This just had to happen, isn’t it? The Premier League has officially become a two horse title race now. Soccer purists should have certainly seen this coming. By now everyone knows it, I know it, you know it, supporters of certain London based clubs also know it .With Spurs, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Arsenal fighting it out for the Champions League spot and Liverpool looking like a shadow of their former selves, nothing can possibly stop the silverware from ending up in Manchester. But to which part of Manchester? And do they really deserve it? Amidst all the talk as to who is the hungrier of the two teams and the affinity that Balotelli has for controversies, it has to be noted that both the teams have blown hot and cold time and again for most part of the season. Both of them have been total shit in Europe with City being a tad unlucky. This is certainly not what you expect from the table toppers of arguably the most difficult (read hyped) league in the world.
City for the most part of this campaign have read like a blueprint of how to win the league ripped straight from Sir Alex Ferguson’s handbook:Play badly and win. When was the last time City were really good? Their 3-0 win at Stoke was a good result without a good performance, so you probably have to go back to the 5-1 against Norwich City ages ago to find a match when they truly played like the best team in the country.
Be arrogant. Title winning United teams have always had a swagger about them. Eric Cantona knew exactly how good he was and enjoyed showing it. Now City are learning to do the same, with Mario Balotelli. Although not in the same league talent-wise as Cantona, yet Balotelli happily fills the gap between ability and ego with hilarity.
Scoring late on. Having been on the wrong end of this a couple of years ago, City will be all too happy now that the tables have turned. Although they’ve not scored any injury time winners, they left it late quite a few times to deliver the knockout blow and their habit of finishing strongly adds a healthy gloss to their goal difference. Admittedly this one isn’t exactly backed up by overwhelming evidence, but I am running out of clichés.
City’s squad depth is absurd. Their website lists 26 first team players. Of these 26, at the start of the season (I use an out of date Football Manager database for all my research. It’s distracting) only two were not fully capped internationals. The other 24 share between them 682 caps and 12 of the players have won at least one domestic league title (although I don’t recall Stuart Taylor making a huge contribution to Arsenal’s 2002 league title). This is a squad that has plenty of experience and knows how to win titles. It of course helps that where most other teams have filled out their rosters with inexperienced or promising players, City have players who have spent a fair amount of time in teams just below the top bracket and so have plenty of match experience.
Once shoo-ins for the title, those hopes largely lie in ruins. Manchester City have crumbled down the final stretch, their 3-3 escape against Sunderland last weekend giving further credence to the fact that they have run out of steam at the most crucial part of the season (read Squeaky Bum time). Weakened by the absence of Sergio Aguero, the insanity of Mario Ballotelli, the inconsistency of Edin Dzeko and the fatigue of David Silva, the Sky Blues have self-combusted to the extent that in a move of sheer desperation, Roberto Mancini brought back Carlos Tevez from Argentina; Yes, the same attacker who after he refused to come on against Bayern Munich last September, Mancini vowed never to play him again. The City tactician has made rather odd statements concerning his team’s chances now that their Manchester rivals have passed them in the standings. Instead of a never-say-die attitude, Mancini essentially conceded the title by marking it clear that an 8 point margin could be a point of no return. Could you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson saying such a thing?
Still, City’s scintillating run through most of the season has earned them enough points to all but insure a top-two finish. As long as they continue to win some games, the Sky Blues are a certainty for second place and another shot at the Champions League.
You've got to hand it to them — they've had some season in the Premier League this year. They went undefeated until the beginning of December and by the time the New Year had come around, they had recorded just a single loss. At the Etihad Den, they've been simply unstoppable. Yet for all the success and dominance, the Citizens sit Five points (Eight, come weekend) behind Manchester United in second place, with their trophy chances slipping further away week after week. Their away form has been far from clinical—especially for a side that claims to be a genuine contender for the Premier League title. They've had four draws as well as four losses and their attacking flair has significantly decreased. Throw in to that the fact that they've conceded almost double the amount of goals away from home and suddenly City just doesn’t look like the City we've seen all season at all.
