Ian Holloway: Don't rule out United until the very last kick
The Blackpool manager gives his thoughts on the Premier League title race
Sunday 06 May 2012
I have told my wife to turn off her phone today. We are going to plant ourselves on the couch and spend the whole afternoon watching the Premier League title race pan out. That is my idea of heaven.
Who would have thought that Manchester City would be back in it and top of the table with two games to go? Not me. But it isn't Roberto Mancini's title just yet. Here's my verdict on the Manchester clubs and which has the upper hand.
Mancini v Ferguson
Too hard to call because you can't knock what Mancini has done. I love him. He looks the part for starters – all suave Italian with his expensive coats and beautiful hair. When we played them last season he looked like an Armani model. I looked like a plonker from Bristol.
He has done a great job because although he might have had the money, it is another thing entirely to get all those characters with big egos to fight for each other and get into a position where they can win the league. Whether he was right or wrong to allow Carlos Tevez back is open to debate. But he must have some influence over his dressing room to get all the other players to accept the lad back. That is brilliant management.
As for Sir Alex Ferguson, there is nothing I can say that hasn't already been said. He is a genius and probably the best manager of my lifetime.
So they are both fantastic, and both in very different positions. One is learning how to do it in England, the other has dominated it for years.
Forget that dust-up the other night, it was nothing and I thought they handled themselves very well considering what was at stake.
Advantage Dead heat
Sergio Aguero is my favourite at City because of his balance, his body shape – the way he is so low to the ground – and his physical strength. Plus he is quick and can score with both feet. He also seems a decent, down-to-earth fella. I went to Spain last year and he was sat in the corner of a cafe my wife and I walked into. He was friendly to anyone who approached, chatting away and smiling. I nodded at him but he looked a bit blank – he didn't have a clue who I was. Either that or he was too nervous to come and speak to me, but I think I'd be kidding myself.
Antonio Valencia has been excellent for United, but you can't look past Wayne Rooney for their star man. No wonder Roy Hodgson said in his first England press conference that he would be taking Wayne to the Euros. You'd be absolutely barking mad not to, even if he is suspended for the first couple of games.
He is the best player in the country and he has once again had a fantastic year in a Manchester United shirt. It was one of the bravest signings of all time when Sir Alex shelled out £25m for a then 18-year-old kid but it just shows what a judge of a player that man is.
At the end of the derby game, the Sky Sports cameras panned in on a City fan and the sheer joy and elation on his face was so uplifting that I paused the television to take it in.
City fans have had enough setbacks and heartache to sink a battleship over the last few decades so they deserve what is happening at the moment. They have always stuck with their club, even when they went down to the third tier, and no wonder they are loving what isgoing on.
United's supporters have been used to non-stop success for the past 20 years and they probably can't believe it is their neighbours and main rivals who might pinch their title. United will need their fans more than ever because it could come down to who scores the most goals
Advantage Dead heat
It has swung one way, then the other and both clubs have looked down and out at various points. When United went past City I thought that was it. But the Blues have hung on in there and got another chance. Vincent Kompany was like a man possessed in the derby game. He embodies everything that is great about City at the moment.
United have been there and done it and that's why what happened over the last few weeks has been shocking. They never lose games at this stage of the season so it has been bizarre to watch. It is interesting that Sir Alex went with experience for the derby, playing Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. But did it work? Well, they lost so it couldn't have done but I can see why he did it. Mancini seems to have found the magic formula just at the right time, and it is probably no coincidence that Mario Balotelli is no longer starting.
United have the edge. They are battle-hardened and the older ones in the squad can act as role models to the new lads.
It is at this point that Fergie will expect his big players to come to the fore and make sure everyone in that dressing room knows exactly the standards expected of them, the kind of thing Roy Keane would have had no hesitation doing in days of old.
City have just as good a squad but have not won the title yet so there will always be that element of doubt.
You can accuse City of buying success – and plenty will – but you can say the same of Blackburn when Jack Walker bankrolled them to the Premier League title, or Abramovich at Chelsea. The owners at Eastlands seem determined to make the club a major force and good luck to them. Anyone who shows ambition gets my vote. They are a top-class club. They have even bought their own plane with their name on the side. So United and Fergie know the challenge.
The Glazers took loads of stick when they arrived, but in fairness they seem to have done a decent job. But no one can compete with City. You can guarantee that whatever happens this season, they will throw money at it again in the summer and go again.
Both teams will win their last two matches but that doesn't mean I'm backing City to win the title. I think United will be as determined and as focused as they have ever been in the next 180 minutes of football and they will eat into that eight-goal difference.
Don't be surprised if there is a sting in the tail right at the end.
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