Dec 7, 2012, 6:40 PM EST
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.
Dec 10, 2013, 11:20 PM EST
Relax – the LA Galaxy and U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer isn’t going anywhere:
Dec 10, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
So the New York Red Bulls’ top organizational man says wants Henry to consider another year after 2014, eh?
Dec 10, 2013, 10:00 PM EST
Chelsea, Arsenal, and Barcelona look to close out their groups, while a qualified Atlético Madrid look to play spoilers in theirs.
Dec 10, 2013, 9:22 PM EST
As long expected, the high successful Real Salt Lake leader will guide Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise:
Dec 10, 2013, 8:41 PM EST
There aren’t many Champions League goal scorers among U.S. internationals, past or present:
Dec 10, 2013, 7:52 PM EST
Manchester United on the right side of a 1-0; Bayern Munich on the wrong end of a two-goal comeback.
Dec 10, 2013, 7:10 PM EST
If this is a central element, it’s not much of one. As a supporting piece, maybe it’s not so bad:
Dec 10, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
Just in time for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo has blessed the soccer world with one more achievement:
Dec 10, 2013, 5:48 PM EST
Eight teams have booked their places in the knockout rounds, while three clubs got their tickets to Europa League.
A dreaded World Cup draw having arrived, Jurgen Klinsmann’s transformative efforts are about to pay off
Dec 10, 2013, 5:20 PM EST
He wanted a team that imposed rather than reacted – tactically AND in mental approach. Good thing after what happened Friday:
Dec 10, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Saying that Dimitar Berbatov has been underwhelming this season would be kind.
Dec 10, 2013, 4:51 PM EST
Manchester City’s comeback from two down gives Pellegrini his first win over Guardiola, though Bayern still claim Group D.
Dec 10, 2013, 4:33 PM EST
The 1-0 win will help vent some of the mounting pressure off David Moyes and his men, at least for now:
Dec 10, 2013, 3:50 PM EST
Tuesday’s match in Istanbul was suspended after 31 minutes when a flash hail storm halted Galatasaray-Juventus.
Dec 10, 2013, 3:02 PM EST
There was a time at Toronto when Frei stood out among the best of Major League Soccer goalkeepers:
Dec 10, 2013, 2:25 PM EST
What a weekend it was in the Barclays Premier League. Here’s the Team of the Week:
Dec 10, 2013, 12:57 PM EST
The 37-year-old leaves a legacy that includes a MLS Cup championship in 2010, nine MLS All-Star appearances and two World Cups.
Dec 10, 2013, 11:47 AM EST
If they decide to build a new home for the Blaugrana it’s expected to cost in the region of $412 million.
Dec 10, 2013, 10:11 AM EST
“We have an agreement to extend the loan for an extra year if Barcelona don’t need Deulofeu,” Martinez admitted following the draw at the Emirates.
Dec 10, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
The Anderlecht man attributed the diagnosis to growing up in California where the sun shines strong throughout the year.
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