Time for Manchester City to show mettle


There are defining moments in every season and the winning goal scored by Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero against Villarreal last Tuesday is one of them for 2011-12.

A disappointing home draw was suddenly a memorable Champions League victory and the wild celebration by Roberto Mancini, who is usually coolness personified, told the tale.

Instead of going into Sunday’s derby against Manchester United on the back of a result that would have left Champions League qualification in the balance, City’s mood and confidence was raised several notches by the Argentine’s strike.

City, famously called the “noisy neighbors” by Sir Alex Ferguson, have plenty to shout about. If it is victorious at Old Trafford, City will move five points clear at the top.

City has overcome the potential self-destruct of Tevezgate, and while conquering the cream of Europe seems a challenge too far, City has the tools to ensure the English title stays in Manchester.

United has won 24 of its last 25 Premier League games at Old Trafford, so victory on enemy territory would be a huge statement for City. There may only be three points at stake, but if Mancini can get one over on Sir Alex Ferguson it would seriously be game on.

The spine of City’s team is as good as it gets domestically — goalkeeper Joe Hart, center-half Vincent Kompany, midfield enforcer YaYa Toure and up front Agüero, who looks a bargain even at £38 million.

The outcome could hinge on how City’s midfield minders, Toure and Nigel de Jong, fare against United’s Park Ji Sung and Darren Fletcher.

In David Silva, City has the most creative talent in the Premier League with Samir Nasri only a whisker behind. Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Adam Johnson are lethal weapons from the bench.

For United Nani, Valencia, Anderson, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez can and have won matches with one moment of magic.

Referee Mark Clattenburg will inevitably play a key role in a high- voltage game, and if there is one guarantee, it is that the 90 minutes at Old Trafford will not be dull.

ENGLAND IS THE only country to still have all its clubs in the Champions League and the Europa League. This does not necessarily make English football the best in the world, but there is a valid argument that it has the most strength in depth.

Premier League heavyweights Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United should qualify for the Champions League knockout stage, while Spurs, Stoke, Fulham plus Birmingham of the Championship are well placed to advance to the round of 32 in the Europa League.

However, it is impossible to look past Barcelona to become the first club to retain the Champions League. Even the word “genius” understates Lionel Messi. A Best Of Messi DVD would have to be every game he has ever played for Barcelona.

I HAVE NO IDEA what Liverpool’s Luiz Suarez may have said to Patrice Evra of Manchester United at Anfield last weekend. Evra alleges he was racially abused 10 times. There were no witnesses or conclusive TV evidence, so it seems impossible to prove any wrongdoing.

While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, this being football people will decide their opinion based on which team they support/prefer or which player they like more.

Yet why would Evra go public with his accusation unless something really happened?

It seems an extreme allegation to make against a fellow professional for no reason at all.

On the other hand, Suarez has played for Ajax in Amsterdam, where color is a very sensitive issue.

And why would the Uruguayan abuse Evra in the way the Frenchman alleges?

Unsurprisingly, both clubs are backing their player while the Football Association is looking into the matter and will ask Evra for proof, because without evidence from a third party the F.A. would be powerless to do anything.

I abhor any form of racism, though it would be naive to think players are never taunted in this manner. But this situation is one person’s word against another. If, as is likely, Suarez will not even face a charge, the assumption will be that Evra is lying, yet if the initial reaction to the accusation was “prove it,” then the same logic should apply to the Frenchman’s claims.

Insufficient proof does not mean nothing has happened, and it is dangerous to assume Evra is lying just because it cannot be proven.

IT DOES NOT embarrass me to admit I sobbed this week when Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, read out the names and ages of the 96 fans who died at the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989. Go to the Shankly Gates at Anfield, a tribute to those who perished, and you would need a heart of reinforced steel to have dry eyes.

Belatedly, all the documents relating to Hillsborough are to be released via an independent panel. Nothing can alter what happened that afternoon in Sheffield, but at last the truth, which the families of the victims have campaigned for, is about to be told.

The documents should confirm the lies and misinformation put out by the police and certain members of parliament in an attempt to blame what happened on “drunk” supporters.

While some alcohol was no doubt consumed on the day of the F.A. Cup semifinal, the disaster was not caused by inebriated fans, but by the police who were unable to control the situation.

The police have lied, fabricated evidence, doctored witness statements and put out misinformation to the media to cover up how incompetent they were.

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