With two games remaining the Premier League title race is, if at all possible, heating up. Roberto Mancini’s repeated assertion that Manchester United face an easy run-in, starting at home to Swansea City, has riled the Welsh side as the Manchester City manager attempts to ease the pressure on his side, instead diverting the focus to Sir Alex Ferguson and his charges.
City, meanwhile, make the trip to Newcastle United. The Magpies have been one of the revelations of the season, charging into the Champions League reckoning and have already beaten United at the Sports Direct Arena this season. A similar outcome on Sunday would throw the title race wide open again – and perhaps prove part of Mancini’s prophecy correct, that City do indeed have a more difficult final two games when compared to United. The proof will be in the playing.
The Premier League table suggests that City do have a more difficult end to the season. If judged solely on league position that is bordering on the inarguable. Newcastle are fifth and City’s last day opponents, Queens Park Rangers, will likely go into the final fixture desperate for the points. United face Swansea, comfortably ensconced in 12th and Sunderland, currently one place higher. Neither the Swans nor the Black Cats have anything tangible to play for, only professional pride, the very quality Mancini is likely trying to stir up.
Mancini’s choice of phrasing confirms as much. Rather than describe City’s fixtures as more difficult, which the league table and the vagaries of meeting a team scrapping for survival would back up, the Italian chose to term United’s as easy. Mancini’s exact words where, as reported by the
City were also given an almighty scare at the Etihad Stadium by Sunderland only a month ago. On March 31 Sunderland took a point from the blue half of Manchester but may still feel they should have had all three, having been 1-0, 2-1 and then 3-1 in front. If Mancini considers that to have been an easy game then his standards may need re-evaluating. City’s home encounter with Swansea was more straightforward, a 4-0 win, but it was the first game of the season before the Swans had grown accustomed to the Premier League. The return leg at the Liberty Stadium ended in a 1-0 home win, again, a far from easy fixture for Mancini.
Mancini’s attempts at mind games are nothing new from managers in the tumult of a title race. The arch player of mind games may well be Ferguson himself, who induced Kevin Keegan into an infamous tirade in 1996 that led to the implosion of Newcastle’s title challenge. This year the shoe is on the other foot, and it is Ferguson who would love it if Newcastle derailed City’s championship ambitions.
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