For Manchester City, The Hard Work Is Still To Come
It’s over. Seven days of restless nights, a churning stomach, and a vague feeling of dread, of impending doom, all combining to leave me feel like the victim of a nasty stomach bug, and all because of a stupid football match. The lead up to the semi-final and final of the FA Cup didn’t make me feel this bad, not a quarter this bad. Even afterwards I couldn’t relax. Never again.
The outpouring of joy as Vincent Kompany’s towering header hit the back of the net was guttural, intense, and continued into the concourses throughout the half-time interval. The reaction to the final whistle matched it decibel for decibel. There were a few bruised ribs and shins in the blue half of Manchester on Tuesday morning.
Defeat to Arsenal for City had left United 1/40 to retain their Premier League title. No one could have seriously predicted that Manchester City would end the derby on top of the table. The obitruaries for Roberto Mancini have been ripped up and shredded for now, the whole complexion of the season transformed in just a fortnight. But for City, the hard work is still to come.
The result means another week of nerves, of poor concentration, a terrible work ethic, United-supporting colleagues ignoring me, and a course of beta blockers. Many hurdles have been overcome – the prospects of a guard of honour for United players at the Etihad stadium, of them winning the title at the same stadium, or at least building up a pretty unassailable lead. But the away game at Newcastle on Sunday will be every bit as difficult. There can be no real celebrating yet. After all, this is a title race that is still hanging in the balance. And with the twists and turns that have already occurred over previous months, it would be foolish to be making conclusions just yet.
On paper, United have the easier run-in. Swansea at home and Sunderland away are not games to be taken lightly, but both teams are perfect for must-win end of season games, because they are mid-table sides with little to play for. In the meantime, Mancini’s mind games continue, commenting on how United are still favourites for the title, as they have two easy games. This has riled Martin O’Neill, which was precisely his intention, Mancini hoping that he ensures both managers don’t give United an easy ride.
City however play two teams with everything to play for. For Newcastle, the surprise package of the season, thoughts persist about the prospect of Champions League football. More will become clear after Wednesday night’s fixtures, when they take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It is Chelsea more than anyone that could really put a dampener on Newcastle’s success story. Were Chelsea to win the Champions League, then 4th place in the league will only result in Europa League football next season. Beat Newcastle, and 4th place may not be an option anyway. Either way, Newcastle won’t know until after the end of the domestic season whether 4th place gets Champions League football, so will be fighting hard on Sunday against City. And City’s last game is against a QPR side desperately fighting against relegation, managed by a man loathe to see his team go down at the ground where he once managed.
On Sunday, City play before United. This time lapse could be crucial. If City win, it is more plausible that Swansea could get a result at Old Trafford, as the United players’ heads could drop. If City fail, United will be fired up, the league now back in their hands. Either way, it will probably go down to the last day.
It’s a dangerous game, but in the minds of many City fans, the season effectively only has one game left. Win at Newcastle, and the title is virtually theirs. No doubt many United fans would agree. And if anyone believes in omens, then City could be in luck. In 1968, the last time City won the title, they went to a good Newcastle side level on points with United as the season reached its climax. United had a highly winnable game at home to Sunderland, who of course they play on the final day this season. City won 4-3 as United lost 2-1, to secure the title. 1968 was also a leap year, and an Olympic year too. The following year, Matt Busby retired. Hmmm……..