Manchester City face a resurgent Chelsea on Wednesday, looking to get back within a point of local rivals and league leaders Manchester United.
Having been top themselves for much of the season and clear favourites to win the title, City’s success has now come under question as United go through their usual end-of-season winning run. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are in ominously ruthless form in the Premier League and have arguably the easier run-in, making a 20th league title look increasingly likely.
But, for the sake of the English football, I hope this doesn’t happen.
As far as allegiances are concerned, I’m completely neutral, holding no particular sympathy for either side. I just think it would be better for the neutrals like me if City win.
For starters, they’ve played some superb football this season – the wins at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane are probably as good as have been seen in the Premier League against such a calibre of opposition. United have played some good stuff too, but nothing on that scale – their season has been largely marked by the kind of functional narrow wins that are typical of champions, though there have been some clear exceptions.
Spurs have also been sensational at times, but their challenge has faded badly amid the speculation over Harry Redknapp’s future. In terms of consistently producing stylish and successful football, only Swansea can claim to have matched City this season.
David Silva has been brilliant, if overexerted, Sergio Aguero a revelation, and Mario Balotelli his usual enigmatic self. On top of that, they have probably the best defender and goalkeeper in the league in Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart. Whether you approve of how they acquired such talent or not, it is an unquestionably superb squad.
Contrast that to United’s squad; a reliance on two midfielders in their late-30s, no obvious first-choice keeper, and a long-term injury to their captain and defensive stalwart. Wayne Rooney may be world class, but I don’t see him inspiring United to glory in the same way that Eric Cantona or Cristiano Ronaldo did, not this season anyway.
Yet, they are top of the league, as they always seem to be at this time of year. When City were flying in the autumn, the Red Devils clung on thanks to a superb show of resilience and that has allowed them to gradually close the gap in terms of points and goal difference as City feel the heat.
Undoubtedly, it will be an extraordinary and commendable achievement if Ferguson can lead United to glory yet again. But it will be a serious indictment of the competition the Premier League has to offer; a Spurs side that have begun to fizzle out, Chelsea riddled with too many problems to mention here, Arsenal and Liverpool nowhere to be seen, and City unable to deliver on the promise shown for so long.
As Spain, Italy and Germany’s sides take the plaudits in Europe, the only solace fans of the Premier League can take is that our league has the best level of competition. Could we still claim that if United win again, and with a side that is not nearly as talented as previous models?
In the Premier League’s 20 year history, only four sides have lifted the trophy – United, Blackburn, Arsenal and Chelsea. United have 12 to their name, four times as many as the nearest challengers. Surely it’s time to add a fifth name to that list.
And while we deride Spain for being a two-team league, at least Barcelona and Real Madrid are world class teams capable of beating just about anyone else. If this United side win, then what will it say for the quality we have on these shores?
City are meant to be the successors, if only because they have the financial means to become so. But if they can’t win it now, with United in transition, then when will they? Financial Fair Play will soon level the economic playing field, and why would someone choose to join City over any of their rivals if they don’t have the domestic or European title credentials to back up their cash.
This is the best chance City will get to cement a place at the top of the English game and ensure their progression on the field can continue. And if they can do that, they might just drag everyone else along with them.
The Premier League needs City to win, or we risk falling behind in terms of quality and credibility.