LONDON. — English Premier League soccer leaders Manchester City can ensure Manchester United’s recent revival is short-lived by opening up a 12-point gap on their local rivals in what promises to be an explosive Manchester derby tomorrow.
Meanwhile, a series of tributes are planned as Leicester return to the King Power Stadium for the first time since club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four other people were tragically killed in a helicopter crash.
Champions Manchester City hold just a two-point lead over Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table, but have looked relentless in recent weeks and shown no sign of a slip in standards from their record-breaking 100-point English Premier League campaign of last season, scoring 12 times in their last two outings alone.
One of precious few blemishes from last term, though, was blowing the chance to claim the title by beating United at the Etihad as City threw away a 2-0 half-time lead to lose 3-2.
That result only marginally stemmed the tide in the power shift across Manchester towards City since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
United have failed to finish above City in the league since, and are already nine points behind the leaders.
However, Jose Mourinho’s men were also buoyed by their best result of the season by a distance in winning at Juventus in dramatic fashion on Wednesday to back up victories over Everton and Bournemouth.
Defensive concerns remain for Mourinho, though, with United keeping just one clean sheet in their last 10 matches. Stopping a City side averaging four goals a game at the Etihad in the Premier League this season is a monumental task.
And the rise of Manchester City in the past decade has raised the questions of whether the Manchester derby has finally replaced United’s clash with Liverpool as the pre-eminent derby in English football’s North-West heartland.
While there are no shortage of United fans who, for either historic reasons or a sense of inter-city competition, still say that Liverpool is the ultimate grudge match, there is no doubt the Manchester derby has grown in stature and relevance.
Tomorrow’s game at the Etihad Stadium will certainly have the real edge of a derby although, as has been the case for several seasons, City will start it from a position of superiority.
Pep Guardiola’s side look down from their perch on a United team stuck in seventh place – and that hurts everyone connected with the Old Trafford club.
Few of United’s faithful truly believe Mourinho’s team have a realistic chance of finishing above Guardiola’s champions in May but a win tomorrow would restore some lost pride.
That was the case in April when Paul Pogba scored twice as United came back from two goals down at the break to win 3-2 and deprive City of the satisfaction of clinching the title on their home turf against their neighbours.
City’s loud celebrations of their 2-1 win at Old Trafford last December had rankled with Mourinho and his players and they showed that in the tense atmosphere of a derby they were capable of lifting their game and rattling City.
They will need to be firing on all cylinders to stop Guardiola’s side who have scored 11 goals in their past two home games in the Premier League – putting five past Burnley and hitting Southampton for six.
City are unbeaten in the league with nine wins from 11 games while United have won just six and lost three and already trail their neighbours by nine points.
Both sides will be buoyant after contrasting Champions League wins on Wednesday when City trounced Shakhtar Donetsk 6-0 and United plucked a 2-1 victory over Juventus out of the fire with two late goals in Turin.
Liverpool, smarting from their Champions League loss to Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday, will be hoping that United can do them a favour and take points off City.
Jurgen Klopp’s side host bottom club Fulham while second-placed Chelsea, also two points behind City, have a tougher task at home to Everton. Tottenham Hotspur, in fourth place, will look for their seventh away win so far this season when they travel to Crystal Palace this evening.
Two weeks after Vichai’s helicopter crashed in the car park of the King Power shortly after Leicester’s last home match against West Ham, the Foxes will again pay tribute to the man who helped produce one of the greatest upsets in sporting history as a team labelled a 5 000-1 shot won the Premier League in 2016. Leicester players, staff and fans united for an emotional victory at Cardiff last weekend before the players flew to Thailand to pay their respects at Vichai’s funeral.
More tributes will be made ahead of kick-off with an expected 20 000 fans set to take part in a walk from Leicester city centre to the stadium in Vichai’s honour, as well as a video tribute before kick-off and a two-minute silence jointly in memory of the victims of the crash and Remembrance Sunday.
A combination of European and television commitments mean that five of the top seven are in action across four games tomorrow, offering the chance for three different teams to go top across the course of the day.
Liverpool are first up as they look to make amends for a terrible result in the Champions League in losing 2-0 at Red Star Belgrade in midweek to jeopordise their chances of progressing to the last 16.
Fulham are therefore welcome opponents to Anfield having slipped to the bottom of the table with a run of five straight defeats.
Chelsea then have the chance to take top spot a couple of hours later when Everton are the visitors to Stamford Bridge, hoping to inflict Maurizio Sarri’s first defeat as Blues boss.
Arsenal are also in action as they look to extend a 15-game unbeaten run and at worst remain just outside the top four at home to a Wolves side who have faded in recent weeks after a great start on their return to the top flight.
But top billing is reserved for the battle of Manchester’s giants with City likely to need at least a point to end the weekend where they start it – at the top of the table.
English Premiership Fixtures (all 5pm unless otherwise stated)
Today: Cardiff City v Brighton & Hove Albion (2:30pm); Leicester City v Burnley; Newcastle United v AFC Bournemouth; Southampton v Watford; Huddersfield Town v West Ham United; Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur (7:30pm).
Tomorrow: Liverpool v Fulham (2pm); Chelsea v Everton (4:15pm); Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers(6:30pm); Manchester City v Manchester United (6:30pm).