Soccer 365’s Howard Johnson, who may not be feeling well these days, wonders whether for once in his life he should have been rooting for Manchester United this weekend. Why? Read on...
When Dirk Kuyt slammed the ball past David De Gea in the Man United goal in the dying seconds of Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round game to seal a 2-1 win for Liverpool, I was out of my seat for the traditional fist pump. Nothing unusual there, of course. As the old terrace song goes, ‘I never felt more like singing the blues than when City win and United lose’. But after the initial euphoria of seeing Taggart sucking on a lemon had worn off, I did start to wonder whether I shouldn’t have been fighting all of my natural instincts and hoping for a United victory at Anfield.
After City also suffered at the hands of Kenny Dalglish’s men on Wednesday and went out of the Carling Cup at the semi-final stage, I think it’s fair to say that the only trophy that interests us this season is the one they hand out to the winner of the Barclay’s Premier League. Unless you count the Europa League, of course. And I don’t think anyone except that plum Michel Platini – and certainly not Roberto Mancini – views that as anything more than an irritating distraction. So given that the current league standings – like Shakira’s hips – don’t lie, there are only two genuine contenders for this season’s title; Manchester City and Manchester United. Under those circumstances, circumstances that we haven’t seen since the two Manchester clubs battled it out for the title back in 1968 with City eventually coming out on top, there’s a nagging feeling that I should really want United to be battling it out on as many fronts as possible. The more they’re distracted from the principal task at hand, the more I should like it. Which means that I should have wanted them to beat Liverpool at the weekend, even if it sticks in the craw ever to be rooting for that lot to come out on top.
As things turned out it wasn’t to be, and now United will find themselves every bit as focused as we are on denying their local rivals the glory of the most coveted prize in English domestic football. Can City do it? I say yes. Not just because I’m an idiot wearing blue-tinted specs, though that might have something to do with it. But also because we’re finally coming to the end of our most demanding period of the season. With first Vincent Kompany and then Mario Balotelli suspended, with the Touré brothers away on African Cup Of Nations duty, and with referees handing out dubious penalty decisions against us like it’s going out of fashion, Mancini’s men have had a hell of a lot to deal with in January. Oh, and that’s without even mentioning the prolonged absence of that wayward yet world class striker Carlos Tevez. How many other clubs would have been able to take all that on the chin without unravelling? We were sent tumbling out of both domestic cup competitions in this miserable period and people are quite rightly starting to question whether City have the bottle to hang in there and finish on top of the pile come April. But if you look at the remaining 15 league fixtures, you still have to say that we’ve got more than a fighting chance. There are only three fixtures against Premiership powerhouses; Arsenal away, then Chelsea and Man United at home. And while the old cliché that there are no easy games in the Premiership is true, nonetheless you’d rather be playing West Brom and Norwich than Spurs and Liverpool, wouldn’t you? United face Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and City, and three of those meetings are away from home. I know whose fixture list I’d prefer.
Not that anyone in their right mind should underestimate United. Whatever you might think of them (and what I think of them isn’t fit to be displayed on a family website!) they’ve been there and done it and have a history of getting over the finishing line. They won’t let their noisy neighbours take the title without a hell of a fight. Have we got the bottle to go all the way? Not according to United defender Chris Smalling, who reckons we’ll ‘blow up’ somewhere along the way. Well we’ll see about that, won’t we? There’s a long way to go still, but we’re finally starting to get to the business end of the season where the men get sorted from the boys. Have City got enough characters in the squad, enough players prepared to stick their hands up and take a game by the scruff of the neck? Given the cost of the squad that’s been assembled you’d certainly hope we’ve bought character as well as quality. And regardless of whether United have only got the league to focus on or not, we have to back ourselves to go the distance. Me? I’m going to get 50 quid on the blue half of Manchester right now!
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