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Manchester derby for all the marbles

by Christopher Davies

Since Manchester City became potentially the richest club in the world following their takeover by the Abu Dhabi-based business group, each time it plays Manchester United these days it is billed as “the biggest derby ever.”

On Monday the hype will have a more realistic ring because while the clash at Etihad Stadium is not quite a Premier League title playoff it is the closest possible. There is far more than local bragging rights at stake, that’s for sure, and Sky Sports, which has never knowingly undersold any live game, are rightly calling it the “match of the season.”

Sir Alex Ferguson calls it “probably the biggest derby in my time,” adding: “There has been an expectancy from City that this could be their decider, but it’s our decider too.”

With three games to play United leads City by three points so an away victory would effectively mean a 20th English crown heading for Old Trafford. A draw favors United, but for City it is a must-win match.

Eager not to put more pressure on his players Roberto Mancini said: “United are favorites because they have three points more.”

City is unlikely to win 6-1 as it did at Old Trafford earlier in the season. At home, Mancini’s side has won 16 of its 17 league games this season, but against that run United won 3-2 at Etihad in the F.A. Cup in January.

Two weeks ago, City’s defeat by Arsenal saw United open an eight-point lead at the top. One bookmaker even paid out on United. Since then City has won three straight games, scoring 12 goals and the gap has been reduced to three points.

United must have an uneasy feeling about the return to the City team of Carlos Tevez, who switched from red to blue two years ago. Tevez and Sergio Aguero have played 304 minutes together this season and in that time Tevez has scored four goals, Aguero 11.

Some things in football are just meant to be, and if Fernando Torres scoring for Chelsea at Nou Camp last Tuesday falls into that category, then Tevez netting the winner against his former club has a similar ring to it.

It’s been an engrossing Premier League season, full of tales of the unexpected and the unpredictable. Tevez scoring what the headlines will call “a title clincher” would be in keeping with what’s happened over the last eight months.


SEVEN PLAYERS from Bayern Munich and Chelsea will miss next month’s Champions League final at the home of the German club.

While there is sympathy for the Munich Seven, there is none for Chelsea captain John Terry, who keeps finding new ways to go down even lower in public opinion. His sly (but not sly enough) knee in the back of Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez was rightly punished by a red card, ruling him out of the final at Allianz Arena.

Branislav Ivanovic (10), Raul Meireles (11), Ramires (10), plus Bayern’s Luiz Gustavo (10), Holger Badstuber (10) and David Alaba (10) are victims of UEFA’s three-yellow-cards-and-you-are-banned policy that has robbed the final of 27 percent of its participants.

The figures in brackets are how many Champions League games they have played this season, though, it would be wrong to say that they deserve their punishment having been cautioned in 30 percent of the matches they have played in. Punishment should always fit the crime and in their case it does not.

Everything should be done to discourage foul play, yet at the same time everyone should be given the best chance to play in European club football’s biggest match, and it is unfair that yellow cards remain in place from August to April.

A player can be cautioned in two qualifying ties in August (let’s assume the finalists don’t enter the competition any earlier) . . . play the group stage (six games) and the knockout phase (another five up to the semi-final second leg) without a yellow card until in the last minute of penultimate game, he mis-times a tackle and is out of the final.

He’s played 11 games without another sanction then in the second semifinal he is cautioned and misses the final.

In fact, it is possible to miss the final by being cautioned only once in the Champions League.

The UEFA Super Cup in August and, mysteriously, the FIFA Club World Cup in December also count on the Champions League disciplinary chart. So a player is cautioned in the Super Cup . . . he picks up another yellow card in the Club World Cup . . . then in the semifinal, second leg he receives his only yellow card of the Champions League campaign . . . and is suspended from the final.

Credible?

I don’t think so.

UEFA should wipe the slate clean after the group stage, when it should be two yellow cards and a one-match ban; then two yellow cards and a suspension in the knockout phase.


YOU WOULD expect the Professional Footballers’ Association to protect its members, to back them when public opinion is overwhelmingly against some of the excesses of the modern day footballer.

Yet to allow a player to be honored, even applauded, as he starts a prison sentence for rape underlines how football lives in its own world.

Last Sunday, Ched Evans, the now former Sheffield United striker, was voted in the PFA’s League One Team of the Season. It was a democratic vote by his fellow professionals from the third tier of English football.

Evans was not at the presentation dinner because he was two days into a five-year sentence after being found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a North Wales hotel last May.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.