United Have Everything To Lose
Stretford are severely rattled and not for the first time this season. Let's face it, without every rag's favourite scouser Wayne Rugney, where would they be...?
The first real signs that the Manchester United empire was coming under clear and present pressure from Manchester City came in January 2010 and a League Cup Semi-Final. Sir Alex Ferguson abandoned the youth policy he reserved for a trophy ordinarily way down his list of priorities in a bid to stop City getting to Wembley and a shot at long craved silverware that he knew would instill belief in the shrewd Roberto Mancini's squad.
Downcast as City were the night that Streford won, many Blues focused upon the celebrations with which the rags greeted their win after Mancini's eighth game in charge. Their unbridled relief couldn't be contained. But City knew they had the top drawer manager, the resources and momentum to get back in their faces again next season. And the season after that.
And so it came to pass. The next season, further strengthened on the pitch and off it as His Highness Sheikh Mansour continued to make good on his commitment to The Blues and the Manchester community, City beat United in an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley and went on to win their first trophy in 34 years. Down came that infamous banner at the swamp. The cracks were showing and Taggart's old guard continue to form the creaking backbone of his team one year later.
Hopelessly unsupported by the Glazer hedge funders and unable to compete with City in a transfer market in which he once repeatedly broke records, the affable 70 year old has helplessly watched Mancio fuse a team of young internationals into serious title contenders who have more than enough on their career clocks to mount a sustained bid to dominate the English game for years to come.
No amount of desperately trying to reinvent themselves as modern day paragon's of economic spendthrift virtue has been able to paper over the cracks. If Taggart had the money, boy, would he spend it.
In results, City have been closing in steadily to the point where the rags were ultimately humiliated in their own back yard by The Blues six months ago. City confirmed the growing belief in England and Europe that United are no longer the force they were. The flashes of old time inspiration remain, as does Rooney's contribution, but take him out of the equation and they would be in very real trouble. No wonder the Glazer's bent over backward to accomodate the England flop's wage demands.
In order of appearance, Basle, City, Benfica, Crystal Palace, Blackburn, Ajax, Athletico Bilbao and Everton have thumped in a combined 25 goals at Owed Trafford this season and all secured results which were previously unthinkable in the days when favourable refereeing decisions were far from required to sustain United's challenge. Further evidence of decline is confirmed by the fact that United have not won a game this season in which they have fallen behind.
The sight of the 50 year old Paul Scholes gasping off the pitch against Everton following the abrupt cessation of title winning celebrations alluded to the fact that the football world is witnessing the slow death of a dynasty outside the Manchester city walls.
If resurgent City beat United next week and go on against all recent odds to secure the title, the growing calls for change in Stretford will escalate amid a sea of Norwich scarves.
If not, Planet Blue will content itself with another season of very real progress and the knowledge that we'll be back again next season and yes, the season after that.
United have everything to lose.
all times East Manchester
Mo 30 Apr 20:00 The rags, The Etihad, PL
Su 6 May 14:00 Newcastle, St James' Park, PL
Su 13 May 15:00 QPR, The Etihad, PL