United firmly in control of league title race after win at Blackburn; Valencia and Young on scoresheet as champions open up five-point cushion
Manchester City had to wait until Monday night to discover just how damaging the two points they dropped against Sunderland would be, the result; devastating.
In their 2 – 0 victory over Blackburn, Manchester United demonstrated everything it takes to win at the very top level.
Up against a gritty Blackburn side that defended valiantly, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had to be patient in their wait for an opener. When asked if he was intending a shot or a cross, Antonio Valencia said it was ‘50/50’.
What the goal signified was beyond doubt though, United were close to opening up a five-point gap at the top of the league between them and rivals Manchester City.
What the goal also meant was that Blackburn had to push forward a little, and the visitors were then able to create more space than Steve Kean’s team had previously allowed. However, Ashley Young didn’t need any space for his goal, as he turned tightly to spectacularly curl the ball just inside the post from outside the area, and ensure his side three vital points.
This result hasn’t wrapped up the title for the red side of Manchester, but what it has done, crucially, is confirm that they no longer need to win the game against City. This has flipped the tables on City who, two points behind, could have won the Premier League by winning the rest of their games.
Now even if they beat United at the Etihad Stadium, success is not guaranteed. This could be a massive factor as the league reaches its final stages. Roberto Mancini has spoken in recent weeks of ‘squeaky bum time’, and tonight the Red Devils served a masterclass in everything this means.
Neither United nor City were winning come the 80th minute of each side’s games this week, and both were facing decisive moments in their domestic campaigns. It is in these situations that champions prove their true worth, both were up against sides proving difficult to defeat; Blackburn in the way they carried out their defensive duties, and Sunderland as a side in amazing form, playing slick and expansive football.
Mancini saw his team falter where Sir Alex’s excelled; two flashes of brilliance rewarded the patient work that was putting Blackburn under increasing pressure, whilst Manchester City struggled to overcome a two-goal deficit, failing to continue their 100% record at home.
A 3 – 3 score line seemed a well salvaged point, having come from 3 – 1 down, but the reality is that as the trailing team, City could not afford to drop points, with tougher fixtures on the horizon. Next week sees Arsenal host Manchester City, and City still have Newcastle away, amongst other difficult matches.
For this reason it was important for them to secure all three points, and keep up the heat in the chase for the Premier League crown.
However after Manchester United capitalised on the slip up against Sunderland, City face a steep uphill struggle to overturn a lead that Sir Alex is an old hand at protecting. This journalist is not sitting on the fence, I believe that Mancini has already showed his inexperience in attempting to engage Ferguson in the mind games for which the Scot is so famous; and at this stage in the season experience is everything.
Manchester United have won their last seven matches to procure a five-point cushion, so with Ferguson at the helm, and even a win in the Manchester derby not enough to catch their rivals, five points could very well prove enough for United to clinch their 20th league title.