Since the first Manchester derby 131 years and 164 matches ago, seldom can the game have had so much importance as the one being played on Monday

Since the first Manchester derby 131 years and 164 matches ago, seldom can the game have had so much importance as the one being played on Monday at the Etihad.  Perhaps the only other to come close was in 1968 when the two teams met in a game in March, the result of which, a 3-1 win to Manchester City, saw them drawing level with Manchester United at the top of the league, and ultimately going on to win their second, and last, title.  However after that game there was nine fixtures still to play, this time there will only be two to try to put right any slip up. 

As deep into this season as March 3rd, Manchester City were red hot favourites to win the Premiership, being five points clear and with a vastly superior goal difference.  However only one win in the next five games saw Manchester Utd overtake them and build an eight point lead, leaving Mancini to concede the title race.  Since then though Man City have rediscovered the form they showed earlier in the season and won their last three games easily, scoring twelve and just conceding one in the process.  Despite Mancini’s pessimism, the title race appears to be still very much on.

United fans on the other hand have had some cause for concern, even though they had been on a run of 11 wins in 12 games, the form they were showing in wins over Fulham, Blackburn and QPR had not been convincing, and they finally came unstuck when they lost away to Wigan, and then last weekend threw away a two goal lead in the 4-4 draw against Everton at Old Trafford.  Manchester Utd’s defence has been a cause for concern all season to their fans.  Rarely having a settled back four, they have concede three or more goals in the league five times this season, including the 1-6 humiliation at Old Trafford at the hands Manchester City, the first time since 1930 that Manchester Utd had conceded six goals at home.

Manchester  City’s home form has been exemplary this season only dropping points once in the draw with Sunderland at the end of March, and anything less than a victory for them on Monday will surely see them out of the title race, particularly with their last two games being tricky matches away to a Newcastle team looking for points to cement a spot in next season’s champions league, and then entertaining a QPR team who may well be scrapping for their premiership life. How QPR’s manager Mark Hughes, who was fired by City, would enjoy taking points from that one.

I suspect Manchester Utd would be happy with a draw from this game.  It would see them still three points ahead with two tricky but winnable games against Sunderland, away and Swansea, at home to come, and I expect Ferguson to pick his side accordingly for Monday’s match.  Despite the concerns over their defence they have still kept more clean sheets than any other team in the Premiership this season, and to take a least a point away from this fixture would be a sweet revenge for that thrashing earlier in the season which United manager Sir Alex Ferguson described as a his worst day at the club.  It will be a tight game, but fascinating nonetheless.