The Potential For A Warning Shot From United?

By Dan Larsen | 05 March 2021

Dan wonders if United can take something tangible from Sunday’s game.

Manchester City are on absolute fire at the moment. After a thrilling 4-1 victory over Wolves on Tuesday, City stretched their record run to 21st consecutive wins across all competition.

To add to the buzz of excitement and joy on the blue side of Manchester, both of their closest rivals in the title race managed to drop points over the weekend, and in their mid-week fixtures as well. That means that the points gap between City and their crosstown rivals now stands at 14 points with just 11 matches remaining, while the gap between them and Leicester sits at 15. Even if Pep Guardiola and the players are rightfully treating the title race as if the outcome is still uncertain, it’s only a matter of time before the Premier League trophy will return to the Etihad.

Given the state of the title race, and the general form that City are in, fans of the club could be forgiven for feeling like the Manchester derby this weekend could be a coronation of sorts for the club. It may not be an opportunity to literally clinch the title, like the Derby was for them in their centurion 2017-18 season, but a victory in this fixture would certainly provide a similar sense of gratification. It would almost certainly be the icing on the cake of what’s been an astonishing season, one that’s seen the club claw back from one of their worst starts to a Premier League season in years to one that’s seen them shatter records yet again.

A word of caution, however, is worth bearing in mind as City search for their 22nd consecutive win in all competitions, and a 16th successive Premier League victory on Sunday. Though the gap between the clubs is quite large at the moment, a slip up against United could take on more meaning than originally meets the eye.

Let us remember Anfield in January of 2018. Though City’s record winning run in the Premier League had come to an end earlier that month in a draw against Crystal Palace, the blues entered that January 13th meeting having gone unbeaten in 28 successive matches across all competitions. Liverpool, on the other hand, were beginning to round into form though the team remained miles off the top of the table. It seemed like this game would be the perfect opportunity for City to end their decades-long struggle at Anfield.

City would go on to lose their first of just two Premier League game that afternoon. Liverpool played an absolutely perfect game, including scoring two absolutely stunning goals from distance, to take a commanding lead. City would battle back and nearly stole a point in the dying embers of the game, but it was not to be. The loss left City 15 points clear of second place United while Liverpool jumped up to third.

At the time, City’s loss on that fateful evening felt like a one-off occurrence. Liverpool hadn’t pushed for a Premier League since the 2013-14 season, and though they were playing electric attacking football that season, the Reds were still struggling to string wins together due to their defensive frailties. It appeared that they still had much work to do to get to level of City. That assumption was wrong.

Just months later, when the two teams met again in the quarter final of the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool would better City again. In fact, Liverpool hammered City in both ties. It was stunning to watch a team so far behind the inevitable title winners thrash them, just as they had done at Anfield earlier that year.

We all know now that City’s defeat that January evening was no fluke. Liverpool would go on to press City to within one point of the title the following season while taking home the UCL. Last season, they ran-off a run of results that saw them tie City’s Premier League record-setting winning streak of 18. They would finish it with their first top-flight title since 1989-90. It’s worth wondering if Liverpool would have reached those heights had it not been for the confidence boost that the team likely got after defeating a seemingly invincible City side.

Though United are less well-rounded than that 17-18 Liverpool side were, they do possess at least a few game-changing talents in their squad like Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. The talent is there for this team, with a few more top additions this summer, to become a true title contender. A victory this weekend over a City team that’s arguably played better during this streak than their centurion team did COULD have a similar rallying effect for United that Liverpool’s win in 2018 had for them.

Let this be a reminder that, for as great as City are now, things could look drastically different this time next season. City have an opportunity on Sunday to remind United of how far they have to go to be a serious title contender. We’ll see if they can exert their dominance yet again.