Humphreys: Why this Manchester battle is the biggest game for years
Why Manchester battle is biggest game for years
Don't believe the hype. The Manchester Derby isn't the biggest game of the season. It's the biggest game for many seasons.
Hype is so often overplayed in the spleen-splitting environment of the self-proclaimed Best League on the Planet. But on this occasion, it's an understatement.
|MAN UNITED||MAN CITY|
Manchester City's date at the Theatre of Dreams promises a potential nightmare for Manchester United - and just about everyone else in the English Premier League - if the visitors prevail.
The Red Devils run out to those stirring trumpets from the Rocky theme. They could trudge off to REM.
It's the end of the world as we know it, if United lose. The derby will be remembered as D-Day, the day of City's domestic omnipotence.
Whatever the result, something has to give. United have won all their home matches in this season's EPL. City are 100 per cent on the road.
A record must be broken at Old Trafford, but that's short-term statistical stuff, window dressing for stats fans.
There are other forces at play here. Purists might call them darker forces, but the final whistle could leave us all pondering a sobering reality.
An EPL win for City would be their 14th in a row - a record in one season - but that's small potatoes for club owners who want the lot.
I love my side to pass the ball, but not passing for passing's sake. We know we have to be aware of United's threat in wide positions, but also with balls down the middle.Pep Guardiola
A City victory kills this season stone dead. There's no way back. It's over. The title race will be cooked before the Christmas turkeys.
ONLY UNITED POSE A THREAT
Ordinarily, it would be insane to write off a campaign before Santa has shown up, but City play insane football.
Pep Guardiola operates like a chrome-domed Svengali. He's cast a spell on Raheem Sterling, for instance, turning him into a world-beater. It's practically an act of witchcraft. Hundreds of years ago, Guardiola might have been burned at the stake.
I can try to define a game plan, to work in a direction, but we don't know what can happen, there are so many things that are out of control that can totally transform the direction of the game.Jose Mourinho
He's won nothing yet, of course. But there's a strong bet that he could win everything.
He has the tactical acumen. His employers have the cheque book. Both are happily ensconced in Manchester. They're not going anywhere. Nor is the rest of the Premier League. City's rise can only lead to their rivals' fall.
City are bankrolled by a nation, a glittering emirate soaked in petrodollars. Their owners are five months away from annexing the EPL. No one will catch them after that.
That leaves United in alien territory. They find themselves occupying the moral high ground. A club also run by absentee billionaires is all that stands between Manchester City and EPL domination for years to come.
In the opposite dugout, Jose Mourinho knows he's on the clock.
He must throw up a wall of defiance - or a row of parked buses linked together by Marouane Fellaini's elbows - before third-season syndrome kicks in.
His siege-mentality approach to man-management has a short fuse. Even his own players tire of the daft conspiracy theories eventually. For Mourinho's United, it's this season or bust. He's never turned a club around in his third season before.
At Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino's star remains undimmed, but he needs a trophy before his reputation starts to lose its lustre.
Antonio Conte will probably make it to the end of this season at Chelsea but, after that, it's anyone's guess. The Blues do not believe in longevity.
Juergen Klopp's Liverpool remain a schizophrenic squad, brilliant up front, brittle at the back. Arsene Wenger has one foot in retirement at Arsenal.
That leaves United. Only United.
Ironically, Mourinho's stifling anti-football represents the best hope of stopping the most enthralling footballing side in a generation.
West Ham proved that City are vulnerable to an aerial threat and a decent cross whipped behind the back three, so the temptation to throw up Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku for set-pieces and hope for the best must be overwhelming.
With home advantage, the United faithful will struggle to tolerate such a negative tactic. But the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.
A convincing, swaggering City triumph would be the most double-edged of swords. Guardiola's attractive brand of football is truly intoxicating, but it threatens one hell of a hangover for everyone else.
It'll be hard to get so close again, either this season or the next.
City have the right kind of manager. More importantly, they have the right kind of money, the limitless kind.
That's why this Manchester Derby promises to be the most significant in recent memory. Bragging rights among old enemies barely scratch the surface.
If City saunter off the pitch with three points in their vast pockets, it'll end any pretence of sporting democracy within the EPL. It'll mark the beginning of a dictatorship.