With just a handful of matches remaining, the Citizens must find a way to come away with all the points when they're away from home-a task not helped by their remaining fixtures. Manchester City must travel to Arsenal and try to snatch away three points from a side playing with Champions League aspirations on the line. Oh, and the Gunners have had just two losses at the Emirates this year and were recently on a hot winning streak until the recent QPR fiasco. They then play away matches to both Norwich and Wolverhampton—the type of matches we expect them to win, but these have been the type of matches we have seen them falter all season long. They should walk away with the points in these matches—"should" being the key word here. Their second-to-last match of the year comes against Newcastle United, who may still technically be in the hunt for the Champions League next year. And even if they are not, expect the Magpies to be bringing their best football for the final match of the season in front of their Geordie faithful.
If Manchester City are to win the English Premier League in 2012—which they still can do—they Must do more than win at home; they must be as good (if not better) on the road. And sadly, we've seen this year that they aren't. It's as simple as that: they simply aren't good enough away from home to warrant a genuine threat to Manchester United for the most crucial part of the season. Their last nine matches on the road have yielded nine points—two wins, three draws and four losses; As a championship contender, they can't churn out these kind of results and still expect to win the League. Perhaps most scarily for the Citizens is that in those nine matches, all their attacking brilliance and supposed dominance has found the back of the net on just five occasions. Compare that to United, whose last nine away matches have yielded 22 goals to their name and most importantly, 22 Premiership points. It's little wonder then that the City have surrendered their spot at the top of the pile to United and appear no real threat to climbing back to the top. City looked to have all but BROUGHT the trophy to the Blue part of Manchester but thanks to their abysmal away form they'll probably have just handed it straight back to United.
Meanwhile, in the Red half of Manchester, the defending champions look to make it two Premier League titles in a row. Seemingly given no chance after a 6-1 loss to Manchester City, Manchester United have resolutely climbed the table all the way back to its summit, leaving City to crash and burn. This come-from-behind title run surge woud have been remarkable for most clubs, but for United its business as usual. Buttressed by veteran players who know what it takes to win the league, the Red Devils never panicked and have been rewarded for their perseverance. Currently five points ahead of the Sky Blues with seven games to play, Sir Alex Ferguson’s club will need a collapse of Epic proportions for the title to not return to Old Trafford. Of their final set of fixtures, only City away, maybe Everton at home or crucially Sunderland away (should it go the final day) lurk as possible losses, ignoring the potential banana skin of a tie that waits them at the DW in the coming week. Otherwise, as long as Man U takes care of business against inferior opposition, they’ll be hoisting the trophy at the end of the season.
Contributions for the title surge have come from everywhere; Paul Scholes came out of retirement to pull the strings in the midfield once again, Antonio Valencia has been a menace on the right and it was his stonker of a goal that broke Blackburn’s back, Ryan Giggs continues to defy Daddy Time with productive performances and indispensable leadership. Patrice Evra has managed a solid defense even without the Teutonic Nemanja Vidic by his side, David de Gea has started to have the look of a keeper worth £20million. Danny boy has really come of age this year and Jonny Evans has finally started repaying the faith Fergie showed in him during the difficult times of last season. But above them all, of course its Wayne Rooney, Second only to Robin van Persie in league goal standings with 21, Rooney has proven invaluable as always with his pace, creativity and a will to win the ball back wherever it is on the pitch. Even with all the unquestionable talent that surrounds him, a United side without Rooney would be in tall grass.
Manchester United will surely drop points along the way as the season draws to a close, but expect the title coronation to take place in City’s house at the end of April. Don’t think for a second that the Red Devils have forgotten the hammering they were handed at Old Trafford last October. Sir Alex has a long memory and he will see to that.
Hardly seems worth typing any type of conclusion,
I present to you Your 2011-‘12 Barclays Premier League Champions: Manchester United