Stakes high for Man United-Man City derby day
MANCHESTER, England (AP) -The stakes have never been so high for a Manchester derby.
Sure, Manchester United was once relegated after losing 1-0 at home to City but results elsewhere on that day in May 1974 meant the Red Devils would have gone down even without a back-heeled goal from former United striker Denis Law.
This time around, the northwest neighbors' business is being conducted at the right end of the table.
United was in control of its own destiny until Sunday's 4-4 draw against Everton tipped the balance toward City, which can now win a first championship since 1968 if it wins its three remaining games.
"We've given City the initiative; there's no question about that,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said. "It makes the game at the Etihad Stadium a really important game now. It makes it the title decider, really.''
There is still a week and almost an entire round of Premier League action remaining before the northwest neighbors go head-to-head at City's Etihad Stadium but the game is already dominating the sports pages in the British press.
Even with two more matches for each team after next week, the encounter is more important than any of the 44 Manchester derbies Ferguson has previously been involved in.
"Definitely,'' Ferguson said.
United looked to have a record 20th title in the bag after overhauling City but it dropped five of the last nine available points and momentum now seems to be with City, which already mauled United 6-1 at Old Trafford this season for the worst defeat of Ferguson's 26 years in charge.
Everton's four goals means United has conceded more goals at home than in any league season since 1978-79, leaving Ferguson to emphasize spirit rather than stats.
"We make it hard for ourselves but we have to go there knowing we're capable of getting a result,'' Ferguson said. "We need to get a result now at the Etihad, there's no question about that. There's no reason why we can't do that.''
The one thing in United's favor is the experience of the title winners in its ranks.
"It's a huge game,'' Nani said. "It will be a difficult game, but if you want to win the league you cannot think about the atmosphere or the opponents, we must just think about the way we play and try to win the game.''
"We have to keep believing in our qualities because we still have a great opportunity to win the title.''
Ferguson has been trying to suggest the pressure is on City because of its players' relative inexperience and City manager Roberto Mancini has seemed ready to embrace that diminished status despite his team's greater financial muscle and depth of squad.
Mancini pointed out that there are still two more games for each side to clinch or throw away the title.
Defending champion United hosts Swansea and finishes at Sunderland, while City is at fourth-place Newcastle before hosting Queens Park Rangers on the last day of the season.
"We have another chance but they have a bigger chance than us at this moment,'' Mancini said. "After the derby, the games United have left are not as difficult as the ones we have to play.''