by Alwyn Payne

Manchester City will win the Premier League title. It may not be this year, perhaps not the next either, but I’m confident that their 42 year wait will not transform into a 50+ year wait. The inevitability of success has been assured not only by the Abu Dhabi United Group’s forward thinking approach to the development of the team, but also the development of club infrastructure from a very basic level. In short, these chaps will stick around.

The owners have made it abundantly clear that sustained financial backing will not be a problem. Compare & contrast this with the ethos of the Glazer family – the gangrenous ginger tumour, benignly eroding the soul of one of the world’s great clubs. Benign, of course, in the sense that they won’t f***ing go anywhere. The two owners could not be further apart in almost all aspects, save their respected club’s league positions, and perhaps the fact that their chairmen both look like hilarious cartoon villains.

The former aspect, rather than the latter, will be the one under scrutiny when both clubs meet at 8pm tonight at the Etihad Stadium in what has been dubbed variously as “A title shoot-out”, the “Biggest derby in living memory” and “A lot of fuss about absolutely nothing.” The last one was my girlfriend, but perhaps the most accurate, too. The occasion will almost certainly not be reported on in the same way the very first match between the two was – “a pleasant game” according to the Ashton Reporter – but a decisive result either way will make it hard to disagree with any of the [and there’s a f***ing lot of it] media hype surrounding it.

The team with the best away record versus the team with the best home record. It’s hardly the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, as both sides have faltered on numerous occasions and each let sizeable leads atop the table slip away, but they’re the best England has to offer. City have played their last few games as if there’s a title to be won, whereas United have been performing as if the award of a title was just a formality. Having gone 8 points clear, and seemingly into the home straight of the run-in with the Premier League theirs to lose, they’re making a pretty good go of it.

Manchester United don’t do bottle jobs. Sir Alex Ferguson has spent years, decades indoctrinating his young players to play – and think – the ‘United way’, and this includes breeding in them an unrivalled mental toughness. However, if City do beat United tonight and lead the table by goal difference – putting themselves in the driving seat, Manchester United will have bottled the title. To let an 8 point lead slip to their closest rivals like that, will just reek of cowardice and defeatism, traits not usually associated with previous incarnations of this club.

If City do go on and win the match [and the title] then I must hand plaudits out – however begrudgingly – in abundance. The mental strength that United will have lacked, City will have shown and then some. Their team has been quite rightfully referred to as the “best” this season. They’ve scored the most, conceded the fewest, and been responsible for one of the most shocking results in Premier League history when they went to Old Trafford and demolished United 1-6, yet they’re still 3 points behind with 3 games to play. Talent only gets you so far – you need to show the mental strength to prevail, and City still have a very good opportunity to do so.

I think it’s too close to call. A win or a draw for United and the title is almost theirs; a win for City and it’s hard to see them losing it, yet none of those results seem beyond the realms of possibility on a wet & windy night in Manchester. The only certainty is that whichever team is happiest with the result, will be odds-on to win the title.

With regards to my heading – why United need it more than City – all I have to say is that anything better than a 3rd place finish for Manchester City signifies progress, whereas anything less than first place for United means decline. It really is as simplistic as that. And I leave you with a list of things that will almost certainly be said at least 37 times each during the evening’s commentary…

“Well that script was already written!” – if any one of: Tevez, Hargreaves, Balotelli, Rooney, Giggs, Scholes or Welbeck et al. contribute significantly to the outcome of the game.

“Well he certainly hadn’t read the script!” – Same as above.

And any other number of things that involve either the word “Script”, “written” and “stars” with a few prepositions thrown in for good measure.

“Noisy neighbours” said with a slight chuckle – a hilarious [read: not amusing in the slightest] reference to an Alex Ferguson quote.

“Blue moon/Red sky at night” – less pathetic fallacy and more pathetic imagination. Say something original, you nipple.

“Giggs and Scholes have a combined age of…” – Nobody gives a f***. They’re old. We already knew that. We still know that. Wait, really? That old? Seriously? I was only joking. I already knew. Still don’t care. Kill me now.

“Mario Balotelli set off a firework in a women’s prison, threw darts at the Queen, paid for Prince Charles to stay at the Hilton, and then Trigger made a face.” – Actually, I really wish that was true. But he’s just a bit stupid. Not crazy. Just stupid. And rich. It annoys me how being rich and stupid is now journalistic shorthand for having a fantastic personality. Go away.

“Manchester is Red/Blue!” – It’s actually quite grey most days.