This Sunday sees the two Manchester Clubs collide in what is the biggest match between the two for many a year. With no disrespect to Chelsea and the rest of the chasing pack, this is likely to be a match between this season’s top two. And it could very well be the first step in the final phase of the changing of the guard in Manchester and the Premier League.
Should City win at Old Trafford for only the second time in 35 years, then it will be a huge step towards them claiming the league title for the first time since 1968. Not because it will open up a five point gap but because of the confidence that it will give the squad from the Etihad. As much as money can buy you great players, it cannot buy you the belief that you are destined to win. That quality is one that can only be earned through hard work and good results, as perfectly demonstrated for the past 20 years by Manchester United.
The battle between the two giant Manchester clubs has, ever since the Arabian takeover of City, been described as a clash of two different financial approaches. Whilst, this is the case we can sometimes find ourselves in danger of over-emphasising the monetary aspect of the game. As the cliché goes, you cannot buy league titles. A more accurate and indeed more interesting way to approach the rivalry is to look at the psychological approaches at the clubs. This year’s title race is between the club that knows it can win the league and the club that wants to believe it can.
Both clubs have spent huge amounts of money on players. The difference being that United has spread its spending out over the last 20 years. City have simply been playing catch up, a game that was easy at the start as they emerged from the middle of the league, but which has now reached the stage where money is of little, if any, help. Now the game has reached the point where skills of both sides are pretty well matched and the margins or error have become incredibly small. Now that match, the title, will be won in the mind.
City will never have a better chance to win the league than this year. They have the strongest squad in the league and this is the first year where they are expected to challenge. In the seasons to come, should they fail this year, the opposition will not be as weak and crucially the emotional and psychologically baggage will start to accumulate. Questions will be asked about their mental strength, their self-belief. This year, those questions are only just starting to be asked.
Sunday at Old Trafford does not see a clash of financial differences but instead the collision of two clubs at two different ends of the mental journey to becoming Champions. The result and the performance will go a long way in deciding the next steps for both clubs. If City win, they may start to really believe they can win the league whilst United may start to doubt themselves. The other way around could see City lose any belief already building and concede ground to an opponent in Sir Alex Ferguson who is unlikely to give them a chance of redemption. Everything is pointing to a great clash on Sunday and the most intriguing will be the invisible one happening in the minds of all those involved at both these great clubs.