City out to set­tle Manch­ester derby score

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

LON­DON. — English Premier League soc­cer lead­ers Manch­ester City can en­sure Manch­ester United’s re­cent re­vival is short-lived by open­ing up a 12-point gap on their lo­cal ri­vals in what prom­ises to be an ex­plo­sive Manch­ester derby to­mor­row.

Mean­while, a se­ries of trib­utes are planned as Leicester re­turn to the King Power Sta­dium for the first time since club owner Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha and four other peo­ple were trag­i­cally killed in a he­li­copter crash.

Cham­pi­ons Manch­ester City hold just a two-point lead over Chelsea and Liver­pool at the top of the ta­ble, but have looked re­lent­less in re­cent weeks and shown no sign of a slip in stan­dards from their record-break­ing 100-point English Premier League cam­paign of last sea­son, scor­ing 12 times in their last two out­ings alone.

One of pre­cious few blem­ishes from last term, though, was blow­ing the chance to claim the ti­tle by beat­ing United at the Eti­had as City threw away a 2-0 half-time lead to lose 3-2.

That re­sult only marginally stemmed the tide in the power shift across Manch­ester to­wards City since Alex Fer­gu­son’s re­tire­ment in 2013.

United have failed to fin­ish above City in the league since, and are al­ready nine points be­hind the lead­ers.

How­ever, Jose Mour­inho’s men were also buoyed by their best re­sult of the sea­son by a dis­tance in win­ning at Ju­ven­tus in dra­matic fash­ion on Wed­nes­day to back up vic­to­ries over Ever­ton and Bournemouth.

De­fen­sive con­cerns re­main for Mour­inho, though, with United keeping just one clean sheet in their last 10 matches. Stop­ping a City side av­er­ag­ing four goals a game at the Eti­had in the Premier League this sea­son is a mon­u­men­tal task.

And the rise of Manch­ester City in the past decade has raised the ques­tions of whether the Manch­ester derby has fi­nally re­placed United’s clash with Liver­pool as the pre-em­i­nent derby in English foot­ball’s North-West heart­land.

While there are no short­age of United fans who, for ei­ther historic rea­sons or a sense of in­ter-city com­pe­ti­tion, still say that Liver­pool is the ul­ti­mate grudge match, there is no doubt the Manch­ester derby has grown in stature and rel­e­vance.

To­mor­row’s game at the Eti­had Sta­dium will cer­tainly have the real edge of a derby al­though, as has been the case for sev­eral sea­sons, City will start it from a po­si­tion of su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Pep Guardiola’s side look down from their perch on a United team stuck in sev­enth place - and that hurts ev­ery­one con­nected with the Old Traf­ford club.

Few of United’s faith­ful truly be­lieve Mour­inho’s team have a real­is­tic chance of fin­ish­ing above Guardiola’s cham­pi­ons in May but a win to­mor­row would re­store some lost pride.

That was the case in April when Paul Pogba scored twice as United came back from two goals down at the break to win 3-2 and deprive City of the sat­is­fac­tion of clinch­ing the ti­tle on their home turf against their neigh­bours.

City’s loud cel­e­bra­tions of their 2-1 win at Old Traf­ford last December had ran­kled with Mour­inho and his play­ers and they showed that in the tense at­mos­phere of a derby they were ca­pa­ble of lift­ing their game and rat­tling City.

They will need to be fir­ing on all cylin­ders to stop Guardiola’s side who have scored 11 goals in their past two home games in the Premier League – putting five past Burnley and hit­ting Southamp­ton for six.

City are un­beaten in the league with nine wins from 11 games while United have won just six and lost three and al­ready trail their neigh­bours by nine points.

Both sides will be buoyant af­ter con­trast­ing Cham­pi­ons League wins on Wed­nes­day when City trounced Shakhtar Donetsk 6-0 and United plucked a 2-1 vic­tory over Ju­ven­tus out of the fire with two late goals in Turin.

Liver­pool, smart­ing from their Cham­pi­ons League loss to Red Star Bel­grade on Tues­day, will be hop­ing that United can do them a favour and take points off City.

Jurgen Klopp’s side host bot­tom club Fulham while sec­ond-placed Chelsea, also two points be­hind City, have a tougher task at home to Ever­ton. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, in fourth place, will look for their sev­enth away win so far this sea­son when they travel to Crys­tal Palace this evening.

Two weeks af­ter Vichai’s he­li­copter crashed in the car park of the King Power shortly af­ter Leicester’s last home match against West Ham, the Foxes will again pay tribute to the man who helped pro­duce one of the great­est up­sets in sport­ing his­tory as a team la­belled a 5 000-1 shot won the Premier League in 2016. Leicester play­ers, staff and fans united for an emo­tional vic­tory at Cardiff last week­end be­fore the play­ers flew to Thai­land to pay their re­spects at Vichai’s fu­neral.

More trib­utes will be made ahead of kick-off with an ex­pected 20 000 fans set to take part in a walk from Leicester city cen­tre to the sta­dium in Vichai’s hon­our, as well as a video tribute be­fore kick-off and a two-minute si­lence jointly in mem­ory of the vic­tims of the crash and Re­mem­brance Sun­day.

A com­bi­na­tion of Euro­pean and tele­vi­sion com­mit­ments mean that five of the top seven are in ac­tion across four games to­mor­row, of­fer­ing the chance for three dif­fer­ent teams to go top across the course of the day.

Liver­pool are first up as they look to make amends for a ter­ri­ble re­sult in the Cham­pi­ons League in los­ing 2-0 at Red Star Bel­grade in mid­week to jeo­pordise their chances of pro­gress­ing to the last 16.

Fulham are there­fore wel­come op­po­nents to An­field hav­ing slipped to the bot­tom of the ta­ble with a run of five straight defeats.

Chelsea then have the chance to take top spot a cou­ple of hours later when Ever­ton are the vis­i­tors to Stam­ford Bridge, hop­ing to in­flict Maurizio Sarri’s first de­feat as Blues boss.

Arsenal are also in ac­tion as they look to ex­tend a 15-game un­beaten run and at worst re­main just out­side the top four at home to a Wolves side who have faded in re­cent weeks af­ter a great start on their re­turn to the top flight.

But top billing is re­served for the bat­tle of Manch­ester’s gi­ants with City likely to need at least a point to end the week­end where they start it - at the top of the ta­ble. English Pre­mier­ship Fix­tures (all

5pm un­less other­wise stated) To­day: Cardiff City v Brighton & Hove Al­bion (2:30pm); Leicester City v Burnley; Newcastle United v AFC Bournemouth; Southamp­ton v Watford; Hud­der­s­field Town v West Ham United; Crys­tal Palace v Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur (7:30pm).

To­mor­row: Liver­pool v Fulham (2pm); Chelsea v Ever­ton (4:15pm); Arsenal v Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers (6:30pm); Manch­ester City v Manch­ester United (6:30pm).

Paul Pogba

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