By Kenneth Tan
'I will love it if we beat them, love it!'
This sentence was made famous by Kevin Keegan back in 1995, when he was involved in a title tussle with Manchester United. While Sir Alex Ferguson may not have produced such a statement for the media but deep down in his heart, he would really ‘love it' if his Red Devils manage victory at the Etihad tonight.
'93.20, May 13, 2012' - the mention of that day will easily create discomfort in his stomach; it was the day the 'noisy neighbours' upset the applecart with a comeback usually associated with United over the years, as two goals in injury time saw them overturn QPR to pick up their first English title since 1968, rendering United's win at Sunderland purely academic.
There has been talk about the possible 'power shift' to the blue half of Manchester, and Fergie will certainly been keen to banish that notion and motivate his players using that factor.
Over the years, Fergie has shown that he has always done it when faced with such a situation.
When defending champions Arsenal visited Old Trafford in 2004 looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league to 50 games, his side stopped the Gunners in their tracks with a 2-0 win. When defending champions Chelsea visited Old Trafford with a 40-game unbeaten streak in 2005, his side managed to come away with a gritty 1-0 win.
Barring a three-year spell from 2003 to 2006, his side has always managed to wrestle back the title in the following season after having not claimed it the previous campaign.
Losing the title to Chelsea or Arsenal was one thing, but losing it to the 'noisy neighbors' rubbed salt into their wounds. The two rivals come head-to-head again tonight, with a similar disparity in terms of points.
The last time United came to the Etihad was in May where they held a three-point advantage over City, with three games left to go in the season. This time, United once again hold a similar advantage over the neighbors, albeit with 23 more games to go.
This is indeed not a winner-takes-all clash – however, the significance and the psychological factor of a win will go a long way in deciding the destination of the Premier League title.
United took some time to recover from that 6-1 debacle at Old Trafford next season, while the 1-0 defeat in May at the Etihad knocked the final nail in the coffin for their title challenge.
The mind games have already started.
Roberto Mancini has bizarrely mentioned to the media he has 'four strikers who can't score' - a move that looks like he is trying to take the pressure off the attacking quadruple. Considering his embarrassment of riches in Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, it does appear laughable.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex lamented about the amount of penalties awarded to City at the Etihad - a smart move considering the referee tonight could just pause and think twice when faced with a similar decision tonight.
Both men are facing immense pressure - despite having a gap over the rest, both have shown their deficiencies this season so far.
United have leaked goals like water at the back and have not looked convincing in most victories this season. On the other hand despite till being unbeaten in the league, City have not looked like the imperious side which blown away many sides in the league, and have been especially found wanting on the European stage.
Shutting the noisy neighbors up will be a particular morale-booster to ignite United's title challenge. Fergie may not admit it, but a win will surely rank amongst one of the most satisfying triumphs of his reign at Manchester United.
Man Utd's last 5 visits to the Etihad
BPL - 30th Nov 2008 - 0-1 (W)
BPL - 17th Apr 2010 - 0-1 (W)
BPL - 10th Nov 2010 - 0-0 (D)
FA Cup - 8th Jan 2012 - 2-3 (W)
BPL - 30th April 2012 - 1-0 (L)