Manchester derby will be a showdown of great significance
SOCCER:Let’s forget Chelsea’s impressive start to the season, shall we, because it already seems a distant memory at Stamford Bridge. With a six-point gulf between City in second and the next-placed teams in the Premier League, Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion, the title race seems to be resolving itself into the two-horse affair everyone predicted it would be before Roberto Di Matteo’s new signings clicked so smoothly.
There is still time for Chelsea to climb back into the reckoning, as long as Rafael Benitez can find someone to put the ball in the net and help ease the pressure piling up on him, though it already appears that Tottenham and Arsenal have no hopes higher than a Champions League finish while West Bromwich and Everton have just had bright starts put into perspective.
Right at this moment it appears the title is going to stay in Manchester, and with United one point ahead of their neighbours going into the weekend fixtures the derby at the Etihad the following Sunday could be a showdown of some significance.
Given home advantage, unbeaten status and their record of two league wins against United last season, City will probably start favourites, though first they have the tricky visit of Everton to get out of the way. Tricky because in six attempts since he took over from Mark Hughes in 2009 Roberto Mancini has only seen one league victory against Everton, at home last season. The other five games were won by David Moyes’ team, which means City players will not be taking anything for granted tomorrow.
“We want to be within touching distance of United when we play them in the derby, but it’s a massive game for us first against Everton,” Gareth Barry explained. “We always seem to find it difficult against them, so if we can get a positive result we will go into the derby extra confident.”
Taking recent history and Everton’s form into account a draw might be considered a positive result, yet Barry, like everyone else at City, realises draws must be turned into wins if United are to be overhauled.
Unbeaten City are a point behind rivals who have already lost on three occasions, and if the title race is going to be as tight as it was last time then every draw means ground lost rather than a point gained.
“We were worried we might get another draw at Wigan but we managed to step it up after half-time,” Barry said after their 2-0 win.
“We looked pretty solid in defence but we weren’t creating too much. It was important to get the first goal and it could be good for Mario Balotelli as well.
“He could go on a run now, he scored some massive goals for us last season and anyone who knows him will tell you he doesn’t lack confidence.”