Why City could still walk away with the crown in a Premier League title race of endless twists and turns
21:37 GMT, 23 April 2012
A little more than two weeks ago, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini declared his team out of the Barclays Premier League title race after a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Now, in the blink of an eye, City approach a Manchester derby knowing that a win at the Etihad Stadium next Monday will catapult them back above United to the top of the table.
Here are five reasons this fascinating duel could be about to swing from red to blue once again.
They're back: City's win over West Brom put them on the right track again
Watching City fall apart in games against Sunderland and Arsenal it became apparent that Mancini’s team were beginning to struggle with the mental demands of winning a Premier League title. It was not a particular surprise. Teams such as Newcastle and Liverpool have been there before and not managed to squeeze home.
Once City lost at Arsenal and all but gave up on the title, however, their attractive, rhythmical football of autumn and early winter returned.
Watching them sweep West Bromwich aside at home two weeks ago was to observe a team suddenly freed from the pressure of expectation.
What remains to be seen is if they can continue to play like that when the stakes are so high against United.
The young Italian’s sending off at Arsenal was pretty much City’s lowest point. Balotelli’s dismissal seemed to characterise Mancini’s problems with internal discipline.
As it transpired, though, it was an enormous stroke of luck. Without that, Mancini would not have been forced to throw Carlos Tevez back into the fray so soon.
Mancini has not admitted it, but starting with Tevez against West Brom was privately considered to be a huge gamble. Lacking fitness and still a little overweight, Tevez’s performance could have gone either way.
As it happened he scored a goal in that game, three more in the 6-1 defeat of Norwich that followed and is now a certain starter on Monday against his old club. Suffice to say he will be motivated.
Seeing red: But Mario Balotelli's sending off at Arsenal has turned out to be something of a blessing
TOO MUCH FOOTBALL
United have coped incredibly well in the absence of captain Nemanja Vidic this season, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans playing brilliantly in the centre of Sir Alex Ferguson’s defence.
However, even the best players need an afternoon off occasionally and on Sunday against Everton, weeks of intense football seemed to catch up with Evans, in particular.
Ferguson has been unwilling to use Chris Smalling or Phil Jones alongside Ferdinand recently and it seems Evans found Sunday’s game — his 15th consecutive League start — one too many.
The United manager was less than impressed with young Brazilian left back Rafael on Sunday. Smalling, therefore, must have a chance to start against City.
Bad day at the office: Jonny Evans (left) and goalkeeper David De Gea look stunned as Everton make it 4-4 at Old Trafford
GETTING AWAY WITH IT
United’s efforts in reaching 83 points with three games remaining deserves recognition. Already the champions have more points than they gained in winning the Treble in 1999 and more points than they racked up last season.
However, this has not been a season that has often seen United sweep teams aside as they often have in the past and recent home performances —against Fulham, QPR and Aston Villa — have included some help from questionable refereeing decisions.
Controversial: United won a penalty against QPR for a challenge on Ashley Young by Shaun Derry, who was sent off
IT’S A PROPER LEAGUE
After seeing his side hold City to a draw last month, Stoke manager Tony Pulis said: 'This league isn’t like Spain where sides roll over against Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s a league where anyone can beat anybody else.'
Pulis was right. After all, the fact we are now anticipating the most thrilling end to a title race in years is more down to the laudable efforts of Wigan and Everton than anything.