More than just your normal Manchester derby

They say “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”. They also say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself.” So, with City fans’ fingers and toes firmly crossed for a beneficial result, there was a sense of rising inevitability that only a City fan could know when Gareth Bale doubled Tottenham’s lead over Arsenal in the early stages of the second half at the Lane on Wednesday evening.

Bloody Arsenal… Can’t make life that little bit easier for us, can they?

Of course they can’t, this is City: Tottenham against Arsenal was always going to end up with a home win. Tottenham had just lost in the cup semi-final to Portsmouth and Arsenal were in with a chance of going ahead of Manchester United on points, giving them an outside shot at catching Chelsea. So how else could it have gone?

So, that leaves Tottenham one point and one goal behind City on level games. Liverpool and Aston Villa still haven’t gone away, either; though if City can pick up seven points (Liverpool) and nice points (Aston Villa), Tottenham will be the only ones left in the running. Bear in mind also, that Tottenham and Aston Villa still have to come to City.

The bright side for City here is that Tottenham probably shouldn’t be getting six points from their next two games – Chelsea at home and Manchester United away. The down side, though, is that City’s next two games aren’t exactly any easier: Manchester United at home and Arsenal away. The bonus for City is that the Manchester derby is a game they have performed in (yet been unlucky with) all this season and, since the promotion under Keegan, have done pretty well in, especially at home.

That brings us neatly to tomorrow’s game: the 142nd League Manchester derby. Predictably one of the most unpredictable games in the Premier League, this one more so because of how important the match is for both teams. United will want to win (hoping Tottenham do Chelsea over, too) so that they still have a shout at the League title, while City will want to win (hoping Chelsea do Tottenham over, too) so that they are in the best position for finishing fourth.

This is more than just derby day. This is more than just wanting to get one over the old enemy… This game could quite easily turn out to be a season ender for one of the teams. United more than City, though, given that, in City’s worst case scenario (City loss, Tottenham win), they would still be two points behind fourth and have to play the team sitting there; with both Liverpool and Aston Villa unable to overtake them this weekend, for sure.

United’s worst case scenario – for balance’s sake, of course – would be ending Saturday seven points behind Chelsea, with nine points to play for. But this is all getting ahead of ourselves; there’s 97 minutes of derby game to play first (fnar!).

I hate derby day enough, though, without having all this to worry about, too. I’m not used to this stage of the season being this important; I’m not sure my nerves can take it.

A positive aspect is that this must be the best form I’ve known from City going into a Manchester derby – fourteen goals scored in the last three games and won five of the last seven. And this is the worst form I’ve known from United going into a Manchester derby – winning just one in their last four games (and even that wasn’t enough to win the tie).

But form, like some illegitimate lovechild, doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s not about how well any team performs now; it’s about what games they win and what games they don’t. I don’t care if City don’t put in another good performance this season, as long as they are winning.

I hope that makes sense.

The other question is: Is it actually beneficial for City if Wayne Rooney plays? An injured Rooney is still a threat, but if he is injured to a level similar to that which he played at against Bayern Munich, then it could be good for the hosts. A Rooney who can’t move very well, in theory, shouldn’t be as much of a problem as a Rooney who can.

I’m in no doubt he’ll play – after all, Ferguson sent out his intentions about the sudden power shift towards City this season by not playing his kids in the League Cup tie – because, should United lose this one, they’ll really be in the backseat for the title. Last throw of the Rooney-shaped dice and all that.

This weekend should give us a clearer idea of what’s going to happen in both the title race and the race for fourth place (incidentally, I’m claiming the credit for that name: I used it before Sky Sports News or Match of the Day did and, as such, it’s mine… You can thank me later)?

Obviously, we can’t rule out Liverpool – who have to play West Ham (h), Burnley (a), Chelsea (h) and Hull (a) – or Aston Villa – who have to play Portsmouth (a), Hull (a), Birmingham (h), Man City (a) and Blackburn (h) – because both have a set of good fixtures. They are quite a long way behind on points for this stage of the season, but stranger things have happened.

We’re a week on from my last article for this website and I’m still crossing everything that it’ll be City that finishes fourth, but there are still no more clues as to who is best equipped to do it. City are best placed and I believe they can do it; but it’s going to be perhaps the most interesting race in the Premier League this season… Which makes a change from looking at the relegation or title battles, eh?

Written by David Mooney