five sides in the bottom six and only one in the top six (away to City in the third last game of the season). City, on the other hand, face four sides in the top six (two at home and two on the road) and only two in the bottom six.
Football is often a game of small margins; the factors that decide outcomes often being slight and whilst there is plenty still to play out this season it is nigh on impossible to separate the two at the moment.
At the halfway point both sides had 45 points apiece and at that time I wrote that if either replicated this return over the second half of the season then they would be Champions. My view is that this still holds true but, it does look as though it will go down to the wire with the clash at The Etihad Stadium on April 30th looking ever more crucial to the destination of the 2011/12 Premier League title.
Words (and graph!) by @Danny_Puglsey