Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City are closing in on becoming the first side since Manchester United a decade ago to retain the Premier League title after they gave their rivals a stark reminder that they now rule the city.
City were once described by former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson as the “noisy neighbours” in the early days of their spending splurge after the club’s Abu Dhabi owners took charge in 2008.
But since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, when they were last crowned champions, United have not finished above City. In the past two seasons, with City under Pep Guardiola, the gap between the sides has grown into a gulf in class.
“They’ve set the standard the last couple of seasons,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford — a seventh loss in nine games.
“They have been the best team in the country and that’s the challenge for us to get to. Clearly we’re not there now.
“That’s for everyone to see, but that’s what I’m in the job for, to make sure we improve and get closer to them.”
The gap between the Manchester giants appears to be widening rather narrowing.
When City romped to the title with 100 points last season, United were at least the best of the rest, 19 points behind.
With three games of the current campaign left, United are 25 points adrift and languish in sixth, with qualifying for next season’s Champions League an uphill task.
City will have to wait until next season for another shot at finally lifting the Champions League trophy after a dramatic quarter-final elimination at the hands of Tottenham last week.
– Champions –
But they have responded like champions to gain some measure of revenge over Spurs in the league and lay down another marker by winning for the third straight season at Old Trafford under Guardiola.
“You cannot imagine the frustration we felt going out of that beautiful competition, the Champions League,” said Guardiola. “Then we had Spurs at home to stay alive in the Premier League.
“The pressure we felt and how we reacted was so important. After that (1-0 win) we come here to our neighbours, the most prestigious team in English football in the last 20 or 30 years knowing if we lose we have nothing, and we won.
“For two seasons now this team has shown great character, an incredible mentality and strength committing to what they have to do.”