Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League via a 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Saturday evening, leading Manchester United by the slender margin of four goals, having played a game more than Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
The see-saw battle between the Manchester clubs has led to a title race much closer than that of last season. At roughly the same stage of the competition – with the Manchester clubs having played 29 games – Manchester United led the way with 60 points, three clear of Arsenal in second place despite coming off a 3-1 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield. City were third on 53, having squeezed past Wigan Athletic with a single David Silva goal. This year United are 10 points better off and City 17 points, level on 70. Both sides have seen their goal difference improve massively too – City were on plus 20 a year ago, United plus 33. As of Sunday morning City’s goal difference stood at plus 50, United’s plus 46. The statistics indicate that while both sides have improved from last season it is City who have made up the most ground. That may not, however, be enough to claim a first Premier League crown and first league title win since 1968.
Patrick Vieira’s recent comments and Ferguson’s response, both reported by the BBC, kicked off the phony war between the sides that will culminate when United travel across town to the Etihad Stadium at the end of April. Depending on the result it may not even end then. There will still be two Premier League games to play after the Manchester derby and it was shown just how quickly the title race can change direction when Roberto Mancini’s side lost to Swansea City while United beat West Bromwich Albion on the same day. That was the weekend that knocked City from the top of the pile for the first time since October and the vagaries of the fixture list, with the sides not always playing on the same day, have seen the lead change hands since. But with United to play Fulham on Monday, a big enough win would see the current title holders not only put three points between themselves and their nearest challengers but snuff out City’s goal difference advantage in the process.
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