A month ago Monday’s derby at The Etihad Stadium appeared to be one that would see Manchester United crowned as Premier League Champions – either walking on to the pitch as the 2011/12 winners or celebrating at the final whistle – but with defeat at Wigan and then dropping points at home to Everton suddenly City have a second chance.
Following defeat at Arsenal when the wheels looked as though they were falling off City’s season no-one gave them much of a hope but now, just three points (and with a superior goal difference) behind they have an opportunity to return to top spot with just two games remaining. Victory for United though however would see them need just one point to seal what would be a twentieth title. No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson labelled this as the biggest ever derby.
As much as City’s renaissance of late has propelled them back in to the race, in reality the title is United’s to lose. Yes, City have the confidence and momentum to give them a chance to strike (despite Roberto Mancini’s protestations) following recent wins, the odds overwhelmingly favour United (in their favour by 76.5%-23.5% according to the Euro Club Index rankings) and with the three-point lead inspite of the final games do look – on paper at least – more accommodating for United than they do for City.
It has been a fascinating race between the two Manchester clubs over the course of the season, with at times the battle between the pair played out at a breathtaking pace. At one stage it appeared that we could see a record points total needed to the win the league with both sides on course for in excess of 90 points. At the halfway point, the two sides were locked together on 45 points and I wrote that if either side replicated this return then they would ultimately triumph; and so it will prove.
City now hold sway in terms of goal difference, with a cushion of six goals heading into the game – which of course could prove so vital if City do get the win on Monday – and a feature of the season is both sides goalscoring ability, with United totalling 86 and City 87 respectively. As we can see, both City and United have maintained a consistent goals per game return, despite points at the season where both saw challenges in front of goal with United in particular boosting their tally over the second half of the season:
Both teams have also consistently featured at the top of end of the table in terms of the ability to convert their opportunities, as we can see from the following graphic:
We have also seen that City have the better goals against record and despite absences at times of both Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott – they have managed to maintain more consistency in terms of selection in defence, and this is perhaps reflected in the following graphic that outlines a breakdown of goals conceded:
Whilst United have a higher number of clean sheets it is telling that City have conceded three or more goals only once this season (the home draw with Sunderland), indicative of United’s greater inconsistency – a reflection surely of the injuries to key personnel in this area – but this is an area I looked at earlier in the season and showed that even at that stage United were more prone to conceding chances than other sides in their position and we can see that through the season they are more prone to conceding chances and committing errors (United stats on left, City on right):
Next Page: A look at the numbers behind the goals… (Click bottom right or top right for link to next page)
Whilst it has been shown that the defences could be key, the form of the attacking players does look the likely difference maker. Both Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney notched again at the weekend and have – along with Robin van Persie – been the three élite attacking players this season in many of the key categories, as this look at their respective numbers shows. We know that both sides have the capacity to score goals and are both comfortably the highest scorers in the Premier League, what does this actually mean for them? Does scoring a amount of goals generally ensure victory? The following table shows the respective of the sides when scoring a certain number of goals:
And contrasting this, we can now repeat the exercise for goals conceded:
In terms of goals scored there is very little to choose between the two and there no obvious traits or advantages shown. In terms of goals conceded however there is an interesting comparison between the two when conceding just a solitary goal. Whilst City have post eight wins in these situations, they have drawn two and lost four, whereas United have won seven of their eleven and tasted defeat just once.
This suggests at least that if United do score once then the odds of City getting victory are less likely perhaps than if they get the one goal, something that is backed also by their record when failing to net more than once.
Of course, if the game is tight then the first goal is often so crucial and we can see quite how important this will be on Monday when comparing the sides respective records depending on who takes the lead and also how likely they are depending upon the score at half-time:
Also interesting to look at is if the game is tight, who this may help. With good goalscoring records both sides have understandably registered some huge wins (none more so than City’s 6-1 demolition of United at Old Trafford of course), but there is an interesting comparison between the two when looking at their respective records for different margins of victory:
Interesting here is that City have yet to be beaten by more than one goal, whereas of United’s four defeats, one was by three goals and one was the 6-1 at Old Trafford. Does this therefore suggest if the game is tight (as many are predicting) United hold the advantage? City have certainly been capable of beating teams convincingly but further to this four of their five one-goal game defeats have been 1-0: defensively tight still but frustrated in attack. Can United do effect a game plan for this – and City’s recent record in this fixture is not one that indicates a plethora of goals – or given City’s weapons in attack do United come out and try to take the game to City; greater risk certainly but potentially a greater reward.
The game has been termed as ‘unmissable’ by Sky Sports and the intrigue is heightened further by the fact that there are so many key areas and sub-plots that will determine the outcome of the game, and possibly the title itself. Often it is fine margins that such games are decided and in a game where goals are not widely anticipated this is proven even more so.
What a fascinating encounter we have in prospect.