Manchester City are closing in on becoming the first side since Manchester United a decade ago to retain the Premier League title after they gave their rivals a stark reminder that they now rule the city.
City were once described by former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson as the “noisy neighbours” in the early days of their spending splurge after the club’s Abu Dhabi owners took charge in 2008.
But since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, when they were last crowned champions, United have not finished above City. In the past two seasons, with City under Pep Guardiola, the gap between the sides has grown into a gulf in class.
“They’ve set the standard the last couple of seasons,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford — a seventh loss in nine games.
“They have been the best team in the country and that’s the challenge for us to get to. Clearly we’re not there now.
“That’s for everyone to see, but that’s what I’m in the job for, to make sure we improve and get closer to them.”
The gap between the Manchester giants appears to be widening rather narrowing.
When City romped to the title with 100 points last season, United were at least the best of the rest, 19 points behind.
With three games of the current campaign left, United are 25 points adrift and languish in sixth, with qualifying for next season’s Champions League an uphill task.
City will have to wait until next season for another shot at finally lifting the Champions League trophy after a dramatic quarter-final elimination at the hands of Tottenham last week.
– Champions –
But they have responded like champions to gain some measure of revenge over Spurs in the league and lay down another marker by winning for the third straight season at Old Trafford under Guardiola.
“You cannot imagine the frustration we felt going out of that beautiful competition, the Champions League,” said Guardiola. “Then we had Spurs at home to stay alive in the Premier League.
“The pressure we felt and how we reacted was so important. After that (1-0 win) we come here to our neighbours, the most prestigious team in English football in the last 20 or 30 years knowing if we lose we have nothing, and we won.
“For two seasons now this team has shown great character, an incredible mentality and strength committing to what they have to do.”
Despite amassing 89 points so far, there is still work for City to do as they have been pushed all the way by Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are just one point behind and have already broken their club record for points in a Premier League season.
“We increased the level for the Premier League last season with 100 points. That’s the level Liverpool are chasing. What they have done is incredible but it’s in our hands,” added Guardiola.
“Both teams deserve the title. But it can be just one. The team that is going to lose can’t have regrets because they have given everything.”
United’s fans took some comfort from the fact that defeat to City will likely prolong Liverpool’s 29-year wait to win the title.
However, Liverpool’s painful wait should serve as a warning for United — at the time of the Anfield club’s last top-flight title in 1990 it was unthinkable that their barren run would last so long.
“We can’t linger along many years because the Premier League is so competitive. Suddenly you’ll be caught up by other teams as well,” said Solskjaer.
City have a long way to go to match United’s record tally of 20 top-flight titles but should they claim a sixth next month, half of those will have come during their neighbours’ six-year drought.
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