Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have celebrated 12 league title wins. Any Manchester City fan under the age of 44 wouldn’t even have been alive the last time their side could do the same.
And though only three points separates this heated rivalry before Monday night’s all-important duel, history, experience and familiarity presents a much bigger chasm between the clubs.
City have already shown themselves as incapable of handling the pressure and expectation that comes with being a title-chasing side. Roberto Mancini’s men have squandered a lead at the top of the table that at one point stood at five points, and when United established an eight-point lead at the start of this month, Mancini all-but admitted that their challenge was over.
Crucially, not only did United begin to stutter, but that statement seemed to take the debilitating pressure off his players, who have since played with the sort of panache and fluency that saw them pummel their way past teams earlier on in the season.
David Silva has found his passing boots again while Aguero and the returning Tevez (both 7/1 to score first) have struck a formidable partnership – they’ve scored 12 of the 15 goals City have scored in games they’ve started together. Add City’s near-flawless home record – won 16, drawn 1 from 17 – and it’s clear why Mancini’s men are 5/4 favourites to win to bring it all square in the title race.
Ferguson will be keen to blunt this attack and for that to happen his back four will need to improve on their performance at home to Everton last week that saw them ship four goals.
Nonetheless Fergie has previous for keeping City quiet – City have failed to score in their last three home games against their nearest and dearest, a 0-0 draw last season following on from two successive 1-0 defeats. Another United 1-0 is priced at 12/1.
Not only do United have the edge when it comes to league titles, they also boast 67 Manchester derby wins to City’s 44, with 50 draws between the sides.
Mancini is still claiming that the title will end up at United in an effort to keep the pressure off his squad.
But when the eyes of the world descend upon the Etihad Stadium and with 47,000 expectant fans filling the stands, both sets of players will know exactly what is on offer. The pressure will return. Having handled it so many times before, the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand and Rooney will know exactly what is needed to claim the draw they require, at 11/5.