Manchester United head to Sunderland in their last game of the 2011 – 12 season knowing that even victory might not be enough and the Premier League trophy could slip from their fingers to their cross-city rivals.
It has been a season like no other as pole position in the English Premier League has alternated between City and United, and each time one Manchester looked to have staked a definitive claim to it, the balance of power shifted and let the competition in. You should know that the bookies have Manchester City at 1/8 to win the Premier League and Manchester United at 7/1, which is about as conclusive as it gets.
This time around both Manchesters have 86 points after 37 games, but Manchester City have a markedly better goal difference. City have +63 while United have +55 this means that should City beat QPR 1-0 (at 10/1) United would have to beat Sunderland 9-0 (at 500/1) to regain the title. If you do fancy a chortle bet, back 10-0 (at 600/1) to the Red Devils, but expect 270 minutes of “Fergie Time” as it’s taken United 360 minutes to score their last ten goals.
It’s not enough that you succeed; your rivals must also fail
Another way of looking at it would be United simply have to get more points than City to retain the title. That’s looking highly unlikely as City are currently 1/8 to beat QPR, a side who are just above the relegation zone (even a draw, which would let United back in is at 17/2). It makes little difference that United are 4/9 to beat Sunderland and 7/2 to get a draw (which is as good as defeat should City win).
Not that it really matters, as all eyes will be on the Manchesters on Sunday, but Sunderland start the day 11th in the league with 45 points and a zero goal difference. This means if they do better than West Bromwich Albion (who host Arsenal) they could finish the day tenth. As an aside you might like to know that Sunderland are 9/2 to record a top 10 finish. Looking behind them there are three sides who each could overtake Sunderland as they are just one point behind, that’s Swansea and Norwich and Stoke although all three have considerably worse goal difference is. As a guide Swansea have the “least bad” goal difference of the three and are also 9/2 on finishing in the top 10
All about the Manchesters
With the title still technically on the line it does look like Sunderland have picked the worst time to play United. Had the title already been sewn up either way I’d be tempted to bet on the Black Cats but, as it is a case of “failure is not an option” I think you’d be crazy to bet against the reigning champions in this match.
It also looks like it’s the best possible time to be playing Sunderland. After only losing four fixtures in the first twenty games of Martin O’Neill’s tenure as manager, they have now gone on a run that has only seen two victories in their last 10 games. And have only managed three draws from their last five games, failing to score in three of them.
But enough about the home side…
This weekend could be a league-changer as Sir Alex Ferguson pointed out last weekend, “No-one can match City’s financial resources, no-one. We have to accept that and try to do things in a different way.” These quotes look less like gum chewing mind games, and more the beginning of the end for Manchester United’s stranglehold on the Premier League. “You have to think there’s hope,” Ferguson said. “The way I look at it is, Queens Park Rangers have got to go there to survive. Of course City are favourites, no doubt about that.”
Yet the old master couldn’t resist a dig at the “unjust” refereeing decisions United have battled against for so long, “The City fans will be on to the referee as they were doing against us to make sure they win the game.”
I do think there are two ways that this game will go firstly Manchester United will fly out of the blocks, scoring goals left right and centre in a last ditch charge of the light Brigade-style. If you agree back a United victory at 4/9, United winning both halves at 5/6 and then spread your money around on high scores starting at 4-0 and going as high as you can be tempted 5-0 is at 33/1, 6-0 is at 66/1, 7-0 is that 275/1 80 is a 500/1 and why not stick some loose change on 9-0 (at 550/1) just for the hell of it.
The other way this game could play out is, Manchester United know that the title is as good as lost and they have an insurmountable task ahead of them, their heads drop, the legs tire and Sunderland sneak a draw or even a victory! If you think that’s going to happen – go for it! But the shortest odds on a Sunderland win are on 1-0 at 20/1.
Prediction: United win 3-1 (at 10/1) but it’s too little and too late.