You can ignore Roberto Mancini’s mind games stating his belief Manchester United have already won the league, as Manchester City are still in the race, especially considering the nature of their 6-1 dismantling of an impressive Norwich City outfit on Saturday.
United reopened the five-point gap with a comfortable 3-0 win over the increasingly beleaguered Aston Villa on Sunday and remain heavy favourites to retain their crown.
However, City are not out of contention just yet and those inside the Etihad camp may see United’s lead as just two points when you consider they are still to host the champions.
An exciting title run-in is what all the neutrals want, and with City facing bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Red Devils hosting in-form Everton before derby day, it looks like we will get our wish.
Stepping back from the seven remaining games that will decide these two Manchester clubs’ fates, it becomes clear we should not really be discussing a possible 20th win for United at all.
City have the most money, the best squad and for most of this season were unplayable. How have they not already wrapped the league up against a resilient but undeniably weak United?
The answer is Carlos Tévez – a man who is no stranger to either club, having done the unthinkable and jumped ship from Old Trafford to Eastlands in 2009. If Tévez had not taken his six month golfing sabbatical, City would be this year’s league winners.
Last season the former City captain scored 24 goals in 44 games as he shone as the Citizens’ best player during a mixed campaign.
Since his return to the starting line-up, Tévez has scored four goals from two games, and his comeback has undoubtedly lifted this City team to once again play the brand of football they did earlier in the season.
And that did take a while, but his two starts since his sabbatical have coincided with huge City victories. West Bromich Albion and Norwich aren’t the best teams in the league but it was the way Tévez combined with Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Agüero that really made the difference.
Tévez now looks streamlined and determined, his hunger epitomised by his chasing down of a lacklustre back pass against Norwich to bag his third. And the golf swing he used to celebrate would have brought a wry smile to even his most ardent critic.
The doubters will insist that had Tévez been in the team all season things would not have been markedly different, that Silva would have still gone missing, Aguero would have still lost his goal scoring form and Yaya Touré would have still gone to the Africa Cup of Nations for a month, depriving the side of their most influential midfielder.
This may be, but Tévez would have been one more world-class talent around to shoulder the burden when the creative juices of Silva stopped flowing, help find the net when Agüero’s powder dried up and judging by his Scholes-esque moments recently – dropping deep to pick up the ball off the centre backs before pinging it wide – the Argentine could have helped fill Touré’s large shoes in the middle.
The question that is sure to mystify all but a select few who know the answer – why did Tévez abandon his team-mates, manager, paymasters and fans in the disgraceful way he did?
We were told he insisted on a move closer to his family in Argentina yet the closest transfer he came to making was to Serie A.
Perhaps it was a matter of pride after being dropped so easily by Mancini in the early part of the season, forced to watch on as his team were successful without him. And his refusal to come off the bench and play second fiddle in Munich to compatriot Agüero was the final straw.
Whatever the reason for his enforced absence, City missed Tévez and he has missed them.
Eden Dzeko and Mario Balotelli have scored goals this season but will go down as flops due to their often lacklustre performances. But while Tevez’s commitment off the pitch is a bone of very large contention, his desire on it is always 100 per cent.
United should win the title this season, but had Tevez stuck around then City would have walked it. And somewhere in Manchester, Ferguson will be having the last laugh.
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