Manchester City is on the verge of completing a comeback for the ages.
On April 8, City found itself trailing its archrival Manchester United by a seemingly insurmountable eight points. As recently as eight days ago, City manager Roberto Mancini declared the race was over, that United had won the title.
Mancini's team had something to talk about as City grabbed the English Premier League lead by the thinnest of margins -- superior goal differential after besting United, 1-0, at Etihad Stadium on Monday.
City captain Vincent Kompany headed in a corner kick in first-half stoppage time and helped spearhead the hosts to the vital victory in the Manchester derby, which was watched by an estimated 650 fans worldwide in 212 countries.
"It's a massive result," City defensive midfielder Gareth Barry told ESPN.
"Absolutely buzzing. We've been waiting for this moment," Kompany told Sky Sports TV. "It's far from over and we know that, but to give our fans two wins over United this season. We have to finish it off and we have to do it over the next two games."
He said the team was praying for a victory.
'It all comes down to the dream we had when we were children, and we all want it so much," he said.
With two weeks remaining in the season, both teams share 26-5-5 records and 83 points, but City actually leads by a thin margin -- superior goal differential at eight.
So, City finds its destiny at its soccer boots. If it doesn't lose to or tie at Newcastle United on May 6 and at home to Queens Park Rangers on May 13, and if United doesn't score a ridiculous amount of goals in its final two encounter, City will win its first first-tier championship for the first time since 1968.
On the flip side, the season has turned into a near disastrous campaign for United, which has seen its huge advantage evaporate to nothing and seen it eliminated from the UEFA Champions League and the F.A. Cup. ManU will face a must-win situation in its final two games on successive Sundays -- at Swansea on May 6 and at home vs. Sunderland on May 13.
United will need a miracle of its own to grab the EPL crown.
It wasn't the prettiest of games. Goal-scoring opportunities were at a premium and virtually all of them belonged to City.
It was a rather disappointing showing by United, which looked out of sorts and rarely threatened, especially in such a key confrontation. After Danny Welbeck was introduced to the match for Park-Ji Sung in the 58th minute, ManU certainly pushed forward, but offered nothing dangerous that made Mancini or any of the most partisan fans at the sold-out stadium a reason to sweat.
You can credit City for some of that, managing to shut down the great Wayne Rooney. The striker did not have a shot on goal and had a relatively silent match -- and his teammates did not put anything dangerous on net.
Asked what was the difference in the match, Barry replied, "We had the better chances in the game. The way we defended. The way we defended Wayne Rooney."
But the bottom line was that City outplayed the visitors.
It took the hosts 28 seconds into first-half stoppage tie to get what they worked so hard for.
It came on a heady play by Kompany, who powered home a corner kick with his head from the right side and the Belgian international out-jumped defender Rio Ferdinard and headed the ball to the left of goalkeeper David de Gea for a precious one-goal lead that the hosts protected.
United had to know it was going to be in for a long second half because City is 16-1 at home when it leads at halftime (now they're 17-1).
You have to wonder what United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was thinking before and during the match. He decided to start Park ahead of such lethal finishers as Welbeck, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez. The first three aforementioned players finally were introduced into the game in the second half, but they did not make much of a difference and never placed a dangerous shot on goal.
In fact, as the game wore on, it looked like City was the more desperate team, even though it was leading.
City played like the team that has the fire in its belly while United appeared to have lost it and the dogged determination it has built its reputation around.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@al.com.
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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