The Manchester Derby
Manuel Pellegrini may have spent the build up to the Manchester derby trying to play down his sides chances, denying that they were heading into the game but the reality was otherwise, given the sides respective positions prior to kick off.
March 28th, 2014
Manuel Pellegrini may have spent the build up to the Manchester derby trying to play down his sides chances, denying that they were heading into the game but the reality was otherwise given the sides respective positions prior to kick off.
What followed during the ninety minutes that saw his side triumph in such emphatic fashion also ensured that it may be some time before he is able to legitimately again claim that City will not go into a game heavily favoured.
For if there was any doubt of quite how big the gulf between the two sides now exists, City provided compelling evidence as they not only defeated United by a 3-0 margin, they did so in as conclusive manner as could be imagined.
United had come into the game with a spark of confidence to their play, following their turnaround in the Champions League against Olympiakos and a Premier League win at West Ham the previous week. City on the other hand headed in with doubts still surrounding them; games in hand are one thing but they trailed leaders Chelsea by six points and had not convinced many that they eradicated the individual errors that have on occasion proved so costly.
It was an evening though that ended with Chelsea and Liverpool perhaps taking an extra glance or two in the rear view mirror as City stepped up the gears to provide a signal of their intent in terms of the Premier League title.
In taking the lead after just forty-two seconds (this after two previous chances had gone amiss) City recorded the fastest ever goal in the Premier League at Old Trafford by an opposition side. Scant regard was had for reputation, favourites (perceived or otherwise) or the notion that a point would be classed as a good return.
Instead, City swarmed the opposition before United had even drawn breath, exposing the cracks and gaps that are seemingly opening up further and further as the weeks pass. Twenty minutes in and City could have been out of sight. Instead they had to wait until early in the second half to double their lead, establishing a position of strength that United never threatened to challenge.
The fact that when City added a third as the fourth official raised his board to signal the amount of injury time to be played it failed to even sparked the delirium seen during the 6-1 a couple of seasons ago. No longer do City travel to Old Trafford in hope but they do so in expectation, in the process chalking up their third consecutive win away to United and sealing their second double in three seasons. Derby nerves will always be omnipresent but a confidence, swagger and belief are now jostling with the pre-game butterflies.
The win marked City’s 12th in 14 games and a return of 37 points from 42 has erased those early season calamities where they somehow conspired to fall to defeat at Cardiff and Aston Villa in quick succession. Were it not for the strong form of both Chelsea and Liverpool City’s advantage may be reflected more strongly in the points totals.
As it is, and granted, confidence will be high too at Stamford Bridge and Anfield, City will head into April and the final stretch of the 2013/14 Premier League season as justifiable favourites. Not quite in the realms of the title being ‘theirs to lose’ but they are now in a position where they are just a strike away from reaching top spot, with a minor cushion to absorb a slip along the way.
That said, City do not look as though they will slip anytime soon. Their defence, much-maligned of course, registered its fifth consecutive clean sheet in the win and whilst the goals have cooled from the Autumnal heyday this is a side that possess goals throughout. Much like we witnessed in the tail end of the 2011/12 title season this is the time of year that the big players: David Silva, Yaya Toure et al step up and we have witnessed big performances form both of late.
There will be talk of ‘one game at a time’ and of Pellegrini trying to douse expectations yet whilst the title race is undoubtedly a three-way fight City find themselves in the position that the others, given the chance, would trade for.
The manner in which they strode to victory at Old Trafford too bore the hallmarks of a side that has the belief that it can go on and lift the Premier League trophy in six weeks or so. If City can continue to perform to such a level it will grow increasingly difficult for Pellegrini to continue to play down their billing as favourites.