Is the Manchester derby meaningless now?

Monday night Old Trafford will host the second Manchester derby of the season as title-holders Manchester City visit the current leaders and champions elect Manchester United.

In the last week as both clubs, both sets of fans, and commentators and analysts alike have asserted their opinions on what meaning and relevance this fixture now holds in light of the fact that United are 15 points clear of City with just 8 games to play.

City boss Roberto Mancini claimed that the table wasn’t ‘true’ – his meaning being that the points-gap doesn’t necessarily reflect that there is a huge gulf between the two rivals.

Sir Alex Ferguson then insisted that the title wasn’t won yet and that United still had games to play. His captain Nemanja Vidic called for the team to play as if it was any other game worth three points.

City captain Vincent Kompany then chipped in with his concession that the title race was over but that, nonetheless, the Manchester derby presented City with the opportunity to be crowned ‘champions of Manchester’.

Okay. So. It would seem that there is, understandably, a vast amount of posturing going on here with these soundbites.

Obviously, Mancini is under pressure – in fact the back pages on Sunday were plastered with headlines claiming he will be sacked at the end of the season. It must be hard for him to look at the table and see that his side have slid out of view but there is no such thing as an untrue league table, I’m afraid.

The table doesn’t lie and the way you play, the results you get subsequently, and the points that go with them are right there in black and white – it’s clear, accurate, and fair to observe that Manchester United have been far superior this season, not only to City, but everyone.

Mancini’s statement is clearly just an attempt at damage control and, perhaps, a means of keeping his players’ morale, confidence, and desire up ahead of the big clash that may decide his future, one way or another.

Ferguson we know of old. His modest and somewhat clichéd response can be basically translated as it’s not over until the fat lady sings. He’s trying to guard against complacency and also cover his own back, simultaneously.

He wants his players to go out and get a result, first and foremost, so he wants to inject some (albeit unrealistic) jeopardy back into the situation to give them something to play for.

Secondly, by claiming its not over, he lowers expectations slightly, taking a little bit of pressure and weight off his players shoulders going into the game.

United are coming into the fixture off the back of a disappointing cup exit against Chelsea last week – Ferguson knows this is not the ideal time to play a derby. He’s simply covering himself in case they get beat by cooling the heat on the game.

Vidic, likewise, is just turning the heat down on the fixture. The idea that it’s just another game worth three points cannot possibly be the truth – not for the fans or the players who witness or played in their 6-1 demolition.

It’s not just another game, it’s a big game and the captain is just trying to ease the pressure and keep the expectations low so that the world and his wife don’t start banging their drums if they lose another big game.

As for Kompany, I’m sorry to be barer of bad news but even if City win the derby, no one will call them ‘champions of Manchester’.

There is no such thing. If they beat United 6-1 again, perhaps that’ll earn them some bragging rights but, anything short of that, even a win, won’t give them enough brownie points (or actual points) to claim to be anything other than pretenders to the throne this term.

I’m afraid this fixture does not carry much weight this time around. The TV networks and the newspapers and the pundits and commentators will try ardently to create hype – the illusion that there is ‘pride’ or bragging rights at stake.

However, the truth is, whoever wins and loses, however it plays out, it won’t mean anything. Not to the title, not to the fans of either side, and not to the neutrals.

Regardless of the outcome, United will win the title, City fans will be disappointed with the season and the neutrals will conclude that United are, this season, the better team.

image: © dullhunk

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