If you’re an optimist having ‘games in hand’ is as good as having I.O.U notes – it’s only a matter of time before you call them in – money in the bank so to speak or, more appropriately, points in the bag.
With a three game ‘advantage’ on Chelsea and having played two games less than Liverpool and Arsenal, it’s time for Manchester City to start ‘cashing in their chips’ in the race for Premier League supremacy.
Back-to-back away wins at Old Trafford and The Emirates this week, would see Manuel Pellegrini’s team installed as favourites for a second title in three years.
Two defeats or even draws, and it could be that City may well have had their chips, with the PL crown leaving Manchester for the first time in four years.
Given the present plight of David Moyes’ fallen champions, the red side of the city would be delighted to see the title head to London – much better that, than the nightmare scenario of noisy neighbours City, or hated rivals Liverpool, claiming the biggest prize in English football.
Moyes – so often the nemesis of Manchester City during his time at Everton – can partially appease disenchanted United fans when he hosts his first Mancunian derby, and with it, the opportunity to claim local bragging rights.
The daunting prospect of Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League, means the Manchester derby is effectively United’s ‘Cup Final’ this season, such has been the Red’s meteoric fall from grace.
For decades it was a barb directed at City fans as United, giddy on title success after title success, emptied entire salt cellars in the gaping wounds of bruised and battered sky blue supporters.
Nowadays City have bigger fish to fry as they strive for a League and League Cup double – wins over United are no longer the main course on the menu – more the hors d’oeuvre.
That said, City have to avoid any bones getting stuck in their throat as they go angling for a third consecutive victory in the Stretford Swamp.
It’s incredible to think it took from 1974 to 2008 – 34 barren years – for them to register a win in Trafford Borough.
All that time from Denis Law’s famous back-heeled goal, to a brace from Darius Vassell and Benjani on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air tragedy, witnessed by the ‘Impeccables’ – City’s magnificent 3,000 strong following on the day, who observed the one minute silence to honour the memory of those who perished.
Not since a spectacular five season winning streak from 1968-1972 in the Mercer-Allison era, have City come so close to dominating United on red territory.
The form guide suggests they can do just that, but local derbies show little or no respect for whatever is in vogue at any given time.
Vincent Kompany will return to lead his team. City’s Belgian Boulder will be tasked with keeping a headline-hitting Wayne Rooney in check after his spectacular 50-yard goal at West Ham, with a fifth successive PL clean sheet a pre-requisite for gathering maximum points.
It was another Shrek strike – his infamous overhead scuff off the shin – in February, 2011, that last gave Manure three points over City at OT.
United will be hindered by the absence of Rooney’s partner in crime, Robin Van Persie, after the Dutchman suffered a sprained knee, following his hat-trick against Greek champions Olympiacos.
It’s a bonus for City, but an advantage that is nullified by the ongoing loss of Sergio Aguero.
Perversely, City’s top scorer in the PL will be available, and hopefully running the show. Yaya Toure’s hat-trick against Fulham took his tally to 20 goals so far in 2013/14, with 16 coming in the league.
Alvaro Negredo will be desperate to add to his 23 goal haul, but whether he or 18 goal Edin Dzeko gets the nod to start the game remains to be seen.
Surely it’ll be a case of either not both, with Pellegrini being well served by a five man midfield of Yaya, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho and either James Milner or Jesus Navas.
The welcome return to fitness of Stevan Jovetic and a now in-form Javi Garcia provide top quality options, as well as giving rise to optimism that City can close the gap on Chelsea to just three points by 22.00hrs on Tuesday.
Despite being totally humiliated in a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, Moyes seems genuinely convinced that the two subsequent wins over the notoriously bad travellers from Athens and a woeful West Ham, has United all set to damage City’s title tilt.
The less than devilish reds have already suffered the embarrassment of five defeats in 14 home games since Moyes took over, scoring at a miserable rate of just over a goal a game – 18 in total.
An ageing, disrupted and vulnerable defence has seen them leaking at the back in a similar fashion, with 15 in the goals against column.
By contrast City are scoring an average of two per away game, whereas they have been rampant at the Etihad with 48 in 14 matches, well over three per outing.
Of United’s 51 points, only 21 have been won on home soil, whereas City have overcome some indifferent early season form to plunder 24 points on the road.
You have to go back eight PL matches to November 10 to find City’s last away defeat – a miscarriage of football justice, losing 1-0 to Sunderland.
Commitments in the League & FA Cups, plus the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Champions League meant City went three weeks without a league game, heaping the pressure on Pellegrini and his players as their rivals continued picking up wins.
Exits from the FA Cup and CL could easily have soured the mood following City’s League Cup triumph, but resounding wins at Hull, when playing with 10 men for 80 minutes, and a 5-0 demolition job on Fulham, show a City side patiently chipping away at Chelsea’s advantage, now reduced to six points.
Pellegrini has conceded that progress in other competitions, whilst desirable, would have been more of a hindrance than a help to City’s PL aspirations.
City’s horrendous list of injuries throughout the season might explain such a sentiment, as players tire and play through niggles and knocks.
An effective summer transfer window will ensure Pellegrini recruits to strengthen areas of weakness and improve areas of excellence, but no manager or team can legislate for losing players of the calibre of Aguero, Jovetic, Nasri, Kompany, Silva and Nastasic for significant periods of time.
Pellegrini rejects the notion that City go into the derby as favourites but if the sky blues’ midfield gets into an early rhythm with Yaya, Nasri and Silva on song, it’ll be odds on that United’s brittle backline will buckle and break.
And if the man from Chile proves to be a double derby winner in his first season in Manchester, he’ll have every reason to feel chipper.
By David Walker
A City win at Old Trafford will be so sweet for all Sky Blue fans, especially Paul Glennon, an incredibly brave man who continues to defy the odds and stick around with us all on the Blue Planet. The lifelong City fan and father-of-five, wants to be at the Etihad to see the Premier League trophy bedecked in blue and white on May 11 – he may not live to see it happen again. If you want to support a fellow blue in the toughest of times follow Paul on Twitter @paulandailz