United facing painful scenario at champion-in-waiting City
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 06, 2018 08:04 AM
FILE- In this file photo dated Saturday, March 17, 2018, Manchester United head coach Jose Mourinho ahead of the English FA Cup quarterfinal soccer match against Brighton, at the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester City has the chance to clinch the English Premier League title on upcoming Saturday April 7, by beating fierce rival Manchester United at Etihad Stadium in a local derby that Mourinho would have hoped to avoid. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, FILE)
By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — It's a scenario that Jose Mourinho and Alexis Sanchez, in particular, would have hoped to avoid.
With uncanny timing, Manchester City has the chance to clinch the Premier League title on Saturday by beating its fierce rival, Manchester United, at the Etihad Stadium.
For Mourinho, the United manager, there's the painful prospect of having to congratulate long-time foe Pep Guardiola on beating him to the biggest prize in English soccer.
For Sanchez, United's high-profile forward, the indignity of seeing a team he could have joined in January winning the league in front of his own eyes.
"You have to go into it like any other game," United midfielder Jesse Lingard said Thursday.
Except for United, it isn't.
It would be utter humiliation for United to see City, the noisy neighbor, winning the league on derby day and in record time, too. No team has ever wrapped up the league with more than five games to spare, with United currently holding that record from season 2000-01.
It would highlight the gulf between City and the rest of the league, now led by second-place United.
United's approach to the game is likely to reflect this. Mourinho went into ultra-defensive mode the last time he took his team to the Etihad Stadium around this time last season, and United ground out a 0-0 draw.
It summed up the Manchester teams' underwhelming league campaigns, with City going on to sneak third place and United finishing sixth behind champion Chelsea.
It would be a major surprise if Mourinho changed his strategy on Saturday, even though United could face a depleted City owing to the match coming in the middle of a two-legged Champions League quarterfinal with Liverpool.
City is 3-0 down from the first leg, and Guardiola has suggested he will rotate to keep players fresh for the return game. His team still has more chances to clinch the league, but only 90 minutes to salvage its Champions League dream.
Still, City will put out a strong team, with a probable front three of Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, for example. The likes of John Stones and Danilo could start in defense, Ilkay Gundogan in midfield.
"I know what it would mean (to win the league by beating United)," Guardiola has said. "It would be like Barcelona winning the title at (Real) Madrid or Real winning at Barca. "It would be special."
It is, though, a chance for United and Mourinho to strike a psychological blow for next season, even if he only succeeds in delaying City's coronation.
Sanchez will want to put in a good performance to back up his impressive display in United's 2-0 win over Swansea last weekend. Until that game he had looked a shadow of his former Arsenal self, his sloppiness in possession raising doubts as to how he would have fared in Guardiola's pass-happy team.
And for a coach as proud as Mourinho, he would relish briefly putting the brakes on City — especially with Guardiola in the opposition dug-out.
Yet it would be a case of winning a battle, but losing the war. United — like the rest of English soccer — has been outclassed by City, which is playing football at a different level this season.
For many, it would complete a delicious narrative if Guardiola's team of entertainers clinches the league against a side with a completely different mentality.