Manchester Derby: City on brink of Premier League glory

Manchester City will become the first team in the EPL's 26-year history to wrap up the title with six games to spare if it beats Manchester United at the Etihad – a fitting end to a season of almost total dominance in the league.

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City is 16 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s second-placed United side.   -  AFP

Manchester City can ease the pain of its Champions League defeat to Liverpool by clinching the Premier League title in record time, when it faces arch rival Manchester United on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola’s men will become the first team in the league’s 26-year history to wrap up the title with six games to spare if they beat United at the Etihad – a fitting end to a season of almost total dominance in the league. City is 16 points clear of Jose Mourinho’s second-placed United side, so it is a matter of when rather than if it wraps up the Premier League title, the first of Guardiola’s reign in England.

 

The runaway leader will be desperate to reassert itself after its chastening 3-0 defeat in the first leg of its Champions league quarter-final at Anfield. The derby comes just three days before the return leg of its European tie and Guardiola faces a difficult balancing act, still believing he can overturn the Champions League deficit at the Etihad.

“Nobody believes but we have another game,” said Guardiola after the defeat to Liverpool. “We have to accept it and now we have United at home and then Liverpool at home.

“We see what happens. Of course it is difficult but we believe.”

United, serial winner of the Premier League under former manager Alex Ferguson, will be desperate to throw a spanner in Citys works and reclaim a modicum of pride.

READ: Guardiola not changing derby plans after Anfield woe

City star Kevin De Bruyne knows staging title celebrations while United are forced to watch is a delicious prospect for the club’s fans. “These are the games you play the whole season for. It would be wonderful, something different,” he said.

“You know how it goes between City and United, you know the history, so it would be historic. The sooner we do it, the better.”

- Balance of power -

After decades of living in United’s shadow, City has changed the balance of power in Manchester firmly in its favour and is on the verge of its third title since 2012.

Having endured a disappointing first season with City, Guardiola has silenced the critics who claimed his purist principles would not work in the cut-throat Premier League, meshing his desire for a smooth passing style with an ability to compete physically.

Belgian midfielder De Bruyne has been City’s driving force, while David Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have all played key roles.

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Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola won his first English silverware in February when City trounced Arsenal in the League Cup final. By then, City had already turned the title race into a lengthy coronation and it would be fitting if it completes its journey with one more record-breaking victory, even though its probable Champions League exit threatens to cast a shadow over the celebrations.

City set a record earlier this season by winning 18 successive league matches and a host of other statistical milestones are within its reach. Currently on 84 points, City is chasing Chelsea’s Premier League record tally of 95 points set in 2004-05. With 27 wins so far, it can also beat Chelsea’s high of 30 victories set last season.

United won the title by the widest margin when it took it by 18 points in 1999-2000, but that record could also fall to City, which, with 88 goals scored, has its sights set on Chelsea’s 103 netted in 2009-2010.

City’s dominance has been so overwhelming that many are already ranking it among the best teams in Premier League history, alongside the likes of Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, which won the 2003-04 title without losing a single match, and United’s 1999 treble winners.

Yet, making City wait for its place among the immortals would be some consolation for United, whose midfielder Juan Mata is well aware how important it is to show some pride.

“This game doesn’t come in an ideal situation, for there’s quite a gap of points between the two of us, but we all know that its a special game,” Mata said.

“Were looking forward to playing against them and having a good performance. That’s what our fans deserve,” he added.