Manchester United fans may spend the next week consoling themselves that, despite their club’s English Premier League lead having dwindled to three points, the venerable wizard at the team’s helm has navigated these storms before. Yeah, Manchester City can now take control of league with a win in next Monday’s derby at East-tihad Stadium, but how many times has Alex Ferguson been through this? And how many times has he won the title? Surely, as United fans might claim, this is just an unfortunate but not entirely foreign part of another title campaign.
It’s a view Ferguson didn’t share moments after his team gave up a late, two-goal lead on Sunday as Manchester United were by Everton, 4-4.
“A throw away, an absolute giveaway,” Ferguson said, his club having taken a 4-2 lead into the 83rd minute. “I can’t believe it.”
It was only the third time in the Premier League era Manchester United had conceded four times at home. And it’s not like Everton’s attack rivals Man City’s or Arsenal’s. Coming into the match, the Toffees had registered 38 goals in 33 games, only 17 of those scores coming away from Goodison. As much as you want to credit Everton for another spirited late-season performance, Manchester United’s defending was the main culprit.
Now the team’s in line to face the league’s best attack, on the road, in a match Ferguson confesses is both title-decider and biggest Manchester Derby of his 25-year tenure at United’s helm. And perhaps most important: Manchester City’s actually good again.
Two weeks ago, that wasn’t the case. With a pathetic performance in a 1-0 loss at Arsenal, City finished a five-match run claiming only four points. Conversely, Manchester United had won four matches in a row, but after City confirmed Wolves’ relegation with their 2-0 victory at the Molineux, the tables have turned. Manchester City have won three in a row, outscoring their opponents 12-1 in the process. United, despite scoring nine times, have a loss and a draw in their last three matches.
It’s all made people like me look like idiots (not a bad thing). The Premier League title race was considered “dormant” (if I can quote myself), with three things needing to happen in order for it to be resuscitated: Manchester City would need to be perfect; Manchester United would have to stumble, probably three times; and the changes would need to happen with then-immediate effect. Given the trajectories each club was traveling, the odds were very slim.
But they were still odds, and here we are: Seven days from one of the biggest Mondays in Premier League history. If the last two weeks have taught us anything, predictions are useless. Who knows which City, which United will show up on Monday, but with David Silva, Samir Nasri and Carlos Tévez all coming good, Manchester United fans should be as worried as their club’s manager.
Elsewhere in England
Stuff that suck out:
- Even if Manchester United claims the title, I can’t argue with anybody who wants to place David Moyes’ season above Alex Ferguson’s. With West Brom winning at Anfield on Sunday, Everton looks an even better bet to finish above Liverpool.
- Even when he’s coaching the opposition, Liverpool’s players can’t seem to put in a good performance for Roy Hodgson. The former Reds boss won his return to Anfield, re-igniting skepticism of Kenny Dalglish’s future.
- After five straight losses, Blackburn woke up. They beat visiting Norwich to climb into 18th place, three points back of 17th Wigan. QPR, another relegation-battler, got a shock win over Tottenham to climb to 34. Just a guess, but it looks like 36 points could keep you up, this year.
- At the other end of the table, Newcastle’s chances of qualifying for 2012-13’s Champions League have gone from “yeah, that’d be cool” to “this is happening” thanks to Harry Redknapp. The Magpies deserve credit, having won six in a row since losing at the Emirates in mid-March, but Tottenham’s slide since the England manager’s job opened up has been enough to make The FA reconsider Redknapp. With only two league wins in the last two months, Redknapp seems to be endorsing Roy Hodgson for the England job.
- But while we’re talking about managers, let’s stop to give some credit to Martin Jol. The Fulham boss started slowly as his team struggled to adjust to a new style. The former Spurs’ boss’s insistence that the Cottagers play the ball out of the back created a lot of awkward moments. Fulham, however, have adjusted, and thanks to strong seasons from Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembélé, sit on 46 points (in ninth place) after their Saturday win over Wigan. If he can keep the team together, you’d expect Jol to challenge at the edges of Europe next season.
Up next: Monday’s Manchester Derby will overshadow the Premier League week, which includes Bolton’s Tuesday visit to Villa Park, making up a game cancelled in the wake of Fabrice Muamba’s White Hart Lane collapse.