The day that most Manchester United fans have been dreading is nearly upon us, and with it come numerous unpleasant scenarios for those clad in red. Manchester City’s visit to Old Trafford comes at a crucial juncture in the Premier League title race and, whatever the result, it will have implications in deciding the direction of the Premier League title.
A City win would almost certainly guarantee the blue half of Manchester their second successive Premier League crown, while a United win or a draw would make Liverpool firm favourites to end their 29-year wait for a top-flight title.
What a happy position United find themselves in.
Under normal circumstances, most United fans wouldn’t have to think twice about which of the two clubs they would rather end the season as champions; 2014 and the infamous slip is definitive proof that United fans are a lot more hostile towards their Merseyside rivals than they are towards their neighbours.
In a similar manner to Everton and Liverpool, United and City have been almost amicable towards each other throughout their histories. United temporarily moved to Maine Road when Old Trafford was damaged in the Second World War and more recently City shared in an emotional tribute on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster in 2008. Similarly, Everton joined Liverpool in commemorating the Hillsborough disaster in 2012 and Liverpool fans, if faced with a similar scenario whereby United and Everton were battling for the league, would surely rather Everton emerged as champions.
It is only natural that fans would be less hostile towards one rival than they are towards another. That does not mean that United fans would be happy if City win the league, far from it, they will just be happy to see Liverpool’s long wait for a league title go on. Last week, faced with the possibility of a City quadruple still existing, United fans probably would have leant towards Liverpool winning the league rather than see City better their treble of 1999. However, Tottenham’s timely elimination of City from the Champions League has once again shifted the balance in favour of City winning their fourth Premier League crown.
Then there is the issue that there simply aren’t as many City fans as there are Liverpool and that it would be a lot more bearable dealing with the relatively small celebrations of their neighbours compared to the colossal celebrations in Liverpool. However, these are not normal circumstances. Under David Moyes with their season virtually over in March, United fans were able to revel in Liverpool’s failure. They cannot do so this season and the issue is a lot more complex and nuanced than it was in 2014.
United, for one, are still in with a decent chance of Champions League qualification despite their chastening defeat at the hands of Everton on Sunday. Four wins from their remaining four games, however unlikely that seems, would almost certainly secure Champions League football next season. They would be guaranteed to leapfrog Chelsea at the very least and Arsenal, being Arsenal, can be counted on to drop points somewhere along the line.
In fact, the Gunners’ defeat at home to Crystal Palace has left the door open for United when it seemed to snap shut at Goodison Park hours earlier. That 4-0 hammering was United’s sixth defeat in their last eight games, and any self-respecting United fan surely does not want to see that become seven defeats in nine, especially against one of their biggest rivals. City’s recent dominance at Old Trafford is another source of embarrassment for United and it is one they will want to rectify. Since 2011, United have picked up just four points at home to City, losing five times out of seven league meetings.
City’s dominance at Old Trafford has been unprecedented and any United fan who wants to see that continue is either lying, deluded or not a United fan.
Defeat on Wednesday would spell the end of United’s slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, further damaging contract negotiations with the likes of David De Gea in the process. Are United fans willing to jeopardise any potential arrivals and departures purely to see Liverpool miss out on a league title?
As an aside, the suggestion that United players will purposely lose to City on Wednesday is absolutely ludicrous. No professional player, apart from those involved in match-fixing of course, goes out with the intention of losing a game of football. The vast majority of the United squad was not born in Manchester, they did not grow up as United fans with a disdain for Liverpool, and most probably don’t care which team wins the league. Having said that, they have been so poor recently, so listless, that City are probably going to stroll to another win at Old Trafford and, by extension, to the Premier League title.