The English Premier League heats up on Monday when defending champion Manchester United and second-place challenger Manchester City meet at Etihad Stadium.
Anyone who has followed the action this season knows that the match has enormous EPL title implications. Should United win, they will go six points clear at the top of the table.
Though the Citizens will not be mathematically eliminated, they would need to win there last two games, and have United lose both of their games. I think City will handle the games against Queen's Park Rangers and Newcastle United with little difficulty, but United have the easier go of it not just in terms of opponents, but also pressure as they would only need one point out of either contest to secure the title for a record 20th time.
Should City win, things get very interesting. They would go to the top of the table on goal difference and make the last two games a proverbial arms race. Both teams would be gunning to run up the score in the last games; United to make up the difference, City to preserve it. In this case, I'd have to tip the Citizens for the title. The return of Carlos Tevez to the squad has been a surprising revitalization and United's latest result against Everton does not inspire supreme confidence.
So to the final question, "Who's going to win?" Running the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, it depends on how the United defense plays. Rio Ferdinand has been described as "resurgent" lately but he was caught out of place a during Everton's comeback on Apr. 22. I'd like to see him play set his line a bit higher. Yes, the City attack is quick, but Ferdinand is at his best when he defends by moving forward, cutting off the pass. United will also need a top performance out of Rafael. He was beaten several times last weekend, but has been solid for most of the year. He will be key in contain Samir Nasri.
In terms of Man City, if they control the rate of play and get Tevez involved early, they will have a good chance at coming away winners. In spite of his shortcomings in personality, Tevez is a playmaker. He stretches defenses, forcing them to choose between letting him run or giving Sergio Aguero space to play the ball. The last thing City must do is keep a level head in the event the game is close. United are light years ahead of City in terms of championship run-in experience.
United will fight all 90 minutes and capitalize on any mental slip. Given the rumors of infighting in the Eastland's camp, manager Roberto Mancini probably spent much of this week ensuring his players were in the proper head space to walk out onto the pitch, and produce a top-class performance.
Finally, if I were to make a call, I would tip United.
The atmosphere will be electric, emotion will be high and both teams will pour everything into the match. United will need to survive the first 15-20 minutes, but after that, their experience will kick in, essentially bringing them their 20th league title.