FOX Soccer Exclusive
United, Man City take center stage
All eyes on Manchester clubs
The past few weeks in the Premier League have really been a nicely scripted soap opera. And just when you think there's not another hidden body in the closet, the soap opera takes another wicked twist.
Manchester United had two two-goal home leads over Everton on Sunday. Everybody thought for sure, “Well, there it is. The magic number for the championship will go from eight to five points. The lead is extended. And the game next Monday against Manchester City is going to have very little impact.” But then in a span of a few hours, United ties, and City continues to score – and to be fair, they should have had more goals in their game against Wolves.
The results put drama in this league, which is used to drama – but this is a new level. And with the clash a week away, the debates between the two sides are going to be great until kickoff. I can't wait to read papers and hear the quotes that come out of the two camps. And how are they going to play it? Are they going to shut things down media wise? Are they going to be conservative? Or are people going to come out and speak their minds? There is going to be some mental battles going on in the city of Manchester well before the battle on the field happens.
And the storylines to this one – they are hard to make up. You have United losing at home 6-1 to City earlier in the season and now being put in a position where they are still the leaders, but have to go on the road to defend their crown. For City, what will they do with Mario Balotelli? He’s available, as of this week. Do you put him on the bench? On the field? In the stands? On a plane to Italy? I wouldn’t have him on the field, but he’s such a good player that maybe you’re saying to yourself “20 minutes left, do we let this character get on the field if we really need him? Is he the guy that can win City the title?” In 15 minutes, Balotelli can literally win City the title after all he has done to try and ruin their chances.
Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero are scaring people right now, and I think the City offense has to be drooling looking at what the United backline has afforded teams lately.
We’ve been saying for weeks now how this is Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest managerial job because of how he has handled injuries, because he doesn’t really have that general in the midfield or player who can take over a game. But now he’s really going to be put to the test this week – how will he manage the mental warfare? How will he manage his team? What lineup is he going to put out there? When does he set that lineup? There are so many elements to this match that are going to continue to grow. It is way more than just a general league match. I
t’s starting to take on the feel of a Champions League or even a World Cup match, where everything is going to be scrutinized. I love these types of games.
This game is also about more than one game or one season. It really could have a massive impact down the road for both squads. Does Roberto Mancini linger if City doesn’t win the title? He has been given another chance to reclaim his job, which a lot of people thought was lost – but if they embarrass themselves against United, the heat is right back up. The conversations and criticisms will carry on well beyond that game should City lose. For United, yes, they are set for a while with Sir Alex, but, certainly, they have to start thinking about who will take over next, and when the right time for a change is. I see the parallels to college football with coaches who have been with programs for a long time. When is the right time to say: “It’s time to move on. We need to bring in fresh blood before you start to lose it, or we lose an opportunity to get this guy to take charge of our club?”
A lot of interesting dynamics to this one. And the cool thing is that I bet about 12 more are going to appear this week that we haven’t even considered yet, before they even kick off.
Ugly scenes coming out of Italy
So many things come to mind after seeing the images from Genoa, Italy, on Sunday.
First of all, how did it even get to that situation? There’s security there for a reason. How were these players put in the position where they couldn’t even exit their field because their own fans had essentially blockaded it and threatened to storm the field and cause who knows how much harm and damage? The security systems need to be looked at massively. There was a major breakdown there.
Here’s another point to consider. If I’m a free agent and I’m being wooed by teams in Spain, England and Italy and things are even, I’m going to look at images of what just took place there and say I wouldn’t want to put myself or my family in that type of situation. It’s wrong on so many levels.
This creates a big problem for Serie A right now. The bigwigs need to really examine the security and structures in place to make sure things like this don’t happen. How it happened is beyond me. I love the passion these fans have for their teams and they want them to succeed, but it is misguided, it is lost, it’s disruptive and it could have gotten Egypt-ugly if you really think about it. The only saving grace is that there were no injuries. But it could have become an international scene easily.
One last thing
In case you missed it, the Barclays Premier League is celebrating its 20th anniversary season and it has created a special website to vote on several categories: best goal, best celebration, best save, etc.
One category that caught a few of our eyes at “Goals on Sunday” is the fantasy team of the 20 seasons – particularly at right back (you may notice a familiar name).
I am so happy for my new friend Warren Barton. Just to be put on that list – think of some of the great players who have graced the Premiership the past two decades –as one of the best in 20 years is a massive accomplishment. I could hear it in Warren’s voice and see it on his face, just how proud he was that people thought that highly of his play in the league to consider him.
It is historical flashback situations like this that I always find interesting. It makes you go back to compare people from different generations and how would modern stars fare then and how would legends of old fare now? It’s a great topic of conversation, and I guarantee you that Starting XI is going to be awesome – but that bench may be just as good, if not better.
Want more juicy headlines from the soccer world? Catch them on Tuesday’s Five-A-Side edition, here at FOXSoccer.com. As always, thanks for reading and best wishes.
A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter @RobStoneONFOX.