There are few things less predictable in life than sport. A sure fire win for any team or individual can become a bad day at the office and inject a sense that ‘certainty in sport’ is an illusion. While it is true that favourites are well backed because they have an edge on their opponent, the edge can become dull in a one-off occasion and unusual and unexpected results can occur.
When Manchester United played Manchester City on Sunday 10th December at Old Trafford it was difficult to place your bet on either side. Although Manchester City were eight points better off and top of the Premiership table, United were second in the table and had come off a good away win at Arsenal the previous week.
The talk before the match was that United would be at a disadvantage because of Paul Pogba’s red card at Arsenal making him unavailable for the game. That was one of the more obvious predictions on the day. In a match where both teams were trying to set their own record clearly one team was going to be disappointed.
Jose Mourinho after two successful matches against Watford and Arsenal playing three at the back reverted to a four at the back and this was clearly a mistake.
What was also difficult for the United fans to accept was the almost casual way the team approached the game. There seemed little passion or desire to close City’s points total and no overriding sense this this was after all derby day.
As the match progressed City outplayed United who could not seem to string three or four meaningful passes together and rarely hurt City. It was the blue half of Manchester who turned up with desire and passion aplenty and who eventually took the lead.
From a corner on the right, the ball was swung in and in the confusion, David Silva hooked the ball in past David De Gea in the 43rd minute..
With a greater sense of urgency, United equalized five minutes later when a cross from the left found out the City defenders and Marcus Rashford thumped the ball in past the City goalkeeper.
Fans hoping that the second half would see United carry on the fight were disappointed when again there was little to cheer and less to get excited about in the ensuing 45 minutes.
Whatever Mourinho said in the halftime team talk had little effect as City demonstrated their desire to increase their points tally to eleven by the end of the game.
In the 54th minute, that desire was rewarded by a shambles of a goal for City when in trying to kick the ball away from danger Romelu Lukaku hit a United defended. The ball fell invitingly for City defender Nicolás Otamendi who was up in the United penalty and guided it past DeGea.
The end of the scoring was not the end of the chances but United had the best when the ball fell to Lukaku a few yards out but his shot hit the City goalkeeper Ederson in the face. A quick follow up shot from Juan Mata saw the goalkeeper pull off a double save to keep his team in front till the final whistle.
United had a strong claim for a penalty when Ander Herrara went down in the area. The opinion was divided later on MUTV as to whether it was a penalty or not.
Lou Macari speaking on the clubs television channel argued that penalty or no penalty the team were just not good enough and that the best team on the day were the winners.
The top of the premiership table now has an ominous look to it unless you are a Manchester City supporter.
played goal difference points
1 Manchester City 16 +37 46
2 Manchester United 16 +25 35
3 Chelsea 16 +15 32
4 Liverpool 16 +14 30
5 Arsenal 16 +10 29
6 Tottenham Hotspur 16 +14 28
United supporters and those from other clubs clutching at straws might argue that there are still twenty-two matches to go in the 2017/2018 Premiership season and it’s never over till it’s over.
While there is a grain of truth in that it is difficult to see City dropping that many points and other teams picking them up to challenges their position at the top of the table.
As I said however, there are few things less predictable in life than sport at least that will be the hope and wish of all Manchester United supporters. Their collective New Year resolution might still be to go to the nearest bookmakers and back United to win the Premiership Title with any Christmas monies they might have left over from the coming season of good will and cheer.