Few years back, a Manchester derby at this stage of the season would have gone for a title decider, but inconsistency on the part of the two Manchester teams-City and United, this season has subjected their target to just booking a UEFA Champions League. Be that as it may, there is more to play for, especially on the part of the two coaches, Manuel Pellegrini and Louis van Gaal, as it may be the last time they would be confronting each other, at least as far as the Manchester teams are concerned
When Manchester’s Premier League big guns were spending lavishly in the close season, neither City nor United can have imagined that the final derby of the campaign would be little more than a contest in the battle for a Champions League spot.
With City, lying fourth, having slipped 12 points behind the leaders and United trying to climb up from sixth, Sunday’s match is hardly the pivotal title decider they both would have wanted.
City spent 152 million pounds ($216 million) in preparation for the campaign while United also surpassed the 100-million mark, but neither team has generated the momentum needed to launch a sustained title challenge.
United, often laboured and struggling to score goals all season, go into the game at the Etihad Stadium trailing their rivals by four points but perhaps sniffing blood.
City have capitulated in recent weeks and, with leaders Leicester playing Crystal Palace today, could find themselves 15 points off the top by kickoff, although they have played a game less than Claudio Ranieri’s men.
Since it was announced last month that Pep Guardiola would replace manager Manuel Pellegrini in July, City have won two of six league games and are far enough adrift of the summit to know that anything other than victory over their neighbours will end any lingering title hopes.
Meanwhile, City Striker, Sergio Aguero has admitted the Premier League title is slipping out of Manchester City’s reach and urged his team mates to keep rivals Manchester United at bay in the race for Champions League qualification ahead of Sunday’s derby.
City are two places and four points above United.
“We have to win, even more so because the title is slipping further and further away, and we have to make sure we take fourth place. We want the title but we have to take into account that United are right behind us and it will be a tough game. We will have to play intensely,” Aguero told British media.
The fixture may not be the kind of title-deciding clash enjoyed by both sets of fans in earlier seasons, but losing will still hurt. City can kill off United’s chances of qualifying for the Chzampions League with a home win, while defeat will almost certainly end their faint hopes of winning the title.
“At one point United were huge. City have invested a lot of money to bring in quality players, and that has levelled the playing field. I don’t know what is happening at United, I focus on City and Sunday. We are thinking about winning and nothing else,” Aguero said.
Captain Vincent Kompany will miss the game after suffering a repeat of a calf injury in Tuesday’s Champions League draw with Dynamo Kiev that saw City progress to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time.
Arsenal, 11 points off the top and visiting Everton today, are another side who have imploded at a crucial point in the season with manager Arsene Wenger’s position again coming under intense scrutiny.
Having won only one of their last eight games in all competitions and exiting the FA Cup at home to Watford, the debate about Wenger’s future has become increasingly heated.
After Barcelona completed their expected passage into the Champions League last eight with an 3-1 win at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, Arsenal were left with nothing to play for unless they can claw their way back into title contention.
Like City, however, Arsenal’s hopes rest on Leicester slipping up, which is looking increasingly unlikely with every passing week.
The battle for the title seems to have come down to a two-horse race between Claudio Ranieri’s side and Tottenham Hotspur, who trail them by five points and host Bournemouth on Sunday.
Both sides should win, with Leicester, who boast the best away record in the top flight, visiting Palace who have taken just four points from the last 12 games.
Tottenham, who have lost only two of their last 16 home league matches, face Bournemouth who are comfortable in 13th position in the table.
Meanwhile, Manager Mauricio Pochettino has played down concerns that having players called up to the England squad for friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands could impact Tottenham Hotspur’s title challenge.
Spurs, who are chasing their first league title since 1961, are second in the table, five points behind leaders Leicester City with eight games to play.
A number of their players will be selected by England manager Roy Hodgson to face Germany in Berlin on March 26 and the Netherlands at Wembley three days later, but Pochettino dismissed fears that this could hurt their domestic campaign.
“Maybe we have a big group called up… seven, six, eight. We have trust in the national team,” the Argentine told British media.
Alongside the league’s joint-top scorer, Harry Kane, midfielder Dele Alli, and defenders Kyle Walker and Eric Dier are likely to be called up, while Danny Rose, Ryan Mason, Kieran Trippier and Tom Carroll are also in the frame.
“The staff in the national teams have the quality and capacity to look after the players,” Pochettino added. “For me, when a player has an injury, it’s an accident. It’s not what you want but it happens. It’s difficult to stop accidents.
In the relegation fight, Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez will experience his first north-east derby when his team host Sunderland on Sunday.
Newcastle, second-bottom of the table, are one point behind their neighbours who are 17th in the 20-team standings.