Each time a Manchester derby has come along in the last few years, it has been billed as the biggest one ever, and with the Premier League title possibly resting on the outcome of the April 30th clash at the Etihad Stadium, that description has never been more apt.
Manchester City closed the gap to three points behind a faltering Manchester United side last weekend. Ferguson’s team twice threw away a two-goal advantage to draw 4-4 after Everton scored two goals in the last seven minutes through Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar. A 2-0 victory for Manchester City over Wolves later in the day with goals from Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri meant that City are now within three points of United and can take over at the top of the Premier League on goal difference if they beat them here.
It remains to be seen whether the apparent mind games being played by Roberto Mancini pays off but he is clearly striving to keep the focus away from his players. Mancini insists Manchester United are still Premier League title favourites despite his Manchester City side closing the gap on the leaders to three points. “I probably expect us to lose to Manchester United. Their players are used to playing under pressure every year.” The Italian said. Apart from a blip when two late goals salvaged a 3-3 draw against Sunderland, City’s home form in the league has been magnificent with 16 wins from 17 matches, conceding just 10 goals and scoring 51. The return of Carlos Tevez has reignited City’s title challenge and fellow Argentine striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero has returned to sparkling form.
United’s capacity for doing things the hard way means the title will effectively be decided on Monday, in a match Ferguson wouldn’t mind earning a draw. With two goals from Wayne Rooney and one each for Danny Welbeck and Nani, United led 4-2 but made fundamental defensive mistakes to let Everton back into the game. Rio Ferdinand will need to up his game as his defence failed to deal with the pressure Everton piled on after going behind 4-2. Other than a dismal show at Wigan, United’s away form since losing 3-0 at Newcastle early in the new year has been superb. They have also had no problem scoring and have scored four goals in each of their last two games.
This will be the third derby of the season. City ran riot at Old Trafford in the first derby match, winning 6-1 after United defender Jonny Evans had been sent off, and scoring with almost every attack in the closing stages. In the second, United went to the home of their “noisy neighbours” in the FA Cup third round and won 3-2. However, that scoreline does not tell the whole story, for City had Vincent Kompany harshly sent off early on and responded badly to the setback as they trailed 3-0 at half-time, before a stirring second-half recovery. City are a formidable force at the Etihad and their form which includes 12 goals in their last three matches gets them the tip here.