Down to the Wire
March 17, 2012

Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images

If I was an island castaway who was saved this past Monday morning, there could be only one question as I flipped through the in-flight newspaper on the rescue helicopter, "United has won the league?"

At least that was the impression given by the media after Manchester United knocked neighbors City off the perch over the weekend, for the first time since October, by a massive one-point lead. Paranoid City fans would call it a conspiracy by the press to infuse panic at Carrington. As much as I’d like to agree, it’s probably best if we leave the self-victimizing to Liverpool.

One City fan appeared to be crying after super-sub Luke Moore headed in Swansea’s 83rd minute winner. The man has repeatedly denied that he was weeping but the image of his frustration remains a portrayal of the City side fielded at the Liberty Stadium on that fateful day. Dire, uninspired, and bad enough to make their opponent look like the FC Barcelona of Wales.

I am not one to question Roberto Mancini’s tactics. Else I’d be writing an application (and post-sacking appeal) letter for the Chelsea job instead of this article. But when you have to substitute a non-injured player 30 minutes into the game, you know something is not right. Gareth Barry did little in hiding his anger from the dugout though often times, he is the more reserved member of the squad. Then again, everyone is when you have Mario Balotelli in the camp.

Further up the M6, Wayne Rooney was bagging goals to the euphoria of loyal United fans wearing Norwich scarves in the stands. Their trip from London that afternoon was well worth it. West Brom was given a footballing lesson through the sheer determination and teamwork shown by the men in red. It was a reflection of the fighting spirit that Sir Alex Ferguson has instilled into his squadron. It was the sign of true champions. Or, in the words of United fans celebrating prematurely on the Internet, ‘Champ20ns’.

And it didn’t help that West Brom simply didn’t show up, just like anyone else when they play United -- bar Athletic Bilbao.

With 10 games to go and 30 points to play for, the two-horse title race still does appear to be open on paper. But looking at the matches both teams are to play in, the odds seem to be slightly against City. While United is scheduled to play (surprise surprise) dwellers of the league’s bottom-half, City is due to face Chelsea and Arsenal who are struggling for a place in the Champions League.

Nevertheless, this is the Premier League. The thrill and drama of watching these twenty teams play, with the injury time winners and underdog surprises, makes it probably the biggest reality show on the planet. And the last stretch of the season is usually the time when teams at the wrong end of the table regain momentum in their fight to avoid relegation.

I know so. We’ve been there. The fact that City stayed in the top flight even after shamefully scoring only 10 goals at home in the 2006/07 season speaks volume. It wasn’t until the end of that season that I first saw Georgios Samaras running successfully without tripping over the ball.

So it won’t be all rainbows and butterflies for the Red Devils either.

Both managers have come out to expectedly say things that we know already. Mancini remained defiant by claiming that City will "fight until the end". Ferguson, meanwhile, has given assurance that his side "won’t get nervous". Which is quite a compliment considering his previous assessment that City will never be top dogs; not in his lifetime.

Ferguson does have the upper hand, though. His side had lifted the league trophy time and again over the years so the experience they have garnered would provide the mental strength. Even if history repeats itself again this season, it’s not entirely a failure for Mancini as progress has been made.

I, for one, wouldn’t have thought that City would do this well at the beginning of the season. It’s been a record-breaking run and at one point, we were scoring an average of three goals per game. Not anymore. Teams had figured us out, I reckon. Which is simply not good enough an excuse considering the £900 trillion that have been pumped into the club (source: The Sun).

As football journalists tirelessly sensationalize this title-race as the greatest ever, and the prospect of seeing the return of Manchester’s Sweetheart Carlos Tevez, the 163rd Manchester Derby at the Etihad is set to be a showdown. The corresponding fixture at Old Trafford earlier in the season pale in comparison to the magnitude of this epic clash.

So pale that I’ve totally forgotten the score of that game. Anyone?


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Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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