By Justin McCahren
The atmosphere at Etihad Stadium was as advertised. The “noisy neighbors” of Manchester City hosted nemesis Manchester United in a Derby to be remembered. The thrilling 1-0 victory for City was an emotional high for Roberto Mancini’s squad. The win tied them with the Red Devils in points atop the Barclay’s Premier League table. City’s goal differential has them currently controlling their own destiny.
The celebration was on after Monday’s win. With Manchester City-blue smurfs in the stands along with legend Diego Maradona and a ruckus Liam Gallagher celebrating in his sky box… it had all the ingredients of a Championship clincher. With the notable exclusion of a trophy. The game itself saw City dominate the ball and United valiantly fighting them off. Fighting was a theme on the sidelines as well as Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson had a verbal joust. When the final whistle blew, they did however, shake hands.
Sunday afternoon, City will have to play the first of it’s two remaining fixtures. After the sky high feeling at Etihad Monday, City will have to regain it’s focus in a hurry. They will travel to St. James Park to face a 5th place Newcastle team that has everything to play for. With 65 points, Newcastle is merely an upset victory and a Tottenham loss away from steam-rolling into 3rd place. Aresenal, thought to be a lock for the 3rd position, dropped two points at home Saturday, drawing with Norwich City.
The draw for Arsenal makes Sunday’s fixtures pivotal in the race for a UEFA Champions League spot. The top four in the Premier League will earn their way into the prestigious competition. The 3rd position this year is more coveted this season however. 6th place Chelsea could be in line to steal one of the four spots in next years Champions League. If they’re able to uspet Bayern Munich in Munich in this years Champions League final, they automatically secure a spot for next season. What it all means is that Manchester City is walking into a hornets nest this afternoon.
Captain Vincent Kompany will play an enormous roll at St. James. As he has all season, Vinnie is ready to step up in front of Joe Hart. Kompany was the fitting hero Monday at Etihad. His bullet-header of a finish secured City’s double over United. Sunday he will have to slow two dynamic attackers in Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. The two have combined for 29 goals. One thing is for certain in this fixture, City will have to finish some attacks of their own if they hope to remain atop the table. One goal may not be enough in this one. Behind the home fans at St. James (Sports Direct Arena) Newcastle should be a formidable foe.
Look for Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero to be in better position to score in this one. While Newcastle has been stout in their defending, getting clean sheets in four of their last five, they gave up 4 goals at Wigan Athletic. While Wigan is improved, they’re nowhere near the level of percision that the Manchester City front can bring. I fully expect Vincent Kompany to be in top form as well. Newcastle may get the first goal, but I see City eventually wearing down Newcastle and getting at least three behind goalie Tim Krul. Prediction: 3-1 City.
*Manchester United meanwhile will host Swansea at Old Trafford. Swansea has nothing to play for but pride, but don’t discount their spirit. United will break their will early and often however, I see United putting up 5 in this one. Prediction: 5-0 United.
*Tottenham Hotspur has a tough fixture away at Villa Park. I see the Spurs overcoming a slow start and eventually pulling away. Prediction: 3-2 Spurs.
*Finally, congrats to Chelsea for pulling out a dramatic FA Cup victory over Liverpool. Goalkeeper Petr Cech made an improbable save on an Andy Carol shot in the second half. The ball was a mere inch away from crossing the line and Cech dramatically extended his arm to keep it out of the net. Drogba and Brazilian, Ramires scored the goals for the Blues. Chelsea continued it’s dramatic resurgence under the direction of interim coach Roberto Di Matteo. Chelsea is now 12-2-4 in all competitions sice Di Matteo took over for embattled Andres Villas Boas. Chelsea earned it’s 4th FA cup in the last six seasons. May 19th Chelsea will try to collect the coveted UEFA Champions League crown. They’ve come a long way this season and are setting themselves up nicely for next. Don’t be surprised if Di Matteo is given the job permanently in the next week or so.