Top Manch­ester teams face off

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - By Gra­ham ruthven New york times

With just one swish of his right foot, Ser­gio Aguero’s stop­page-time goal against Queens Park Rangers on the fi­nal day of the Pre­mier League sea­son in May clinched Manch­ester City’s first league ti­tle in 44 years and con­firmed Manch­ester United was no longer the only soc­cer su­per­power in the north­west of Eng­land.

United’s play­ers and man­ager, Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, thought they had done enough to avoid such a fate. Af­ter they won their game at Sun­der­land, news fil­tered through that City was los­ing, 2-1, with just min­utes to play, enough to give United the cham­pi­onship. Its fans were cel­e­brat­ing a record 20th ti­tle.

Then Edin Dzeko scored the equal­izer, and Aguero pro­vided the defin­ing moment. City fin­ished on top of the ta­ble on goal dif­fer­ence.

United and City will face off again Sun­day, this time on the same field. And once again, they hold the top two spots in the league, with United three points ahead of City 15 games into the 38-game sea­son.

His­tor­i­cally, the ri­valry be­tween City and United has been sim­i­lar to that of the Mets and the Yan­kees. While one team strut­ted like rock stars, the other could only watch with envy.

Those days are gone. The Abu Dhabi United Group has pumped around $900 mil­lion into Manch­ester City since tak­ing over in 2008. Many say City’s Pre­mier League ti­tle has a price tag hung on it, but sup­port­ers say the money spent is ir­rel­e­vant.

It was the team’s dra­matic snatch­ing of the league crown from its ri­val in May that was the most pow­er­ful state­ment.

One place City can­not yet claim to com­pete with United is the Cham­pi­ons League, where it was elim­i­nated at the group stage for the sec­ond suc­ces­sive year.

In fact, City’s dis­play this sea­son was the worst ever recorded by an English team in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Ryan Giggs in­sisted this week that United’s big­gest ri­valry re­mains with Liver­pool — the club it top­pled as Eng­land’s most suc­cess­ful last year — but given the cur­rent shape of the Pre­mier League, it is hard to be­lieve him.

With Chelsea in tran­si­tion — some might say dis­ar­ray — Ar­se­nal strug­gling with a trans­fer pol­icy that al­most ha­bit­u­ally lets its best play­ers leave ev­ery sum­mer, and Liver­pool em­bark­ing on re­con­struc­tion, the ar­rival of a com­pelling nar­ra­tive in Manch­ester has been a wel­come one. Manch­ester is un­doubt­edly Eng­land’s soc­cer cap­i­tal, maybe the world’s.

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