Dec 7, 2012, 6:40 PM EDT
When Manchester City pasted Manchester United 6-1 last October, it was still too early in the Premier League season to know if the campaign would become a two-team race. But after Chelsea’s winter swoon took them out of title contention, England’s most decorated team (United, 19 titles) was left to defend their title against a rival who had not won the first division since 1967-68.
This year there’s no illusion that the title will be settled outside Manchester. Second place City, defending their first Premier League title, remain undefeated and have a six-point lead on Chelsea and Tottenham. United, three points clear of their rivals at the top of the league, have already won three more matches than anybody else in the league. With the exception of Chelsea’s strong start, there’s been no indication anybody can keep up with the Manchester sides, and with the teams combining for 21 wins and six draws in 30 games, there’s little hint either club will come back to the pack.
Early Sunday morning, the teams wage their first of two league derbies this year (8:30 a.m. Eastern kickoff), a match that you could see as one of only two big, title-relevant matches of the Premier League season. Sure, history and locality mean matches like Arsenal-Tottenham and Liverpool-Manchester United will always be important, but if you discard folklore and narrow your focus to this Premier League season, the two Manchester derbies start to look disproportionately important. Like Spain’s Clasicos.
While it will take much longer than two years to establish the type of two-tier league Spain’s evolved into, this year’s developments in the Premier League combined with the 19-point gap the Manchesters put on the league last year is noteworthy. If you look at the underlying numbers, goals scored and goals against, the numbers are even more troubling. Last year City and United put up differences of +64 and +59. The next-best mark was Arsenal and Spurs’ +25. Last year, the Premier League was Spain.
If Chelsea can’t get their management issues worked out — if Arsenal and Liverpool don’t recover and if Tottenham can’t cease their window they’ve opened for themselves — we could see a small fissure form between the Manchesters and their competition. It will be small and less entrenched than chasms that exist in Spain and (to a lesser extent, now) Ukraine, but it will soon become something England’s other powers will have to overcome.
Within the derby, Manchester United, despite their lead in the standings, finds itself trying to make up ground. Their late-season collapse this spring allowed City to win the title at their expense. Though United has recent wins over City in the FA Cup and Community Shield, the Citizens won both the teams’ Premier League meetings last season and defeated the Red Devils when the clubs met in April 2011’s FA Cup semifinal. Recent big games — the ones both teams have really wanted to win — have gone to City.
There are a number of reasons to think Sunday’s meeting will be different. This time, Manchester United have Robin van Persie, the former Arsenal-man quickly becoming the focal point of Manchester United’s attack. Any doubt that the Red Devils needed a player of van Persie’s potency has been assuaged by 13 goals in 19 all-competition appearances. Add his presence to the a United team who, after losing last year’s race to their noisy neighbors, have no confusion about where their focus should lie and a City side that has struggled to regain last year’s stride may have trouble replicating last year’s dominance.
There is another side to that coin, though. For all his production with Manchester United, van Persie has not scored in his last eight matches against Manchester City. And although Nemanja Vidic could return to Alex Ferguson’s back line, Manchester United’s defense (11th in the Premier League) is among the worst competing for a major European title. It’s rare that a team so flawed can compete for a crown like the Premier League’s, but with the firepower at Ferguson’s disposal, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where they can best City.
And within the current landscape of the Premier League, that’s may be all either Manchester club has to do: Beat their rival. Last year, Manchester City took all six league points. Had Manchester United drawn one of those two games, the Red Devils would have won a 20th title. And already three points up on City (nine points ahead of the rest of the league), a draw may be all United needs to take control of this year’s Premier League.
May 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Santos looking to sue over Neymar’s transfer to Barcelona.
May 29, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT
The Men and Blazers speak with U.S. U-20 head man Tab Ramos ahead of the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
May 29, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
FA chairman Greg Dyke thinks Sepp Blatter’s fifth term of FIFA presidency won’t last.
2014 MLS Cup rematch: For the New England Revolution, it’s a new season, different game against LA Galaxy
May 29, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
On Fox Sports 1 this Sunday, the New England Revolution face LA Galaxy in a 2014 MLS Cup rematch.
May 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Chelsea’s title-winning team dominates our picks. But there are still plenty of surprise inclusions.
May 29, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
As the soccer world continues to react to Sepp Blatter’s fifth-term as FIFA president, his 72-year-old former VP is basically telling the law to take a long walk off a short pier.
May 29, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
We’re in the shadow of just one rushed afternoon, and the FBI and others are watching the money float off the yacht, hoping to strike.
May 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
This award went down to the final vote. Do you agree with our pick?
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein withdraws from second vote; Cocky Blatter speaks in power, references “offshore” future
May 29, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
“I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect, but together we go.” Inspiring.
May 29, 2015, 1:02 PM EDT
There were 209 votes, and nations could abstain from voting as well.
May 29, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT
Can the Gunners win a second-straight FA Cup? Sherwood’s Villa stand in the way.
May 29, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Aston Villa is hoping to keep the 24-year-old Belgian, who has scored 49 goals in 99 matches since coming to the England from Genk in 2012.
May 29, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
One man dominates our votes. He probably dominates your picks too…
May 29, 2015, 11:06 AM EDT
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein and Sepp Blatter have addressed voters ahead of Friday’s presidential election, and we’re onto the vote.
May 29, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
The United States kicks off its U-20 World Cup run with a match against Myanmar at Midnight, and will look to emerge from a relatively winnable group with Ukraine and hosts New Zealand.
May 29, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Kane, De Gea, Hazard… who came out on top?
May 29, 2015, 9:09 AM EDT
The once-capped Austrian played club ball with LASK Linz in his home country until 2012.
May 29, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT
Thankfully, the anonymous threat led to nothing, though it’s worth noting the media wasn’t immediately told there was danger.
May 29, 2015, 7:53 AM EDT
Manchester United is among the other clubs said to be targeting Clyne, but the back is said to prefer Liverpool.
May 29, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
Week 13 of the 2015 MLS season is here! What games are must-watch this weekend?
- 2014-15 Premier League season review: PST’s Best XI of the Season 0
- Blatter’s “Wolf of Wall Street” moment could play out the exact same way 3
- Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein withdraws from second vote; Cocky Blatter speaks in power, references “offshore” future 31
- FA Cup final preview: Aston Villa underdogs in Arsenal’s pursuit of back-to-back cups 0
- 2014-15 Premier League season review: PST’s Player of the Season 5
- Al-Hussein, Blatter address voters ahead of presidential election; First vote coming 6