The stage is set. Ten matches left in the English Premier League season. Manchester United at 67 points, Manchester City at 66 points. Let the brawl begin. After a season controlled by the Sky Blues, United have begun to catch up with their cross-town rivals and have now overtaken for a small but significant lead in the title race. Tottenham Hotspur, once a runner in the title race, have dropped three straight matches and are now 16 points out, leaving the competition down to two teams.
Saying Manchester City versus Manchester United is a top-flight rivalry is true; saying that their competition has been continual is false. The two teams have only played once the entire season, that meeting taking place October 23rd at Old Trafford, with City shocking the home side 6-1. Other than October, the relationship is as if two heavyweight contenders are dominating their circuit of challengers, all the while staring down their next chance to grudge their rivalry. That final bout will take place on April 30th, in the third-to-last match of the season. And like a fight night in Las Vegas, the eyes and spotlights are sure to be fixed on what happens between the battle lines. But until that fateful date arrives, which contender has the advantage?
Manchester City have impressed the English football community. Through all the hype, all the controversy, and all the pressure, City have only lost four matches the entire season. They have found in Mario Balotelli an extremely effective and dynamic striker to replace Carlos Tevez, and have used the depth in their squad to survive the dog-days of EPL competition. Although they struggled to balance European and league play during the month of January, they are now free of the burden of UEFA and can focus singularly on the title. Manchester City will play Chelsea and Arsenal in two of the next four matches, and will play five away and five home games to close the season.
Manchester United bounced back from a slow start to the season full of disappointments, including the embarrassing loss to City at home and the early exit in the Champions League. Injuries have plagued United, losing some of their most veteran players, such as Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic, who have been missed in difficult spots throughout the campaign. Yet Sir Alex Ferguson has once again composed the best potential of his players and waited until the end of the season for their best form, going 7-0-1 in their last eight EPL competitions. Although United fell on the road in Europa play, they will still have to juggle their schedule as they host Athletic Bilbao on Thursday. Their remaining English schedule will also split five home and five away matches, and will only play one team from the top five spots in the league, that team being Manchester City.
The EPL schedule favors United, but the distractions of the Europa League should equal out the balance of competition both squads will have to face. This will put even more pressure on the April 30th match, where Manchester United will have to play in front of 50,000-plus at Ethaid Stadium. Each ball matters. Each substitution will be crucial. Each point could mean glory or folly. Manchester City versus Manchester United. A fight to the finish. Ding, ding.