Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Manchester Derby: Nothing to pay for?

Hello again everyone, two things have given me the impetus to write tonight's blog.

1) I don't think enough people are covering tonight's match between Manchester United and Manchester City

2) Justin Bieber has 37 million more Twitter followers than me, and that has to be addressed sometime, what does he have that I don't? For what it's worth, Bieber has more followers than fellow countrymen. Spooky.

Oh yeah, 3) My girlfriend might start a blog soon and I find it of huge importance that I reassert my dominance in the literary stakes, particularly after we don't play '4 words 1 pic' anymore. As my profile picture suggests, I don't bring the looks, I bring the books.

Anyway, much to the chagrin of the nation's media, tonight's match will be more of demonstration derby than a demolition derby, not that I as a United fan am too bothered. Hell, City may even win, and I won't be too upset, it will be the footballing equivalent of Nick Clegg beating David Cameron in a race to the trousers shop. Now that I have made a mediocre attempt at political satire, let's talk sports.

A few weeks ago, this game was scheduled for that hotbed of footballing activity - Monday night at 8pm - in the hope of driving fans to incontinence from the high stakes, tension and significance. Of course, the hoped pivotal nature of the game in the title race would drive 'The Three H's' of football broadcasting: hype, hype and hype. If you want a more pertinent example of this, see this year's Battle Royale for that most coveted of sporting glories - Fourth Place.

But the championship battle hasn't turned out that way. Unfortunately for the broadcasters, City's form has stuttered while United have been imperious, stretching an already worrying advantage into an almost certainly decisive one. So the media have zoned in on the other subplot - the 'local' significance. But is there really any of that? In United's case, fans from all over the world will tune into the game at crazy hours to watch their team play, while all over Lancashire, City's fans will do the same at, admittedly, a still crazy hour.

It is no more a regional battle, football has changed. I mean, I support United and as I am constantly reminded, I am from London. Indeed, do you know the statistic that at any time in London, you are no more than five metres from a rat? You are probably only four metres away from a United fan. No comparisons please.

The contest

Anyway, the game. United can take an 18 point lead with victory and ensure that the title can be won as early as next Wednesday. However, at the end of a season which once promised so much, the expectation upon the champions-elect to secure the seemingly inevitable may affect their performance. Alternatively, the United players may see the game as a coronation; an opportunity to justify their commanding lead and to remind City of the improvement required to reclaim the crown. And that means doing a little more than signing Scott Sinclair.

As for City, an imminent FA Cup semi-final aside, their season has been relatively poor. In spite of a tough group, they were woeful in the Champions League and the defence of their title has been more pathetic than my current attempt to look busy - I'm actually at work right now. However, the game may present a chance to return to the old days, when the derby was like a cup final, when the opportunity to scupper or derail a United title charge was one to be taken with both hands.

I personally think the game will be low-key and cagey, with United perhaps less concerned with grasping the opportunity than, more importantly, not blowing it. On the other hand, City appear unsure of whether to look forward or back and an uncertainty has seemed to pervade through the club for most of the season. Most City fans will probably agree, they as fans are simply not yet used to success, perhaps the same goes for the players

It is probably my defeatism which leads me to predict a rather dour game, but I would not be surprised if it takes the complexion of a relegation dogfight, but with Samir Nasri thrown in. But don't take my word for it, I'm so nervous and pessimistic that I punched the air in relief at safely getting into bed last night, I'm hopeful I will be wrong.

The context

I still remember the corresponding fixture from last season when City tore United apart - mostly in stoppage time and with the handy deployment of 'the sweaty goal' - to record a 6-1 victory which still gives me sleepless nights. Perhaps of greater significance was City's win at the Etihad Stadium six months later, claiming a 1-0 victory on their way to a first championship since 1754. If the 6-1 defeat gives me selective insomnia, don't get me started on the manner in which City actually won the title...

Ok, I got started. While the nation's commentators were doing their best impressions of the male orgasm to accompany Sergio Aguero's goal, I was checking my phone for confirmation of the horrible truth, hoping that throwing it at a wall would make it all Ok. It didn't, and I remain emotionally scarred and without a fully functioning phone. In Salford and 'red' Manchester, there will forever be 'anomalies' in the sales figures of anti-depressants for May 2012. Meanwhile in China, there was probably a puzzling and dramatic increase in the number of Manchester United shirts with 'Aguero' on the back.

Looking forward, for us United fans, winning tonight would give us a brief sense of calm in a storm of uncertainty brought about by City's sudden rise to prominence. We all pretend to not be concerned by City's financial power, saying that Financial Fair Play will put paid (pun intended) to that (will it f**k) or that their position as current champions, is likely to be brief. But in reality, I'm sure most of us feel the same as me, lying awake at night in the foetal position and crying softly, waiting for that day when last May's demons can be exorcised, at least in the short-term. It matters a lot more than most of us care to admit.

I may have gone full circle in the space of one short article, but yes, tonight's match does matter. To a natural pessimist like myself - and thus my opinion is essentially void - it isn't over until it's over, but even to the realist, the sooner the day that red - and not blue - ribbons are on the Premier League trophy, the better. Those bragging rights I mentioned earlier may not be at stake, but the smug satisfaction - currently in the ownership of those at the Etihad - is. I need that false sense of superiority and achievement (derived from my own inability to do something for myself) to help me enjoy the summer.

With the weather finally perking up recently, starting tonight, hopefully that summer starts early.


By the way, if you are coming here from BBC Sport after my epic spamming, thanks for reading and I hope I didn't waste your time! Additionally, from that same page, please watch the interview with Owen Hargreaves, how strange is his accent?!

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